By STEPHEN O'KANE, Staff Writer | Published August 4, 2011
The kitchen table where the Willits family usually eats is covered this morning with cables, batteries, audio and recording paraphernalia—equipment to start filming a possible Catholic sitcom.
A crew of six and Father Robert Reed, president of CatholicTV, have flown in from Boston, turning the Willits’ home into a set for the pilot of the show tentatively titled “Mass Confusion.” What began as a casual idea has turned this June morning into a full-fledged effort to create Catholic, family-friendly entertainment and hopefully inspire others to get involved.
Last year Greg and Jennifer Willits, who host “The Catholics Next Door” on SiriusXM satellite radio, approached Father Reed with an idea for a new program: a humorous Catholic sitcom reflecting family life and its rewards and struggles.
Greg said that like many turns in the road his family has already experienced, this was an idea he pitched expecting to be turned down. But their steps in faith seem to lead to more doors opening.
It began with The Rosary Army, a rosary-making apostolate they started in 2003, and then “That Catholic Show,” an educational video series they produced, and then a podcast, which was picked up by the Catholic Channel and turned into their current radio show, “The Catholics Next Door.” Now it may be a Catholic family show inspired by their lives as parents with five children.
“We’re excited and scared about this, but that’s pretty much been the case with every new endeavor we’ve taken on,” Greg wrote by e-mail. “When we started Rosary Army, we felt the same way. When we started podcasting, we felt the same way. When we went to radio, we felt the same way. It makes no sense that we, without any experience in this area whatsoever, should be doing this, but it seems with the doors open, God wants us to at least give it a try.”
After getting a green light from Father Reed and CatholicTV, the Willits began writing a script with their friends Mac and Katherine Barron, another Georgia-based couple involved in new media with their podcast “Catholic in a Small Town.” The Barrons are the parents of three.
The two couples ran through their lines as the CatholicTV crew checked audio levels and framed shots. Director Robert Kaminski called “action,” and the group dove headfirst into an experience that was mostly new to all of them. Jennifer Willits has been in front of the camera before for “That Catholic Show,” but filming the pilot added a new level of excitement and pressure.
“It was a very ‘mom and pop’ production,” said Jennifer about “That Catholic Show.” “The only other person in the room was Greg.”
“It adds to the excitement and the weight of the scene, having to interact with a lot of people,” she added.
Mac Barron, who has emceed the national Catholic New Media Celebration for the past two years, had to become familiar with the dynamic of rehearsing lines, taking direction and reshooting scenes over and over.
“It is different being in front of the camera than doing the podcasts,” Barron said. “In the podcast we get to call the shots and we don’t have to rehearse.”
“It is very exciting,” he added. “It’s great that CatholicTV has been so supportive.”
Filmed in a style similar to primetime shows like “The Office” and “Modern Family,” the show focuses on the two Catholic couples and their families. Greg said the idea for this venture isn’t to teach Catholic doctrine but to be entertaining.
“There is a lot of Catholic catechesis out there but not a lot of Catholic entertainment. We want to prove that it can be done,” he said. “This is going to be a pilot, simply a proof of concept to hopefully inspire others in Catholic and secular media to push the envelope a bit creatively.”
While it was exciting, it was also a bit of a sacrifice for the two families, who used some of their vacation time to film the pilot, not to mention the Willits’ home being taken over as a studio and set.
The Willits, members of St. Pius X Church in Conyers, asked for prayers that the show would be an inspiration for others and have a positive impact on Catholic new media.
The pilot is expected to be released this fall online through the CatholicTV website (www.catholictv.com). CatholicTV is also available on some cable and satellite TV networks, including Sky Angel in Georgia.
“Our goal and our hope is to get 1 million views, which as you may know, has so far been pretty much impossible for online Catholic media,” wrote Greg. “If we can reach that goal, then we’ll have something to work with if we decide to shoot more episodes since at that point we’ll need to secure some sort of funding to do so.”