Is the Tide Changing in Tinseltown?

Conservatives who see an imbalance between the left and right in Hollywood believe that movies have become increasingly out of touch with mainstream America.

"The scripts get written by people who are extreme left-wingers, by and large, who have very negative values about business, very negative values about the military [and] very negative values about religion," said actor and former Nixon speechwriter Ben Stein (search).

But Lionel Chetwynd (search), who wrote the TV movie "Ike: Countdown to D-Day," says scripts don't get chosen for their political point of view.

"Hollywood's concern when it comes to deciding what films will be made and what films won't be made usually has very little to do with the political content of the film. It has to do with whether or not it will make money. And that has to do with whether it will attract a particular star, a particular director.

"It's not that you have executives sitting around saying, 'Bring me a liberal script' — they don't notice," he said.

But the controversy surrounding Mel Gibson's "The Passion of the Christ" suggests films that deal openly with issues of faith have a tough time in Tinseltown. Gibson, a megastar in his own right, had to fight to get "The Passion" in theaters.

Producer Douglas Urbanski recalls Gibson's early struggles to get "The Passion" released.

"When Mel was out shopping his movie last January, a year ago, I was at a Golden Globes party with a friend of mine who was the head of a studio, and I'll call him 'Bob.' I said, 'Look, Bob. You've got to grab Mel's movie.' I hadn't seen it. And he said, 'Oh Doug, the only ones who are going to go see it are the religious right,'" Urbanski said.

"The Passion" went on to gross more than $625 million worldwide last year, and more than $370 million in the U.S. alone.

"Nobody in Hollywood ... saw that money was to be made on this," Urbanski said.

For Gibson, a devout Catholic, the film brought enormous risks.

"I think I refer to it as the 'career-killer film,'" the director told FOX News' Bill O'Reilly in January of 2003 while he was still shooting the film in Rome.

"Since I've been in Rome, I know that there are people sent from reputable publications who, they go about while you're busy over here, they start digging into your private life," Gibson said. "And then they start bothering your friends and your business associates and harassing your family, including my 85-year-old father, and I find it a little spooky."

It's little wonder that other conservative filmmakers aren't always eager to make their political beliefs public. Talk show host Larry Elder says many in the movie business are afraid to admit their conservative views.

"I did a TV show a few years ago called 'Moral Court.' And you'd be surprised at how many people who were working — sound people, lighting people, money people — who come to me when nobody else is around and they go, 'Psst, Larry, I am Republican ... please don't tell anybody we had this conversation,'" Elder said.

James Hirsen, of the conservative news site, finds it curious that such a "liberal" town can be so unwelcoming to those who are different.

"I just find it strange sometimes that there is this weird new definition of 'tolerance' in Hollywood. We are only tolerant to those that agree with us. Which is not, of course, tolerance at all," he said, laughing.

Hirsen, the author of "Tales From the Left Coast," recently published a list of what he calls "conservative Hollywood heroes" in NewsMax magazine. But for every conservative willing to admit his or her political affiliation, there are many more who prefer the "don't ask, don't tell" approach.

"I have had people, who are famous, even, call me up and kind of use Charlton Heston's term, 'I am a closet conservative,'" Hirsen said, explaining that those who lean right in Hollywood are hesitant to "come out" for fear of losing work.

Screenwriter Craig Titley compares the current climate to the middle of the last century, when movie stars like Rock Hudson were forced to keep their homosexuality under the covers.

"This is how messed up this town is. Where else in this country can you be a conservative and it's the equivalent of Marlon Brando in a leather jacket riding into town? Like we're the rebel counterculture, the nonconformists," Titley said. "Everywhere else in the country if you're conservative, you're the square."

The Bush Divide

Hollywood was quick to jump into the fray in what was one of the most heated elections in recent memory. But while it's estimated that around 40 percent of the people in the movie biz are Republicans, the town shelled out $7 to John Kerry for every $3 given to President Bush.

While Hollywood conservatives say that being open about their political convictions has led to negative consequences, Jack Valenti (search), former head of the Motion Picture Association of America, does not believe Tinseltown is overwhelmingly liberal.

"I believe that a bare majority of people in Hollywood are what I would call on the liberal side," Valenti said. But he conceded that on issues like abortion and the environment, Hollywood tends to veer left.

"On issues like abortion, yes, I think it's very hard to find somebody who is anti-abortion," Valenti said.

Screenwriter Chetwynd says political passions in Hollywood reached critical mass during the election, costing him some old friendships as well as possibly a job. "There was an executive at CBS at one point ... who said at a staff meeting, 'We will not be hiring Lionel Chetwynd because he is a conservative and they cannot write caring characters.'"

Gibson concurs that the political divide has turned ugly.

"Every morning, I expect to open a newspaper and expect to find a digitally altered photograph of myself sharing a cigarette with a handsome farm animal. It's like mudslinging, nasty editorials," he said.

And while it's unlikely that a star of Gibson's magnitude will be seriously hurt because he's a religious conservative, the sting for those just starting out can be enormously scary.

"It really starts very early in the training programs and the acting classes," actress Govindini Murty said. "I was in a very good acting class with one of Hollywood's top acting coaches. And one day I happened to mention that I had seen 'The Ten Commandments' the previous night, and I had met Charlton Heston and how thrilled I was and honored to meet him. Immediately my teacher's behavior changed."

But according to Valenti, the color that matters most is not red or blue — it's green.

"If a studio thinks that you've got a story that they think is going to sell, they will distribute it," he said, dismissing the idea that a script by a conservative writer wouldn't be marketable.

The astounding success of "The Passion," which drew church groups by the busload, may have opened the door to movies with more conservative themes, but Elder fears that door could quickly slam shut again.

"If there is money to be made in conservative films, you are going to find the studios interested in those kind of films," Elders said. "Whether or not they have the ability to look at a project and tell [if] it's going to resonate to somebody who doesn't think like the liberals in Hollywood is another question."

Conservatives Come Out

The year 2004 was a good year for Hollywood Republicans: Arnold Schwarzenegger (search) was elected governor of California, and George W. Bush won a second term as the nation's president. Some defiant Hollywood conservatives are jumping on that momentum.

While hardly a major motion picture — it's only available on the Internet — Evan Maloney's new documentary has a decidedly conservative message.

"Michael Moore's Call to Arms" goes after the director whose "Fahrenheit 9/11 (search)" was seen as an anti-Bush attack ad in the form of a film.

"Look at the recent election. If you assume that 51 percent of the public supported President Bush and maybe consider themselves right of center, that's 51 percent of the public that is not being served by the documentary film," Maloney said.

So rather than feeling left out, he picked up his camcorder and hit the highway. Maloney talked to peace protesters in New York City and confronted the big guy himself.

Like many young filmmakers, Maloney edits his work on a personal computer and then makes it available on the Web.

"What that means is we can create product, we can get product to an audience and we can build an audience by circumventing Hollywood," he said. "Hollywood has to realize that they're not a political party, they're a business."

Last year, two film festivals dedicated to showcasing films of a conservative bent debuted. Most are documentaries, like the anti-"Fahrenheit" film "Celsius 41.11: The Temperature at Which the Brain ... Begins to Die," in which Chetwynd was a co-writer.

"The main difference between the two films is that our film was a sober, intelligent dissertation. His was entertaining. It was filled with lies," Chetwynd charged. "But by God, the man is entertaining."

While "Celsius" didn't make the money "Fahrenheit" did, it did receive standing ovations at the first-ever American Renaissance Film Festival in Dallas and the Liberty Film Festival in Los Angeles.

"We made 'Celsius 41.11' because we were obliged to make it," Chetwynd said. "In terms of my career, I would have been better off doing something else."

That need to be heard is what prompted Murty and her husband, Jason Apuzzo, to found the Liberty Film Festival.

"The Hollywood left was putting out almost 20 documentaries designed to defeat Bush in the election, and we felt it was time for those who were 'right of center' to organize and put on an event," the actress said.

Three thousand people attended the festival, according to Murty. Twenty films were featured, including "In the Face of Evil," a tribute to President Ronald Reagan's battle against communism, and "Michael Moore Hates America," a documentary whose title speaks for itself.

Another way for Tinseltown conservatives to band together is through groups like the Hollywood Congress of Republicans, which comprises about 150 industry professionals and meets once a month. The point of such gatherings is to find "strength in numbers," according to Mark Vafiades, the group's president.

"If somebody is repressed a little bit, or they feel like they are a minority ... they need to be able to gather together, to draw strength from each other," Hirsen said.

But veterans such as Chetwynd know that advancing a conservative agenda in Hollywood will take more than lectures and discussion groups.

"If you love George Bush and you come to Hollywood and you want to have a career, the first thing you gotta do is establish that you have the talent to survive here," he said. "Is it more difficult? Yes. Is it a blacklist? No."

Conservatives will only ever make headway in the industry if they do good work, Chetwynd advised.

The recent success of family-friendly films like "The Incredibles" and the "Spider-Man" and "Shrek" franchises proves that Hollywood will follow the money, no matter what the message. Which means consumers still have a lot of power over the industry.

"When you look at the grosses of those movies ... I think the loudmouths in Hollywood are still going to be the loudmouths, but in general, the customers will still guide the ship," Urbanski, the producer, said.

Add the new crop of openly conservative filmmakers ready for their break and there may be cause for optimism on the right.

"There are a lot of other people out there who are making these films who, before, never had a platform. Now they have access to audiences, they can show their films, they can generate publicity, they can get attention for the work they're doing," Maloney said.

Chetwynd is similarly hopeful.

"In 10 years, when the current crop of 20- and up to 35 [-year-olds] are taking over the studios and the agencies, it's going to be totally the other way," he predicted. "Unfortunately, I will be retired, no doubt, by then, and I will never get to enjoy it."

FOX News' John Gibson, Bill McCuddy, Joel Parks and Jason Kopp contributed to this report.

This story is the third and final part of a special FOX News documentary, "Hollywood vs. America." Check out the first two parts on by clicking in the "stories" box near the top of this page.