Mark Burnett, Roma Downey and Me



So, on Monday we were back into mom mode. One paediatrician appointment, two play-dates, bathing the dog (now that she sleeps on my bed,this is essential!)

Plus a bath with epsom salts because after all of that skiing and badminton, I could barely move! It's good because if every day were like yesterday, well, it would be hard to keep grounded.

Because yesterday was all about this:


Yup, Mark Burnett was announcing that I'm going to be a new judge on The Voice.

Not really. That job is apparently going to Melinda Estabrooks, based on her epic VHS audition tape.

Crossroads invited me to a lunch and meet and greet with Mark Burnett (yes, that Mark Burnett) and Roma Downey (yes, that Roma Downey), who are promoting their upcoming television mini-series, The Bible, which premieres on History on March 3, 2013. I think it's pretty amazing that someone with Burnett's track record has turned his attention to bringing the Bible - from Genesis to Revelation - to the small screen.

First of all, can I say how pretty Crossroad Communication's event room is?

The food was good too. Going to check out The Grinning Gourmand for my next shindig. They had me at the candied bacon! (I know, I was invited to help promote an important tv series, not stuff my face with candied bacon. But still, candied bacon!!)

But back to the main event:

I got to see about an hour from the 10-hour series and I was pretty impressed. I'm not always the biggest fan of anything with a "Christian" label as it often seems to be a euphemism for "not really good enough to be mainstream." It should, of course, be the opposite: Our Utmost for His Highest. So it thrills me when people of faith put the same degree of excellence into their projects as we expect from Hollywood.

And The Bible, from what I saw, does not disappoint. The budget is big: $20 million big. The score, which I believe can make or break a production, is by Hans Zimmer. Yes, that Hans Zimmer of The Lion King, Gladiator, The Dark Knight and Inception. Gladiator has one of my favourite scores of all time. In fact, Gladiator is one of my favourite movies of all time and this series has a very Gladiator-like feel. The special effects were done by the same graphics people who worked on Ridley Scott's amazing film. I saw clips from the Noah's Ark scene and the parting of the Red Sea. Impressive (or as Burnett would say, EPIC!)

Some of the scenes we saw were very intense. The movie does not sanitize the brutality of the ancient world. As Mark Burnett put it, "this is not a donkeys and sandals version of the Bible." And that's important, not simply because it might encourage the guys to switch it on in their man caves, but because it highlights how miraculous it was that the message of love and foregiveness triumphed over a world that was anything but. And it gives us hope that love and forgiveness can once again triumph. We will never be too broken - as a people, as a planet - for God to bring about our redemption.

The set is gorgeous. It was all shot on location in Morocco. Roma and Mark (because, you know, we're all on a first-name basis now) talked about the making of the movie. Morocco has a huge film industry because of the number of movies shot in the area and their local crew is one of the best in the world. They also discussed some of the logistics of shooting, such as employing a "snake man" to clear the set of serpents each day. That's dedication.

It's not just a "gee-wow!" special effects piece. It's very much character-driven. And the characters are not archetypes: they are flawed, filled-out, flesh and bone people. As Burnett pointed out, "there is only one perfect character."

I was not familiar with any of the actors (except for Downey who plays Mother Mary at the time of the crucifixion), which is a good thing. When you know too much about an actor, it can be distracting. Ashton Kutcher as Jesus! I don't think so... Instead, Jesus is played by a Portuguese television actor, Diogo Morgado. He's a good choice. He has a kind face, yet looks strong. If I have one criticism it's that everyone's teeth look pretty straight and white. In university, I did a double major in English and Classics and I have to tell you, they did not do a lot of Zoom whitening in ancient Rome. But that's a small criticism for such am ambitious project.

The one thing I did not get a handle on is the theological bent of the film. Mary Magdalene features prominently as one of the disciples. So I liked that. And Downey commented on how even though there are 33,000 Christian denominations, with many, many differences, she hoped that this would be a unifying film. As she so elegantly said, "It's a great big feast and everyone's invited to the table." Amen to that.

I was very impressed with Mark Burnett and Roma Downey. Not impressed because they are celebrities per se (when I covered media accounts for the bank a million years ago, I met lots of famous people and once you've felt Mark Wahlberg's abs at a party, nothing else tends to wow...) but impressed because of all the career opportunities these two must have, they have chosen to spend three and a half years bringing The Bible to the screen. They believe that everything they have experienced in life (including their marriage) has been leading them to this project. They are not looking to succeed because they need the money or the ego boost (I'm guessing that the royalties from Survivor, The Apprentice, and The Voice are paying the rent and getting them the very best table at Swiss Chalet.) They want this to succeed because they want people to know our history and because they want people to know Christ. They want a new audience to be exposed to the greatest story ever told.

So set your PVRs for Sunday, March 3 (it's OK, Downton wraps Feb 17!) Or better yet, grab your pals and throw a Bible party on Sunday nights. If this series could be discussed over the water cooler (or Facebook) as much as Downton has been, that would be an amazing, amazing thing.

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