Director/Writer Paul D. Shoulberg on the set of "The Good Catholic."

Actor John C. McGinley, known for his role as Dr. Cox in the sitcom "Scrubs," is in-character on the set of "The Good Catholic," watching an Indiana University sporting event on TV with corn chips at his disposal. As the character, a free-spirited priest, becomes enraptured with the game's intensity, his blood begins to boil — excitement that true sports-followers know all too well. 

Behind the camera, director Paul Shoulberg, a 2004 University graduate and Lawrence native, noticed a special moment was about to arise. The final day on set of Shoulberg's upcoming film "The Good Catholic" was going to go out with a bang.

Then, in the heat of the moment, corn chips shot like a catapult from McGinley's hands, making a bee-line toward the television screen, where the unsuspecting camera crew was hit with friendly fire.

"Nobody was safe. If you were in the room, you could get hit by a chip. I can never forget that," Shoulberg said. 

This was not in the script, but Shoulberg said he decided to go with the flow. Let what feels natural to his actor bolster the scene. 

After six or seven corn chip bags were voided of their contents, they went on to conclude the day on set. It was the end of a grueling yet satisfying gauntlet of production in Bloomington, Ind., which included 18 production days in a 20 day span earlier this year. Now, Shoulberg's homegrown story inspired by his own parents had finally come to fruition. 

"The Good Catholic" is a story about a young, passionate priest, Daniel (played by Zachary Spicer), who is active in his church community. Daniel prides himself as a genuine listener and caretaker of others. So much so, that he rarely gets to take a look at himself in the mirror.

However, when he happens to meet the enchanting college student Jane (played by Wrenn Schmidt) and quickly falls in love, he is faced with the ultimate form of reflection. The film also includes performances by John C. McGinley and Danny Glover, who portrays a conservative father in Daniel's church.

The premise and outline for "The Good Catholic" began to unfold for Shoulberg even before he began writing the script in 2014. His father Donald, a former priest himself, had died a little over a year before of cancer at the age of 76.

After his father's passing, Shoulberg said he dug deep in his roots and upbringing by connecting with his mother Gini, who still lives in Lawrence. He began what would be a thriving dialogue into the life she had alongside his gentle-mannered father.

What he uncovered would be astounding. His mother, a former nun, met Shoulberg's father when they were both involved in the church. It was a breakfast with several other priests and nuns that set the table for the future of their relationship, Shoulberg said. 

"They were there for a long time, because my dad, he can talk. When he finally left, my mom told the other nuns that she could talk to him forever," Shoulberg said.

It was a spark lit so fervently that it could not under any circumstances be diminished, Shoulberg said. 

"She had a real profound connection with him right out of the gate and loved to talk to him. My father was a great listener, one of the best listeners that I’ve ever known," Shoulberg said.

This characteristic of his father was the basis for Daniel. While Shoulberg knew going into his writing that he didn't want to make this a biographical retelling of his parent's story, which is why Jane is not portrayed as a nun like in his mother's case, he knew he would need his mother's help to fully realize the characters with the emotional connection necessary to connect with audiences. 

"I would run things by my mom and say 'Would a priest do this?,' 'Is this possible?,' 'Is there something that is against the rules?,'" Shoulberg said. 

In order to get Shoulberg's script in the right hands to accurately tell his story, he went to a friend he attended graduate school with at Indiana University, Zachary Spicer. Together, Shoulberg and Spicer have worked on many plays in the past.

"He’s always asking what I'm working on. When he got a hold of a script, he was in the middle of starting a production company. And he saw the script and said this is going to be the first feature that we do," Shoulberg said

Spicer's production company, Pigasus Pictures, took a chance on "The Good Catholic" because of the potential it had. Not only that, but producer/actor Spicer had trust in Shoulberg that his story would play well with audiences.

"Paul is the reason I am an actor today," Spicer said. "He took a chance on me before anyone else ever did. So when it came time to take a chance on him and his beautiful film 'The Good Catholic,' it was a no-brainer."

Now, after a long 2015 of finding investors and casting, combined with the hectic start of 2016, "The Good Catholic" is now fully in the editing process with the hopes of having it ready for the 2017 festival season. With that in mind, Shoulberg said their goal is to find a distributor at one of the festivals so the film can be seen by the world in the near future.

"It’s hard to find something that you can genuinely be moved by that can be intellectually satisfying, that can make you laugh—the jokes are actually funny," Shoulberg said. "When I see a movie, go to a play or read a book, if it’s something I can make a connection with, that’s really what you want. If [audiences] get that out of it, then it’s a success."

— Edited by Deanna Ambrose

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