One day in the summer of 1974, Father Ellwood Kieser, C.S.P. went for a swim in the Pacific Ocean and "got a brilliant idea." He realized he passionately wanted to change the television landscape. Fr. Bud felt that broadcast television was not fulfilling its tremendous potential to both "entertain" and "uplift." To put it simply, he wanted to encourage the entertainment industry to use the vast, ubiquitous reach of the media to enhance the lives of its viewers.
"People aren’t born fulfilled human beings," said Kieser, "They become fulfilled through a long humanizing process. Film and television have incredible power to help that humanizing process by which we all become more compassionate, more loving and more forgiving."
Fr. Bud also strongly believed that film and television could play a pivotal role in communicating values, forming consciences and motivating human behavior. To that end, he built a broad-based coalition to create The HUMANITAS Prize which was founded to emphasize the role of the writer. He believed that, while film and television are collaborative mediums, everything started with the script which was inspired by the values and point of views in the heart and mind of the writer.
"Whatever we can do to empower, enrich and support writers, we should do," Fr. Bud said. "Because it is writers who show us where we've been and where we’re going as a culture. And that is a journey we need to explore richly and deeply with writers leading the way."
Father Ellwood Kieser, known to everyone in the entertainment industry as, "Fr. Bud" Keiser, grew up in Philadelphia and graduated from La Salle College in 1950. That same year he joined the Paulist Fathers, who are dedicated to the service of those outside their church. He earned his Ph.D. in theology of communications from the Graduate Theological Union in Berkeley, CA in 1973. His dissertation was titled "Cinema as a Religious Experience." He also received two honorary Doctor of Letters degrees, one from Catholic University, the other from La Salle College.
Long admired for his focus on the positive potential of media and blending his religious commitment with a passion for making socially aware films and television, Fr. Kieser founded Paulist Productions in 1968 with the sole intention of producing life-enriching programming and preaching the gospel. Founder of the HUMANITAS Prize in 1974, Kieser encouraged and empowered writers to focus on the best of human values and to strive for meaningful content.
A priest of 44 years, Fr. Bud garnered six Emmys, a Christopher award, a Gabriel award, the Imogen Award of the National Conference of Christians and Jews, and a Board of Directors award from CIMA (Catholics in Media Associates). For 23 years Fr. Kieser executive-produced the inspirational weekly anthology series Insight for Paulist Productions. On September 16, 2000, he died of cancer at the age of 71.
When John Wells was new to Hollywood, Fr. Kieser hired him to write episodes for Insight. Since then, John has gone on to win 5 HUMANITAS awards and is the current President of HUMANITAS Prize. "The message he wanted to convey was secular," according to Wells. "Bud encouraged writers to show and glorify the way individuals can make a difference. He was interested in showing the best parts of human nature rather than what's often portrayed on films and television. His calling was to try to change the culture."