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. Shera

    Well, as a respectful atheist, I really appreciated Lee Stanley's choices- “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.

    I feel that he has done what everyone deserves the right to do- he did not compromise his beliefs or his work, but he is also extremely respectful of other's right to differ or disbelieve.

    April 25, 2011 at 7:09 pm |
  2. jacob deberry

    “Jesus saith unto him, I am the way the truth and the life: no man cometh unto the Father, but by me.” John 14:6.

    April 25, 2011 at 7:03 pm |
  3. noel

    witness, read the bible so you won't stick your foot in your mouth again on the topic of christianity...

    April 25, 2011 at 12:49 pm |
  4. noel

    very nice article... btw-takes enormous faith in science and weak men to be an atheist... after all, GOD created science and man... just sayin'

    April 25, 2011 at 12:47 pm |
  5. Lawrence Omambia

    need to know more from lee Stanley if I can have his email or visit me in fb

    April 25, 2011 at 4:39 am |
  6. Lawrence Omambia

    Hello, we need to repent we are sinners and God has left us because for ignorance,try him with faith and see might things in your life for is Almighty God.

    April 25, 2011 at 4:33 am |
  7. Tol Trunks

    Why is the false prophet on the main page and featured in this topics heading picture? Dwayne Johnson has two horns, speaks like a dragon, the skin of a leopard, and the feet of a bear. You will suffer for dealing with him. Remove these things at once! 2-3-2012.

    April 25, 2011 at 2:43 am |
  8. St.

    To Witness

    And what kind of father only watches when his only son is crucified anyway? thats your question, That his why his thoughts are not our thought, his the omi, the beinging and the end, the alpa and omega,ever loving patient father, kings of and Lords of lords.

    April 24, 2011 at 5:27 pm |
    • Witness

      That's very poetic. I think that's one of his strong points. Even tyrants have their good sides.

      April 24, 2011 at 7:11 pm |
  9. Witness

    Personally, I think God should be prosecuted fo crimes against humanity for allowing so much suffering. And what kind of father only watches when his only son is crucified anyway? Now when we know the whereabouts of God, we should finally be able to bring him in. God should be declared an enemy combattant and be stored at Guantanamo before his court appearance. If I were to guess, I'd say a unanimous jury will find him guilty of all charges, and he will be sent to a federal penetentiary awaiting his execution. Then maybe – finally – there will be peace on earth!

    April 24, 2011 at 3:43 pm |
    • Bayor

      @Witness, I won't defend God, I can't. All I can say is that He will react to all your allegation very soon. Good luck!

      April 24, 2011 at 3:56 pm |
    • Witness

      Sure, he is welcome to comment here like everyone else, although rumours have it he is not that good with computers. 😉

      April 24, 2011 at 7:08 pm |
    • You're Wrong

      He did NOT just watch as his son was crucified. Jesus CHOSE to be crucified, and could have had himself saved from the cross at any time. Don't speak of something you don't know.

      April 25, 2011 at 11:36 am |
  10. Cat Lover

    Humanity has finally figured out the location of God. Halleluja! Hollyluja! Hallewoodia! Hollywood!

    April 24, 2011 at 3:33 pm |
  11. Ted

    ....A Wonderful Easter message and explination of Jesus Live..Starts Today at 11:30 Am PST,,,Best I have ever heard Please Listen...here...http://ccpacifichills.com/live...

    April 24, 2011 at 1:25 pm |
  12. Joe

    Amusing how the self proclaimed atheists on these boards invoke "science" and not one of them is able to express the least comprehension of cosmological theory, genetic mutation, or gene flow.
    Well, I do understand them – very well. If you wish to indulge in debate, sally forth. There's a reason the word "theory" prefixes these references in scientific circles.
    Judging by the broken misspelled grammar ubiquitous here, I'd be more apt to apply a description like "bitter high school drop out" to you "atheists". You're an embarrassment.

    April 24, 2011 at 11:54 am |
    • Alan

      Your are a fine example of faith and tolerance. I am sure you are short on understanding and forgiveness also. I am impressed with how smart you think you are.

      April 25, 2011 at 3:49 pm |
    • Caveman73

      THEORY ~
      In science, an explanation or model that covers a substantial group of occurrences in nature and has been confirmed by a substantial number of experiments and observations. A theory is more general and better verified than a hypothesis.

      I believe it's you and your understanding of what a "Theory" in science means. Stick to your bible kid your not ready to play with adults.

      April 25, 2011 at 9:02 pm |
  13. Lovelyangel

    I applaud him because being a true christian in hollywood is probably nearly impossible. Halo's and good deeds do not usually make entertainment news.

    April 23, 2011 at 3:43 pm |
    • Witness

      What's a true Christian? Are there false Christians? A Christian is a Christian, that is someone who believes in Christ, meaning having the belief that Jesus was God's son. That's it. There are as many different kinds of Christians as there are Christians. None of them is more true than the next one, although the funny thing is that they are all convinced their particular belief is the true belief. There are gay Christians, there are gay-hating Christians, there are racist Christians, there are Christians believing in monogamy, and there are Christians with multiple wifes in some regions of Africa, etc. There is not one Christian in this world who believes every word in the Bible should be followed. (If so, then every Christian man would have taken out his right eye because it looked at another man's woman.) Actually, there isn't even one Bible, but a whole series of different Bibles, varying not only across denominations, but also over time. But they don't teach you this in church, because your church's mission is to teach its particular flavor of Christianity, not about Christianity in general.

      April 24, 2011 at 7:35 pm |
    • You're Wrong

      I believe that everything in the Bible should be followed, and for you "eye gouging" comment, the Bible doesn't LITERALLY tell you to gouge out your eye, nor cut off limbs and such, it tells you to distance yourself from the things that make you sin. Also, there ARE false Christiains, in fact, I'm amongst a few in my classroom right now. One claims she's called to be a preacher, yet she curses and does as she pleases. Move on.

      April 25, 2011 at 11:34 am |
  14. Tom

    I applaud Lee Stanley and his desire to remain true to his Christian faith in Hollywood. Like many of us, Lee sought out a lot of different ways of finding fulfillment before he found it in God. I also agree that, although you have to be direct at times, you still have to allow people to come to their own decisions about God. If you try to be too forceful or patronizing, you can push people away. I thank the Lord for people like Lee Stanley and others in Hollywood who are dedicated to movies with an edifying message.

    April 21, 2011 at 10:37 pm |
  15. Equilizer


    April 21, 2011 at 6:30 pm |
  16. maggie

    Judas is either in hell or in heaven. The man is just dead. Just like the bible says " the wages of sin is death". Juda paid in full for his sin. If he did not kill himself, he would have asked for forgiveness and he would have continued with the other apostles. The diciples did not understand fully the message that Jesus was preaching, although they knew he was the Messiah, but they did not understand the Kingdom of the Heaven. They wanted deliberation from the Romans and they thought that Jesus was going to do just that. However, they were willing to wait. Unlike Judas, who wanted to make it happen by getting Jesus arrested. But things turned very badly. The guilt was too much for him so he killed himself. Judas was not preordained to betray Jesus otherwise why blame him. He would have done exactly what he met to do. If that is the case then there is no such thing as free will and God is a liar. Judas should have waited just like the other apostles and he would have understood that the kingdom of God will be governed from heaven not from earth. the same kigdom Jesus taught us to pray for but few people ever took the time to understand what the Lord's prayer is saying.

    April 21, 2011 at 2:43 pm |
  17. Kathy

    God or Source or whatever you want to call it, lives in you, you can go to the moon and find it there. geez.

    April 21, 2011 at 11:48 am |
    • Witness

      What are you saying – that God is just a tiny bacteria in my intestines? How else can he live inside me?

      April 24, 2011 at 7:13 pm |
  18. Joe Redbear

    This artical...sorry got carried away....it's awsome...good story....

    April 20, 2011 at 4:14 am |
  19. WOZ

    Awesome cool article! I'm certain the belly of atheist hate-filled bigotry will be less than meek to show it's ugly face.
    I dig the article either way.

    April 17, 2011 at 2:35 pm |
  20. Tipper

    So you don't believe in God and yet you come on to a faith based website, read the article and take the time to post on your non-belief and throw and insult or two toward God and those who serve him....

    I would say you folks need to get a life and stop worrying about Christians and what Christians do or don't believe. If you don't believe why comment or care?? Go chant to some rock or zen out. Surely you have something better to do with your time.

    April 17, 2011 at 9:03 am |
    • Scrappyike

      THANK YOU!

      April 21, 2011 at 11:40 am |
    • BL

      THANK YOU!!

      April 22, 2011 at 7:59 pm |
    • Fokjou

      Hey man, have you ever considered that atheists are using their precious time trying to save you from serious embarrassment? They would gladly let you keep on talking to the voices in your head that never answer or never grant your requests, but it seems like the world needs fewer fake deities and more science and logic...

      April 23, 2011 at 4:19 am |
    • Pranko

      Haha these atheist fools are just too funny. Why are you even here anyway. They want to feel good by bashing other people cause they have to meaning in their life. they live a sad life so they come here to a faith blog and start talking nonsense.

      April 24, 2011 at 12:45 am |
    • Witness

      Don't underestimate the amusement-value to the rest of us, of people believing in ghosts, Santa Claus, or invisible omnipotent men in the sky.

      April 24, 2011 at 7:18 pm |
    • Aquahealer

      I dropped in to find out how a guy became a criminal/christian. Seemed like a harmless story. If you want to be a criminal/christian then so be it, just don't push it on others. I already went thru the same kind of revelation in life. I was in the military, I learned everything about every enemy of the US. What weapons they used, what was the best way to counterattack. I was bred to kill. And I was sure I was doing the right thing. Now I look back and say to myself "How in the world did I fall for that? How did I get sucked in?" I was sure I was doing the right thing....but being a killer is never the right thing, no matter what side you stand for. Why is it so hard to just be kind to your neighbor? Why does everything have to be associated with a ritual or a non-ritual? If we could all follow one rule, "Respect oneself, respect one's family and friends, respect the earth" everything else would fall into place. But you can't expect fantasy in a world of troglodytes. I seem to be caught in between a world of pagans and monkeys, and there's no escape. I am either on the wrong planet or in the wrong era.

      April 25, 2011 at 4:54 pm |
    • Caveman73

      Judge not less....

      Oh you get the picture Tip. Listen, last time I checked this was a free website, not restricted and controled by your church. So maybe you should take a chill pill and welcome the debate from different points of view.

      That is unless your faith is so weak that it can't take the slightest criticism.

      April 25, 2011 at 8:51 pm |
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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.