Writer strives for ‘reel’ encounters with truth

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.

Julie Filby: 303-715-3123; julie.filby@archden.org; www.twitter.com/DCRegisterJulie





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

COMING UP: On Fathers and Christian Masculinity

Sign up for a digital subscription to Denver Catholic!

The Year of St. Joseph points us to Jesus’ adoptive father, Joseph, as the essential model for fathers. Joseph not only manifests genuine masculinity, he also images God’s own fatherhood, as Pope Francis makes clear in his apostolic letter, Patris Corde: “In his relationship to Jesus, Joseph was the earthly shadow of the heavenly Father: he watched over him and protected him, never leaving him to go his own way.” Jesus, though the Son of God, obeyed Joseph, learned from him, and worked with him, acknowledging Joseph as a true expression of God’s own fatherhood.  

God does not just use fatherhood as an image of himself, because he himself is Father, even within his own triune life. Earthly fatherhood comes forth from him and should manifest his life and love. St. Paul speaks of honoring the “Father, from whom all fatherhood in heaven and on earth is named” (Eph 3:15). God wants everyone to be able to see his own fatherly love and called certain men to share in his own paternal gift of bringing forth life and caring for others. Every father is called to be liked Joseph, “an earthly shadow of the heavenly Father” for his own family. 

Our culture, however, often denigrates masculinity, sometimes viewing even its proper expressions as toxic. We too often see maleness in its fallenness — dominating and selfish — rather than showing self-sacrificial service. In fact, later in Ephesians, Paul speaks of the true vocation of the husband and father: “Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her” (Eph 5:25). He also speaks of the role of fatherhood: “Do not provoke your children to anger, but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord” (Eph 6:4). Paul shows us the goal of fatherhood — sacrificing himself for the flourishing of the family by putting the good of his wife and children before his own desires.   

No matter what the contrary voices of our culture say, we need strong men and fathers. God created man and woman in complementarity, and they need each other to thrive, helping the other in relation to their own strengths and weaknesses. Children need the strong presence of a father to discipline and teach, as Paul reminds us. Study after study has shown that fathers have the largest impact on the faith of their children. Christian Smith explains in his sociological study, Young Catholic America, that “the faith of Catholic fathers is powerfully determinative of the future faith of their children (125). The same can be said for general wellbeing and success. When fathers are absent or refuse to exercise their role, a moral and spiritual vacuum appears. A strong majority of felons, for instance, grew up without fathers in the home.  

St. Joseph helps us to understand the strength of Christian fatherhood. First, like any good husband, Joseph listened — not just to his wife but also to God. Woken up frequently by angels, he demonstrated obedience and trust, quickly leaving everything behind to follow God’s instructions and to protect his family. We also know Joseph for his work as a carpenter and builder, content to live simply and to work hard. Importantly, he also taught Jesus how to work, showing that fathers model and teach by drawing their children into their life and work. And we can also learn from Joseph’s humility, serving the Incarnate God and his Mother without even a single recorded word in the Gospels.  

This humility points us to the essence of Christian fatherhood. Although living with two perfect people, Joseph was still called to lead. He quietly and humbly did what was needed for his family and taught his own maker how to share in his work. Fathers do not lead in order to be in charge or to get their own way. They lead because God asks them to care for and protect their families. Fathers and mothers share in the great and beautiful partnership of family life, although fathers cannot simply sit back and let mom take the lead in the spiritual life, as they are often tempted to do. Like Joseph, fathers should act firmly and lovingly to put God and the family before self, obeying God and leading the family in the right direction. They are called to model faith, work, and sacrifice to their children. 

On Father’s Day we can affirm that masculinity and fatherhood are not just good — they are essential to understanding God and his plan for human flourishing. If our culture turns around, it will be because, in large part, Christian men stand up and fight. As Christians, we cannot give in to the culture’s attempt to denigrate masculinity and fatherhood or to pit men and women against each other. We can use this celebration to affirm the essential role that our fathers play, leading their families like St. Joseph.