Filmmaker: I found God in Hollywood
Lee Stanley, right, and his son, Shane, left, with Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson on the set of their 2006 film, "Gridiron Gang."
March 31st, 2011
01:00 AM ET

Filmmaker: I found God in Hollywood

By Steve Almasy, CNN

(CNN) - It’s not impossible to be a Christian in Hollywood, Lee Stanley will tell you. What it does take is guts - the same guts it takes to be a Christian anywhere, he says.

Stanley wasn’t a believer when he moved from New England to California in the 1960s. He was in love with a fantasy – not the idea of making it big on the big screen, but being around the water all the time.

The aspiring baseball player had realized he wasn’t going to make it to the major leagues, so he turned to another passion - diving. He had no idea the trek West would lead him on the road to becoming a filmmaker who tells stories of redemption and faith.

Stanley details his life in “Faith in the Land of Make-Believe,” published this month by Zondervan. In a phone interview from his boat, he said he wrote the book to “to encourage people that have wandered away or lost the confidence in the things that have been on their heart for years.”

For years Stanley was lost, he just didn’t know it, he said. He spent his youth caring only about himself. He was raised to never show a weakness. He just wanted to have fun, make a little cash and spend time in the water off Catalina Island. He even thought about taking off on a tramp steamer setting sail for Greece, where he could do some diving.

But a friend of a friend knew people in the movie business, and Stanley - then 19 - got a job as an extra on a Frank Sinatra film. He was intrigued by the industry, so he took other bit parts in film and television and soon signed with MGM. In 1966, he was considered for the part of Benjamin Braddock in “The Graduate,” but it went to Dustin Hoffman instead. His last acting role was in 1972’s “The Candidate,” where he appeared alongside Robert Redford.

He was beyond bored, though. Too much sitting around and waiting, he says. So he started making documentaries. His distributor was a kind man named Dave Adams.

Adams invited Stanley over for brunch with his wife but said they were going to church first. Stanley tried to get out of it, saying he had no jacket or tie and wouldn’t be presentable. Adams told him to come as he was. Stanley agreed - to appease the man with the money.

They went to Church on the Way in Van Nuys, where a few hundred eager people were waiting for the first service to let out. He went from blasé to curious. Then the doors opened, and the smiling churchgoers spilled out. Now Stanley really wanted to see what was inside.

He says it hit him right away once inside. He calls it The Voice. It said, “Welcome home. We have a lot of things to do together.”

Stanley embraced making faith-based films and documentaries, but he chose not to make them overly Christian. As an example of what he didn’t want to do, he remembered a film he saw shortly after moving to Hollywood. It was a beautiful work that touched all of his emotions, he said, but the one he felt at the end was anger.

“It became a 10-minute, finger-pointing altar call,” he says. “I felt trapped and betrayed.”

That’s not the way to win over non-believers or people struggling with their faith, he thought, not on screen nor in person.

“I don’t lead with scripture any more than I expect people that have their own faith to constantly try to push me into it,” he said.

On the other hand, when a studio or distributor pushed back on the themes of his movies, he would not compromise. He remained steadfast and worked with the people who accepted his philosophy.

“I’ve been in a lot of good fights,” he says. “Sometimes I was a winner, sometimes I got kicked back where I belonged.”

His commitment led to an award-winning documentary, “Desperate Passage.” After meeting a youth offender at a correctional institution, Stanley found it in his heart to make a documentary about young criminals. In an unusual move, he petitioned the court to release seven juveniles into his custody, so that he could film them during a 10-day sail on his yacht.

It took four years to get permission.

“Everything I was asking for was illegal,” he says. “You weren’t supposed to take pictures of young offenders. I also asked to have my pick of the kids, and there were no guards [on the trip].”

The struggles didn’t end after shooting wrapped. No TV station wanted to air the documentary. Two years later, a Los Angeles station director agreed to show it, and it got tremendous ratings. It won two Emmys and confirmed his mission in life.

“We all have a God-ordained purpose in our life, but I have to add to that because I learned … that before he will lead us into each stage of our purpose, drawing us closer and closer, he has to do things in our life so we when we get to that next stage, we won’t misfire, destroy or lose,” he says.

“That’s the wonderful thing about God.”

Stanley also made "Gridiron Gang," starring Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson. Stanley’s son, Shane, helped produce it.

Stanley and his third wife, Linda, are sailing these days as he writes the screenplay of his next project. It’s a victory story, he says.

It appears the same can be said for his.

- Producer/Writer

Filed under: California • Movies • TV

soundoff (322 Responses)
  1. gman

    Logan – you need help – try opening your mind and really digging into the authenticity of Christianity – not what man has made it in the past or some of the horrid abusers of today – but what the bible states

    April 16, 2011 at 9:22 pm |
  2. Randal

    There is nothing like an article on Christianity to gather all the non-believers into one place. It is funny how non-believers are more interested in the existence of God than believers are.

    April 15, 2011 at 2:18 pm |
  3. iwaslost

    FOUND GOD? God has never been lost, we have.

    April 15, 2011 at 10:40 am |
  4. Logan

    Christianity — The belief that a cosmic Jewish Zombie who was his own father can make you live forever if you symbolically eat his flesh and telepathically tell him you accept him as your master, so he can remove an evil force from your soul that is present in humanity because a rib-woman was convinced by a talking snake to eat from a magical tree...


    April 14, 2011 at 10:47 pm |
    • noni

      What is so strange about declaring that there is a God – that Jesus Christ is Lord and Saviour of mankind and that He is the way the truth and the life. We do ont own anything in this life. All that we have and all that we are is because God has allowed it to be so. The devil is real too – you can see his works in catastophes and all the evil, unbelief and so on in the world today. But if we are honest with ourselves and askk Him to open our eyes WILL see Him in every aspect of our lives and if we invite Jesus, He will change our lives indiviually and collectively and I tell you the world will be a happier and better place for all. God bless you; keep on the spreading the word

      April 15, 2011 at 8:47 am |
    • DaveJ

      Logan, why are you trying to move people away from believing in Christ? Psychology would say that your own insecurities about the subject push you in this direction. Others are able to live with disagreement, not you. Look in the mirror and ask why?

      April 15, 2011 at 9:24 am |
    • Prophetess


      I've viewed several videos that you posted and I must say that you have taken a lot of your time to discredit Christ. I thank you for your videos as it is part of the fulfillment of prophecy, "at the end of times it will be in the days of Noah." You, as those in the days of Noah laughed and tried to discredit his faith in God; however, in the end God proved to be true. As a Christian, I pray for you salvation, even though you think you do not want it, because God does not desire that none should perish, even you. God's love is so amazing that although you are trying to persecute us (Christians) we still love you.

      April 23, 2011 at 6:01 pm |
  5. Guru Kama Raj

    You probably must have mistaken. It must be Devil disguised in the form of God. Be careful.

    April 14, 2011 at 6:42 pm |
  6. carter

    Where can you get a copy of "Desperate Passage"? IMDB does not say. Not on Netflix. Does anyone know?

    April 14, 2011 at 10:31 am |
  7. GodisDead

    I found god in hollywood too. He was some smelly homeless guy with deep voice. Told me that the capital records building was a flying saucer that was piloted by bigfoot....made sense really when you think about it.

    April 13, 2011 at 2:54 pm |
  8. thug

    u guys suk

    April 13, 2011 at 10:29 am |
  9. Deliverance

    Hollywood will soon have to bow to the one true God just as Babylon did. Idols and rich movie moguls are nothing when God shows up to reclaim what he created. God is the original "creative" force and now that he has begun to use his chosen vessels to go into the dark side and be a light then no atheist or no demon from hell can stop him. I have been a screenwriter most of my life and every door i've tried has been slammed in my face BUT in my spirit i know this writing creativity is from God and my faith still tells me i will soon be succesful and so i keep writing and the first one i will thank when i accept my Oscar will be my Lord and savior Jesus Christ. Since this site is loaded with atheists i think it is great that God has sent us among the wolves and we are bashing their teeth until they can only bump thier gums until their foolish words have no bite at all. I love it, this is about to get good and God is setting it all up for his glory.

    April 13, 2011 at 9:49 am |
    • Logan


      April 14, 2011 at 10:52 pm |
    • jim

      Have you ever considered that maybe you are just a bad writer?

      April 15, 2011 at 8:30 am |
  10. Susan

    Hey guys, will you visit HelpFaye.ORG a friend of ours is fighting for her life... Thanks

    April 12, 2011 at 8:11 pm |
    • Tom, Tom, the Piper's Son

      Knock it off, spammer.

      April 12, 2011 at 8:17 pm |
    • Dickie Hateface

      It's a shame that it's breast cancer. She has some lovely teats.

      April 13, 2011 at 4:35 pm |
  11. Dc mortimer

    There's some thing about the rocks face there, well, it looks like a rock .

    April 12, 2011 at 7:25 pm |
  12. RamblinRosie

    I am so weary of being made to feel ashamed for believing in something beyond the human experience. I am so tired of being judged by others for a faith which gives me comfort and reminds me there is personal accountability for my words and actions. I do not judge anyone else for what they do or do not believe in when all I expect is to be treated in a civilized and respectful manner. Finally, I am tired of reading comment streams on CNN filled with hate from people spewing their hate behind the anonymity of the internet.

    April 12, 2011 at 6:06 pm |
    • C'mon

      If you are made to feel weary from reading CNN's belief blog, don't read it. Who cares what all the CNN atheists say about your faith....does it make it any less relevant to you? If you are going to have faith...at least have it with some backbone. Otherwise, don't bother having it if it is so difficult reading about people who put it down. What are you expecting on these belief blogs? Encouragement? I don't think you are going to find it here. I come here to read the opinions of others good and bad....if it hurts your feelings to be here, then don't come here.

      April 12, 2011 at 11:37 pm |
    • GodisDead

      Sounds like the same thing Im tired of. Im tired of being told that Im a bad person and going to burn just because I wont seig heil someone's imaginary friend on a regular basis. Im tired of hearing these supposed "good people" ranting and raving on the street spouting hate out just because someone live their life differently. Im tired of politicians constantly bringing up God this and God that like we are a theocracy. But most of all Im tired of religious people whining and complaining when they get laughed at....here is a little test for you, just for giggles. Go tell someone that you believe in a great jelly doughnut in the sky that rains down his blessings when he feels like it, has a list of ten rules that can be broken whenever he sees fit, and that if you don't hold to him all belief then you are going to go to coffee hell for all time and be boiled....but no matter what he loves you. 99 times out of 100 that person is going to think you are flipping crazy....then wonder why people like me are sick of the supposed "righteous" persons out there.

      April 13, 2011 at 2:52 pm |
    • HeavenSent

      Jude 4


      April 14, 2011 at 6:43 am |
    • Tha_Truth

      I don't think is so much that you're tired of this and that, but rather you're looking for someone to give you a reason to believe in something you can't see. That's why you haven't left and are still posting. You won't get it here. There's is a noise out there getting louder and louder of people like you and it won't stop until justice is serve with the annihilation of religion. It's coming.

      April 14, 2011 at 1:23 pm |
    • Logan

      Christianity = The belief that a cosmic Jewish Zombie who was his own father can make you live forever if you symbolically eat his flesh and telepathically tell him you accept him as your master, so he can remove an evil force from your soul that is present in humanity because a rib-woman was convinced by a talking snake to eat from a magical tree...


      April 14, 2011 at 11:00 pm |
  13. dave


    I'm also a Chritian filmmaker- faith based films done well and in a non-preachy manner have wide appeal and interest. Keep up the fight.!

    April 12, 2011 at 3:57 pm |
  14. Kisser

    Yeah, he found God on his knees in Hollywood.

    April 12, 2011 at 3:12 pm |
    • HeavenSent

      Romans 3:3-4


      April 14, 2011 at 8:38 am |
    • jim

      Why was god on his knees?

      April 15, 2011 at 8:25 am |
  15. Karen Covell

    Lee, This is great. Thanks for writing down your experiences so that others can be encouraged about what God is doing in Hollywood. Let me know how I can support you with your passion. Karen Covell, Founding Director, Hollywood Prayer Network!

    April 12, 2011 at 2:31 pm |
  16. ncarn8ntt

    Yep! It takes a lot of guts to be a Christian in a country where exactly 44 out of 44 Presidents have been Christian and a majority of the population profess a belief that the Bible is God's word. I'll believe that prayer is something more than socially encouraged thumb-sucking as soon as God starts healing amputees. God has plenty of fine young American amputees to choose from thanks to our overseas interaction with some of the excessively devout in Iraq and Afghanistan. For those who believe there's a distinction, please note that Jehovah and Allah share the same pathetic record when it comes to healing amputees. The faithful pray for healing regularly. The charlatans and the gullible proclaim that God has healed regularly. Amputation takes out the guesswork.

    April 12, 2011 at 11:53 am |
    • JohnM

      I met a young man in the hospital, a multiple amputee. He had every right to be bitter, but after we prayed for him he said, "Don't feel bad if you don't get to see my limbs grow back. I learned long ago that this life is just a brief blip on the timeline of eternity. Everybody has their own peculier challenges, and now this is mine. But be sure you're prayer will be answered because when I pass from this life to the next God will heal me completely and I'll live for eternity in perfect happiness." His life, faith and lack of bitterness is because of his faith in the person and work of Jesus Christ and has served as a great inspiration to many. I hope you too will search these things out for yourself, if you do you will find HIm, for He is not far from anyone.

      April 12, 2011 at 1:47 pm |
    • ncarn8ntt

      Bitterness isn't reserved for those without faith in one of the sky Gods. His faith and yours makes you both feel better, and if that's enough for you– enjoy. But your feeling better is hardly proof of God's hand at work.

      April 12, 2011 at 8:05 pm |
    • HeavenSent

      I've posted this before, and I'll post it again ...

      (1) I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that ye present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable unto God, {which is} your reasonable service. (2) And be not conformed to this world: but be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind, that ye may prove what {is} that good, and acceptable, and perfect, will of God.

      Romans 12:1-2


      April 14, 2011 at 8:36 am |
  17. JThomas

    Jesus taught love. He taught peace. He taught tolerance. He taught us to love our neighbor, and our enemy, as we love ourselves. It's a shame that so many people are simply afraid to live by those teachings. Being a Christian (a true Christian) is very tough, but it makes you a better person for life. What's so wrong with that?

    For me, nothing. I guess for the naysayers and atheists, for the mocking trolls, it's just fodder for them to avoid looking in the mirror, helping out people without seeking recognition, or for doing anything that resembles something positive in this world without reward. Good luck with all that. Peace and love to you.

    April 12, 2011 at 11:48 am |
    • Frank

      Well said.

      April 12, 2011 at 11:58 am |

      I was in total agreement with you until you started name calling with "mocking trolls".

      April 12, 2011 at 3:39 pm |
    • pipestein

      I could agree with you up until you started painting with a brush that is so ridiculously broad that your intolerance started to show. I will have you know that I have recived more help in my life from non believer than I have ever gotten from narrow minded nose in the air self important believers such as yourself JThomas. Get over yourself and maybe some day before you die you will like yousrelf enough that you do not have to believe that you are superior to everyone else because you think that a fairy tale is ture. Or at the very least like yourself enough that you do not feel compelled to insult half of the people in the united states who disagree with your bigoted creed.

      April 13, 2011 at 2:50 am |
    • Tha_Truth

      Good insight there JThomas. The truth that at the end of the book or Revelation talks about those that do evil, to keep doing evil still, and those that do good keep doing good still, because this is how God will know for sure who are following his commands and who are there pretending to seek advantage over their fellow man. Good post.

      April 13, 2011 at 9:04 am |
    • GodisDead

      Makes you a better person eh? So the WBC, the Jehova's Witlesses, etc....all those fools that hop up and down and scream that we are in trouble because of teh gays or whatnot are better people then those of us that dont need some bigdaddy in the sky telling us what to do and how to live our live....gotchya.

      April 13, 2011 at 2:43 pm |
    • HeavenSent

      (11) Dearly beloved, I beseech {you} as strangers and pilgrims, abstain from fleshly lusts, which war against the soul;

      1 Peter 2:11


      April 14, 2011 at 8:33 am |
    • DaveJ

      GodisDead would be an example of a mocking troll. He had nothing that actually contributed to the conversation, just degrading remarks.

      April 15, 2011 at 9:16 am |
    • jon

      I wonder if pipestein sees the intolerance in his own statement. How ironic. And hypocritical.

      April 15, 2011 at 10:41 am |
  18. Bella

    Afraid of God I see......lol

    You didnt just land here-where do you think you came from? Its sad to see the multiple people who have no guidance.

    April 12, 2011 at 10:50 am |
  19. Ed

    "Overly Christian"... What in the world does that mean? So, I guess Jesus was "overly right"? He never compromised to society. The scripture does say : For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart. - Heb 4:12

    April 11, 2011 at 5:20 pm |
    • David, CA

      Maybe they meant overly annoying.

      April 11, 2011 at 5:41 pm |
    • Guru Kama Raj

      Jesus says, "You read scripture and think there is eternal life in it. It is only a witness about me. In order to have life you fail to come to me." (John 5, 39-40). do not get confused.

      April 14, 2011 at 6:49 pm |
  20. Phunky_Munky

    The Christian god IS a UFO piloting Unicoen

    April 11, 2011 at 5:03 pm |
    • deter

      your on drugs.

      April 11, 2011 at 5:12 pm |
    • John

      Deter: But at least he can spell and punctuate a simple sentence. Try this: "You're on drugs."

      April 12, 2011 at 6:10 am |
    • John

      Strike that; I was wrong - he can't spell "unicorn."

      April 12, 2011 at 6:18 am |
    • theboosh

      "Stanley and his third wife, Linda" It's always "Do as I preach to you", never look at MY behavior. He must be so 'family values" and pro-life too.

      April 12, 2011 at 11:10 am |
    • Kisser

      Yeah, he found God on his knees in West Hollywood.

      April 12, 2011 at 3:11 pm |
    • Chief

      Maybe his first two wives left him, passed away, etc. Getting a divorce does not mean you are not a Christian. Unfortunately, sometimes the marriage cannot be saved. Some times the right thing to do, regardless of faith, is to part ways.

      April 13, 2011 at 8:02 am |
    • HeavenSent

      (2) Set your affection on things above, not on things on the earth. (5) Mortify therefore your members which are upon the earth; for-n-i-cation, uncleanness, inordinate affection, evil concupiscence, and covetousness, which is idolatry:

      Colossians 3:2,5


      April 14, 2011 at 8:28 am |
    • Logan


      April 14, 2011 at 10:54 pm |
    • Inesita

      those who have no sin, throw the first stone.

      April 15, 2011 at 2:04 pm |
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About this blog

The CNN Belief Blog covers the faith angles of the day's biggest stories, from breaking news to politics to entertainment, fostering a global conversation about the role of religion and belief in readers' lives. It's edited by CNN's Daniel Burke with contributions from Eric Marrapodi and CNN's worldwide news gathering team.