Occasionally I meet someone whose single-minded devotion to making a dream reality inspires me. Jim Fitzgerald is one of those people.
While he would give all the credit to the Holy Spirit, Mr. Fitzgerald is the producer of the WatchWORD Bible, a breathtaking visual Bible for the computer, tablet or smartphone. On Saturday July 28, 2012 he is embarking on a cross-country road trip to try to raise enough money to buy a Super Bowl ad for the WatchWORD Bible during next year’s game. He will be meeting with various potential funders, including churches along the way. Donations can be made through the WatchWORD Web site.
WatchWORD's public relations representative says the ad will be 30-seconds long and that Tony Dungy, who coached the Indianapolis Colts to a Super Bowl Victory, has agreed to appear in it. The projected cost is $4.5 million to produce and air the ad. Locally, former Steelers player Justin Hartwig is among the sponsors Mr. Fitzgerald has recruited for the Super Bowl project.
I first met and wrote about Mr. Fitzgerald in 1996, which pre-dates the Post-Gazette Web site, so I will paste part of that story in here:
In a small office on the fourth floor of a renovated Downtown office building, James Fitzgerald is trying to do for the Gospel in the 21st century what Johannes Gutenberg did for it in the 15th century.
Just as Gutenberg’s printing press brought the Bible to millions of newly literate readers, Fitzgerald is ready to bring it to the millions who now prefer television and computers to books.
``We are taking the Bible from 15th-century Gutenberg print to modern digital graphics,’’ he said, standing between two Silicon Graphics computers.
``We call it the Bible for the new millennium.’’
Fitzgerald’s WatchWORD Productions has produced the first four chapters of the digitalized Gospel of John, using the easy-to-read Contemporary English Version text from the American Bible Society. He is technically capable of producing the rest of the New Testament within a year but is about to run out of money for the project.
There are many computer versions of the Bible, but they are heavy-duty study tools for preachers and scholars. The WatchWORD Bible is a devotional Bible, aimed at making Bible study a pleasure for the MTV generation. It is a deceptively simple-looking mix of printed text, narration of that text, pictures and original music. But putting it together in a way that rivets rather than irritates the viewer requires the same sophisticated technology and detail work that was used to mix actors and dinosaurs in Jurassic Park.
As John’s Gospel opens, the text dissolves onto a black screen. When it speaks of the creation of the universe, the viewer sees the earth from space. The music crescendos and a sunburst appears on the horizon as the Gospel says the Word is the light of the world. Then the image dissolves into scenes of the Judean desert for the story of John the Baptist.
``I think this is an amazing project,’’ said Bishop Alden Hathaway of the Episcopal Diocese of Pittsburgh, who has seen one of Fitzgerald’s earlier prototype versions.
``It puts you in the atmosphere so that the word of God really comes alive. It’s very dramatic. I think this presents the Scriptures to people who would not ordinarily have access to them, who aren’t inclined to read the Bible but get involved through the video screen.’’
The entire New Testament takes 2,300 screens, each containing the smallest biblical phrase that will make sense to the viewer. Sometimes a single verse requires three screens. As the text appears it is read by Donald Wadsworth, associate professor of voice and speech at Carnegie Mellon University. Nat Kerr, a local composer with the production company of Christian musician B.E. Taylor, writes the music for each screen.
``They found a recording studio where the equipment made you sound like God,’’ Wadsworth said.
His narration was recorded first. Computer technicians then spent painstaking months synchronizing the appearance of printed words with every inflection of Wadsworth’s voice.
The Bible ``is so incredible and mysterious that any actor would love to be saying those words. But if you are a Christian actor, it is really fun. I kept saying, `I can’t believe you are going to pay me to read the Bible.’ This is what God wants me to do anyway,’’ Wadsworth said.
Fitzgerald, 49, an Episcopalian, was vice president of Cornerstone Television, a small Christian network based in Wall, when he got the idea for the WatchWORD Bible in 1991. He worked at it part time until 1993, when, with backing from a handful of investors, he quit his job to work at it full time along with his wife, Betty.
``People would say I was crazy. Who’s going to want to read the Bible on television? It sounds boring. Yet I was convinced it was the only way to get a majority of people today to interface with the book and understand what it says,’’ Fitzgerald said.
My colleague Tim Grant has since followed up with a story about Mr. Fitzgerald’s Super Bowl quest. He has changed with technology. The WatchWORD Video Bible now has an iPhone and iPad app that’s been downloaded in 40 nations. Versions for all major mobile platforms are in the works.
Mr. Fitzgerald, 65, will drive from Pittsburgh to Fresno, Calif. in 21 daysNOTE: An earlier version had this as a bike trip. My fault. The Post-Gazette gets so many notices about bike trip fundraisers that I'm starting to see them where they don't exist . . .