Alone Yet Not Alone: The Tangled Web of the Academy Nomination

With writing and research assistance from T.W. Eston
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Quite a brouhaha is stirring over a song that was recently nominated for an Academy Award.  With music written by Bruce Broughton, lyrics by Dennis Spiegel, and performed by Joni Eareckson Tada, this song edged out nominations for original songs performed by Taylor Swift (“Sweeter Than Fiction,” from One Chance), Coldplay (“Atlas,” from The Hunger Games: Catching Fire), and Lana Del Rey (“Young and Beautiful,” from The Great Gatsby). How in the world did the title song from a movie that previewed in only nine theaters for one week last year get nominated for an Oscar for Best Original Song?

Rumors abound online regarding the apparent unethical actions, or at least breach of etiquette, of those involved.  There appear to be conflicts of interest with William Ross and Bruce Broughton, the writer and composer of this original song, and their connections with the Academy.

AloneYetNotAloneLong before the general public heard anything about Alone Yet Not Alone, those like myself who were steeped in all things Vision Forum and Boerne Christian Assembly knew all about the origins of the movie. It began just over ten years ago with the book by the same name, authored by Tracy M. Leininger. We attended church with the Leiningers at Boerne Christian Assembly where Doug Phillips was the pastor. Doug Phillips published and sold the first editions of Tracy Leininger’s books on his Vision Forum Inc. web site, and in the Vision Forum annual catalog.  Doug Phillips capitalized on Tracy’s books by also pairing each book with an American Girl knockoff doll that matched the main character of each book as part of his Beautiful Girlhood Collection.

As this faith-based film went into production, many of the actors and extras cast for parts came from “the community”, the term we use for Boerne Christian Assembly (BCA) and a few other closely aligned churches spun off from BCA in the greater San Antonio area. Others also came from Patrick Henry College. Doug Phillips was cast as “Colonel Mercer.” The close relations between the film’s writers and producers and Doug Phillips continued up until at least the time that Doug Phillips’ San Antonio Independent Christian Film Festival announced the World Premiere of the film to be shown on February 8, 2013.

At this same time there was a significant confluence of events going on behind the scenes. Doug Phillips had been caught with his pants down with “Cassandra” in her home in January 2013 by two members of her family. Doug and “Cassandra” were caught again in early February in Doug Phillips’ home, this time by his wife and/or eldest son. Immediately thereafter Doug Phillips stepped down as pastor/elder of his church, Boerne Christian Assembly. Doug Phillips managed, at the time, to contain the knowledge of his sex scandal to a very small group of people. Those who have been following the articles here about Doug Phillips being a religious sociological cult leader are already familiar with how he pulled it off. In spite of his best efforts, however, it ultimately did go public. Doug Phillips resigned from Vision Forum Ministries on October 30, 2013, and on November 11, the Vision Forum Ministries Board of Directors announced the closure of the ministry.

Alone Yet Not Alone is the only movie I went to see last year, yet apparently I am one of the few people in this world who has actually seen it already.  I can’t even remember how I found out about this movie preview, since I had not followed anything Vision Forum related for several years; but when I discovered that Alone Yet Not Alone was previewing here in San Antonio, I asked my daughter, Natasha, if she would like to see a Vision Forum movie with me.

Kelly Leininger Greyson

Kelly Leininger Greyson

Alone Yet Not Alone is the true story of Barbara and Regina Leininger, Tracy’s ancestors who immigrated in 1748 from Germany to Colonial American in order to avoid religious persecution.  The starring actress, portraying Barbara Leininger, is Kelly Leininger Greyson, Tracy Leininger’s sister.  The film’s estimated $7,000,000 budget came by the financial backing of dad, Dr. James Leininger.

Who is Dr. James Leininger?  Besides being one of the richest men in America, his public accomplishments read like a “Who’s Who” of men with many varied interests in life.  His private accomplishments are even more vast.  Dr. Leininger has a very impressive public life, but also maintains a very private personal life, as well.  Unlike Doug Phillips, James Leininger appears to take his Christian convictions seriously and he probably has no scandalous skeletons in his closet.

I will not talk disparagingly about Dr. Leininger, a man who I have nothing but the utmost respect for.  I have many good memories of my time at Boerne Christian Assembly where Jim and his lovely wife and their children also attended, and the many happy memories of the events held at their gorgeous home. The Leininger’s left BCA prior to our “excommunication,” so unlike virtually all other BCA members, the Leiningers never complied with Doug’s orders to shun us.

It’s not much of a secret that James Leininger donated two buildings to Vision Forum Ministries: the warehouse/office building that Vision Forum Ministries and Vision Forum Inc. recently vacated, and the massive Phillips’ family home in Hollywood Park they were recently required by the VFM Board of Directors to vacate (both due to Doug Phillips’ clergy sexual abuse scandal).  What happens to these two pieces of property still remains to be seen, but these were hardly James Leininger’s only financial backing to Vision Forum.

In Doug Phillips’ November 6, 2013 blog article, he stated: “I retain ownership of Vision Forum, Inc.”  Most people didn’t question that at all.  Of course Doug Phillips “owns” Vision Forum, Inc.  Why would we think otherwise?  But “President” does not necessarily mean “owner,” or principal shareholder.  No, the principal is James Leininger.

Vision Forum has two sides, the non-profit tax exempt tax deductible 501(c)(3) ministry side, Vision Forum Ministries; and the for-profit business, Vision Forum, Inc.

The officers and directors of Vision Forum Ministries include:

  • Doug Phillips: Pres, Dir
  • Scott Brown: Dir
  • Don Hart: Dir (and staff attorney)
  • Josh Wean: CFO, Dir
  • Jim Zes: Dir

VFI was incorporated December 16, 1997 and its board of officers and directors have included:

  • Doug Phillips: Pres, Dir (1997- )
  • Thomas W. Lyles, Jr.: VP/Sec, Dir, Reg Agnt, Incorporator (1997- )
  • David Keith: VP/Treas, Dir. (2011- )
  • Charles A. Staffel Treas, Dir. (2002-2011)
  • Josh Weans: CFO (2012- )
  • Kimberly Feltner: VP (2012- )
  • James Leininger, Dir (1997-2002)

Jim Leininger resigned from the VFI board of directors around the same time that he left Boerne Christian Assembly in 2002.  This was also the same time that Doug Phillips started coercing BCA attendees into signing his “Til death do us part” document called “The Church Covenant”. After this point Boerne Christian Assembly quickly morphed from a church into a religious sociological cult.

“Mom, look!  There’s Joshua Phillips and so-and-so and so-and-so.”  We hadn’t seen any of these people in nearly nine years, so watching the movie, Alone Yet Not Alone, was bittersweet for us.  We eagerly searched for glimpses of old friends, and then shed a few tears when we recognized yet another old friend who continues to shun us, ever since our “excommunication” from Boerne Christian Assembly.  “Mom!  Is that Cassandra?  And why is Mr. Phillips fawning all over Kelly like that?”  Having seen this preview less than a month before Doug Phillips’ resignation on October 30, 2013, I couldn’t help but wonder what really went on behind the scenes in Alone Yet Not Alone.  Even the name of the movie ironically seems to be descriptive of Doug’s secret double-life.  We were so caught up in searching for lost friendships that we overlooked the fact that this movie might be about Dominion Theology.

The current release date is now Father’s Day weekend, June 13, 2014.  The newest book version is now being published by Zonderkidz. Originally scheduled to open February 21, 2014, Alone Yet Not Alone apparently required a delayed release due to the need to edit out Doug Phillips as Colonel Mercer, not to mention any credits to Vision Forum.  Toward the end of the film Kelly’s character is rescued from an Indian tribe. She is filthy and disheveled with her hair dyed dark to look like an Indian. After bathing she emerges as a beautiful blond bombshell. Doug Phillips as Col. Mercer fawns all over her, praising her beauty. “If I hadn’t known that you were that same poor creature I saw before I never would have believed it.” He then launches into a classic Doug Phillips sermon, giving glory to God that their faith delivered them from their trials and tribulations.

NormandyFinalFarewellThe film will, no doubt, be helped by the absence of Doug Philips who didn’t stray from his true self in rendering a rousing Patriarchy speech as a key feature of his part. In one sense, however, it’s a pity that Doug Phillips’ Col. Mercer scenes were left on the cutting room floor. Doug is renowned for his costume parties and playing dress up, and even though he’s never served in the military his favorite costumes are military uniforms.

No doubt Doug Phillips’ sex scandal proved to be a huge embarrassment to the film’s producers. They had to scramble to remove any references that might tarnish this Christian film. Up until just prior to Doug Phillips’ resignation from Vision Forum Ministries, the film’s trailer included Doug Phillips. Now he’s nowhere to be seen.

But is that the extent of the Vision Forum connection to this movie?  Alone Yet Not Alone is produced by Enthuse Entertainment, who recently acquired BlueBehemoth.com, the media download site of Vision Forum, Inc.  Blue Behemoth’s web site, as of this date, states that the site is “currently offline while undergoing maintenance.” Additionally, “BlueBehemoth.com is under new ownership and management whose vision is to produce and provide God-honoring, faith-based, family friendly media into the future.” However, just prior to that notice being posted “Vision Forum Inc.” had been replaced with “Enthuse Entertainment”. I don’t think they really wanted us to know that Enthuse Entertainment is the new “owner” and “management” of Blue Behemoth because that information quickly disappeared.

Who is Enthuse Entertainment? Just a new name for Mission City Productions that was formerly listed as the production company for Alone Yet Not Alone, and it had exactly the same board of directors.  Alone Yet Not Alone is their first feature film production for nationwide release. Their second feature film release is To Have and To Hold, also starring Kelly Leininger Greyson, scheduled to be released sometime later in 2014.

Enthuse Entertainment also had a very familiar address to me.  The building is owned by one of James Leininger’s many for-profit organizations, DJL Ventures.  That building leases space to many different businesses, with most, if not all, also owned or financially backed by James Leininger.  The personal property in one office space in particular, which means the business itself, is also owned by DJL Ventures.  That is the office for Enthuse Entertainment.

DJL Ventures board of directors is made up of Thomas W. Lyles, Jr., David Keith, Charles A. Staffel, and Kimberly Feltner.

CJL Acquisitions, Inc. board of directors is made up of the same people: Thomas W. Lyles, Jr., David Keith, Charles A. Staffel, and Kimberly Feltner.

Not surprisingly, the same exact people have served as board members for Vision Forum Inc. Interlocking directorships galore. So will Vision Forum and Doug Phillips ever really go away?

These same officers also serve together on several other boards, all backed financially by James Leininger.  (If you want to have some fun, click around on the various names at this site.)

So, the officers of the board for Vision Forum, Inc. are the same officers of the board for DJL Ventures and CJL Acquisitions, Inc., who just “bought” Blue Behemoth from Vision Forum, Inc.  In other words, the officers of the board for one business owned by James Leininger bought that same business from themselves under a different name.

And the public thinks the Oscar nomination for Best Original Song is a little bit fishy?

Alone Yet Not Alone: How did it wind up coming out of obscurity to have it’s eponymous theme song nominated for an academy award? Certainly the Bruce Broughton connection may be significant and shouldn’t be disregarded. But is that all there is to this story? I think not. Super-wealthy men like James Leininger always have powerful connections.

Joni Eareckson Tada did a wonderful job singing the song. But that’s irrelevant. It’s not the singer’s performance that is judged for Academy Award consideration for Best Original Song, or at least it’s not supposed to be. It’s the composers that are being judged. Is the song really Academy Award material? Personally, I don’t think so. I can’t help but think there was a lot of influence peddling going on behind the scenes to secure the nomination. I think that’s really unfortunate because, other than that issue, I really enjoyed this movie. Even the song is good.

I hate to see these sorts of things happen because it just gives the non-Christians another opportunity to mock Christians. We should know better by now.

UPDATE 1/29/14:

Oscar Nominee ‘Devastated’ After Academy Disqualification

The Academy’s board of governors voted to rescind the original song nomination for “Alone Yet Not Alone,” music by Bruce Broughton and lyric by Dennis Spiegel. An additional nominee in the category will not be named.

The decision was prompted by the discovery that Broughton, a former governor and current music branch executive committee member, had emailed members of the branch to make them aware of his submission during the nominations voting period.

“I’m devastated,” Broughton told Variety. “I indulged in the simplest, lamest, grass-roots campaign and it went against me when the song started getting attention. I got taken down by competition that had months of promotion and advertising behind them.”

…In a statement about the withdrawal of the “Alone” song nomination, Academy president Cheryl Boone Isaacs said, “No matter how well-intentioned the communication, using one’s position as a former governor and current executive committee member to personally promote one’s own Oscar submission creates the appearance of an unfair advantage.”

The board determined that Broughton’s actions were inconsistent with the Academy’s promotional regulations, which provide, among other terms, that “it is the Academy’s goal to ensure that the Awards competition is conducted in a fair and ethical manner. If any campaign activity is determined by the Board of Governors to work in opposition to that goal, whether or not anticipated by these regulations, the Board of Governors may take any corrective actions or assess any penalties that in its discretion it deems necessary to protect the reputation and integrity of the awards process.”

Read more.