Perhaps if we had more money, our product would look better. Undoubtedly, the production value would increase. We’d have the time to get more shots. We’d have access to better cameras and equipment, and we could pay for better actors. Maybe, we could bring a writer or two on board to rewrite our scripts.
Hollywood knows how to tell a good story. And they have been doing it for years. Here are ten secrets they have realized about telling good stories that are capable of impacting the human heart.
Here are 10 guidelines that mainstream filmmakers understand about making redemptive films.
1. Your movie must have entertainment value. People watch films to be entertained. Some Christians have made entertainment a dirty word. When people watch films and television, they are relaxed and more receptive to the message contained within the story. Often, they will reexamine their lives or be challenged to be a better person.
2. Filmmaking is an art form. The art must come first. For most Christians, the message is first. Audiences will not accept this and will see it as a form of propaganda. We must recognize that the divine can be found in art. We understood this for centuries. But, somewhere along the way, we have forgotten this. Film is not a good forum for a 5-point sermon. If we make great art, it has the capacity to move the human heart.
3. Films need to have an emotional impact. Emotions move people; therefore, our characters need to be believable as well as our dialogue. Nobody will accept the redemptive process if you are not successful in taking them through the emotional journey involved in the process of change.
4. Films work better with metaphors and symbolism because you keep the audience engaged in the story. This is a concept that most Christian filmmakers have failed to understand. Metaphors and symbolism help to forge connections between dissimilar objects and themes. We need to realize our audience has the intelligence to figure it out on their own. Stop telegraphing every story element or plot point. Remember, Jesus said in his parables the Kingdom of God is like….
5. Films are a great forum to ask questions. Christians love to ask questions, but unfortunately, we also love to give all the answers. We really don’t want our audience to have to think for themselves. This doesn’t work for film. Jesus used parables as his principle storytelling technique. He often asked questions, but he seldom gave they answers. It was his audience’s responsibility to find the answers.
6. Redemptive films need to illustrate the wonders of God. As Christians we don’t do this very well in film. When it come to miracles, angels, the unexplained, healings or the story of the loaves and fish, our stories seem to be flat, one-dimensional and lacking depth. Perhaps we’re too close to the subject material. NonChristians for some reason seem to be much better at this. For example, Jesus of Nazareth, produced in 1977 for television, is exceptional at exploring the wonders of God. It is a difficult concept to explain, but they do it with simplicity, humanity and the divine in such a way that it moves you.
The wonders of God can also be found in the small things of everyday life which are truly the miracles. We can find the divine patterns of life that exist in the smile of a child and the dawning of a new day. Christian filmmakers often don’t know how to depict the glorious, marvelous and small wonders of God’s grace and love which occur daily in our lives.
7. Redemptive filmmaking requires the ability to question God. We Christians have a tough time doing this. We don’t want to admit we have doubts and are sometimes confused. Perhaps, we think it is a sin to question God. But that’s not Biblical. Jacob’s name meant deceiver, but his name was changed to Israel meaning one who struggles with God. This happened after the all-night wrestling match at Peniel. We have to ask questions. Where is God when we are hurting? Why do bad things happen? As filmmakers, we have to be willing to ask these questions. If our goal is to be authentic, real and genuine, our audience is asking the same questions. Let’s face it. Christian filmmakers paint a world the way they want to see it. Mainstream filmmakers paint life’s complexities and the world as it is.
8. The need for redemption requires us to face sin. NonChristians may not call sin, sin, but they are good at depicting it. There is no redemption in the filmmaking process without the ability to portray sin. Our audience will not accept the fact that our characters have gone through this incredible transformation without seeing what their lives looked like before the transformation. They have to see the ugliness. We have all gone through the same experience. Life isn’t always pretty. That doesn’t mean we offer gratuitous, offensive material just for the sake of showing it. But it is part of the journey to redemption. I know for some Christians, this is a difficult concept to accept. But here is something to consider. The Bible is a story of the human condition without God and does contain content that some may find disturbing. We are afraid that if we show sin we are somehow endorsing it. Most Christian filmmakers want their hero or protagonist to be flawless not at the end of the redemptive process but at the beginning.
9. Filmmaking is a visual medium. The key to making great films is to think visual. How do we visually illustrate the personification of art? How do we express emotions—anger, frustration, indifference, internal struggles? Redemptive stories require expressing the intangible in a tangible, visual form.
10. Redemptive stories do not necessarily offer a convenient and tidy ending. Just as in life, there may not be a fairy tale ending as in “they lived happily ever after”. For example, in Bella, it would have been temping to end the movie with a happy and satisfying conclusion. However, both lead characters had their moments of redemption, which were more reflective of real life. Redemption is a complex process and is different for each of us.
You can be a media missionary wherever God decides to plant you. The most important thing to discover is what God is saying to you. Christian filmmakers don’t necessarily have to go to Hollywood to make redemptive films. When we, as filmmakers, forget about our agenda or what we think a Christian movie should look like, then I am convinced God will be able to speak to us. How God is at work in people’s lives is the best inspiration for making movies and media that can reflect his glory and truth. We do not need to create Christian cinema or a Christian film industry. It serves no purpose. God is already at work in the film and media industry. As always, he requires our obedience to serve his will and his interests