Sean Paul Murphy, Writer

Sean Paul Murphy, Writer
Sean Paul Murphy, Writer

Thursday, March 27, 2014

Publisher's Marketplace Blurb

Non-Fiction:  General

Feature film producer and screenwriter Sean Paul Murphy's THE PROMISE, OR THE PROS AND CONS OF TALKING TO GOD, pitched as an inspirational story of first faith and first love and how they became almost fatally intertwined, to Sheri Williams at TouchPoint Press, for publication in ebook and trade paperback in Summer 2014 (World).

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Legacy Distribution acquires "Sacred Ground: The Battle for Mount Auburn Cemetery"

Great news!  My award-winning feature length documentary, "Sacred Ground:  The Battle for Mount Auburn Cemetery," has been picked up by Legacy Distribution.

Mount Auburn Cemetery
"Sacred Ground:  The Battle for Mount Auburn Cemetery" tells the story of community activists and family members battling a Methodist Church for control of the historic African-American Cemetery.  For years, Mount Auburn Cemetery was the only place African-Americans could be buried in the city of Baltimore.  It is the burial place of lightweight boxing champion Joe Gans, the first African-American world champion in any sport, and numerous leaders of the early Civil Rights struggle.  It is a registered historic landmark that has fallen into such shocking disrepair that human bones litter the ground.  It is a tale of grave recycling and grave robbing but mostly a tale of underdogs fighting the powers-to-be so that their ancestors can rest in dignity.
Human jaw with tooth.  Found March 23, 2014
The film was a definite labor of love for all involved.  Here's how it came into being.

I first saw Mount Auburn Cemetery about twelve years ago.  I am an avid genealogist and a bit of a cemetery junkie.  One day, while driving from a cemetery in Anne Arundel County to a cemetery in West Baltimore, I drove past Mount Auburn with my cousin Charlotte Ernst.  We slowed down while we drove by, and we were astounded by its stage of disrepair.   The place stayed in my mind.  Later, I wrote a horror script called "Desecrated" which takes place predominately in an overgrown, urban African-American cemetery.  I based the location on Mount Auburn Cemetery.  Had the film gotten off the ground -- and it nearly did -- I would have hoped to have filmed it at Mount Auburn.  Sadly, the cemetery had become the perfect location for a horror movie.

Around September 2007, my wife Deborah and I watched the HBO film "Something The Lord Made" about heart surgery pioneers Dr. Alfred Blalock and his African-American assistant Vivien Thomas.  The movie was particularly moving to us because our little granddaughter was only alive because of an procedure made possible by the work of those two men.  Deborah wanted to do something to honor Vivien Thomas.  I looked him up on and found out that he was buried at Mount Auburn Cemetery.*  The following Sunday we drove over to Mount Auburn with the hope of putting some flowers on his grave.  With weeds as tall as us covering the bulk of the thirty-three acre cemetery, we soon realized we could never hope to find his grave.  Now, the injustice perpetrated upon the people buried there, and their families, became very real to us.  We wanted to do something.  But what?
Activist and family member Lu Moorman
by the lid of an unearthed casket.
I had been a contributor to the website for a number of years.  I decided that I would do my best to document the graves visible through the underbrush.  I would photograph the graves and put them online.  Often, I would look the people up on various genealogical sites and include some biographical data.  Eventually my posts attracted the attention of Lu Moorman.   Disgusted by conditions at the cemetery and a total lack of responsiveness from its owners, Sharp Street Memorial Church, Lu had set up a non-profit organization called Preservation Alliance.  She began consulting with various experts with the hope of wresting control of the cemetery from the church and restoring it herself.   Lu contacted me and asked about my interest in the cemetery.  Debbie, Lu and I got together.  We told her we wanted to help.  She said she needed a short film to illustrate current conditions at the cemetery.  We said we would try to help.

I immediately contacted an old friend David Butler.   David is a talented director with his own successful production company in Annapolis, Maryland.  I told David about the situation.  After one visit to the cemetery, he agreed to help make the film for Lu.  It was an easy decision.  Between the two of us, we had all of the skills and equipment necessary.   However, after a few days of shooting, David, Debbie and I became convinced that this was a suitable subject for a true documentary.   Not because we wanted to make money, but out of a desire for social justice.  These families, struggling for dignity for their ancestors, needed a voice and we wanted to give it too them.
Director David Butler, Associate Producer Lynda Meier and yours truly
This decision, however, led to us separating somewhat from Lu Moorman.  Although we made Lu the short film she needed, the documentary had to be independent.  Although we viewed the film as an activist piece, we knew we would lose all journalistic integrity if we were viewed as members of Preservation Alliance.   We needed to be even-handed.  We had to talk to Rev. Douglas Sands, the chairman of the board of the cemetery, and his daughter, Rev. Dell Hinton, the pastor of Sharp Street Memorial Church, and the members of their proposed restoration team.  That would never happen if they thought we worked for one of their enemies.  Although they always remained suspicious of us, I must give the two Reverends credit for talking to us on numerous occasions.  We returned the favor by letting them tell their story their own way.  We didn't use manipulative editing to make them look bad.   No Michael Moore tactics here.  Personally, I liked Doug Sands.  He's a charming individual with the gift of the gab.

The film was shot over a period of six years as the narrative took many twists and turns.  David and I did most of the work ourselves, but we did benefit from some volunteers.  Rege Becker came out and did some shooting.  Bernie Ozol and Timothy Ratajczak came out and helped with the sound.  Jack Hyerman and Andrew Eppig at Clean Cuts provided us with a much-needed sound mix and a soundtrack by Wall Matthews.  Our title sequence was provided by Cerebral Lounge.  We also relied on the vital and timely assistance of associate producer Lynda Meier.  I also must credit my wife, associate producer Deborah Murphy, for her assistance.  While Dave and I were often absorbed in the technical aspects of the shooting, Debbie provided the friendly face of the production to the curious and sometimes suspicious people in the neighborhood.  We ended up with some of our most crucial interviews as a result of the relationships she developed.

Lynda Meier and Deborah Murphy
Mostly, I want to thank the people who took the time to appear in the film.   In the end, this film is ultimately about Lu Moorman's journey to try to restore the cemetery.  None of this would have happened without her.  I also want to thank the dean of cemetery restoration experts:  Robert Mosko.   No one knows more about cemeteries than him.  I also want to thank Carolyn Jacobi of Eternal Justice, an outspoken activist against injustices in the death care industries.  I also want to thank family members Tavon Claggett, Janette Wheeler and Donald "Luke" Watson.  Luke was the one who alerted us to an impending burial -- something we desperately wanted to film.   He also explained what we were doing to the family of the deceased, all of whom were not initially happy to see us filming the burial.  I also really want to thank Anthony Harris for coming forward and telling us about the abuses he personally witnessed at the cemetery as an employee.  That took a lot of courage.  The list goes on and on of those who have given us their time, insight and wisdom.  I hope we related your voice and views accurately.

David and I had a long talk with Dana Webber of Legacy Distribution.  As my earlier blogs should reveal, I tend to have a skeptical opinion of distributors but she seemed to have a realistic viewpoint of the options available for the film.  I suspect that it will find a home(s) on a cable network in the near future to be followed by its release on various streaming websites.  Kudos to our reps, Peter Greene and John Gursha at Film Marketing Services.   They found us a good deal we certainly wouldn't have found ourselves.

The film is done, but its mission has only begun.  Much work has been done at Mount Auburn since we began filming, but much work remains to be done.  Hopefully this film will inspire people to make it happen!

Here's the trailer:

*By the way, it turns out Vivien Thomas was not buried at Mount Auburn Cemetery.  It was a false entry in  When Lu Moorman discovered the truth she was almost afraid to tell us because she feared we'd lose interest in the film.  By then, however, we were hooked.

Saturday, March 22, 2014

Author Photos for "The Promise, or the Pros and Cons of Talking with God."

Yesterday was great fun.  I was out having a portrait shot for my book "The Promise, or the Pros and Cons of Talking with God."

The portrait was shot by an old friend J. Bryan Barnes, who, aside from being the singer of the band Thin Dark Line, is also an accomplished photographer.  Our question was:  What setting?  I suppose most authors pose in an easy chair beside their fireplace wearing a tweed jacket with leather elbows.  Sadly, I didn't have a fireplace.  Or leather elbows.   Bryan suggested that I pose in the middle of a street, ala The Beatles Abbey Road album cover.  I thought it was a great idea.

The thought the perfect street was Harford Road.  When I was a kid, the intersection of Harford Road and Hamilton Avenue seemed like the center of the universe.  It was also highly appropriate because most of the events depicted in the book happened within a few blocks of Harford Road.

The photos were taken in the street between St. Dominic Catholic Church, where I attended Elementary School, and St. Johns United Methodist Church.  Bryan snapped about 150 photos.  I posted four selects on Facebook to let my friends decide which one was best.   They overwhelming liked the first one.  Sheri Williams, the publisher of TouchPoint Press requested that one and the second photo.  I am curious which one she will use on the book.  Here are the two selects:

While I had Bryan, I couldn't resist getting a portrait with my lovely wife Deborah.  Here it is:

"The Promise, or the Pros and Cons of Talking with God" is my inspirational true story of first faith and first love and how the two became almost fatally intertwined.   It will be released by TouchPoint Press in July of 2014.

Saturday, March 15, 2014

"Open My Eyes" Teaser Trailer Posted

The teaser trailer for my upcoming film "Open My Eyes" has recently been posted on YouTube.  The film, about an arrogant fashion photographer who discovers what is truly important after an accident renders him blind, was directed by Gabriel Alfonzo and stars Dominick LaBlanca, Jeannie Garcia and Sharon Oliphant and co-written by the mightyTimothy Ratajczak and yours truly.

Here's the trailer.  I hope you enjoy it.

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

"Game of Pawns" team honored

The team behind my docudrama "Game of Pawns:  The Glenn Duffie Shriver Story" was recently honored with a unit commendation from the National Intelligence Executive.  I am grateful to Tom Feliu and Ward LeHardy of Rocket Media, and our friends at the Federal Bureau of Investigation, Counter-Intelligence Division (who shall remain discreetly nameless,) for bringing me onto the project.  I am also delighted that the film has been such a successful tool for the counter-intelligence community.

The film is currently playing on the Pentagon Channel and at universities across the nation.  Don't send your kids to school abroad without seeing it!

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

TouchPoint Press to publish "The Promise, or the Pros and Cons of Talking with God"

I have the pleasure of announcing that TouchPoint Press is publishing my memoir "The Promise, or the Pros and Cons of Talking with God."  The contracts were amended and signed last Friday.  Now we are in business.  The publisher, Sheri Williams, hopes to release the book sometime during the summer of 2014.

The remarkable thing about the deal is that I wasn't even looking for a publisher.  I was in the process of pitching the book to agents.  Generally speaking, I try not to approach agents and publishers at the same time.   (Or agents and production companies, when it comes to scripts.)  Agents tend to be less excited about handling a book if twenty publishers have already read it.  I found Sheri's name on a list of literary agents.  However, the list was out of date.  She was no longer an agent.  She left the world of agents to become the publisher of TouchPoint Press.  She read my pitch and requested to read it for TouchPoint.  A few weeks later she wrote back saying that she loved the book and immediately offered me a contract.  I let my brain trust, including an established author who is also now a publisher, read the contract.  They thought it was very generous, and, after some minor negotiations, I signed the deal.


Frankly I am amazed I even wrote the book.  It is a strange piece.  Part memoir.  Part testimony.  Part coming of age saga.  Part theodyssey.  Part love story.  Part suicide primer.  My first attempt to write the book came in April/May 1983.  The whole book came to me on a spring afternoon while driving home from visiting a very special girl named Kathy Gardiner at her college.  Despite having perhaps the sweetest weekend of my life, I drove home knowing our relationship was irrevocably doomed.  I also realized I was at the tail end of an extraordinary spiritual experience.  I wanted to document the events of the previous six years while they were still fresh in my memory.   I only got a handwritten few pages into the book, which I then called "The Autobiography of a Believer," before quitting.  The days were too dark and the wounds were too fresh to have the proper perspective.

The second attempt came about five years later -- soon after I had learned of Kathy's marriage.  I was very happy she had found someone she loved.  Now I felt I had the perspective to give my testimony of first faith and first love and how the two had become nearly fatally intertwined.   Once again, I only got a few typewritten pages into the introduction before stopping.  I used my concern for Kathy's privacy as a reason to stop because there was no way to give my testimony without mentioning her.  However, in reality, it was my own privacy I was concerned about.  Despite my gregarious exterior, I am an extremely private person.  This story would reveal everything in my life I held secret.  I was incapable of opening up enough to tell the story.  It's just as well.  The tale wasn't over.  There was still more darkness to come before the healing sunrise.

The final, and successful, attempt to write this book came in the wake of my death on the operating table in August of 2011 and a long illness that followed.  That taste of morality gave me the perspective to see what a wonderful life I had, and how I needed everything that happened previously -- both good and bad -- to make me who I am.  But it still took more than that revelation to write the book.  I felt myself under great pressure from God to do so.  The book is about how God had guided me at crucial points in my life and he was guiding me now.  He was putting a great deal of pressure on me to write it.  And he had to do so in order to overcome my intense desire for emotional privacy.   Eventually his will overcame mine and I wrote the book.  It was a great experience.  It freed me emotionally.  I believe I am a better husband, (step)father, son, brother and friend as a result.   Frankly, it was irrelevant to me whether the book ever got published.  It was satisfying enough to write it and let the people closest to me read it.  However, I decided to pitch it, and let the Lord find a publishing home for it if he so desired.  And it seems like he did.

My wife and I.
I would like to acknowledge some of the people who made this book possible.  I want to start with my lovely wife and first reader Deborah, who was very supportive of me during the process despite some pronounced mood swings I reportedly underwent during the writing.  But mostly I want to thank her for giving my life a very happy ending indeed.  I also want to thank my friend Trish Schweers.  My chief critic and literary advisor for over twenty-five years, Trish never lets me get away with anything less than my best.  She helped me trim about one hundred pages of unnecessary diversions and dead-ends.  She also knew me well-enough to push for even more emotional truth in places.  Next I would like to thank David & Patty Gehret.  David is my pastor at Stillmeadow Evangelical Free Church, and I played through the theological implications of the book with him.  His wife Patty ran a very thorough red pencil through the manuscript and helped me focus it.  Many of my early readers, both new friends and old, also provided me valuable assistance and wisdom.  I also want to thank the late Stuart Robinson, who represented me at Robinson, Weintraub and Gross and later Paradigm.  Although Stu died long before this book was written, his faith in my writing gave me the confidence to continue in my craft and made me feel like the A-Listers to whom he sent my scripts.

Tracy Lindsey Melchior
I must also thank the actress Tracy Melchoir, the star of my film "Hidden Secrets."  She had written a powerful memoir called Breaking the Perfect 10.  She gave me an astute lesson on the ethics, morality and legalities of writing a memoir.  Not wanting to hurt anyone's feelings with my book, I intended to show it to everyone I mentioned.  She persuaded me otherwise.  She said my goal should be to tell about my life from my perspective.  If I showed the book to others and incorporated their opinions, I would be telling the story of my life from their perspectives, not mine.  Good point.  She told me I just had to have the courage to take the angry phone calls afterwards.  Fortunately, I really didn't have many bad things to say about anyone -- except myself -- so hopefully there will be few calls.

That said, I must thank some folks for talking about the old days with me.  Jim Jackson, my homeboy who walked alongside me during the most crucial times in this book, got the most late night calls.  He was very helpful putting events in the proper context and filling in some details I couldn't remember.   He was not alone.  Thank God for FaceBook.  I am very fortunate to have friends from every stage of my life and a few of them got late night IMs during the writing of this book.  But I want to give special thanks to my niece Natalie, who sat down and discussed the night my sister died.  We had never discussed it during the previous twenty years.   Despite Tracy's sage advice, I offered Natalie the opportunity to edit the chapter.  Her suggestions and contributions made the story much more powerful.

Nat and I.
Finally, I want to thank God.  I truly consider this his book and he can do with it what he will.

To God the glory!

And the royalties to my wife.

Sunday, March 9, 2014

On Critics, in general

I constantly read about people involved in creative endeavors who say they never read what the critics say.  My response is always:  Who do you think you're fooling?

I seek out all reviews of everything I have ever written.  Not only the professional reviews, but all of the user comments and consumer reviews as well.  In other words, if you wrote something about me, good, bad or indifferent, I have probably read it.

In my last blog, I criticized the so-called "Haters" -- people who claim to be Christians who seek to destroy faith-based films, books and art that are not 100% in agreement with them theologically.  To me, that's not real criticism.  That's destructive small-mindedness.  However, I have no problem with genuine criticism.  Why?   I'll let you in on a little secret.  None of my films are perfect.  They are all flawed.  Every single one of them.  As a result, I can't complain when reviewers notice some of the problems.  Sometimes I even applaud them for doing so.

People tend to have a naive belief that the screenwriter wrote everything you see and hear on the screen.  Not so.  Not by a long shot.  Between the moment we type "Fade Out.  The End." lots of other people get a whack at the script:  The producers.  The director.  The actors.  The investors.  The investors' wives and/or mistresses.  You name it.   Sometimes a screenwriter becomes aware of the changes ahead of the shoot and will argue against them.   Usually he will not succeed.  Rare is the professional screenwriter who doesn't cringe his way through the first viewing of one of his films.   At times like that, nothing makes you happier than when an astute critic points the same problems you begged your fellow filmmakers to avoid.

Sometimes the critics also tear down the things you liked, too.  And that's okay.  Why?  I'll let you in on another secret:  For the independent filmmaker, all reviews are good.  Even the ones that say you made the worst film in history.

All independent films share a lack of sufficient promotional money.   You generally can't afford banner internet ads let alone television commercials.  The cheapest and most effective form of advertising at your disposal is reviews.  Plus, the reviewers willing to review your film tend to be predisposed to your chosen genre.  In additional, their readers read them because they are also interested in the same genre.  Therefore, theoretically, you automatically have two biases working in your favor.

I was very actively involved in the promotion of my first film "21 Eyes."  Every time the film was reviewed, whether the reviewer liked it or not, I noticed a boost on sales in Amazon and in the number of hits to our webpage.  That has been generally true of every other film I worked on.  Think about it.  How many times have a bad review gotten you intrigued by the film nonetheless?  I frequently seek out films that I discovered through bad reviews.

Your job as an independent filmmaker is to get your film in front of as many film reviewers as you possibly can, whether they work for newspapers, magazines, websites or blogs.  Then let the chips fall where they may.  Who knows?  Maybe one of the critics will give you an insight into how to better your craft.  Stranger things have happened.

A few months ago I found a terrible review of one of my films and immediately shared it on my twitter account.  The critic noticed that I had shared it.  He emailed me and asked if I was indeed the screenwriter.  When I said yes, he became apologetic about the review.  I told him not to worry.  He had done the most important thing:  He had spelled my name right.

Don't be afraid of critics.

Embrace them.

Monday, March 3, 2014

Enter The Haters....

Three faith-based films will get major releases this March.  Predictably, the Christian blogosphere is abuzz with....  criticism and outrage.  That's right, after spending decades decrying Hollywood's godlessness and lack of values, Christian social critics are now attacking it for attempting to make films with Biblical themes and subjects.

I'm not surprised.  I have been involved, in one way or another, with about fifteen faith-based films.  The films tend to be rather low-budget and aimed primarily at the evangelical market.  From the beginning, I fully expected radical atheists to mock and ridicule them.  However, I was not prepared for the venomous attacks I would received from, what my screenwriting partner Tim Ratajczak called, "The Haters."  The Haters tend to be narrow-minded Christian commentators with a judgmental agenda.  Usually, they focus on one or two divisive issues within the church and seek to destroy anything that is not in total agreement with them.  These issues tend to be irrelevant to the greater Christian themes of grace and salvation.

For example, people have been warned against seeing my film "Sarah's Choice" because they say it is heretical because God no longer speaks to people in dreams and visions.  Really?  Well, they better tell God to stop it then.  Other people criticized my film "Hidden Secrets" because a Jewish character quoted the Bible and, heaven forbid, it wasn't from the King James version.  Come on.  Do you really think most Jewish people read the King James translation of the Bible?  Get real.  These complaints are typical.  I could give you dozens of examples.  It's ridiculous.  Even if these critics agree with 98% of the sentiments expressed in the film, they will tear it down on the basis of the disputed 2%.  It makes you wonder what team they're on!

I recently read someone attacking the film "Son of God" online because the screenwriter didn't choose to include the voice of God booming from heaven after Jesus' baptism.  He said that was a sign that the filmmakers were robbing Jesus of his divinity and making him just another man.  Really?  Well, if that was their intention, maybe they shouldn't have called the film "Son of God."  That's kind of contradictory, don't you think?

My most heretical sin came in the film "The Encounter:  Paradise Lost."  In the film, Jesus has the nerve to say that a person who died of a drug overdose went to heaven.  You can imagine the outrage:  A sinner entering heaven!  And, you know what, they would be one hundred percent correct in their outrage if our entry into heaven was dependent upon our own personal righteousness.  Fortunately, it isn't.  There's this little thing called grace that cleanses us of our sins and bestows upon us the righteousness of Christ himself.  I strongly suggest people who don't see a place for sinners in heaven to check out this little book called the Bible.  You might've heard of it.  It talks quite a bit about grace and forgiveness.  Strangely, God has no problem forgiving us our sins, but too many Christians have a problem forgiving others of sins that they haven't personally committed themselves.  That's why they can offer an alcoholic grace.  After all, who hasn't had a drink?  But a heroin addict?  That person's a degenerate!  And, hey, pre-marital sex happens.  We can forgive that.  But homosexuality?  Never!  I'm grateful one day I'll be judged by God and not by some of my fellow Christians.

Another common complaint from critics is that films add or subtract things from the Biblical accounts.  The upcoming film "Noah" is being heavily castigated for that.  And why not?  After all, who would do such a dastardly and evil thing?  Hmmm.  Let me think.  How about your pastor?  Each week, your pastor reads a passage from the Bible and then expounds upon it, in his own words, in his sermon.  Doesn't he add examples and illustrations not found in the Biblical text?  Does he ever ask you to imagine what people mentioned in the Bible where doing and thinking when certain incidents and events occurred?  Look folks, the Bible was not written in script form.  No matter how faithful you attempt to make your adaptation, you will always be adding and subtracting things.  Just like your pastor does.  Every Sunday.

"The Book of Esther," a film I edited that was written by my friend Tim Ratajczak and directed by David A.R. White, has been highly-criticized for adding and subtracting things from the Biblical account.  Practically all of the "changes" were made as a result of budgetary concerns.  None of them altered the theme or theology of the book.  Personally, I don't think 90% of the viewers would have noticed the changes if it weren't for an unnecessary disclaimer at the start of the film.   Dozens of people have commented on NetFlix that the Bible is good enough as it is and that filmmakers shouldn't add or subtract anything from it.  Of course, the changes are so subtle that few of these critics could actually point out any examples....

I am going to give "Son of God," "Noah" and "God's not Dead" the benefit of the doubt.  Particularly "God's Not Dead."  I also know the screenwriters.  They are committed Christians with a strong sense of ministry.  I doubt they would include anything heretical in their original script, despite some narrow-minded, dogmatic criticism it just received from a somewhat well-known evangelist.

Folks, if you want more Christian films, you have to support Christian films.  Once upon a time, Hollywood made Biblical blockbusters with effortless ease.  It's not as easy as it used to be for them now because fewer people in Hollywood know the language anymore.  And that's not entirely because Hollywood has turned its back on Christianity.  For decades, Christians have turned their back on Hollywood.  Christian leaders have discouraged their followers from engaging Hollywood -- aside from the occasional protest and boycott.  The studios see the size of the Christian audience and they want to reach it.  Let's help them, and, hopefully, the more films they make, the better and they will become.

I don't demand 100% theological orthodoxy from my entertainment.  One of my favorite depictions of the life of Christ remains "Jesus Christ Superstar."   The theology is terrible but its music and passion still inspire me, and the tension between the ideas it presents and my own beliefs has led to greater understanding on my part.  I'm not scared or threatened by it.

I am often reminded of the words of one of my producers, an avowed atheist who nonetheless saw the value in one of my scripts.  After the long process of production, post-production and eventual release of the film, we were walking together and he said, "You know, I've discovered there are two kinds of Christians:  The love kind and the other kind."

I try not to be the other kind.

Though it doesn't look like I'm succeeding here.