A new, locally-produced, web-based dramatic series offers a unique Lenten experience to believers as well as seekers.

Produced by Loyola Productions in association with the Midwest Jesuits and Loyola Press, the post-apocalyptic drama “40” premiered its first episode on the series website, 40theseries.com., and social media sites on Ash Wednesday. 

The series --- filmed on location in Los Angeles early last December --- centers on the journey of seven strangers who appear to be the only survivors of a mysterious, calamitous event in an empty L.A., devoid of people. Two new episodes will appear each week on the “40” website, YouTube, Vimeo and Facebook until the finale airs on “Spy Wednesday,” April 4.

Jesuit Brother Michael Breault, an award-winning writer/director, developed the Lenten series to offer something new and engaging. “‘40’ is not just a series; it’s unique in that it also serves as a Lenten allegory,” said Breault. “At the heart of each episode are questions and scriptural meditations designed to enhance a person’s Lenten journey.”

“The characters in ‘40’ are unique in their own way, but they all carry universal human qualities and, when the world is crashing down around them, they have a need to come together to search for answers,” said Jesuit Father Eddie Siebert, founder of Culver City-based Loyola Productions and “40” executive producer, and a board member and chaplain for Catholics in Media Associates in Studio City. 

The characters of different ages and backgrounds discover they all have the same mysterious blue mark on their shoulder and ponder why they have been “left” or “chosen.” They deal with issues that mirror Lenten themes, such as exile and journeying, loss and grief, hunger and thirst, mortification and fasting, sin and redemption, the path through the desert and the Way of the Cross.

The series, says Father Siebert, requires viewers to use their imagination as they watch the characters wrestle with unanswered questions. 

“St. Ignatius (the Jesuits’ founder) was all about using imagination to deepen one’s experience of faith,” explained the priest. “If we don’t raise the bar by inviting people to open their hearts and imagination, their faith experience can become stagnant.” He added that he was thrilled that talented actors from different faiths and walks of life came together to participate in “40.”

Production challenges for the 14-episode series included a limited budget and the requirement to make L.A. look empty during filming which took place from Dec. 5-16. Filming permits were obtained for shooting scenes in a warehouse, where the “survivors” gather, and in a residential area for exterior shots taken during the early morning hours to get the “empty street” look.

Loyola Productions has set up focus groups around the country at two universities, a high school, parishes and prayer groups to watch the series and offer feedback. “People are thrilled that we’re trying something innovative to assist them on their faith journey,” said Father Siebert.

“My hope is that people see “40” as a tool to help deepen their experience of Lent, to bring them closer to God and their community and to experience Easter in a new way,” said Father Siebert. 

“Using a cutting-edge medium combined with mixed media to prepare for a centuries-old spiritual tradition is very exciting for us and the entire Jesuit Community,” he added. “We hope to reach a wide audience and get people talking. ‘40’ is about conversation and community.”

Episodes will air on Mondays and Wednesdays during Lent. For more information and to view the full schedule of airdates, visit 40theseries.com

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