Jesus, Elizabeth Taylor, and John Heyman
The Holy Bible maintains its place as the number one read book in the world, according to the most recent Harris Poll. Gone With the Wind, To Kill A Mockingbird, and Catcher in The Rye also are in the top ten in the US. Last week, at a fundraiser in Orlando Florida for the Salvation Army, when the Bible was mentioned, it was booed. That’s ironic since the “Salvation Army’s” very name stems from the Bible, and the salvation guaranteed to all men and women who place their belief in Christ Jesus.
This is 2011 and travel has not yet advanced beyond trains, planes and automobiles – transport that defined 20th century living. I am traveling by train from Boston to NYC today to see John Heyman, the producer of the “Jesus Film” It is strange that most people in secular circles do not know of the film. Released in 1979, by Warner Brothers, it was not an initial commercial success. But today, it is believed to be the most watched picture of all time with some 6 billion viewings in the last 30 years. That is a spectacular number. It has been translated into some 1,100 languages. Who even knew there were so many languages? Paul Eshleman who is the executive involved in licensing the picture for evangelical purposes for Campus Crusade, believes that some 220 million people have come to Christ as a direct result of the picture.
The most viewed picture of all time is not known in post-modern culture. It just speaks to how large a chasm is developing : The most read book in the world is being swept out of the culture and booed at Christian charities. It does not make a lot of sense when you look at the world through the lens of secular humanism. It makes a lot of sense when you consider the battle that takes place in the unseen world. “For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the powers of this dark world, and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realm.” (Ephesians 6:13) Let’s face it, the enemy is not a big fan of the Bible.
I am traveling by train on a mission. I am having lunch with John Heyman to seek his blessing to make a new picture about Christ. Well, to make a transmedia event of the New Testament. It makes perfect sense to me: it is the most read book in the world. And now, we can deliver it up in a hundred different story slices and to a variety of demographics, across a myriad of delivery platforms from the big screen to the screen in our palms.
John is a show business legend. As an agent he made the first million dollar deal for an actor with his client, Liz Taylor, for Cleopatra; as an entrepreneur, he created “structured finance” for films and financed many of the pictures in the 80s at Paramount when I was there from Saturday Night Fever to Star Trek: The Motion Picture; and as an artist, he made the Jesus film. As a Dad, John so many kids, it’s almost biblical, perhaps the most famous is David who is the producer of one of the most successful transmedia events of the 21st century: Harry Potter.
As a businessman in the 1970s, John decided that it made good business sense to film the world’s most popular book. There would be an audience for it. As he researched the bible, he began to understand that much of western culture was based on the “Judeo Christian” perspective contained in the Bible. In fact, one of the most celebrated authors and playwrights of the western canon, William Shakespeare, makes some 1400 references to the Bible in his body of work. The original title of the film was “One Solitary Life”; it was Warners who changed the name to “Jesus”. It always seems a bit unseemly to consider “Jesus” a brand.
I know that John will give his blessing. We are good friends: we went snorkeling together in the Caribbean while staying at Richard Harris’ place; we played cards in a London Hospital during his long six months recuperation from a car crash in which he broke 128 bones. But beyond being friends, he will understand how important the idea of making a new story of Christ is for the 21st century .
PART TWO : LUNCH WITH THE LEGEND AND THE DAZZLING UNDERTAKING OF INTENTIONAL TRANSMEDIA.
Okay, my attempt at suspense or as John Heyman calls it the “Hook’em”.