Interview with Alan Nafzger, Windthorst Texas, September 2, 2019.
Nafzger on Tobit
CCT: Thank you for speaking with us.
AN: Not a problem. I like your site and of course your interest in my film is certainly welcome.
CCT: You’ve been fighting a battle you said on the phone?
AN: It’s an uphill battle getting anything done in Hollywood and you throw in a faith-based and positive family story and you just made the ground even more incline. You just moved things to Stone Mountain.
CCT: But you have made some progress. We hear optimistic things in the church.
AN: Oh, no doubt. You know it’s amazing how organized and how connected people of faith can be if they want.
CCT: How do you mean?
AN: Well, I wrote the script on speculation. Just my wild idea Tobit would make a good movie. So, I emailed it to a few priests and Catholic theologians in Los Angeles and New York and inside of a week I’m getting emails from Seattle, Saint Louis and Austin.
AN: It’s really nice. So, I entered the Jewish Experience Screenplay Competition and won. Entered it in the Black List competition and received very nice marks.
CCT: You sent me a copy. Can we post that for our members?
AN: Sure. Of course. I’m proud of it.
CCT: It says the demon is underdeveloped as a villain.
AN: Well, the Bible doesn’t tell us what he says, it does show us what he does, however. Which is an old movie adage, “show them don’t tell them.” We know who the demon is by what he does. He kills seven grooms before they can consummate their marriage with Sarah. For me that’s plenty of villainy. I fixed a few things, the girl mentioned, but I didn’t fix the demon. The demon is the demon. How can anything be worse than that?
CCT: So what makes the story so compelling?
AN: Well, it’s a struggle of faith. Tobit faces more than a few hurdles he needs to make it over and basically struggle (conflict) is the subject of just about every movie; without that a film doesn’t get made. But Tobit’s struggle is more personal. Religious people have problems just like none believers. And I think I’m arguing that believers have more obstacles and their struggles are more intense, because sometimes they are principally with themselves (with their faith) in addition to all the other non-religious problems they might encounter.
CCT: So, why is Tobit so likeable?
AN: Of all the characters in the Bible, Tobit is one of the least know but for me he’s one of the most endearing. My father is 86 and maybe that has something to do with it. As we say in Texas, “he’s a good old guy.” The Bible pretty much stops at Tobit giving to the poor, faithfully praying and burying the dead, but the film will have a bit more to like about him. I guess it’s part of adapting a Biblical story into a modern setting, but I did add a bit here and there. He prays in the park everyday. He feeds the birds. He rescues a starving dog from the street. He insightful enough to fight a rather novel battle with the Nazi’s in Amsterdam before the war begins. He carefully instructs his grandchildren in how he expects them to live.
AN: It’s only a spoiler if you never read the Book of Tobit. I spoke to Larry McMurtry when I was young and I will always remember him telling me that the most important thing is for the main character to be liked. Well, the Bible does the real work for me; he’s liked. He’s loved; I just translated the moral preaching into a modern practice. Everyone knows how the story will end, it’s not really my story, but it does let me display my craftsmanship. For me, it’s not what the story is (that’s old), it’s how it’s retold.
CCT: You set the story in the 1930s and in Amsterdam.
AN: Yes, no one is going to go see a film set in 800 B.C. And it’s a Jewish story. No matter when the story takes place, Tobit is going to die. Everyone knows the Nazis invaded Holland in 1940. Since I set the film in the 30s, the audience will have to sit there the two hours and speculate whether Tobit dies in the Holocaust or perhaps he escapes it. Since we all know how it ends in the Bible… it’s a cheap trick to add a little suspense (drama), because we know it’s coming and the story is bound to end. The question is where does it end, Amsterdam or Auschwitz?
Nafzger on Hollywood
CCT: So, you said it’s controversial.
AN: I didn’t realize it at first, but it is. I did a lot of research, I always do. So I found this elaborate and quite serious debate raging online, about whether Toby is a “biblical name” or not. Of course, it was Protestants on one side, saying it was not. And the Catholics believing it is. I guess they were tired of the old centuries old debate about whether Tobit is in the Bible or not. That sort of thing can get old. But the debate was online, vitriolic and really very malicious. That and a producer said my screenplay was “too controversial,” My response was that is good. It means money. Controversy will set the press off and that will send people off to the box office.
CCT: What’d he do?
AN: Nothing. But there are cowards in every profession. I personally, I like people who see that way things really are. I guess a person can go overboard with controvesy but almost always a stir means money for a movie — Jaws, Natural Born Killers, The Last Picture, The Passion, Last Tango in Paris. You know, if you think about it, it’s a personal economic choice. Debate and controversy just don’t settle with some people. Their personality just can’t tolerate it and they are content making a little money off really meaningless films. But, it takes all sorts, I guess.
CCT: Is this a Jewish movie.
AN: Yes. Tobit is a pious Jewish man. Oh, I guess I should have mentioned. Not only did I send the original script to a few Catholics looking for mistakes I might have made, I also sent it to some New York and LA rabbis. They were highly complementary. They view the story as apocryphal, but they did appreciate candid look at their faith.
CCT: So what’s next?
AN: There are things that I can’t say, that might please you. But I’ll tell you something funny. The first reader who reviewed the script for the Black List, labeled it as “low budget.” It’s not going to be that, actually it will have stars in it that will make it one of the biggest budgets of the year.
CCT: What do you expect will happen?
AN: Well, I expect it will be another milestone in faith-based filmmaking.
CCT: That’s a bold statement.
AN: No, I don’t think it is. Every religious film at this stage is guarded, about how well it will do. And EVERY single film – Break Through, Soul Surfer, The Shack, God’s Not Dead – surpasses even our own expectations. Look what Mel Gibson’s The Passion did – $612 million on a $30 million production-budget. I’m seeing a patten, that’s all.
CCT: What does that do to the haters predictions?
AN: The anti-religious in Hollywood? Well, it makes them look like idiots. Surely they are right about some films; how do they keep their jobs. They’re constantly are wrong about this category of film. But you can’t talk to them, they are not just anti-religious. They are leftists. That backs up their political beliefs; it’s straight out of Lenin. Atheism is a weapon of the left. And, if they were willing to listen… well you know.
CCT: You don’t like the left?
AN: No, sir, I don’t. They would ruin this country. No just would, they are. They are making us lazy, ruining our productivity and you’ve got an entire party in this country run by and for losers. And they want government to operate for losers. I just write losers off, they double down on them. Talk to a Democrat sometime ask them what they really believe in.
CCT: How do you get anything done in Hollywood, ‘cause they’re all liberal.
AN: Let me tell you a little secret. A healthy amount are, mostly actors and the creative people. Genuine socialists. But there is also an entire group of people that only say they are progressives. They really aren’t, but they need the label to fit in. To do business. You can talk to these people. They might use the left to fill the cast, but when it comes to dollars and common sense, they will admit when a film is good. They are smart enough to make hundred million dollar films.
CCT: I thought they were all liberals.
AN: And I’ll tell you another thing. The left don’t make hundred million dollar films. They might help make them, but the producers, directors, and executives I just told you about, they actually make the big films.
AN: Let me ask you a question. Would you trust the any one of those Hollywood liberals with a hundred million dollar investment?
AN: Well, the market doesn’t either. Neither do banks or investors. They might make the E! news riding bicycles, recycling and adopting puppies and they might make it into the films credits, but when it’s all said and done, you have to ask yourself what did they actually do other than be in the right place at the right time or know someone competent with money.
Nafzger on Politics
CCT: Aren’t you shooting yourself in the foot talking to me? Won’t they hold a grudge?
AN: Well, we are very polarized. I read what they write. A lot of libertarian/conservatives (intellectuals and academics read both sides), but they don’t read what we write. They are very compartmentalized and can’t stand to see anything that goes against their preconceived notions. Learning socialism does not work, would break their little hearts.
CCT: Give me an example.
AN: I read The Nation, but they don’t read the Wall Street Journal or Investor’s Business Daily.
CCT: I don’t understand.
AN: You have a catholic blog; they will never read this. I’ll hire out, option scripts and the left will never know how much they’re despised. Too bad really, it would do most of them some good if they realized. They’ll act and direct and invest with absolutely no knowledge. You know what I get a kick out of is going to a party in LA and they all assume you’re with them. Everyone they meet agrees with them (so they can make movies) and so here’s a writer from Texas and they say things like, “how can you live in a red state with all those Republicans.” And they can not understand how Mr. Trump was elected. And they can’t learn. They will be apoplectic in 2020, twice in a row. They don’t know anyone that paid attention in school or go to church or operate business outside of film.
Nafzger on The Catholic Film Market
CCT: Let’s talk about selling the script.
AN: Okay, Catholics make up 50% of all Christians and 16% of the world total population. Jews core population worldwide are about 14 million, but they are a rich market. They have professions, jobs, and spend money on films. Tobit is still in the Orthodox Bible. Listen, I have gotten nice letters from conservative Lutheran ministers in the Midwest and they are basically the group that had Tobit removed from the Bible. Something about Catholic mysticism and Martin Luther wanting it out of the Bible all those years ago, but they are the first to admit there are important lessons to be learned from the story.
CCT: You get along with everyone don’t you.
AN: Hardly. I get along with people who keep their intellectual integrity. Listen, there are several studios that know this could be a huge film. It’s not just for Catholics and it’s not just Mel Gibson. Protestant’s will buy tickets in solidarity with Catholics and Jews. When it comes to Hollywood and film it’s actually our nature. By “our” I mean the Jude-Christians.
CCT: You are optimistic.
AN: Not always.
CCT: My journalism teacher in college said there is no good location for an interview, but this is really nice.
AN: This is my home church. I grew up here. I guess that is why your professor said that. It’s my home territory.
CCT: Well, it was a pleasure. Is there anything else you want to add.
AN: Yes, if you are reading this or listening to the pod-cast and are still in school, please pay attention. First of all it’s your only opportunity. Once you are out of school there is absolutely no help. Well, there is the media, but they are likely to make your situation worse than it already is if you take them too seriously. Secondly, look at our falling standard of living and our political and religious divisions approaching 1850s levels. Did you ever think this is caused by half the kids occupying the seats and not getting anything out of it?
CCT: That’s a loaded statement.
AN: I just tell it the way I see it.
CCT: Thanks for agreeing to talk. I know you don’t do this often.
AN: You are welcome, and young man, good luck.