Tim Clemente has been a police officer and an FBI agent, and now he’s a Hollywood writer. But first and foremost, he has always been a devout Catholic.
I recently attended a backyard going away party for Fr. Thomas Joseph White, the Director of the Thomistic Institute in Washington, DC. Fr. White will soon be headed to Rome for a new assignment. To wish him well about 100 of his friends and supporters – lay and religious alike – gathered together for fellowship over barbecue, beer and a live performance by the bluegrass band the Hillbilly Thomists. It was in this late summer setting that I met Tim Clemente. Tim, I learned, is a Hollywood writer. Then I learned that first and foremost and he’s also strongly Catholic.
After speaking with him about how he found his way into the writing profession, I realized his career, having taken an unexpected turn into writing drama, has a lesson for all of us.
“I fight wars,” he said. “First it was the war on drugs, then terrorism, as an FBI agent, and now the culture wars.”
It made me think: is there not always the opportunity to be a source of truth, goodness and beauty in the world, no matter the size of our platform, or what career we choose?
A career in the FBI
Tim started out as a police officer in St. Louis, then moved to the FBI, working in international narcotics for five years. He worked undercover in South America, primarily concentrating on a Colombian cartel. In 1998, when Osama bin Laden issued a fatwa against Americans, the U.S. responded by creating the National Capital Response Squad (NCRS). The NCRS, designed to respond to real or perceived terrorist events, took Tim around the world.
“I responded to suspected or actual terrorist incidents in the US and in Europe, the Middle East, and Africa. I was in Bosnia and the Balkans for an attempted assassination bombing, and spent a lot of time in Iraq and east Africa and other parts of the Middle East,” he said.
Tim was in Yemen when the USS Cole was attacked and visited Tanzania and Kenya when the US embassies in those nations were blown up. The September 11 terrorist attacks brought him back to DC, where he was part of the team responsible for the Pentagon crime scene. “I spent a lot of time bouncing around all the [international terrorist] hotspots,” he said.
All in the family
This work around the globe often took Tim away from his wife and nine kids for great stretches of time.
“Sometimes I’d meet my kids on the side of the road on the way to the airport and then head off somewhere,” he says. “Other times, I’d have less than an hour’s notice to go jump on a flight.” He always made the effort to stay in touch, keeping a separate cell phone for family so if it rang, he’d know it was his wife or kids.
In his household, Tim was always the one who monitored the movies for the family. The rule was, if one of the kids wanted to see a new movie or watch a TV show, they’d have to get his permission.
“We’d consult moveiguide.org about the language, sexuality, or whatever the content was, so no matter where I was in the world, before one of my kids went to the movies, it was always my responsibility to give permission. I’ve gotten calls while in a bomb crater in Iraq asking, ‘Dad, am I allowed to see this movie’?” he laughs. Their large, Catholic family was the stable center around which his world-traveling career revolved.
Tim’s brother, Jim Clemente, also had career in the FBI. Jim worked at Quantico as an expert in profiling child abduction serial killers for 11 years before retiring. It was Jim who first got the call from Hollywood.
Fifteen years ago, Jim Clemente received a call from the producers working on a show called “Criminal Minds.” The potential star of the show, Mandy Patinkin, wanted to meet someone who actually did, in real life, what his character did on the show. Mandy was considering the role, but hesitated, wanting to be sure he could play the role in a way that brought about good, and not just sensationalism. So Patinkin travelled to Quantico and met with Jim. The two hit it off.
“Mandy was fascinated by the stories my brother told, took the role, and Jim became an unofficial consultant to the show,” Tim says. The show strived to show the FBI in a positive light, and when in the second season Jim wrote a wildly successful episode, a Deputy Director at the FBI spoke with him about writing additional episodes, or even developing a whole new show, that would illustrate the varied and beneficial things the FBI does to keep our country safe. So, knowing he would need help, Jim called his brother Tim.
Time for a career change
Jim Clemente called his brother as Tim was getting ready to board a plane for a one and a-half year deployment to Afghanistan. Jim tried to convince Tim to join him in Hollywood to pitch a show. Providentially, Tim’s trip was delayed and he was able to join his brother. He and Jim flew to Hollywood, and after a few critical and successful meetings, their show idea was picked up by CBS. So, Jim decided to quit the FBI and have a change of career. Together, they shot the pilot for CBS with a $6.3 million dollar budget.
Ultimately, that particular show did not get picked up – the network went with “NCIS Los Angeles”. But together, Jim and Tim now had their feet firmly in the door, had made some great connections in the entertainment industry, and began their own company, XG Productions. Since then, both have served as technical consultants and advisors on major shows like “NCIS LA,” “The Unit,” and “Lie to Me.” XG Productions also maintains a roster of experts providing the same consulting, tech advising, and on camera subject matter expertise for news programs, networks, and many unscripted programming and shows. Both brothers also now write both television shows and film scripts.
A Catholic in Hollywood
It is hard to determine which half of Tim’s career is more remarkable and surprising – his career in the FBI, which rather reads like a movie script, or his career which has him writing movie scripts. In his law enforcement days, Tim’s role as the “good guy” was obvious and he relied on his faith to keep him grounded. As a writer, though, he realizes he has the same opportunity to be a force for good, though in a more subtle way. He believes in the power of media to reinforce positive cultural values that are supportive of life, family and faith, and recognizes his own role in that important mission.
“I have been in a war zone in Iraq, and yet, I believe, the greatest war is the culture war,” he says. “A lot of what comes out of Hollywood is counter-cultural or even destroying the culture.”
He cites “Blue Bloods,” a cop drama featuring Tom Selleck, as an example of the kind of media that can, instead, send a positive cultural message. “What’s portrayed in ‘Blue Bloods’ is about normal Americans, doing things like getting together for dinner and spending time with close-knit, extended families. Prayer is not something to be made fun of and disdained, and on that show it’s not made fun of. The characters have trials and travails and they’re not perfect, but at least they’re not portraying evil as good and good as evil.”
Of his own creativity, Tim says, “I don’t write Catholic movies, like The Bells of Saint Mary’s. What I do is write movies that the average person would watch.” Within that setting – showing normal families, spending time together, working through problems and staying faithful to one another – Tim believes there is an opportunity to spread a positive and moral message to a wide audience. And, he believes there is a real longing and desire for this “good,” peaceful, fulfilling content.
“A Quiet Place is a perfect example of that,” he says. While Tim was not involved in the movie, this 2018 post-apocalyptic science fiction horror film, starring John Krasinski, follows a happily married couple, who love each other, have children even in the darkest circumstances, and sacrifice everything for those children. That, he says, is just one way of sharing a positive, faith-inspired message.
He has a point – as has been noted, channels like Hallmark, known for its highly family-friendly movies and TV shows, are enjoying wild success, even up against competitors like Netflix. Just last holiday season, the Hallmark Channel experienced its biggest ratings week ever and overall 9% growth in 2017. People are craving movies and shows with a positive message, even as the news cycle of our modern world grows more shrill, and popular culture offers less beauty, truth, or goodness.
Supporting the message
I asked Tim what regular, non-Hollywood people could do to support positive cultural messages, the kind we value in our Catholic faith. He recommends we watch those important films as soon as they hit the theater, and tell friends to do the same. You never know what kind of a difference it makes in that movie’s ability to reach wider audiences.
“If people go out and pack the theater seats opening weekend, it will continue to stay in theaters, because it is a numbers game,” he says. “A Quiet Place did so well the first few weeks that it stayed in theaters for months. It did great in opening weekend, and that propelled it into more theaters and for longer periods of time. So if something good comes out, that we want people to see, we have to see it first. Then the producers and directors creating these great pieces of art have more legs to stand on for this kind of project. So, support good art and entertainment.”
Beyond that, what I find so remarkable about Tim’s story is how unexpected a turn his life and career took, from fighting bad guys to writing stories that counter the evil we often find in popular culture. It may seem surprising that suddenly he was presented this great platform to share his message. And yet, if Tim has this ability to be a missionary for truth, beauty and goodness, don’t we all? Can’t we all be the same agents for good regardless of our station in life?
Called to be Counter-Cultural
As Catholics, we are called by virtue of our baptism and confirmation to evangelize throughout our lives. And we are called to live in a way that shows love and respect for others, with the highest regard for life from birth to natural death. We are called to build strong communities, help those who are less fortunate, stand firm to the truth in Christ, and give thanks to God for all. Any devout, practicing Catholic can tell you that living the faith, especially today, is itself counter-cultural. And yet, that is what we are called to do.
Whether we have the platform of a Hollywood movie or TV how to share our message, or simply our office, neighborhood, family and friendships to fulfill this work, we are equally as responsible to help change the culture. As Tim said, he doesn’t write “Catholic movies,” just as we don’t need to speak to others about our values as purely “Catholic virtues.” Living those virtues is itself the most effective evangelization.
“I don’t care what your job is,” Tim says. “A wife, a secretary, a CEO, a police officer, or whatever – being a good human being is what matters. There are so many role models for the opposite. Being a good human being is increasingly difficult. We have to be examples to others.”