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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Where do you begin scriptwriting?

Fifty years ago 20th Century Fox released Rogers and Hammerstein’s THE SOUND OF MUSIC. It remains a favorite of millions of moviegoers. Rodgers and Hammerstein ate, slept and dreamt their craft. It drove them. Both saw their work as something they had to devote their life to. It was their passion. Both demanded of themselves exemplary work.

In a world filled with would-bes they succeeded because they were creative, innovative and persistent. Before their big success with OKLAHOMA there were years of study, struggle, rejections, failures, disappointments and growth. Their passion drove them through many dark days to become the ones famous for transforming both Broadway and movie musicals.

If you wish to begin scriptwriting start by being realistic. Out of hundreds of thousands of scripts one might get made into a movie. Of the few thousand movies made each year only around 100 are made by the major studios. These generate 95 percent of the box office. Of the 100 major studio movies only a handful are a big success.

To get your movie made (and into theaters) you’re competing with people who wrote FORREST GUMP, THE AVENGERS, DESPICABLE ME, and E.T. Even these writers don’t get all their scripts made into movies. When they do, not all are a success.

There are about 750 players in Major League Baseball. Dabbling in scriptwriting is like dabbling in baseball. No one playing in the major leagues has a full-time job in other fields and plays baseball at night and on the weekends.

Now that I’ve done my best to discourage you, let me encourage you. There is always room for a truly great script. If you’re a movie fan you know this. Of the hundreds of movies in theaters there are few you’re willing to pay to see. Of those, some are disappointments. You want more good movies. Hollywood wants more good movies. Hollywood wants great scripts just the way Major League Baseball wants more great players. Great baseball players can come from anywhere.

Great scriptwriters can come from anywhere.

Scriptwriting is all about great stories, well told. You may have a great story. The “well told” means that you need to master the craft of story telling. A great story poorly told is like a young man with incredible talent hitting baseballs who’s unwilling to practice or be taught the full range of skills necessary to be a professional baseball player. Imagine how much talent there is that goes to waste because people lack the commitment to develop it.

Much more common is the poor story that the author doesn’t realize is poor. Before you even begin writing, read the scripts of some of the most popular movies of all time. Study what makes them entertaining. The story of how your grandmother makes lemon pies is unlikely to become a blockbuster movie. Learn what makes a story great.

Ask yourself, “How many people would pay $50 to see this story?” “How many people would want to buy this story on a DVD?” Don’t fool yourself thinking millions of people want to see the story of your dog dying of cancer. They want action, adventure, comedy and emotion. They want to laugh and cry. They want to be thrilled and inspired. They want to see loveable characters rise to meet astounding challenges.

You must provide entertainment value. You will not play major league baseball unless you can play well enough that baseball fans want to see you play. The better you play the more they’ll want to see you. Great players have fans who come to games, buy jerseys and help get others to do likewise.

You will not make successful movies unless audiences believe your story will be worth their time and money. You become truly successful when audiences become your fans — telling friends and family that your story is worth paying to see. You’re a home run hitter if fans will want to watch your movie again and again. You’re a hall-of-famer if your movie is selling in some format 50 years after it was first released.

Don’t even start writing if you’re not ready to commit to creating great stories, well told. It is not easy. There’s a lot to learn. It’s a craft like learning to play in a symphony. Your odds of success are small, but if you have a burning desire to do what it takes, go for it. Dive in, study, study, study and work hard. Pursue excellence with a passion.

Every great screenwriter started somewhere. Every great screenwriter lived through many struggles. Brace yourself. Expect long study, hard work, and many rejections. Pursue creating high entertainment value with a passion.

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