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CNN PEOPLE IN THE NEWS

Religion in Entertainment

Aired March 26, 2005 - 17:00   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


ANNOUCNER: Next on PEOPLE IN THE NEWS, Hollywood and religion. First, Mel Gibson's "The Passion of the Christ" stirred controversy and made millions at the box office. But after its success, is Hollywood born again?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I think pre Passion getting a faith-based film made was a little bit just short of walking on the water.

ANNOUNCER: Then, the hit TV shows where one of the shows is God. "Joan of Arcadia" and the questions it raises about fame.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: God is a subject that almost no one is indifferent to. Everyone has an opinion on it.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Thanks for coming.

ANNOUNCER: Also this writing duo may not look familiar, but together their books have sold over 60 million copies. How "The Left Behind" series became a crossover success.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We helped reveal a market that was a surprise to New York.

ANNOUNCER: A look at the often conflicting worlds of Hollywood and religion, now on PEOPLE IN THE NEWS.

ZAHN: Hi. Welcome to this special edition of PEOPLE IN THE NEWS. I'm Paula Zahn. If there's a gospel rule in Hollywood, it is success begets sequels, knockoffs and re-releases. So, just in time for the Easter holiday comes Mel Gibson's newly recut version of "The Passion of the Christ."

But in the years since Gibson's controversial movie first debutted, has Hollywood really found religion? Over the next hour, a look at faith and entertainment, past, present, and future.

(voice-over): Mel Gibson's "The Passion of the Christ," the blockbuster that brought the Bible back to theaters.

MARK PINSKY, RELIGION WRITER, ORLAND SENTINEL: Mel gibson is not the Messiah but he did make huge changes, I think in the attitudes of Hollywood toward religious films.

ZAHN: A personal expression of fate, which turned Hollywood on its head.

GIBSON: That's what making art is about. It's about sort of throwing it all out there. I think -- and if the fur is not flying, you ain't doing nothing.

ZAHN: Gibson's quest to make the Passion was rooted in his own religious convictions. As a young man he considered joing the priesthood and was raised as a conservative Catholic out of the main stream.

GIBSON: I probably sound like some egotist, you know, saying the Roman Church is wrong, but I believe it is at the moment, since Vatican II.

JESS CAGLE, SENIOR EDITOR PEOPLE MAGAZINE: Mel in his life has been heavily influenced by his father. His father was very unhappy with what he considered the modernization of the Catholic Church in the 1960s. So Mel has now, after a few wild years, embraced the same kind of very, very conservative Catholicism that his father believed in.

ZAHN: In fact, Gibson has even build his own church in California where mass is performed in traditional Latin as it was before Vatican II.

LARRY KING, HOST: You don't like the new church? The mass in English? The...

GIBSON: No.

KING: Why not?

GIBSON: It's missing some stuff.

KING: Like?

GIBSON: It's missing some very important things. I don't believe the transsubstantiation occurs anymore. I mean if there's not rules, if there's not an absolute, then it's not worth much.

ZAHN: Gibson has said he went through a spiritual crisis of his own about 14 years ago. In an interview with the Roman Catholic Network, Eternal Word Television, he described how he turned to the story of Christ's crucifixion for help.

GIBSON: Like most of us, I mean you get to a point in your life where you're pretty wounded by everything that goes on around you, by your own transgressions, by other people's -- you know, I mean just life as a -- it's kind of a scarring thing. So, I used "The Passion" as a meditation of healing myself.

ZAHN: But Gibson's decision to make a film of the passion received the cold shoulder from Hollywood. Even with his Oscar- winning resume, and box office clout and nearly $1 billion, studios were skeptical of a film about Jesus that Gibson wanted to make in Latin and Aramaeic.

MICHAEL FLAHERTY, WALDEN MEDIA: If you go back as recently as two years ago, Mel Gibson couldn't get anybody's attention on this. He couldn't get finance. He couldn't get distribution. And nobody ever assumed that the movie would make a single dime in the movie theaters.

GIBSON: OK, now, slowly raise it. Kind of perfect.

ZAHN: Gibson decided to finance the $30 million film himself.

TIM LAHAYE, CO-AUTHOR: He said then that he knew that he could lose $35 million of production costs of that movie, but he said, and with passion, he put his fist on the table, he said, I don't care if I lose every cent. This is something I have to do.

GIBSON: Action.

BARBARA NICOLOSI, FILM AND TELEVISION CONSULTANT: He's making something that profoundly reflected his own deepest beliefs. He was making a movie, I think, as an act of repentance, the sign of his own repentance to God. That's one of the things that give the passion its power, is that he actually believes this stuff.

ZAHN: But Gibson's beliefs would come under attack. Charges of anti-semitism were leveled against the film, which Gibson strongly denied.

GIBSON: I don't want to lynch any Jews. I mean it's like -- it's not what I'm about. I love them. I pray for them. I pray sincerely that every man, woman and child of the Jewish people ends up with his name written in the book of life.

ZAHN: That same controversy helped make the Passion a must-see event.

PAUL LAUER, MOTIVE MARKETING: There was like this outbreak of fire, this incredible energy, and controversy, and the smoke went up and everybody wanted to know what was going on.

ZAHN: The result? A film which has grossed more than $600 million worldwide, and left Gibson thankful to his public.

GIBSON: Because I circumvented the system in a sense, their participation and their support was extremely necessary. I'm very aware of that. Millions of people got behind it and made it what it was.

ZAHN: When we come back, has Mel Gibson convinced Hollywood to find religion once again?

I think that "The Passion of the Christ" made Hollywood begin to recognize that America is affected by spirituality. Every idiom of our culture, from arts to novels to politics are affected by our theology.

ZAHN: And the question all Hollywood is asking, what will Gibson do next?

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(INTERRUPTED BY LIVE EVENT) UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: ...and women with large breasts. So, if you can do that -- now, admittedly all of those elements are in Bible stories, but it's just a little hard to do them in a completely racy way.

ZAHN: Still a film which took in more than $600 million worldwide is hard to argue with.

CRAIG DETWEILER, BIOLA UNIVERSITY: Bottom line is, whatever is the newest hit, they will tend to duplicate. Hollywood will always follow success with a chance to try to duplicate that success. That's just good business.

ZAHN: As for Gibson's next movie choice, he's being tight- lipped.

GIBSON: I'm going to direct something else. I wrote it, yes.

ZAHN: It's rumored to be another religious-based film. But for now, Gibson's next passion remains a secret.

(on camera): There are a number of upcoming films with spiritual overtones, including the "Chronicles of Narnia." Author C.S. Lewis's much beloved fantasy series is steeped in religion, with its hero a symbol of Jesus Christ.

ANNOUNCER: When we return, God as a school mascot? A playground basketball player? A woman selling cats?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: You can adopt one Joan.

ANNOUNCER: "Joan of Arcadia" and a look at faith on television.

And later, their series of Biblically based novels had been best- sellers among Christians and non-Christians alike.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I think there's a God hunger on the part of society, whether that would call it that or not.

ANNOUNCER: The surprising success of the "Left Behind" books all ahead on PEOPLE IN THE NEWS.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

ZAHN: Religion isn't only going mainstream on the big screen, it's also become more prevalent on the small screen as well. Fueled by the success of shows like "Joan of Arcadia."

AMBER TAMBLYN, ACTRESS: Friedman!

ZAHN (voice-over: Joan Gerardi is the typical TV teenager. She lives with her parents and two brothers. She goes to high school. But that teenage boy she's talking with is God.

TAMBLYN: Are you been snip snippy with me? God is snippy. Joan sort of treats God like her friend. Sometimes she hates him. She makes fun of him. Actually makes fun of God a lot. It's a love/hate relationship but it's cool.

ZAHN: Joan is the creation of Barbara Hall, a veteran TV writer and producer.

BRUCE WILLIS, ACTOR: According to him he asked you last night.

ZAHN: With "Moonlighting," "Northern Exposure" and "Judging Amy" on her resume. Her inspiration for the show came from a long time interest in Joan of Arc and her own preteen daughter.

BARBARA HALL, TV WRITER: Just sort of looking at her and wondering what it would look like if she had, you know, had a calling like that. If any teenager would be able to answer a calling like that.

And then it led into imagining what that would look like if God tried to talk to a teenager today, which I think would have to be more profound than voices, because you know, I always say that first my daughter would have to take her iPod off to be able to hear anything.

ZAHN: Hall was raised a strict Methodist, but studied other faiths before converting to Catholicism. Her show gives her the opportunity to raise plenty of questions she has about God.

HALL: God is a subject that almost no one is indifferent to. Everyone has an opinion on it. Everybody wants to be in the discussion. The original plan for coming up with Joan of Arcadia" was to engage people in the discussion.

MARY STEENBURGEN, ACTRESS: The show doesn't try to preach to anyone. It doesn't try to pretend to have really any of the answers, not just all the answers, but even any of the answers, but it is a show that's not afraid to ask people to ask questions.

ZAHN: While Joan sees and hears God talking with her, so does the audience. Hall made the potentially controversial decision to make God a character on the program.

TAMBLYN: I can't hear you.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: But you can see me.

TAMBLYN: I'm ignoring you.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I'm used to that.

PINSKY: I think that was part of the initial appeal. It was so shocking in its conception that people said, whoa! What is this, exactly? Is this sacreligious maybe? But it becomes very clear as you watch the show, that it's not sacreligious. That it's really reverent in a way. The presentation is irreverrent, but the content is very reverent. ZAHN: When creating the show, Hall established a list of rules of what her God can and can't do. She calls them her ten commandments.

HALL: Like the very first rule is God can't interfere with free will. He can't directly intervene. And you know, everyone's allows to say no to god, including Joan. And God can never identify as one religion as being right on my show.

PINSKY: You don't hear the name jesus or Christ, for example. It's kind of generic religion with a low threshold of acceptance.

JOE MANTEGNA, ACTOR: God just doesn't give answers, which Barbara is careful about using that as one of the tenets of joan of arcadia.

ZAHN: Hall's God also doesn't fix things. Joan's brother is in a wheelchair, and he's not getting out.

HALL: That's everyone's biggest question about God. You know, if he designed the universe and has control of it, why doesn't he take care of some things that need taken care of? And that is a very deep theological question. And it can't be answered in a television show. And it can't be answered in a book. And it's just an ongoing question that we have to grapple with.

ZAHN: Even more of a challenge, how to portray the divine on camera. Hall's answer? Multiple actors, multiple faces of God, all talking with Joan.

HALL: God has been teenage 00 we call him cute boy God, a cute teenage boy, plumber, customer in a book store.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: OK. And you're talking to yourself.

TAMBLYN: We've had a girl named juliet who played 7-year-old God. We have all different ages, shapes, sizes, everything.

HALL: The reason is to keep God from being stereotyped or defined as a human being. And also to keep him/her surprising. Therefore, the God of the show is everywhere and nowhere. Always around, but -- and always surprising.

ZAHN: But while seeing God on television may be unique, finding religion there isn't. When our story continues, from "The Flying Nun" to "Highway to Heaven," to "South Park," why faith has always found a home on the small screen. Plus...

NED FLANDERS: Homer, Christian life isn't all praying and sacrifice.

ZAHN: Is this the best face of Christian evangelicals on TV today?

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

ANNOUNCER: We now return to PEOPLE IN THE NEWS.

ZAHN: Every week, network television beams messages from God to a teenage girl, "Joan of Arcadia."

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It's a comedy club, shouldn't you be smiling, Joan?

TAMBLYN: It's not like God is telling joan to learn the ten commandments and things like that. It's about factuality in life and things like that, things that we, as human beings, can relate to on an everyday level.

HALL: I think God, on our show, is someone that reminds people of what their true nature is, or asks them to uncover their own true nature, and asks them to ask big questions about what life is, and who we are to each other.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Mr. President...

ZAHN: Religious theme shows are nothing new to the small screen. "Highway to Heaven" ran for five seasons in the mid 1980s. Michael Landon portraying an angel helping people on Earth.

PINSKY: I think "Highway to Heaven" was a precursor in the way that John the Baptist was a precursor for Jesus. Religious in a generic, general sense, but no the in an overtly Christian or evangelical sense.

ZAHN: "Touched by an Angel" was an bigger hit, spending four of its nine seasons as a top ten hit.

ROBERT JOHNSTON, FULLER THEOLOGICAL SEMINARY: "Touched by an Angel," for a large group of religious or quasi-religious persons, to have that as a regular Sunday night fare, in which they saw an hour story of inspiration and hope and God, fit with their beliefs, fit with their dreams, their hopes, their aspirations.

PINSKY: More to the point, it was a hit for many years. And Hollywood understands a hit, and there must be something there. And I think if you can compare, for example, "Touched by an Angel" to Mel Gibson's "the Passion," these were overtly religious productions that made money and reached an audience. Hollywood understands that lesson.

ZAHN: Today, Joan of Arcadia is just one of many places religion can be found on TV. The WB show "7th Heaven" is now in its ninth season, focusing on the lives of a reverend and his wife as they care for their seven children.

And Jesus can even be found living in South Park.

JESUS: Hello, caller, your on the air.

PINSKY: It's not a character that's mocked. It's just Jesus lives in South Park and it shows that people will accept that. We'll see more of that, in more main stream shows and in more main stream films. They're not specifically about religion.

ZAHN: Mark Pinsky, author of the book, "The Gospel According to the Simpsons," even finds religion on that long-running irreverent cartoon.

PINSKY: They say grace at meals. They go to church on Sunday. They have no doubt that God exists. If you lived in France, for example, and all you knew about America was what you watched on television, if you watched a show like "Friends" or other situation comedies, you wouldn't know what a religious people we are. But if you watched "The Simpsons" you would know how very close to religious we are.

FLANDER: Neighbor, I heard about your heresy and we've made it our mission to win you back to the flock.

ZAHN: In fact, "the Simpsons" has a breakout religious character, Homer Simpson's evangelical neighborhood, Ned Flanders. Who even made the cover of "Christianity Today."

HOMER SIMPSON: Flaneders?

PINSKY: At first Christians were very suspicious. They said, oh it's Hollywood mocking us again. But what they figured out over five or ten years that Ned Flaneders is a wonderful, endearing character. And he's not a hypocrite, he's a genuine Christian. And really -- I find evangelicals have adopted Ned Flanders almost as a mascot of how to live a Christian life.

DETWEILER: I think Christians actually love Ned, because they see them self and their own absurdities portrayed in this loveable, goofy, but well-meaning Simpsons' character.

ZAHN: So why has TV seemed to embrace religion, while movies seem to shy away from it, before the Passion?

HALL: I think probably because of the intimacy of the medium. It's something that comes into your home and to your family and has the discussion with you. And I think that people can welcome that idea into their homes.

PINSKY: The problem with film, it's such a front end loaded investment. If it's not good, your investment is gone in a weekend, whereas TV, you might have a chance to build your audience. With movie, if people don't like it the first weekend, you can pack up and go home.

TAMBLYN: Hi darling!

ZAHN: But no matter what the medium, religion often invites controversy. Something the creator and cast of "Joan of Arcadia" welcome.

TAMBLYN: I hope we offend. Because I think when you offend someone, you're just making them think. HALL: I've always said the most controversial thing in life is that God is available to everyone all the time. And that's believe it or not, a very controversial thing to say. It's a very controversial belief.

TAMBLYN: Thanks.

ZAHN: A belief that Hall has made one of the foundations of her show.

(on camera): "Joan of Arcadia" will soon have some spiritual competition on TV. This spring, NBC is launching "Revelation," a series about a nun and a scientist who team up to fight armagaedon. And both ABC and the FX cable channel are currently developing their own mini series version of the ten commandments.

ANNOUNCER: When PEOPLE IN THE NEWS returns, the Christian based novels that shook up the publishing world.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: They were such a good read that they just took off like crazy.

ANNOUNCER: How a faith-faced series of books became one of the biggest successes in publishing history. That's next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(NEWSBREAK)

ZAHN: Welcome back to PEOPLE IN THE NEWS. A year ago, Mel Gibson's "The Passion of the Christ" stunned Hollywood. A movie so overtly religious, so graphic, so controversial, and yet so embraced by people of faith. It was a blockbuster that revealed an enormous potential audience. Perhaps the Passion's worldwide success shouldn't have been that big of a surprise.

(voice-over): This is one of the most successful authors in the world.

JERRY JENKSIN, AUTHOR: Rayfard Steele's mind was on a woman he never touched. With his fully loaded 747

ZAHN: His words may or may not ring a bell and his face probably isn't familiar either. But together with his writer partner, he sold a staggering 60 million books.

JENKINS: I'm Jerry Jenkins and I'm the writer of "The Left Behind" series.

ZAHN: Jenkins and co-author Dr. Tim Lahaye stand squarely at the crossroads of popular culture and religion. Their "Left Behind" series of biblically based novels are a publishing juggernaut with the last of the six books debutting No. 1 on the New York Times best seller list.

JENKINS: Here is contemporary fiction by two evangelical authors, a Christian publisher and the story is the rapture of the church, the return of Jesus Christ. You can't get more overt than that. And that becomes the biggest crossover book success ever.

ZAHN: Jenkins started his career as a sports writer. Then found success cowriting books with athletes such as Hank Aaron, Walter Payton and Nolan Ryan and religious figures such as Billy Graham.

JENKINS: I've had people ask me if I've read books that I've written. My names on them, you know. But so is Hank Aaron's name, so they haven't thought about that. They don't care who wrote it.

TIM LAHAYE, CO-AUTHOR: I've been a prophecy preacher for 55 years. I know I don't look like it. I started when I was very young.

ZAHN: Dr. Tim Lahaye was recently named one of the 25 most influential evangelicals in America by Time magazine.

One of the first board members of the Moral Majority, and a long time conservative activist, he was the author of many nonfiction books of his own.

LAHAYE: Thanks for coming.

ZAHN: But was looking for new ways to spread the gospel.

LAHAYE: If I'm going to catch fish, I have to go where the fish are, and the fish were in the fiction field.

ZAHN: The pair teamed up to begin writing what would become the Left Behind Series. Based on biblical prophecy, the story begins with the Rapture, a belief that, in the end times, those who have personally committed to Jesus Christ, will be immediately taken to heaven. Those left behind have to deal with the rise of the anti- Christ and the seven-year period of tribulations before Christ returns to Earth.

LAHAYE: The 21 judgments of the tribulation period are there to shake man from his false sense of security of this Earth, and make him look to God.

ZAHN: When writing the books, Lahaye provides the biblical foundation Jenkins, the words.

JENKINS: What I get from Doctor LaHaye before I write each book in the left behind series is a fairly ambitious workup note form. It's the scripture footnotes, commentaries that becomes sort of my bible for the writing of the books.

LAHAYE: He has a freedom to let the holy spirit lead him in taking my suggestions either ignoring them or or going on and using them.

ZAHN: As the pair began writing, they intentionally tried to appeal to two audiences -- those interested in fiction, and those interested in the Bible. JENKINS: Our hope was that believers would be encouraged and that unbelievers would at least be informed. And you know, for somebody who calls them self an evangelical, the greatest result is to have people say they've actually turned to faith because of this.

ZAHN: However, expectations for the first book were modest.

JENKINS: They printed 35,000 book blocks, and they jacketed 20,000 of those, just to hedge their bets, because the jacket cost as much as the book. And in case the thing fizzled, you don't have to jacket the other ones, you save that money.

ZAHN: Instead the Left Behind Series slowly grew into a phenomenon.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Thank you very much.

PINSKY: First Evangelical Christians discovered it and suggested to their friends that might not be religious or might not be Christian. It was such a good read they took off like crazy. And in much the same way that "Da Vinci Code" has reached beyond people interested in church history.

ZAHN: The pair has just reached their 13th book, a prequal that includes children's books, audio books and study guides.

If "The Passion of the Christ" showed Hollywood that faith and entertainment could combine to become a blockbuster hit, Left Behind has already proven that to publishers.

JENKINS: You get the greatest story ever told and you get a popular icon like Mel Gibson involved, it was going to be big anyway. But, again, we helped reveal a market that was a surprise to New York as far as the book and Mel has revealed the market that was a surprise to Hollywood.

ZAHN: When our story continues, Left Behind makes the transition to film.

JENKINS: We were not big fans of the movies. That's not been a secret.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

Welcome back to PEOPLE IN THE NEWS.

ZAHN: A book signing in Colorado. Hundreds of people wait in line to meet the authors of the wildly successful Left Behind Series Dr. Tim Lahaye and Jerry Jenkins.

JENKINS: I think there's a God hunger on the part of society. Whether they'd call that or not. People are buying books on the pope and Dalie Lama and the Eastern healing gurus, and I think it's because we live in a scary time.

ZAHN: With 60 million copies sold, a devoted fan base and a biblically based storyline which features plenty of action and adventure Left Behind would seem to have the potential to follow in the steps of the passion of the christ and become a box office hit.

LAHAYE: Right from the beginning I saw movie. Somehow there has to be a movie. Because to me, movies are the most powerful vehicle to the human mind ever invented.

ZAHN: In fact, there have already been two Left Behind movies, released before the Passion.

PETER LALONDE, PRODUCER, "LEFT BEHIND": The Left Behind film franchise has been enormously successful and part of the whole boom of Christian filmmaking we see taking place thousand.

ZAHN: Made outside of Hollywood by Christian filmmakers the cast head lined by Kirk Cameron of Growing Pains fame. With budgets that pale in comparison to the special effects specaculars Hollywood turns out, the films took in $4 million to theaters and were essentially direct to video productions.

PINSKY: I think with the Left Behind Series, they basically dropped the ball. They tried to make the movie on the cheap. And the movie was not of the same quality as a movie, as the novels were as books.

NICOLOSI: Yeah, if you put Left Behind up in front of the industry and say this is a Christian movie, this is embarrassingly bad, schlock on every level.

ZAHN: The authors who sold the film rights to their books before their series became a smash hit have also been disappointed.

JENKINS: We sort of wish we could get the rights back and do it ourselves again. We wanted a big budget Hollywood theatrical release and we felt like we sort of got a church video.

ZAHN: In fact, co-author LaHaye filed a suit against the filmmakers alleging they had promised to make a blockbuster film and failed to deliver.

LAHAYE: Our intent was to get into the theater and expose our message to thousands of people that never go to church or don't understand Bible prophecy.

ZAHN: LaHaye lost. The suit was dismissed in favor of the filmmakers.

LALONDE: They sort of say you're a real film company when you get involved in your first lawsuit. That means you've made it somewhere.

ZAHN: The Left Behind producer also defends the quality of his movies, noting they received excellent reviews from the Christian community.

LALONDE: I think, for Christian films, I think they were a great step in the right direction. Could they have better and had bigger budgets? I think so. Had the market demonstrated that the marketplace could bear a bigger budget movie at that point in time? No. We had not had the Passion at that point in time. So, they were sort of boxed in to what they were.

ZAHN: The movies had been successful in the home video market, selling more than 4 million copies to date.

LALONDE: The first film was best selling title of the year by an independent video. The second film that we did debutted No. 2 only to Spider-Man.

ZAHN: The marketplace for Christian entertainment has been growing, even before the success of the Passion. More than $4 billion a year is spent on religious theme books, music and videos.

BILL ANDERSON, CHRISTIAN BOOKSELLER ASSN: There's a growing interest. As people become more and more aware of the products that intersect with their lives, they're saying wow! This is helpful to me in my own personal growth and rearing my children. And the quality has improved. The availability is larger and people are more interested.

ZAHN: But in a post-Passion environment, the bar for any religious-oriented film has been raised.

ANDERSON: Today's consumer is a tough jury so our work has gotten more demanding because today's consumer is more savvy and has higher expectations.

ZAHN: One recent success, "Woman, Thou Art Loosed," a film produced by popular minister T.D. Jakes.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Hello, Michelle.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We did make it for a general audience. We did not make it for an exclusively christian crowd. And the general audience doesn't want to be beaten over the head with religion. But that doesn't mean they're not interested in faith.

JONATHAN BOCK, GRACE HILL MEDIA: I think that ministers have started to understand that there are tools that mainstream culture creates that they can tap into for their own ministerial purposes.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: You let the man molest your daughter?

ZAHN: In limited release, the film opened in a respectable seventh place at the box office.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This film did not make a large amount of money. I think maybe $7 million or $8 million at the box office. But he still made his investment back. And I think he'll be using that film in its DVD form as part of his ministry for years and years to come.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This is a niche film industry. And I think it will grow. I think there will be movies like the Passion that have breakout success. But I think those are going to be 1 in 100. And I think it's a case of aiming for base hits, one after the other.

ZAHN: Lalonde hopes his latest film Left Behind: "World War III" will be more like a home run. Currently in production, he says it has a bigger budget than the previous two films and comes with higher expectations.

LALONDE: I think this movie is going to knock the socks off both of them. We have upped everything to such a level. I think that absolutely each one of the films in the Left Behind Series, and we intend to make several more, will reach a wider and wider audience as we move along.

ZAHN: While it's unclear if that audience will materialize, the authors of the Left Behind Series continue to have a hit on their hands. Their latest novel debutted at No. 2 on the New York Times Bestseller List.

(on camera): That's it for this special edition of PEOPLE IN THE NEWS. I'm Paula Zahn. Thanks so much for joing us. Hope to see you again next week.

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