Actress Mayim Bialik, who plays the quirky Amy Farrah Fowler on the T.V. hit "The Big Bang Theory," made headlines in late August when she told Fox News that it’s not “trendy” to be a person of faith in Hollywood.
Bialik, who is Jewish but disenchanted with organized religion, said while it is not in vogue to be a person of faith or particularly observant in Hollywood, she has found that people of faith in the industry tend to flock together.
But what’s it specifically like to be a Christian in the industry? To find out, we reached out to John Paul the Great Catholic University in Escondido, California. Also known as JP Catholic, the school has a unique mission to form the next generation of Catholic filmmakers in both their faith and their craft. They were able to connect us with some of their professors and lecturers who know what its like to be a Christian while working in the film industry.
Dean Batali, a writer and producer perhaps best known for his work on “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” and “That 70’s Show,” said the fact that he was a churchgoing Christian got brought up practically every day while writing for the latter show.
“On that show were two gay guys and a lesbian and a woman who slept around a lot, and me a Christian, and all of us were kind of teased for who we were,” he said, “but that’s just kind of the nature of being a comedy writer.”
Rather than encountering outright animosity, Batali said, being a devout Christian in the industry is seen as somewhat of an oddity.
“It’s not quite as godless as people think, but it’s not the norm,” he said.
“That 70’s Show” usually got poor ratings from the Parent’s Television Council for as the morality of the content, but Batali said it would have been worse without a Christian present on the staff.
“We’re called to be salt and light in this world,” he said. “Salt can bring flavor, but sometimes, all salt does is stop the decay. You have two pieces of meat and put salt on one and leave them for a week, one will be more rancid than the other.”
“I think we as Christians are called to be salt to stop the decay of something, and that’s why I think we as Christians go to places that are sometimes messy, within reason,” he said.
Nathan Scoggins is a writer and director of “The Least of These,” a drama that takes place in a Catholic school setting. Scoggins also co-wrote for the film “The Perfect Summer” and his commercials have won three Doritos Super Bowl contests.
A non-denominational Christian, Scoggins is also an adjunct professor of film at JP Catholic. He said he’s found that his faith is usually more intriguing to people, as long as it’s approached in a way that’s not defensive but rather as a normal part of life.
“That’s not just the teaching of Jesus, that’s just kind of how it is — if you’re defensive about your stuff people kind of become defensive around you, but if you’re just seeking to engage like a normal human being, then I think it creates opportunity for relationship and dialogue rather than hostility,” he said.
JP Catholic Professor Chris Riley started his career in Hollywood as a script processor for Warner Bros., and since then has also written for feature film projects for Touchstone Pictures, Fox Television and Paramount Pictures.
Riley said his faith alone is usually not grounds for hostility or disagreement in the industry, but it can be a doorway to some interesting conversations. For example, Riley said he and his wife Kathleen, also a screenwriter, were invited to the premiere of a movie by the producer, who was a friend of theirs.
After the premiere, the producer asked if they would take their daughters to see it in the theater. When Riley responded that he probably wouldn’t take his youngest daughter, since the film’s main character sleeps with her boyfriend, his friend was taken aback.
“’But we didn’t show anything!’” Riley recalled his friend saying.
“And then he thought about it some more and he said ‘Oh my gosh, I’m taking my goddaughter tonight, should I not take her?’ And it was so interesting to me that he simply had not thought that through, and once he did think it through, relative to an individual girl that he was invested in, he had the same concern we had.”
The authenticity of that interaction was key, Riley said. People are typically more open to a conversation about faith if it comes up naturally, rather than as a political attack.
That same authenticity is necessary for Christians to be able to produce stories that audiences can relate to and that glorify God, he added. A filmmaker first has to be transformed by Christ in their own life before that can affect their work.
“I think audiences are really savvy about detecting what’s genuine and what’s bogus, and so as a communicator, I have to bring the real me to my work,” he said.
Riley agreed with Bialik’s comment that people of faith in Hollywood tend to find each other. In his work with Act 1, a Christian organization for writers and producers, he said he’s found collaboration between Protestants and Catholics that he hasn’t seen elsewhere in the world.
“We found each other and found common cause and a lot of mutual respect for one another and one another’s faith,” he said. “And I’ve experienced that in Hollywood to a degree I haven’t in other places.”
Scoggins said while other Christians in the industry can provide much needed community and friendship, it’s also important to beware of becoming a “holy huddle.”
“I think it comes down to, can you talk to people without using ‘Christianese’? And can you engage with people without having to sort of vet them politically or religiously first?” he said. “I have friends on both sides of the political spectrum who are so sort of siloed in their lives that if you don’t agree with them, they don’t want to talk to you, and I think that’s a dangerous thing.”
“I think my faith calls me to be able to relate to people regardless of their religious affiliation or political stripes, because that’s what I see Jesus doing.”