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Steve McEveety: Catholic Producer in Hollywood

Producer Steve McEveety, Helen Hunt and Mel Gibson

Copyright 2000 by Paramount Pictures
Steve McEveety (background) produced What Women Want, starring Helen Hunt and Mel Gibson, about a male chauvinist with a sudden ability to read women's minds.

Steve McEveety, who has produced some of Mel Gibson's most popular films—including the current hit What Women Want—discusses faith, family and career.

By Greg Heffernan

 


Media Power

Sex and Violence

Industry Pressures

Surprise Choice

Catholic Influences

Character Demands

Steve McEveety’s name and face might not be as familiar as Mel Gibson’s. But McEveety has produced five of the famous actor’s films, including the Academy Award-winning Braveheart. Their newest film is What Women Want, a romantic comedy that also stars Helen Hunt.

Steve, who has been making feature films for nearly 20 years, discussed his career and his Catholic faith in his office at Culver Studios in Culver City as he was preparing to produce What Women Want.

Culver Studios has a rich legacy. The site was once the home of David Selznick’s renowned Selznick International Pictures, where such classics as Gone With the Wind, Spellbound and Rebecca were filmed.

Steve McEveety’s sparse gray office has a desk and laptop computer but no posters. The producer wears jeans, t-shirt and pullover sweater as he describes the plot of his latest film project: “The story centers on a male chauvinist who suddenly has the ability to read women’s thoughts.”

In the comedy, “Mel Gibson’s character becomes a better man for understanding the object of his abuse by being forced to empathize with a woman’s feelings, something he’s never had to do,” explains Steve. “Good relationships are based on mutual respect and love, putting yourself in the other person’s shoes. Without trying to sound preachy, I think that certainly is what the Bible teaches us. I think our film shows that.”

Steve notes that the film’s director, Nancy Myers, produced the Steve Martin versions of Father of the Bride. He compares Martin’s character in those films to Gibson’s in Women, especially in terms of Gibson’s relationship to Helen Hunt. Both characters experience the different ways men and women see things. Gibson “learns to appreciate that difference. As he does, he actually begins to like women better and, ultimately, treat them better,” says the producer.

Steve McEveety compares Women to the story of Jonah in the Bible, “especially if you imagine the Ninevites being all women. Jonah believes they are the last people on earth worth saving. But God teaches Jonah differently, and in a rather amusing way, I might add.”

Media Power

Steve recalls his childhood growing up in Southern California. “I’m from a big Catholic family: six kids, middle child.” He’s a product of Catholic schools: Notre Dame High School and Loyola Marymount University. His father was a writer/producer at Disney.

“My family was not overly religious, until my dad got sick,” he notes. “I was 14 and he was ill for quite a long time.” Steve explains that his father was the 50th person to undergo a heart transplant. “He lived for four years after his operation. At one time he was the longest-living heart-transplant recipient.”

Steve speaks fondly of his father and describes his own role as a father. “Our kids go to Catholic schools. We go to church and all that stuff. Am I a by-the-book Catholic? No. I’m not extremely devout, though I do have a firm belief in God.”

George Lucas, who directed Star Wars, once said that, for better or worse, the media have replaced the Church as the most influential force in shaping people’s moral values. “You know, that’s a profound statement,” Steve comments, but he disagrees with it somewhat. “I don’t think you turn on the TV or go to a movie to worship. I think the Church is where you go to worship. But I certainly agree the media have a strong influence on people’s moral values. Absolutely. Are the media more powerful than the Church’s influence? Probably.”

He elaborates on the topic of religion and the media: “Religious people really don’t need the guidance or influence of the media....It’s the people who have no knowledge of God, or have lost interest in religious teachings and the Christian teachings, who are in the most danger from the media in terms of the bad influences.

“Don’t get me wrong,” he continues. “There are some good influences out there. Sometimes you just have to do some channel-searching or movie-hunting.”

Sex and Violence

Steve and his wife, Susie, have four children. “Steve is a little like everyone’s brother,” notes Susie. “People like to work with him because the business is so stressful and sometimes even deceitful. He’s a great listener, and very calm and honest. Therefore, he’s gifted at handling intense creative and production challenges.”

How does he handle parenting challenges? “I don’t let my kids go to see many movies,” he says. “They see the Disney movies, but that’s it.”

He recalls a TV incident involving his daughter when she was 14. “She was watching Felicity every week for five or six weeks. Finally, my wife and I turned it on to see what the show was about.”

He explains his reaction: “I turned off the TV and she’s not watching Felicity ever again. I mean, it’s all about sex. It’s all about who gets laid by whom. Kids see that as normal behavior.

“I think my daughter would agree with me that it makes them more open to mimic it,” he continues. But with violence in films, “I really don’t feel kids see it as being real because violence, technically, is not normal behavior.

“Fortunately, I haven’t been involved in any smutty projects or bad projects,” he explains. “Nothing I’m really ashamed of. Some violent ones, definitely. But as a parent, I’m not as concerned with the violence as much as I am with the sexual situations.”

As a producer, he was able to bring his kids to the set during the filming of Braveheart and show them how killing is simulated in films: “You take a fake ax and crack it over a watermelon,” he explains. “When it’s on film, it’s a watermelon with a wig on it.”

Parents need to explain film images to their children, he emphasizes. “Movies are fantasy. A documentary on war showing real men dying is reality.”

He contends that fictional violence can have a legitimate place in films. “Braveheart, for example, is a very violent film about a very good man. We were trying to show how tough life was in those times,” he explains.

“Remember, Mel is Catholic. He and I are well aware of how martyrs died in the early Church. The way Wallace is killed at the end of the picture is every bit as violent as the way some of the saints died: Paul was beheaded. St. Lawrence was roasted alive. St. Sebastian was pierced to death with arrows. And St. Bartholomew was reportedly flayed alive.

“Crucifixion is still one of the most violent and inhumane ways to kill a prisoner, and it’s a key symbol of our Church that shows how much God loved us,” he notes. “To appreciate fully the drama of any of those stories, you need to show the violence. The key is, does the audience still accept violence as good or evil?”

Industry Pressures

Steve explains why he doesn’t think anything will be accomplished if the industry polices itself: “I think it’s all cosmetic, a way of appeasing those who are objecting. In the end, most filmmakers do whatever brings the advertisers in or what brings people into the theater.

“There’s a lot of pressure to get films made,” he continues. “There are films and TV shows with good moral values that are being made. I think there’s a market out there and I think the studios know that.

“The trick is that, if you want to get a real positive message across in the media, the less preachy you are, the better,” he says. “So if you have something to say, you have to hide it or bury it between the lines. Because when people pay $8 to see a movie, they’re not looking for a lecture. And it took me a while to understand that finally.”

Steve shares his thoughts on what the industry wants in a film: “I think people in the industry are primarily looking for what is commercial. That’s first and foremost. If it’s commercial, it is, therefore, profitable.” And being profitable ensures success in future projects.

“I don’t find too many people are looking at the morality of the projects they’re doing,” he admits. “If they were, we’d have more moral projects out there.”

Although these comments may seem cynical, Steve notes that he recently came to the conclusion that 95 percent of people are good. “Coming to that conclusion has made me feel good. And I hope I continue to have that belief.

“It doesn’t mean the business isn’t cutthroat,” he explains. “It is. The competition is extremely fierce, because there is a lot of money to be made and so many people who want to make it doing this kind of work.”

Surprise Choice

When asked which of his own films he’s most proud of, Steve points to 187 instead of the multiple-award-winning Braveheart. 187 is a smaller, thought-provoking and disturbing film. It was inspired by an actual incident. In the film, a dedicated high school teacher, played by Samuel L. Jackson, is stabbed and nearly killed by an angry student.

The title 187 refers to the police code for murder. The teacher had that number on his classroom door; it was a prophetic warning before the attempt on his life. Kevin Reynolds, who directed 187, says Steve is “definitely someone who helps you see your vision. And he’s one of the few guys with real integrity behind him.”

Steve explains why the film has such an impact: “You know, a real teacher wrote the screenplay. That’s partly why the film is so upsetting. We’re seeing the classroom from his point of view.”

Today in real-life schools, “Things are slowly getting better,” Steve thinks. “But it’s still very tough for high school kids growing up in this country.”

The film is set in the suburbs instead of the inner city, “because cities are so wide and spread out you can’t run away from urban problems anymore: They reach everywhere,” he says. “In fact, there are so many influences on kids in school these days I can see them growing up completely confused about what’s right or wrong.”

Is this meant to be an endorsement for Catholic education? “Not intentionally,” he says. “Obviously, Catholic schools have had to struggle with some of the same issues. But what has helped them is their lack of tolerance of certain behaviors, their respect of certain morals and a tradition of supporting the family.

“It’s no secret the public schools have been looking at the Catholic-school model in some of their reforms and administration, even the implementation of school uniforms,” he continues. “But I think education in a lot of major cities is in trouble. It’s bad in the United States, and it shouldn’t be.”

Catholic Influences

Throughout his career, Steve has worked on a variety of locations, including Africa and Scotland. “You know, when I first started in this business as an assistant director and production manager, I didn’t have much choice in the films I worked on,” he notes. “Fortunately, I haven’t made any films I’m ashamed of.”

In addition to the films he made with Mel Gibson, other titles include Anna Karenina, with Sophie Marceau, and Immortal Beloved, staring Gary Oldman as Ludwig von Beethoven.

Today, Steve is a producer at Mel Gibson’s Icon Productions. “I’m in a position where I have more of a say about what projects I pursue,”says Steve. “And I hope I will have a positive effect on the rest of the world by my choices. That’s the power of the media. There’s a great deal of responsibility that one has when producing films. So being Catholic is now playing a larger role in how I approach projects. And that’s been clearly influenced by my upbringing.”

He credits his faith with other influences, too. “I’m really fascinated with the question of what is good or evil—in film, in life,” he says. “And that definitely comes from being Catholic.

“In this business, you meet people who appear to be wonderful and you meet other people who appear to be evil. And the question invariably comes up: Is this really an evil person or is this just somebody who has gone astray?”

He shares his reflections on heaven and hell: “What is it? Where is it? I’ve been around enough death in my life—had people die in my arms. It’s always something you ponder if you’re Catholic—life after death, the Resurrection.”

Character Demands

Steve’s life is a constant cell-phone dance, meetings, e-mails. It’s late afternoon, and he still has to cross town to his Icon office at the Paramount lot in Hollywood.

“You know, I really believe in trying to live life as a good Catholic, keep the commandments, that sort of thing,” he says. “But making movies in L.A. isn’t the toughest thing to do here.”

He grins as he explains his comment: “Driving in this town—that’s the most demanding of a person’s character and ability to forgive.”


Greg Heffernan is a teacher at Marymount High School in Los Angeles, California, and a freelance writer who has traveled to numerous countries. His interview with Martin Sheen was recently published in St. Anthony Messenger.

 

 

"The media have a strong influence on people's moral values."

Steve McEveety 

 

A complete list of Steve McEveety's film credits can be found on the Internet Movie Database Web site.

Film and video ratings and reviews are featured on the U.S. Catholic Conference Web site.

 


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