‘The Passion’ producer speaks about faith and the art of entertainment

Steve McEveety
Steve McEveety


In a Wednesday evening conference call Steve McEveety, producer of movies such as "The Passion of the Christ" and "Bella," spoke about his Hollywood career, his faith, and how aspiring filmmakers can advance in the entertainment industry. He also discussed the production of movies such as "Braveheart," "The Passion" and "The Stoning of Soraya M."

McEveety, a founder of Mpower Pictures, was interviewed by Sean Wolfington, founder of Positive Media and co-owner of Metanoia Films. Members of the media, aspiring young moviemakers and interested laymen listened in and then asked questions in the call’s final segment.

Discussing his early years in Hollywood as a child actor, McEveety described himself as a "movie brat" between ages seven and twelve. Later, he took a job as a production assistant and "did work nobody else wanted to do" as he "climbed the ladder" in the entertainment industry. He also worked as an extra and a stand-in during the summers between his studies in film at Loyola Marymount University.

McEveety then told of the problems he faced helping to produce "Braveheart," the 1995 film about Scottish hero William Wallace. It was difficult to find a location where horses could safely run, while Irish extras had to be found.

However, he said, the movie helped him perfect his filmmaking abilities in a collaborative effort with "a great crew, a great cast."

"The more experience you have, the better you get," he remarked, adding that he enjoyed hearing people say it was their favorite movie.

He described "Braveheart" star and director Mel Gibson as a prankster with "a great sense of humor." He said Gibson was a "great storyteller" and a "brilliant filmmaker" who understands the medium.

Turning to another Gibson-directed movie "The Passion of the Christ," McEveety said publicity for the movie he produced was "painful" and had "spun out of control."

"We were in defensive mode the entire time, trying to get a distributor when nobody would do it and trying to stay out of the newspapers for a year hoping to just survive. It wasn’t to be, but fortunately for us it was constantly in the press for months and months before it opened."

"We were hating every moment of it. We thought it was going to kill us."

Discussing strange phenomena during filming the movie, McEveety noted that people including Jim Caviezel, who starred as Jesus, were struck by lightning and that people’s family members were getting "cured."

McEveety told the conference call that he and his family understood their faith "completely differently" after the movie was finished.

"It opened our eyes to a spiritual world that we didn’t realize was so prominent in this world. I now see clearly that here is a spiritual war going on… we’re expected to be part of that battle."

"I was completely blessed to be part of it all, and blessed to survive it all," he remarked.

Though a few Catholic bishops, such as Archbishop of Denver Charles J. Chaput, had supported the film immediately, producers of "The Passion" had difficulty finding traction among other bishops and took their pre-release promotional campaign to Evangelical churches.

The campaign was wildly successful, helping the movie become the most profitable independent production in history.

In the conference call McEveety also discussed his latest movie, "The Stoning of Soraya M," a drama based on a real-life execution of an innocent Iranian woman accused of adultery. He said the film, perhaps the "most unique" he had ever helped make, was about "women’s rights and human rights and the abuse of power."

"It’s about abuse, and about the abuser, from a part of the world that we try to ignore," he continued. "This needs to be brought to the surface, but hopefully we look at ourselves as well through this film.

"It may never be a big blockbuster but, boy, am I glad I made it."

He said the effort helped "empower" the Iranian man who wanted to tell the story in the Farsi-language movie, made largely by a "great crew" of American-Iranians.

"It’s their story. We just helped them make it the best that can be made."

The film’s capstone stoning sequence was "particularly difficult" to shoot, he explained. Local villagers in the Middle Eastern country where the film was made were unclear about what the filmmakers were doing.

When some villagers were asked to join in the stoning as extras, McEveety remarked, a couple of them went up to the actor playing the mullah and asked if the "execution" had the number of witnesses required by law.

The actor, not knowing how to respond, said they did. According to the filmmaker, the villagers "were okay with that."

"They didn’t have any problem joining in the stoning at that point, which was really a statement unto itself."

McEveety said that fans of "The Stoning of Soraya M." were inadvertently discouraging viewers by warning about its disturbing content. He encouraged fans to recommend the movie "without reservation."

Describing his upcoming films to the conference call listeners, McEveety said he was working on a promising family film titled "Snowmen" and a couple of comedies. One is about a father who thinks he is a secret agent.

A movie on Our Lady of Guadalupe is also in the works.

He also reported that he is developing a movie "Left to Tell," based on the book by Rwandan genocide survivor Immaculee Ilibagiza.

Speaking in a June interview with Christianity Today’s Peter T. Chattaway, McEveety said the film is about "forgiveness" and "spiritual warfare."

He explained he was attracted to how Immaculee could forgive the people who "have slaughtered in the most violent way her family members, her most loved ones in the world."

One young aspiring filmmaker on Tuesday’s conference call asked McEveety for advice about working in Hollywood as a Catholic.

"You need to build your resume before you’re really going to have a good impact," he commented. "Concentrate on entertaining, learning your craft as well as you can, knowing that at some time in the future you’ll be able to control your destiny a little bit."

"I wouldn’t get too hung up on trying to save the world at 23. You have to have done something before anyone pays attention to you."

He advised hard work and suggested that sometimes it’s what a filmmaker takes away from a story rather than adds that makes an impact. For instance, changing a subplot where a girl originally gets an abortion in favor of a "better idea" can end up "probably saving many many lives" without anyone knowing it except God and the filmmakers.

"Perfect your craft and be as entertaining as you possibly can," McEveety advised his questioner. "You’ll be in the right position to do something really important someday."

Positive Media accepts scripts and solicits internship applications at its website, http://positivemedia.us

The full interview can be accessed here: http://www.talkshoe.com/talkshoe/web/talkCast.jsp?masterId=57499&cmd=tc

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