When screenwriter Tara Stone develops a female character for a film, she goes beyond firepower and physical fitness to define the character’s strength.
“What makes a great female character isn’t that she can whip out guns and kick guys’ butts,” the Colorado native told the Denver Catholic Register. To create feminine female characters that resonate, Stone comes back to two documents that have long influenced her: Pope John Paul II’s 1994 Letter to Women and his 1988 apostolic letter Mulieris Dignitatem (On the Dignity and Vocation of Women).
“They’re two documents I seem to keep coming back for different reasons, even as a storyteller and scriptwriter,” she said. “In particular what John Paul II said about women having a special ability to recognize ‘the other’—to see the humanity and the personhood in the other.
“That’s gold when so much of our culture is about dehumanizing people.”
Stone, 28, plans to use her feminine genius, as it’s described in the two documents, to reach movie-goers as well as filmmakers.
“A movie is only going to change so many hearts,” she said. “But if you change the hearts of the people who are making the movies that’s going to have a much greater affect long-term.”
Stone’s first screenplay was made into a feature film, a modern-day thriller “Red Line,” that was released last July. The film began as her senior project while finishing a degree in communications media and screenwriting at John Paul the Great Catholic University in San Diego.
She started at the film school in 2008 after two-plus years of music education at the University of Denver.
“I hated school,” she relayed. Then she realized it wasn’t school she hated, it was that she wasn’t studying what she loved.
“(I realized) I never actually studied the thing I love the most,” she said, “which is movies.”
Six months later, the Monument native and parishioner at St. Peter Church in the Diocese of Colorado Springs, started at John Paul the Great.
“It never struck me that I could actually study movies,” she said. “I had never made a movie in my life, not even a home video. It was definitely the Holy Spirit moving.”
Writing that first screenplay proved challenging.
“Originally I wrote a World War II story about people who get stuck in a wine cellar,” she said. Half-way through, she got a call to stop writing.
“The director felt a period piece would be too expensive and it wasn’t going to be relevant enough,” Stone said. “So we took the story and the themes and transported them into a contemporary setting.”
She was devastated.
“It was a lot of work down the drain … (but) a fantastic opportunity to learn and grow as a writer.”
The resulting movie “Red Line” relays a story of a full subway train that’s brought to a slamming stop, the tunnel partially collapses and several passengers are killed or injured. The survivors must figure out what caused the crash, and deal with an unexpected danger they encounter in the tunnel.
While not meant to evangelize overtly, the film presents fundamental truths.
“It’s really hard to make a movie about Jesus that doesn’t sound preachy,” she said. “The challenge as a Catholic filmmaker is to find the balance between commercial viability, artistry and truth.”
The goal was to make a commercial film; one that would sell.
“We didn’t feel a Christian film could do that,” she said. “There’s an audience for Christian movies and that’s great, but those aren’t the people that need to be evangelized.”
Instead of preaching explicitly, they aimed to prepare hearts.
“Our goal was to till the soil and make people ready to receive the word,” she said. “To present more fundamental, basic human truths just by the fact that there is truth: that’s a big step forward.”
The movie, filmed on campus May 2011 with a $220,000 budget, involved an unusually higher number of women for such a project: Stone as writer, plus a female editor, camera operator and line producer.
“It’s appalling how few women have creative input into most of the films that make it into the theaters; it’s shocking,” she said. “Movies have such a huge influence on our culture, to only have male voices influencing culture is a little scary.”
It skews the lens, she said.
“It’s important for women to try to step into those roles more,” she said, “so that our culture is getting a more balanced perspective.”
Stone appreciates Pope Francis’ call to develop a deeper theology of women.
“I have great respect for Pope John Paul and his Letter to Women and Mulieris Dignitatem,” she said. “If Pope Francis can continue to build on those, that can only mean great things.”
Last month, Stone completed an MBA in film producing. She moved back to Monument where she is a writer and project manager for Ferrari Films. She recently finished a draft of her “passion project:” a 1940s musical.
“Red Line” is available on Netflix, Amazon and iTunes.
Red Line (rated R for violence)
Released: July 16, 2013
Producer: Yellow Line Studio, in partnership with John Paul the Great Catholic University
Starring: Nicole Gale Anderson, John Billingsley, Kunal Sharma, Kevin Sizemore
Winner: Union Tribune Best Film Award, San Diego Film Festival
Watch trailer: www.imdb.com/title/tt1930458/
Available: NetFlix, Amazon, iTunes