On Tuesday April 7, the Notre Dame Center for Ethics and Culture sponsored an event called “An Insider’s Look at Hollywood: An Intimate Conversation with Dick Lyles, CEO of Origin Entertainment.” The event was meant to supplement the Center’s Catholic Culture Film Series, which reflects on ways in which the cinema plays a substantial role in our culture and how Catholics can use the industry to exert a positive influence. Besides being CEO of several companies, Lyles developed training programs for businessmen that cover six continents and wrote the bestseller Winning Ways. As CEO of Origin Entertainment, he helps ensure the making of films that are skillfully crafted while conveying meaningful ideas.
“We are at a critical point in what’s happening in the world right now,” Lyles began. He briefly outlined the economic history of the 20th century, beginning with Pope Leo XIII’s prediction in his 1891 encyclical Rerum Novarum that communism would ultimately fail and be replaced by the triumph of capitalism. A century later in 1991, Pope John Paul II issued the encyclical Centesimus Annus which confirmed capitalism’s success, but warned of the threats associated with this victory.
Capitalism depends on the Catholic principles of liberty and personal freedom, which can be abused if people choose selfishness and irresponsibility. The encyclical further included the fear of those putting themselves above the common good. “Are we seeing this today, twenty years later?” Lyles asked, “It’s everywhere, in all major institutions.” Government and business are among those institutions that are “wounded,” Lyles explained—reflected in the disappearance of politicians who nobly pursue the common good and as evidenced in the current economic crisis. The destruction extends to journalism, which gave up on its old goal to “report and describe” in favor of strongly pushing an anti-Christian agenda, Lyles explained as he held up a cover of Newsweek bearing the title, “The Decline and Fall of Christian America.”
Lyles moved on to Hollywood, another one of these broken institutions. In fact, its dysfunction is a major issue. Hollywood is an organization that “shapes how people view the world and shape their values,” Lyles commented, “It is a Church of the Masses,” endorsing a theology of narcissism, self-gratification, and greed. “It threatens Catholics and Christians, as well as anyone who cares about free enterprise, capitalism, respect for self, humanity, and our world in general,” Lyles said, “That’s why we should care that it’s broken.” Because Hollywood promotes narcissistic self-indulgence and greed, general incompetency has tarnished the foundational principles of craftsmanship and quality of work. “It’s a people-centric business where few people know how to be effective in their interactions with other people,” Lyles stated. Movies are made which have several excellent features, but fail to come together in an integral whole. Lyles held the egocentricity of actors, directors, and producers alike responsible in part for this failure. “Hollywood lacks cohesive leadership discipline,” Lyles continued.
The biggest testament to Hollywood’s incompetence? The kinds of movies that get made. G-rated films gross $78 million, PG-rated $28 million, and R-rated $4 million. Yet 95% of the films Hollywood creates are R-rated because “that’s what people want to watch.” In these chaotic times, Lyles urged us to think of the implications of not acting. “The culture around us is changing to the point that it’s becoming toxic to the very foundations of our society, and we’re letting it go by,” he said. “We have to make a difference.” Lyles pointed to a rediscovery of the Judeo-Christian tradition and ethic, which he believes was responsible for American cinema’s “golden days,” producing actors like Charlton Heston and Meryl Streep and films such as Casablanca and Citizen Kane. Christians must somehow project their values into the world in an effective way. Lyles’ solution to this is companies like Act One, an organization that trains Christians for Hollywood careers in screenwriting. He also emphasized the need for groups like the Genesis Initiative, a non-profit organization that will ensure the re-establishment of a Catholic presence in society for future generations via movie and television projects. “We’re in a values culture war without ammunition,” Lyles stated urgently, “so as Christians we need to learn about our values and how we relate to them.”
Visit www.originentertainment.com for more information about Dick Lyles and his endeavor.