all familiar with the stuff coming out of Hollywood these days. Basic
Instinct, The Sopranos, CSI Las Vegas, CSI Miami, CSI New
York, CSI Perth Amboy (this is a new one,
with The Who’s “Boris the Spider” as
their theme song). Murder and mayhem, violence, explosions, car
chases, decadence and sex and drugs and all-night parties with
high-priced “escorts” and rock stars bouncing checks
and mingling with scantily clad A-list celebrities and corrupt
DEA agents and godless, drunken, amoral studio executives blacklisting
their friends and enemies and chasing buxom “secretarial” starlet
wannabes around expensive teak desks and coke-sniffing malodorous
perverted little lefties bashing THE AMERICAN WAY, threatening
to leave the country if [place politician’s name here] is
elected or re-elected or not elected or nominated or impeached.
Unfortunately, none of that is happening here at Christ Church.
The worst behavior exhibited by any of the television people so
far is a tendency to work incredibly long hours while remaining
They are filming a television series called The Book of Daniel, which
tells the story of Daniel Webster, an Episcopal priest played by
Aidan Quinn (an Irish-American actor who used to be a roofer and
apparently left that lucrative career to take up acting as a “fall-back” position,
in case the roofing work dried up). Fr. Daniel has the following
things going for him: 1) a dependency on prescription painkillers,
2) an openly gay Republican son, 3) an alcoholic wife, and 4) a
young daughter who alone shares his ability to see and have conversations
with Jesus. While these are all decided advantages as far as Hollywood
is concerned, they’re probably not so great for your average
urban church rector.
Fr. Daniel works for a female bishop played by Ellen Burstyn,
who no doubt gained the requisite experience for this part playing
little Megan’s mother in The Exorcist. I gather
that there is some friction between Fr. Daniel and the bishop,
but I must confess that I don’t know the cause of the friction
(I missed that meeting). I know what you’re thinking: there’s
plenty of potential in all this for some of that racy Hollywood
stuff mentioned earlier. But I’ll bet the average Christ
Church parishioner won’t have a snowball’s chance in
hell of participating in any of that horrible activity.
Anyway, I spent some time chatting with the show’s head
writer, Mr. Jack Kenny. He’s been in a stable partnership/relationship
for many years with an active Episcopalian (who apparently is the
ONLY Episcopalian involved in the whole thing, other than us, of
course). I wanted to know if the recent Gene Robinson flap had
anything to do with writing this story. Mr. Kenny said that it
certainly was on his mind while writing it, but that he was extremely
interested in the whole Episcopal outlook (the open and welcoming
attitude of the institution) for some time before those events.
He said it was time for someone to explore the Church in the same
sort of realistic way that The Sopranos has examined the
underworld and that Six Feet Under has examined the under
underworld (what’s a word for more under than under? Underer?).
He wants to take a closer look at every day problems with relationships,
family, religion, and life in general from the point of view of
a small parish priest. (It’s the parish that’s small;
Aidan Quinn is actually five-foot eleven and a half.) Mr. Kenny
said that he has been made to feel very welcome and he’s
enjoying his time here at Christ Church. Being an LRC (Lapsed Roman
Catholic), he feels comfortable with the Episcopal rites. If the
series gets picked up for a permanent slot, he may have to move
out here for some period of time to accommodate the filming and
of the other writers for the series (there are about a dozen writers
in all) is Ms. Dava Sovel, with whom I spent an hour or so one
day a couple weeks ago talking about the show. Ms. Sovel was personally
responsible for the episode that was filming at the time. (We were
both hideously embarrassed when I mistook her for popular author
Dava Sobel. Turns out that Dava Sobel and Dava Sovel are two completelydifferent
Ms. Sovel is impressed by the open attitude of the Episcopal
Church, and especially the people she’s met here at Christ
Church. She can’t understand how some of the other churches
insist that their priests can’t be married or that women
can’t be religious leaders. She likes the fact that ALL baptized
Christians are welcome at Communion in the Episcopal Church (though
I’m glad we didn’t get into what would happen if a
Jewish person, such as herself, wanted to receive Communion).
She says she’s really into the gothic look of the Church,
and how it looks like it’s right out of an old horror movie.
She really perked up when I mentioned that my house is haunted,
causing Fr. Clarke to offer her a tour of the Rectory, which he
in turn claims is haunted. He made sure to point out the attic’s “Blair
Witch Project” room (you know the one I mean). I didn’t
tell Ms. Sovel that my house is actually haunted by dead cats.
Many of the crew people (camera operators, sound technicians,
locations people) are young, college-educated professionals who
majored in communications or arts and then went directly from school
into the film industry. They work grindingly long hours and in
all weather. They are unfailingly cheerful and polite, and it was
a pleasure to spend time with them, in spite of the lack of all
that cool horrible Hollywood stuff mentioned earlier.
On filming days Super Vito (our indefatigable sexton), shows
up at the church at 5:30 a.m. to unlock everything and let the
crew in, and he has to be available well after midnight to lock
up after they leave. They actually pay him a stipend to cover the
extra time he spends at the church.
When they’re not on location, their days are a little easier
(they work comparatively ridiculously short ten-hour shifts in
the studio). The location assistants (like Chris Johnston) are
constantly looking for new places to use for film locations, so
if you see any Hollywood types skulking around outside your house
after dark, don’t be alarmed. Unless they aren’t actually
the location people, in which case, be alarmed. The way to tell
the difference is that the Hollywood people are polite, and actual
criminals rarely are (if you are a polite criminal, you
probably won’t be reading this, but just please accept my
apologies and stay away from my house).
Most of the filming so far has taken place either in the church
or in front of the church. A crew comes in and transforms everything
to make it fit the demands of the script. You may not recognize
the place when you see it on television. In the series, the church
is called St. Barnabus Church of Newbury, New York, somewhere up
near Albany. Yes, Barnabus is spelled wrong. Mr. Kenny
told me that the first time he looked up the name, he found it
spelled that way (he didn’t realize it was a typo). The project
sailed along using that spelling with no one noticing the error.
Mr. Kenny said that it actually works in his favor. No overly
pious types will be able to say, “Hey, that’s OUR church
those godless Hollywood freaks are stealing plot lines from!” (Overly
pious types tend to use prepositions to end their sentences with).
Also, there is no town called Newbury in New York. So the overly
pious types can’t say, “Hey! That’s where WE’RE
The crew also transformed the vestry room into a parishioner’s
living room for at least one scene, going to the trouble of building
a false wall with a working wall sconce light outside the door
so that the camera would not see the horrible carpeting in the
hallway or Jim Angone’s back yard. They have done quite a
bit of filming in the rectory as well, displacing Clarke and Sally
for hours at a time. I hope they’re using the time to explore
the cultural resources of Staten Island, or least, going to a bar.
I have heard several people say that they hope this show will
not reflect badly on the Episcopal Church. The show is a dark comedy,
and we will probably have to keep our tongues planted firmly within
our cheeks. I haven’t seen any episodes as of this writing
(late October, 2005), but judging by my conversations with Mr.
Kenny and Ms. Sovel, I’m sure it won’t be any more
offensive than most of the stuff I see on television. We will simply
have to not take the show (or ourselves) too seriously. I’m
sure that some folks will be offended by Jesus Christ interacting
with a drug-dependent clergyman, or by the presence of a Log Cabin
Republican on prime-time TV (Republicans – brrr!). However,
I’m equally certain that many people will see this show,
and it will cause them to think about topics that they may never
have thought about before, and perhaps let in a little light and
fresh air. And maybe that won’t be such a bad thing.
As for me, my thinking has already been shaken up. I overheard
one of the extras (our own Anne Devlin) mention that it was an
odd feeling to be in the church with Jesus standing in front of
her and Jesus’ stunt double standing behind her. Personally
I wouldn’t have thought that Jesus would need a stunt double,
but hey, He’s pushing two thousand years right about now.
I’m only forty-seven and I can’t do the stuff I did
when I was thirty, either.
The film crews will be with us off and on until about February.
They intend to create twelve episodes of the show for now, which
means they’ll need to accumulate about 552 minutes of film “in
the can” (that’s Hollywood talk for bathrooms, I think).
If the show becomes popular, there will be more on-location filming.
So far, their schedule has not disrupted the church in any significant
way. In fact, the money they are paying us for the use of our property
will go a long way towards restoring our priceless windows, which
are in serious shape and in need of extensive restoration. The
new landscaping you see around the church is their handiwork as
They have performed many smaller, less-noticeable little jobs
around the church and parish hall, such as replacing door stops,
fixing light fixtures, and fixing the threshold at the front door
of the church. The good they have done substantially outweighs
any inconvenience at this point. Let us continue to show the television
people a warm Christ Church welcome, and pray that the show they
are creating is successful and popular.
Now if you’ll excuse me, there’s a limo waiting out front
to take me to a party….