Life of Brian Saved!
by Scott Holleran
May 27, 2004

"Got Passion? Get Saved!"

So says the latest tag line for the fundamentalist Christian high school picture Saved!, which starts its platform release on May 28. Following Mel Gibson's evangelistic box office blockbuster, The Passion of the Christ, writer and director Brian Dannelly, 40, told Box Office Mojo he's confident that his movie will appeal to a wide variety of audiences, including fundamentalist Christians.

But before production of the United Artists comedy starring Jena Malone, Mary-Louise Parker and Macaulay Culkin, several fundamentalists working on the movie quit. A church, a Christian rock band and the homeowner whose house was to be used for important scenes pulled out of Saved!, which depicts a gay Christian, a pregnant teenager and a Jewish outcast. While Dannelly says he was surprised by their actions, he remains convinced that those who "Praise the Lord" will discover that his movie is also worthy of praise.

Brian Dannelly on the set of Saved!
"I've had Christian kids come up to me and tell me they love the movie," Dannelly says. "Saved! promotes tolerance and acceptance, and I would say it promotes faith. It's up to the viewer to determine what that is."

"In my best spiritual moments, [faith provides] the overwhelming sense that things are in perfect order," he explains. "Saved! is about nudging the mainstream. It's accessible but it poses questions. As a human, you have to strive for personal responsibility and kindness. As a moviegoer, I like feeling like I have somehow experienced what it feels to be human."

Though the movie's funding was cut during production, Dannelly, who attended the American Film Institute, says he always believed Saved! would be made. "I thought: 'Well, this is the part where the funding falls through.'"

Educated in both religious and secular schools, Dannelly, who studied acting for ten years, spent part of his childhood in Germany, where he says he gained an advantage for working in motion pictures. While growing up in Germany, Dannelly says he created and performed puppet shows and the experience helped him build his storytelling skills. As he put it: "Doing a puppet show is almost like making a comic book come alive."

Puppetry's strong emphasis on characterization is evident among the divergent cast of characters in Saved!, which Dannelly wrote with Michael Urban. From Mandy Moore's preachy, popular Christian girl to her nemesis, a wild student who is also Jewish, Dannelly says he wanted the Christian high school in Saved! to reflect the rivalries and insecurities in most high schools—while dramatizing Christian youth culture.

"When 40 percent of Americans consider themselves fundamentalist Christians, it's kind of what we're living in," he notes. "It's fascinating to understand what people are doing outside [one's] comfort zone."

Dannelly, who recently finished writing the script for Runner-Up—which he says is about a beauty pageant in a women's prison—has his own boundaries. When asked what an atheist might like about Saved!, for example, he pauses and admits Saved! is more likely to appeal to an agnostic. And, when asked whether he saw the highest-grossing religious movie in decades, Dannelly is not afraid to speak his mind.

"I saw some of [The Passion of the Christ] but I left after the dining room table scene," he says. "I got to that scene and I just thought it was so incredibly silly. It was troublesome to me."

Dannelly adds: "Someone said to me that The Passion is about how Christ died [according to the Bible], and Saved! is about who he died for."

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