Impenetrable Hope and Teflon Goodness

You may not know Todd Komarnicki by name, but you are almost certainly acquainted with one of his most famous pieces of work: Buddy the Elf. Todd is a seasoned Hollywood writer and producer, and he was one of the principal creative forces behind 2003's instant Christmas classic, Elf. Todd's personal story -- as well as the clever holiday tale he helped bring to life -- are both interesting sources of inspiration this holiday season.

Over the past few years I have had several professional opportunities to speak with Todd about his experience in the film industry, his life as a writer, and his unlikely place as a Christian in the heart of a largely secular creative community. And each time we've met, his authenticity and perseverance have made a powerful impression on me. Todd is a leader of true spiritual grit--a deeply prayerful, thoughtful individual who speaks his mind and follows his instincts even when the path is unclear.

When I interviewed Todd for my book, Faith in the Halls of Power, he told me that working in Hollywood is "brutally discouraging... indescribably discouraging. [But] that's part of the active grace of being alive and doing what I do.... I have a wonderful life... but 98 percent of my life is 'No.'" More recently, Todd and I talked onstage after a Gordon campus screening of Elf, and he reiterated how hard it is to move ideas along in Hollywood. For example, he explained, nine out of ten of scripts that are purchased by studios never get made into movies.

Now, despite Todd's modesty, it's worth mentioning that he is quite successful in his work, by industry standards -- currently, he is working on two new television shows in development with well-known production companies. Yet each successful endeavor has come only with great effort and endurance.

I can relate to my friend's situation. As a college president, I have experienced firsthand the slow grinding wheels of progress in higher education. Limited by financial realities, unexpected circumstances, or simply by the number of hours in a day, my colleagues and I pursue many more initiatives than will wind up coming to fruition. Even as we try to capitalize on every opportunity we encounter, we come to recognize that it will often take a series of thwarted attempts to reach a satisfying end result.

I take heart, however, in Todd's choice not to dwell on the disappointments inherent in his work. He continues to write ("sometimes it's two paragraphs, sometimes it's thirty pages"), and he continues to be grateful for the opportunity to do so and for each success as it arises.

I see some similarities, in fact, between Todd's posture of gratitude and grace, and the classic protagonist of his movie. Buddy the Elf is an indomitable soul, full of "impenetrable hope and Teflon goodness," -- as Komarnicki describes him -- working amid an often cold and discouraging world. It's a story that "stands in contrast to the normal culture surrounding comedy... [which] has been about humiliation and abnegation. Rarely is it about someone really pure changing everyone around him."

This, I think, is at the core of what makes Elf such a resonant Christmas film. Yes, the premise is incredibly silly, but there is something profound and compelling in the exuberance with which Buddy approaches the world and which ultimately transforms everything around him.

So in light of our setbacks and our disappointments, in light of the darkening days of winter, but most importantly, in light of the triumph of the good news that the Christmas season represents, may we all strive to keep hold of the impenetrable hope that transforms us all.