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The Father of Hollywood

The Father of Hollywood

Articles - Directing

"People will do for God what they won’t do for money." Kieser
with Moira Kelly on the set of "Dorothy Day."

Father Bud Kieser has
just produced his second independent feature, Dorothy Day, about
the social worker who started both The Catholic Worker newspaper
and Houses of Hospitality for the poor. Dorothy Day stars Moira
Kelly as Dorothy Day and Martin Sheen as her spiritual comrade,
Peter Maurin, and is planned for distribution this fall.

Kieser’s first feature, Romero, traced the life and
death of Archbishop Oscar Romero, who was assassinated for empowering
the poor in El Salvador. It starred the late Raul Julia and received
widespread critical acclaim.

Father Kieser is a Roman Catholic Priest in the Paulist
order, which specializes in serving those outside the church. The
transition to Hollywood started 35 years ago when he taught a lecture
series in Los Angeles for non-believers. The classes were so successful
that he wanted to be able to reach a wider audience in L.A. His
solution was to create Paulist Productions and put the lecture
series on television, but Kieser quickly changed the format to
drama for more compelling programming. These "Insight" programs
lasted for 23 years and became a kind of experimental theater for
Hollywood television. In 1978, Paulist Productions aired the prime
time Capitol City Family Specials, which focused on the dilemmas
of teens. The first of these, The Fourth Wise Man, was made in
1984, and four years later his first movie of the week We Are the
Children aired. I recently talked with Father Kieser about how
he became the Hollywood priest.

Tony Leahy (MM): What influenced you to become
a producer and create Paulist Productions?

Father Kieser (FK): Jesus was a storyteller.
I’m a storyteller. He stood on the side of a hill to tell his stories.
I make movies to tell my stories. It seems a strange mix, being
a priest and a producer, though at the deepest level I don’t think
it is.

MM: Did you receive a formal film education?

FK: I learned how to be a producer by working
with the best in the industry. I started "Insight" in
1960, and in 1970 I got a doctorate in the theology of communication.

MM: How did you go from being a priest to
being a priest who makes five million dollar movies?

FK: I’ve been working in the industry now
for 35 years. Show business, particularly in Hollywood, is like
a club. I know most everybody in the club. I think I just paid
my dues. I have gotten to know a great number of the better writers
and directors in the industry. I also have a very good board of
directors which helps me raise money.

MM: How did Paulist Productions fund Romero
and Dorothy Day?

FK: Through donations. We spent three and
half million dollars to make Romero, raising a million of that
with donations, and borrowing the remaining two and a half. We
didn’t make any money on that picture, but we didn’t lose any.
We’re not in the money-making business so we were way ahead. We
raised four million more for the next film.

MM: How were you able to attract and obtain
such marquee stars as Raul Julia, Moira Kelly and Martin Sheen
to work for scale pay in your movies?

FK: People will do for God what they won’t
do for money. All three people you mentioned are people of profound
faith. Raul Julia was paid more than scale. Everybody else on Romero
was paid scale. Everybody on Dorothy Day was paid scale. Scale
plus 10 percent for their agents.

MM: How much do you get involved in production?

FK: Totally. I do not want a director with
whom I do not have a relationship and with whom I cannot stay in
constant dialogue. This doesn’t mean I tell them how to direct,
but particularly in the area of performance I am very involved.

MM: If Dorothy Day turns a profit, what do
you plan on doing with that money?

FK: Our revolving capital fund can be spent
on future pictures without having to raise more money.

MM: But didn’t We Are the Children help create
funding for the starving children in Ethiopia?

FK: We made an appeal in We Are the Children
for people to send donations to the various relief agencies, but
we lost money with that film.

MM: Is recent criticism of Hollywood, for
example Bob Dole’s remarks, justified?

FK: To a degree. You can argue about how responsible
motion pictures and television are for violence and the disintegration
of the family and those sorts of things, but what you can’t argue
about is that the industry can do a lot better to enrich the public
by communicating values.

MM: Where do you personally draw the line
on sex and violence in your films?

FK: I believe the sexual act is an expression
of love and unconditional commitment. If the people in my picture
are not expressing that, I want the audience to be aware of the
incompleteness and dishonesty. I do not want to do anything to
stir up erotic impulses in an unhealthy way. And violence is a
part of life–we have violence in our pictures. Violence arises
from a sickness. We try to get below the surface of that sickness
and demonstrate that there are always alternatives. MM

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