Members of the crew from the Winsted-based Arcadia Productions Ltd. work in the choir loft at the Basilica of the Immaculate Conception in Waterbury in February during the filming of a series for EWTN. (Photo by Bob Mullen/The Catholic Photographer)
WINSTED – Stephen Payne left Hollywood in 1991 because he was not happy with his newfound career as post-production coordinator for the USA Television Network.
"The execs were pushing the envelope on sex and violence, and I was really feeling awfully that this was happening under my involvement," said Mr. Payne, 45, who is a Catholic. "I decided my life was really consecrated to Christ and I had to step out of that industry to try to do something in film that would make a difference."
Looking back, he said he believes the events that led him to team up with his dad, Richard, to found Arcadia Films Ltd. in 1998 have been providential.
Today, instead of preparing racy made-for-TV movies for broadcast, Stephen, along with his father, have produced more than 60 reality TV shows, called "Parable" about the Liturgy of the Word and the Mass and more than 120 films – all for Eternal Word Television Network (EWTN).
"We’ve always been taken care of in God’s divine providence and we’ve never had to do anything secular in over 10 years," Stephen said.
From their studio in Litchfield County, the father-son team aims, as Stephen explained, "to make Christ and Our Lady better known," through the media.
While most of their projects have been for EWTN, they have also produced films for Priests for Life and Legatus, a Catholic business leaders’ organization founded by Tom Monaghan, who is also founder of the Domino’s Pizza chain. They even interviewed Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger in 1999 before he became Pope.
Their latest project, "Saints Alive," a series of half-hour programs about the saints that is scheduled to air on EWTN this spring, just finished filming on Feb. 7 before a live studio audience at the Basilica of the Immaculate Conception in Waterbury.
Stephen Payne said it is the company’s largest project so far, not only because it involved coordinating an audience of approximately 600 people each night, but also because it is fully dramatized, requiring the employment of 10 actors, about 20 crew members and 20 volunteers.
Richard Payne said the series, which has the potential to reach 160 million viewers, provides people with the rich roots of their classical spiritual heritage.
"They [the saints] don’t just teach the reality of our faith, but they give witness to it," he said.
Indeed, giving witness to the Catholic faith is one of Arcadia Films’s primary missions. In fact, the name Arcadia relates to the Jesuits’ efforts to restore loyalty to the Holy Father in the French colonial empire of New France in northeastern North America in the early 1600s.
"People came to New France with the sense that they were going to recreate a culture which had a loyalty to the Holy Father in a time when the Gallican movements nationalized the Church and when bishops were appointed by the king," Richard Payne said.
With each new project, the Paynes hope to contribute to what Pope John Paul II called the new evangelization of the Church, an effort to help people rediscover the value of the faith amid the secularism prevalent in popular culture.
Their clients attest to the faithfulness of their mission.
"Over the years, I’ve seen the Paynes’ dedication to Catholic media grow and grow," writes Father Benedict J. Groeschel, of the Franciscan Friars of the Renewal, one of several client testimonials on Arcadia Films’s Web site. "I think they bring to it not only a great deal of creativity and know-how, but also persistence … I’ve stuck with the Paynes all these years because we work for the same Boss."
Soon, the Paynes hope to evangelize via the big screen.
They are currently working on developing a feature film for release in movie theaters. It is a love story of two young people in an Ivy League university who must confront the dictatorship of relativism rampant in higher learning. The Paynes have been working on the script for about four years and are now trying to raise funds in order to make the movie.
"I really do feel that God has called us both to try to make a difference in Catholic film and TV, and it’s been a wonderful journey," said Stephen.
The Paynes’ journey together into Christian media production began in 1992, just as Stephen returned to the East Coast, disillusioned with Hollywood. At the same time, Richard resigned as publisher and editor of a major international religious publishing house. Although Richard had planned to manage that company, he decided to leave the firm when it reneged on a promise to refrain from selling gnostic and New Age books. It was then that the two decided to form their own venture in film.
"I realized I have the words; he has the pictures," said Richard, who served as editor and publisher of Catholic books for 30 years, in a November 2004 interview on EWTN’s "Bookmark" program.
Soon thereafter, Richard, who had been the founding editor of the 100-volume Classics of Western Spirituality series for Paulist Press, was asked to serve as managing editor of a 1,400-page book on Louis de Montfort.
After working on the book together, the Paynes embarked on their first film project – a docudrama on Louis de Montfort. The pair and a small crew traveled to France and shot the film on location throughout Vendee and Brittany in western France. A lay organization of dramatic actors in France volunteered a week to make the film, which premiered on EWTN in 1997.
It was their work on the Montfort project that led the native Canadian family to move from Rockport, Mass., to Winsted in 1999. Stephen said the tranquility of Litchfield County suits them.
"We like our solitude but we like to be connected," said Stephen. "Here, we also have our contemplative atmosphere."
The Paynes said that they always approach their work in an atmosphere of prayer to discern what God really wants of them.
"Our interest is really to serve the Church and that’s primary in everything we do," said Stephen.
The pair also firmly believes that the media holds great hope and possibility for furthering Catholic teaching. But the industry’s creative side needs Catholics’ support.
"The potential is huge for evangelization," said Stephen. "Catholics have to come together to realize if [Mel Gibson’s film] ‘The Passion [of the Christ]’ was possible, what else is possible?"