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WEIR ONLY HUMAN
Seeking to Curb the Cultural Decline

By BOB WEIR

Unless you’ve been residing on another planet for the last several years you know the name Rick Santorum. The former 2-term U.S. Senator from Pennsylvania and 2012 candidate for the Republican nomination for President has become a prominent figure in national politics, barely losing the GOP nod to Mitt Romney. His Christian faith and conservative values were eloquently stated during a series of televised debates that dominated the political landscape for several months. Santorum received enough delegate votes at the convention to come in third behind Romney and Ron Paul, despite having officially released his bound delegates to Romney. One can only imagine how much better the Senator would have done if he had spent even half the money that Romney spent in the most expensive campaign thus far. 

Santorum is spending a lot of time in the Dallas/Fort Worth area these days, but he’s not looking for votes. As the CEO of Echolight Studies in Flower Mound, Texas he’s turned much of his attention to producing movies that tend to accentuate the best qualities of the human race, rather than the usual violent, sexually explicit and mind-numbing verbal obscenities that the Hollywood community spews into our psyche each year. In late November, his first movie, “The Christmas Candle,” opened to audiences in about 390 venues, earning roughly $1.6 million in the first couple of weeks, just about equaling the cost of production. However, if you think that’s a sign of failure, I’d remind you of another film that had similar results, but went on to become a classic and a staple of Christmas television around the world. In its initial release, “It’s a Wonderful Life” didn’t come close to achieving its production cost, even with major stars like James Stewart and Donna Reed.

Just last week, Echolight’s “The Redemption of Henry Myers,” a western that was filmed on the same set as the 2007 Russell Crowe hit, “3:10 to Yuma,” had its World Premier on the Hallmark Movie Channel. During an interview with Senator Santorum at my Flower Mound home, he talked about his new vision. “For a long time I’ve wanted to get conservatives more interested in the media and movies in order to have an impact on the culture, instead of allowing Hollywood to define our society,” he said. “A local (DFW area) supporter of mine, who is also an investor in Echolight, asked me to join him in this faith-based venture. I began as a board member and was soon raised to CEO.” In order to keep from having his reputation tarnished, Santorum insisted on creative signoff for anything connected with the company.

“We have a movie coming out this fall that we will be distributing, as well as another one, made in Waxahachie, Texas that will be coming out next year. In addition, we’re talking to Hallmark about another launch on their movie channel. After that we have a film coming up that we hope to start production here in the next 2-3 months.”
The company recently acquired the rights to a story about a girl from Austin, Texas who was the first non-Russian to dance for the Russian Ballet. The movie will have a larger budget, and most of it will be filmed in the Czech Republic of Prague. “That’s because the ballet theater in Prague is a replica of the Bolshoi, inside,” Santorum said, adding, “You get the identical Bolshoi setting, plus there are tax benefits connected to filming it there.” The Senator said he mainly reads scripts to determine if the stories are good, with interesting characters, and with a faith element to them. “We want to build a brand, so when you see Echolight, you know it’s a movie with a wholesome theme, sort of like the Pixar of faith and family films,” he smiled. 

“Not long ago, I read a research group article which found that the number one cultural impact today comes from the movies, but 50 years ago it was the church. Now, the church is number 16,” he said. Along those lines, Santorum has a unique idea. “Suppose we were to release some of our films into churches? There are some mega churches in Flower Mound and surrounding areas that have those huge screens and great sound systems. If we’re making movies consistent with what the churches are teaching, wouldn’t it be better to have people go to the churches instead of a movie theater? They would pay for a ticket to go to church (other than regular church days); the church could sell popcorn, and viewers could also enjoy the fellowship and the opportunity to talk afterwards,” Santorum said. He believes the church would become more of a center of culture by marrying films with our religious institutions, thereby raising those numbers cited in the research.

Profits would be shared with the participating churches, adding revenue to their ministries.  The movie coming out this fall will be under the name “Echolight Cinemas,” and will be the first to go the church route. The formal announcement will be made in a few months (the Senator gave me the scoop). “We feel that we can get hundreds, if not thousands of churches to participate in this across the country. We want to put them in the center of the cultural discussion. It would be treated just like a theatrical release and they would have a month to run the movie as often as they wanted. After that, we would take the film back and then, in about a month we’d put it out on DVD.” At the end of the interview I was compelled to ask the question, “Will you run for President again?” He replied that he had recently visited New Hampshire and will be in Iowa for a visit very soon. It sounds like he’s keeping his options open.  

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