Once upon a time, in a land far, far away there was a world of comforting dreams and images that sparked our youthful minds as we sat beneath the vivid flickering of a movie screen. The images seemed to echo profound truths that our parents instilled in us while gently bringing us reassurance that things would be all right if you believed that good always trumped evil. And if you were good, life would be filled with infinite possibilities. . . you could one day launch into outer space as an astronaut, become President of the United States, be the greatest fireman who ever lived or simply raise your own loving family with the scent of warm chocolate chip cookies baking in the oven on a cool afternoon.
It was a time of hope, when a compelling, family-centered story was the core ingredient of a great film, a time when a studio not only respected its box office, but its audience’s intelligence as well.
In 2005, after
more than 20 years of championing and encouraging the film and television industries to produce family-friendly, faith respected (if not centered) entertainment, MOVIEGUIDE®: The Family Guide to Movies and Entertainment (www.movieguide.org) launched the $50,000 Kairos Prizes for Spiritually Uplifting Screenplays with a generous grant from the John Templeton Foundation (www.templeton.org). The Kairos Prize Competition recognizes and honors first-time as well as beginning screenwriters who produce spiritually uplifting scripts that greatly increase either man’s love or understanding of God.
This has been a turning point for MOVIEGUIDE®, by offering a unique platform to actively affect change in the industry from the ground up. Since their inception, the Kairos Prizes have literally sprinted toward reaching this vital goal.
In February of 2011, the first script to win the grand prize, JOHN, THE REVELATOR, will be released as a motion picture through Pure Flix Entertainment. Now titled JOHNNY, the script was written by David M. Anthony and tells the miraculous story of a family stricken with grief after the loss of their only son. Struggling to hold his family together, a father brings Johnny, a young terminally ill foster child, into their home. Johnny is convinced he has a special mission. While dealing with his own mortality and his new family’s pain, Johnny finds the courage to bring life and love back into a home that had little of both. This script, filled with miraculous hope, relays the fundamental truths that each of us have a mission or purpose in life and that love is at the heart of that purpose.
While the impending release of JOHNNY is tremendous news and a clear testament to the importance of the prize, it is not, by far, the only success that Kairos continues to witness.
Rusty Whitener, who won with his script TOUCHED in 2009, is rapidly working toward shooting his script, re-titled A SEASON OF MIRACLES, with producer Dave Moody and Elevating Entertainment Motion Pictures. Casting the film is THE BLIND SIDE’s Mark Fincannon. The projected shoot date is Summer 2011. Rusty will also have his script published as a novel by Kregel Publishers. This book is due out in September 2010 and will be available through Barnes & Noble as well as Amazon.
“I am consistently surprised by who reads the script and expresses real interest.” Rusty says. “Just this past week, two more movie executives have asked for a copy of the script to read. (The) Kairos Prize has been a wonderful blessing.”
A SEASON OF MIRACLES is an amazing and spiritually emotive family script about twelve year old Zack Ross, who learns profound life lessons from his mentally challenged friend during a championship baseball season, learning that life is not about winning a game, it’s about helping others to win in their lives.
Hollywood can be a foreboding place for new writers, especially those yearning to bring faith-based scripts to market. While it may take a minimum of nine years, on a fast track, for scripts to come before the lens, the Kairos Prize Competition has helped launch writing careers for a number of its winners in the five short years that the competition has been in existence.
Darcy Faylor, who won in 2009 with her script MOODY FIELD, is currently under contract with Grizzly Adams Productions and is presently writing a feature-length script for them. Lizanne Southgate, co-writer of THE TRANSLATOR, which won this year, has been tapped to write a script for Nasser Entertainment. And Daniel S. Elliott, a winner in 2007, is heading into production on his first feature film OUT OF IOWA with Herschel Weingrod, writer of films such as SPACE JAM and KINDERGARTEN COP, set to direct. Additionally, Daniel has a teleplay over at CBS that is showing signs of promise.
One of the more dramatic ongoing successes that the Kairos Prize has seen has been with winner Heather Hughes, who won with her script COINCIDENTAL MIRACLES in 2006 and returned with HABIT FORMING this last year with co-writer Kate Wharton as a finalist. Immediately after winning in 2006, Heather was signed to one of the most powerful talent agencies in Hollywood. Not resting on her laurels, she optioned 2007 Kairos winner SARAH’S GIFT written by Stan Himes. HABIT FORMING, the story of a young, out of control, teenage star who is sequestered in a convent school by studio execs seeking to protect her good-girl image, has been optioned by the Academy Award® nominated director Matthew Diamond and producer Gary Pearl. The writing duo has also been contracted to write an original script for Hallmark, plus a project for country music star Kenny Rogers. And, SARAH’S GIFT, the Kairos script she optioned in 2007, is now being considered by Oprah Winfrey’s Harpo Productions.
“Winning a Kairos Prize still opens doors for me five years later,” Heather reports. “It has been the one contest that continues to support my career through referrals, introductions and getting my script out to producers. I can’t really say that about any other award.”
Little more than a thought six years ago, the Kairos Prizes have rapidly become one of the largest screenwriting competitions of their kind in the U.S. and are clearly fulfilling a need. The reason for this isn’t a mystery when you look at what many studios and production companies are churning out. Increasingly, audiences are turning away from sensationalized films which force audiences to wade through the next house, building or airplane to be blown to bits or stories wrapped in vulgarity-tongued sex, drugs and ultraviolence. The truth of this is underscored within MOVIEGUIDE®‘s Annual Report to the Entertainment Industry, which clearly demonstrates that family valued films do exponentially better at the box office. And. while films such as THE BLIND SIDE and UP provide indisputable proof of this, there is still a great distance to go before many in the industry will understand the vital importance of creating responsible entertainment for a world that has seen too much confused hatred and not enough love.
This truth is not lost on Kairos Prize winners. James Rogers, who won in 2008 with his script STAIRWAYS, is currently working on his PhD, writing An Investigation of the Impact of the U.S. Motion Picture Industry on the Ethics of Screenwriters, Movieguide and Students at Eastern University.
In the world of today, the mass media strongly affects virtually everyone on the planet. Beyond the realms of entertainment, media reaches into the consciousness of societies across the globe, dramatically impacting not only adults, but, more importantly, our children. It impacts lives. It impacts hope. It impacts the very future that we all hold so dear. MOVIEGUIDE® has recognized this for more than 25 years as it seeks to redeem the values of the media and educate audiences on media wisdom, values and character development.
The Kairos Prize Competition may still be in its early years, but it is a great example of real change which encourages the next generation of screenwriters to not only seek creative excellence, but to create responsible scripts that bring truth and integrity to their audiences. And, while time-honored films such as IT’S A WONDERFUL LIFE conjure up memories that may seem long forgotten, a time in which studios seemed to embrace films that resonated with families and actually affirmed and promoted their values, a brighter future may still exist, bringing the next golden age of Hollywood along with it.