"Goal! He Spends It on Beckham
By Graham Bowley
New York Times
Sunday, April 22, 2007
Leaving no business stone left unturned, Mr. Anschutz has also
plunged headlong into filmmaking.
In a speech at a leadership seminar in Naples, Fla., in 2004,
Mr. Anschutz explained why he’s gone Hollywood. He said that
digital production and distribution were upending the film
business, opening opportunities for entrepreneurs like him. He
also said that he believed that Hollywood had wandered too far
away from mainstream tastes by misreading “the market and the
mood of a large segment of the movie-going audience today.”
“Why can’t movies return to being something that we can go and
see with our children and our grandchildren without being
embarrassed or on the edge of our seats?” he asked.
His corporate answer to that question is Crusader Entertainment,
which he set up in 2000 (later renaming it Bristol Bay
Productions). Its first film, “Joshua,” was about a Christ-like
figure in modern rural America. In 2001, he invested in Walden
Media, a production company that specializes in family films.
Micheal Flaherty, Walden’s co-founder, says the company makes
movies based on existing stories already popular among
children; Walden does market research in schools to unearth
stories that children find fetching and markets its films as
educational material to teachers and librarians.
Some of Mr. Anschutz’s early films flopped, but he has also
enjoyed some notable successes. “Ray,” a biopic of Ray Charles
that Mr. Anschutz championed against reservations from his film
executives, went on to win an Oscar for its star, Jamie Foxx.
During the film’s production, according to Mr. Flaherty and
David Weil, who heads the Anschutz Film Group, Mr. Anschutz
intervened to tone down some of the racier material to make the
film more suitable for a family audience.
His biggest film hit by far has been “The Lion, the Witch and
the Wardrobe,” which is based on the Narnia series of children’s
books by the British Christian writer, C. S. Lewis. The filming
of the next installment in the Narnia series, “Prince Caspian,”
has finished in New Zealand and moved on to Prague; “The Voyage
of the Dawn Treader” will be next.
The Narnia stories are all Christian allegories. “Amazing
Grace,” a current Walden film, is about one of Mr. Anschutz’s
heroes, William Wilberforce, a British politician and
evangelical Christian who fought the slave trade. Bristol Bay
plans a film about another C. S. Lewis book, “The Screwtape
Letters,” an epistolary novel about devils fighting over human
“There is a common theme in all our films,” Mr. Flaherty said.
“They all come with great stories of redemption and an
incredible optimism. It is never too late.”
Mr. Anschutz’s forays into newspapers and films have prompted
concerns that he might use his billions to impose his private
beliefs on others. His move into the liberal Bay Area prompted
The San Francisco Bay Guardian to declare in 2005 that The
Examiner “espouses a general pro-big business, conservative
ideology that’s out of touch with the San Francisco mainstream.”
(The paper also praised The Examiner for improved reporting
quality and said that it was making a rival, The San Francisco
Chronicle, up its game).
The first Narnia film drew notice from some commentators for its
heavy Christian symbolism. The Guardian, a liberal British
paper, said the film was “a neat synergy of politics, religion
and product placement.” After Jeb Bush, then the governor of
Florida, picked “The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe,” for a
public school reading program, The Palm Beach Post said the book
was being used as “a way to subtly introduce the Christ story to
Barry W. Lynn, executive director of Americans United for
Separation of Church and State, a nonprofit group, criticized
Mr. Bush as promoting an overtly Christian tale in the public
school system. “We just found it was inappropriate for a
government official to do this,” Mr. Lynn says.
A spokesman for Mr. Anschutz says that his films appeal to a
diverse audience and are not meant to proselytize. His film and
newspaper executives say he grants them plenty of independence
and point out that while some of his films may have religious
connotations, others do not.
Mr. Anschutz himself has not responded directly to his critics,
but in his Florida speech three years ago he recounted why he
became a filmmaker, providing some insight into his thinking.
“I decided to stop cursing the darkness — I had been complaining
about movies and their content for years — and instead to do
something about it,” he said. “And yes, I saw a chance with
this movie to attempt some small improvement in the culture.”