Children learn to crawl before they walk.

The Kendrick Brothers made FLYWHEEL before they made WAR ROOM. FLYWHEEL was terrific for what it was: a beginning; but, beginning movies can present problems.

It’s wonderful that Christian interest in filmmaking is growing rapidly. It’s problematic that less than professional movies come to market and don’t do well. It’s a big problem when audiences are disappointed and investors lose money. Disappointment leads to distrust and makes it harder even good movies.

Unsuccessful Christian movies even hurt Movieguide®’s ability to encourage Hollywood. Our truthful message to Hollywood is that Christian content and high moral values help movies do better. However, Christian content and high more values do not make a movie successful without high entertainment value. They want to come out of Christian movies anxious to tell friends how good it was, not how bad it was.

Not that long ago a movie with really strong Christian values was rare. Now many more are being made. The average American sees 1.7 movies per year in a theater; Evangelicals see 2.7. There are at least four quality movies made for Christian audiences coming out in the next two months. There will be more as the year progresses. The greater the competition, the more important the audience-pleasing skills of the filmmaker are.

In the 1930s, theaters were owned by the studios. The studios were more like Apple selling iPhones in Apple stores. The quality of the product sold was controlled. What developed was something like a movie factory with professionals working on every aspect of each movie. When a trained professional finished one project, they moved on to the next.

This system is long gone, but what remains is an audience expectation of professional moviemaking. Many Christian filmmakers meet those standards in some aspects of their production. The Kendrick Brother’s WAR ROOM had Hollywood-quality production values. They readily admit FLYWHEEL didn’t. FLYWHEEL’s strength was in the boldness of its story, not in the camera work done on a near home movie budget.

So, how do you break into Christian filmmaking without disappointing audiences and investors?

Step one is to realize that a calling to filmmaking is a calling to diligently pursue high quality filmmaking. It requires training and hard work.

Dr. Ted Baehr’s class HOW TO SUCCEED IN HOLLYWOOD (Without Losing Your Soul) offers a solid foundation. It covers the basics of great story structure and explains the workings of the industry. It could have included the subtitle “Without Losing You Wallet” as well. Countless people seek to enter the movie business and come away bruised, discouraged and broke.

Movies are a unique mix of art and business. If you fail at either you fail, period.

Movieguide® exists to redeem the media. The goal is more people making great Christian movies and fewer making satanic filth. We passionately want Christian filmmakers to succeed. If we appear hard on some Christian movies, it’s because we want to encourage great Christian movies. We want to raise entertainment value, production standards, profitability, audience size and impact. We want billions of people around the world being changed by viewing movies with solid Christian messages.

Consider the scripture, “Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for human masters.” (Colossians 3:23)

Jesus Christ is King of kings and Lord of Lords. That means He’s greater than a president or prime minister. To do something for “the Lord” is more profound than doing a special assignment for the president of the United States or the CEO of Apple.

Imagine being “God’s filmmaker.” You enter the throne room and are assigned the task of glorifying God with a movie the Holy Spirit will use to reach people.

With an attitude of awe toward the One True Audience, you want to do your very best and to constantly be improving what that very best is. To honor God it’s necessary to grow. God gives us talent and opportunity and expects us to diligently make the most of it. To do anything less is insulting.

Imagine the joy you’d feel if your child did a fabulous drawing and brought it to give to you. Your delight would be in seeing them develop and use the talents you gave them.

You don’t get to heaven by delighting God, but delighting God is like delighting your father. It brings both of you tremendous joy.

At Movieguide®, we love to be delighted by filmmakers, and we take great joy in giving out awards and prizes. The Movieguide® Awards is a festive celebration of the best being offered in movies and television. It gives us tremendous pleasure to see filmmakers encouraged to go out and make something even better.

The bottom line is that beginning Christian filmmakers need to start with the right attitude. They need to see themselves as serving God by pursing excellence in filmmaking. Their work should be an excellent offering joyously created to give to one’s Heavenly Father.

To be continued…

 

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A great story goes somewhere.

It tells us something.

That something is a premise.

A poor story wanders about, gets lost and bores an audience.

In a baseball game, the team with the most runs wins. You watch the game to see if the team that you like can get the most runs and win the game. Imagine how boring baseball would be if there was nothing to win: if “games” were like practice sessions where players just hit and fielded balls without a clear purpose. No one would want to pay to watch.

A premise says, “To win, I must show you that [premise].” It’s the filmmaker’s job to prove the premise with every ounce of skill they can muster.

The baseball team intent on winning a game does so with great pitching, fielding, hitting, running, and strategy. It’s obvious from the first pitch to the last what the goal of every action is. It’s to win.

A great movie aims to prove its premise with script, acting, lighting, sound, music, and editing. Hundreds of experts in their craft work to prove the premise, just as baseball players strive to win a game.

Think of it a little like Jesus Christ telling a parable. His parables were often stories, well told. They had characters doing things for a reason. Jesus didn’t tell the story of the prodigal son just to entertain his listeners. He was proving a premise about God’s love for those who’ve done wrong. His parable about the Good Samaritan proved that Godly love is not just meant for family and friends. Every character in the story, and every action they took, was important in proving the premise.

A premise has three distinct parts. A “this,” a “does” and a “that.”

The premise of the prodigal son story would be, “God forgives sin.” There is a subject “God”; an action “forgives”; and, an object “sin.”

On his way home, the prodigal son does not pass a Samaritan in a ditch. Such an event would be a distraction from the premise of the prodigal son story. On the other hand, the jealous brother is a powerful subplot. The jealous brother serves as a contrast to God’s love. The brother reveals human nature. His role in the story makes God’s grace look that much more amazing.

Subplots, like all aspects of filmmaking, should serve the premise.

A great movie delivers on the premise with show, rather then tell. Audiences don’t come to hear sermons delivered in dialogue.

Imagine a movie of the prodigal son story. The lighting, the music and a close-up on the father’s face, when he first sees his wayward son approaching, should say in music and image all you need to know about love and forgiveness. Body language and action should be like an inspiring work of art as he runs to meet his son. An audience should be in tears before the two speak a word to each other. What they are about to say should already have been said with facial expressions.

David Lean was a master of creating emotion without dialogue. In movies such as THE BRIDGE ON THE RIVER KWAI, LAWRENCE OF ARABIA and DOCTOR ZHIVAGO, he cut gracefully between sweeping scenery, and close-ups, telling far more than dialogue ever could.

Every aspect of a movie works to prove the premise. In a movie, you can “prove” a premise that’s not true. The entire American sexual revolution was built on media “proving” sex outside of marriage is healthy and desirable. It’s been a disaster.

Fortunately, we’ve been seeing more and more movies with premises supportive of faith and values. We long to see this growth continue.

Without a premise it’s unwise to start a script. It’s like wandering around in the dark. With a premise you have a reason for each character, each scene and each line of dialogue.

Ideas for scripts don’t always emerge the form of premise. You may get an idea for some situation and characters that you find to be entertaining or inspiring. Before you go off building a story around a clever idea, pause and ponder the premise such an inspiration demands.

You’ll find that beginning with a solid premise will save you from dealing will all sorts of headaches as your script develops.

It’s healthy to ask yourself on a regular basis, “How does what I’m writing help prove the premise?”

If it doesn’t help, or if it actually hurts, drop it.

_______

To be continued…

 

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Stories, Parables & Movie Scripts

Basic screenplay writing excerpted from HOW TO SUCCEED IN HOLLYWOOD (WITHOUT LOSING YOUR SOUL)

Part III

For Better or for Worse

Communicating effectively requires learning and applying the basic principles of language, grammar, rhetoric, technique, and general rules that govern each genre and medium. There are three levels of such principles: general principles (which apply to most communications), genre specific principles, and media specific principles.

There are also several steps involved in producing powerful communications, including movies and television programs. Here is a brief outline of the most important foundational steps in preparing your communication. Each genre and medium will modify this outline by adding or subtracting steps or substeps. However, this outline is your basic guide to the steps required to communicate effectively.

 

12 Basic Foundational Steps to Communicating Effectively:

  1. In light of who you are, why you want to communicate and well thought out research and ascertainment, make a brief note of what you want to say, your idea, conviction, or your key thought. This idea, thought, or statement must be something that you believe and want to communicate through a movie or television program.
  2. Ask and answer the appropriate ascertainment questions to target your audience, determine your genre and medium, and plan the execution of your communication.
  3. Rephrase your idea or key thought into an active premise that you can prove in your communication, taking into consideration your answers to the pertinent ascertainment questions.
  4. Identify the elements needed to prove your premise, most of which are inherent within your premise. In drama, these elements are your characters, conflict, climax, and resolution.
  5. Structure these elements taking into consideration your audience, genre, medium of choice and your answers to the ascertainment questions which are appropriate for your communication.
  6. Write out, plan, or script your communication, punctuating it with technical, dramatic, or literary effects to capture and retain audience interest.
  7. Prepare, storyboard, and/or rehearse your communication.
  8. Produce, polish, or otherwise finish your communication.
  9. Edit, review and revise your communication.
  10. Deliver, distribute or broadcast your communication.
  11. Survey your audience to find out how effective your communication was and how it can be improved.
  12. Review and revise your communication to improve it if possible.

Half of this process is preparation. Many people fail to prepare or dash off a script and believe that they will perfect it when the right person buys it. However, you never have a second chance to make a first impression, so you need to perfect your script right from the beginning, even if you need to change it later.

Remember that the average movie takes nine years from start to finish. The Passion of the Christ took ten years. Evita took twenty–three years. Batman took seventeen years.

There are several reasons why it takes so long. First, there are 300,000 scripts submitted every year to the Writers Guild of America and many more are written that are never submitted, aside from the flood of novels every year, but less than three hundred movies open in theaters every year. Thus, most scripts never make it into production. Second, Hollywood movies cost over $104 million to produce and distribute in 2010, and it takes a long, long time to get all the elements together so that some distributor or investor will want to put up this kind of money. Third, most people take years to get the script right. The Los Angeles Times interviewed a woman who was trying for twenty years to sell her script. She said that in all those years she had not had the time to take a scriptwriting course or read a book on scriptwriting. The Los Angeles Times and all of us should be perplexed: What was she doing all that time that she could not take a moment to learn her chosen craft?

To be continued…

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