Having watched over 50 Christian films in the last few years, we’ve been jotting down some lessons learned on things done well and things to which Christian filmmakers could improve. We continue our tips series with a few more friendly suggestions.
Make Bad Bad
In order for a battle of good vs. evil to occur, there must be clearly defined heroes and villains. Many Christian films, however, often fall prey to what I call The Next Generation Effect.
Do you remember the original Star Trek series? There were good people and bad people. The good people were often noble and the bad people were often heartless. Good was good and bad was bad.
Then, Star Trek: The Next Generation came out and fell victim to political correctness. The characters in this series had no individual voice and every villain had a reason for their crimes, thereby not really making them evil at all, but victims.
Let’s look at the main characters… the good guys. You had a Klingon that wanted to integrate with humans, you had a boy with the intelligence of a man, you had an android that longed to be human, you had a blind engineer that could see better than everyone else, you had a captain that talked more than acted, you had a first officer who did little more than remind the captain not to do things and a telepath that could tell you things people were thinking without them talking.
It was BORING! Everyone was basically the same.
Now, how different would it have been if you had a true Klingon who thought humans were inferior and a fiery captian with an itchy trigger finger and a nosy, insecure first officer, and a telepath that used that ability for upward advancement and a truly blind engineer and boy running around who may be the illegitmate child of the captain and a cold andriod that was smarter than the crew combined all trying to work together on the ship. Throw into the mix some real bad guys who simply like to be bad, who find evil more rewarding than good, and then you’ve got a good show!
Christian filmmakers often don’t want to make really bad people, or really flawed people, or Christians who don’t act Christian and are hypocrits and insincere. But, isn’t that life? Don’t we all know Christians that are hypocritcial and insincere and flawed and liars? It doesn’t mean they’re not trying to be Christian, they’re just failing miserably. And that’s okay! Not only is it okay, it’s interesting!
Thankfully, Jesus is a patient savior. He’ll wait for us to figure out our faith journey until our last breath.
Many Christian films are filled with great people with wonderful kids finding that one flawed person in the story and leading them to church where everything is fixed in a single prayer meeting. In life wouldn’t that be wonderful and great and awesome? On film, it’s not very interesting.
Make your villains villains. Some people reject God. Some people reject salvation. Some people choose evil over good or money over God or self over selflessness. Some may even have very good reasons, such as abuse by clergy or the death of a loved one, but simply chose the world’s solution instead of divine assistance during those struggling times. Don’t make the villains caricatures, but make them bad.
A heroes journey is directly tied to the threat posed by the villain. A weak villain = a weak hero. And remember, sometimes, the most powerful thing you can do is have someone who is evil unwittingly be the catalyst for good.
Not Everything is Precious
Out of all of the words we speak in a day, only about 10% of them are really worth remembering tomorrow. Granted, in a film, the ratio should be much higher than that, but not 80% or 90% and definitely not 100%. However, I have watched a lot of Christian films where each line is spoken as if it were handed down by God himself. Each line hovering, waiting for a moment of absorption of its own greatness. People don’t speak that way. Even preachers don’t speak that way. Some preachers like fart jokes. Some Christians giggle at funerals. It happens.
A script, a story, a film should have beats… sections… with a rhythm and a build up and a crescendo that leads to the next beat with another build up and crescendo. If every line is precious, none of them are. If every day was 75 degrees and no humidity, we’d never appreciate them. Make the lines that are truly important stand out by elevating them above the rest.
And finally, don’t cry. I’m not saying people in life don’t cry. I’m saying it’s always more interesting when a character in a film tries not to cry than to actually cry. It is vastly more powerful. My daughter and I watched a rapture-themed film the other day and four of the five main characters all burst into full blown tears within the first 30 minutes of the film.
Don’t do it! Why?
Because watching someone cry is a passive emotional experience for the audience. But, if I see someone trying not to cry, I imagine within myself the struggle they are going through. Heck, I may cry before they do!
It’s the same with violence. Showing me a violent act makes it a passive event. However, if I hear a violent act and I have to imagine what is happening, I am generating that emotion and I am actively involved.
So, if you character is supposed to cry, change it to the character trying not to cry. It is always, always, always more interesting.
Next time… Nothing Wasted.