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anthony_dunn

How to write a good Christian script

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I agree wholeheartedly with everything you're saying here.  That's why I'm desperately trying to avoid what you refer to as the "traditional answer". What I am proposing is a way to think of a distinctly Christian art without falling into the trap of what you describe. By focusing on the attitude and heart of the artist (rather than the content of the art), we can get away from making judgments regarding whether the art is "gospelly" enough. 

What does this look like practically?  Let's take the painter in your example.  I wouldn't expect those in the Church (unless they too are painters) to have much to say about the content of the painting (i.e. the relationships of blue).  Again, they probably aren't the best audience for a painter interested in those issues.  However, I believe that this painter's brothers and sisters in Christ do still have a place in his ministry.  Namely, they can pray for that artist and encourage him to strive to glorify God and bless his audience through his art. 

(Please excuse the masculine specific pronouns.  His/her is rather tedious to read/write.)

See, here's where I'm confused. You asked HOW to write a good script? And yet, you've mentioned that your concern is for the heart of the artist. And that he seeks to bless his audience.

But if the concern is the heart of the artists, how he does his art, is neither here nor there. The christian artist needs to be a christian who makes art. And to make the art better, just be a better christian and learn how to make better art.

And as far as "blessing his audience" I think his commitment to truth and excellence is how to bless his audience most effectively. So, he need not think about their possible reactions to the piece, merely that he's being to true and excellent.

It may sound as though I'm being simplistic and I know I'm tossing around some pretty vague words (especially words like "better", but ultimately I think what I'm saying is: Make the art first, then if there's any consideration of an audience, it comes after the piece is made and would be "what audience is this work going to bless?" If pleasing the audience is considered from the start its limiting the Holy Spirit's capactiy to move the artist to say whatever he (the holy spirit) darn well pleases.

Does that make sense?

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How to write a good script:

Start by writing a script that isn't bad. Then edit. smile.gif

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How to write a good script:

Start by writing a script that isn't bad. Then edit. smile.gif

In fact, I've heard several people say, start by cutting your favorite lines or scenes and see it the piece still stands. If it does, leave them out. I don't necessarily agree, although I see the merits. But it's painful to even think about.

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Those people come from the philosophy that the artist doesn't actually know what he or she is doing, and must inflict pain upon him or herself in order to create something decent. Which may be true in some cases, I suppose, but I operate on the assumption that I'm going to write/record what I want, and there's either an audience for it or there isn't. But if I think something is important, it stays.

Of course, music and fiction are... er... slightly different mediums, and the audiences expect different things than they do from movies. There's a demographic of people who decide not to read certain books because they're "too thin" -- not nearly as many will refuse to watch a movie because it's under 3.5 hours long. smile.gif

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The Baptist Death Ray wrote:

: Those people come from the philosophy that the artist doesn't actually know what

: he or she is doing, and must inflict pain upon him or herself in order to create

: something decent. Which may be true in some cases, I suppose, but I operate on

: the assumption that I'm going to write/record what I want, and there's either an

: audience for it or there isn't. But if I think something is important, it stays.

Ah, well, what is "important" and what is "favorite" are two very different things. And that's the point. Sometimes you have to kill some small element that you really, really like in order to make the work-as-a-whole better. As one who just had to hack an essay of mine down from 4,700 words to 1,700 words, I know how hard it can be to let go of "favorite" paragraphs, yet I also know how big a relief it can be when those paragraphs are finally gone and you can see how much better the finished essay is.

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I guess they could be different things. I've always felt my favorite bits were the most important part of anything I've written. smile.gif

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Regarding having a motive in creating art (which is inevitable), and the proper motive being to bless the audience (to love neighbor as self): How would art bless someone?

I submit that in making art (e.g., film), the artist evidences this motive of blessing the audience by crafting content that portrays the true, the good, and the beautiful as such, and the false, the evil, and the ugly as such. Yes?

This is at least partly why Saving Private Ryan (a very graphic, violent, even ugly movie) blesses the audience in a way that a teen horror flick does not. It impresses, to a large extent, Reality upon the viewer. And all truth is God's truth.

N.B. I'm not at all saying art should be non-fictional. I mean that art as God intends it always conveys (or at least seeks to convey) impressions to the beholder that conform to reality as He defines it (the only reality there is, therefore). In other words, it doesn't seek to call good, "evil," or evil, "good."

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Exactly, tell the truth. Honestly and well. That's a blessing.

I'm also very concerned with your repeated mention of artists who don't seek to put forth Christian ideals as "self-absorbed in their own vision". It has nothing to do with SELF. It has to do with truth. If God has laid a unique vision of the turth on my heart and I create art about it, then I'm not serving myself at all, am I.

IF (and that's a big IF) it's true, it is a blessing. (Okay, now I'm repeating myself.)

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(Late as always...) Someone once said "Great art is not created in a state of concentration, but in a state of blessed distraction" I think the point is, any artist wringing their hands in concern about the subject matter of their screenplay and its ultimate spiritual/moral ramifications on the intended viewer, will probably end up with a.) a blank sheet of paper... or... b.) a contrived, forgettable piece of drek. The history of committed christian writers in Hollywood sorta demonstrates this, does it not? Most times, such deliberating at the outset of the creative process is born of fear-- fear of the opinions of the christian community, critics,etc... and the best advice is always, "Shut up and JUST WRITE, DAMNIT!" The screenwriter has enough wrangling and challenges to face with words, story/scene structures, character development and such. Hand-wringing and message tweaking is fine (in moderation) on the back end of the creative process-- when the story is finished. Too much at the outset constipates the creative freedom/discovery that makes art "good".

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I think a number of you are hitting on an important distinction: writing and editing.

These two processes are overlapping but different. Writing is the point where you "get it out of your system". Editing is where you have an opportunity to be more critical of what you have created. In almost all these posts there seems to be a consensus that first the writer just writes and then there will be time later to worry about who the audience is, etc.

Maybe I should change the topic to "How to edit a good Christian script"?

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Maybe I should change the topic to "How to edit a good Christian script"?

Just the notion of a editing a creature labeled a "christian script" seems destined for an artistic logjam. To surrender the concept that such a thing even exists may be a great place to start. C.S. Lewis gave some advice to the effect (paraphrasing because I forget where he said it) that art is only a conduit. And what it brings us, when it is truly "good" art, is longing... not necessarily truth with a capital T. For me, the art and beauty of powerful screenwriting is more about this sense of longing...shadows, types, intangibles, "scents and subtle sounds".

Mckee-- who is a bit of a turd but gives a lot of fantastic advice--says of message-heavy screenwriting:

"Misusing and abusing art to preach, your screenplay will become a thesis film, a thinly disguised sermon as you strive in a single stroke to convert the world. Didacticism results from the naive enthusiasm that fiction can be used like a scalpel to cut out the cancers of society." Story, pg 121

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A good editor, of course, would recognize that longing and make editorial suggestions designed to bring that out. Good editors are invaluable... like good directors to actors.

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I apologize if I didn't make myself clear. I was not assuming that the editing would be done by anybody but the actual script writer.

This is born out of my experience writing. I'm a big believe in the 2-hemispheres approach to writing. As writers we first use our creative right-brain to get it all out of our system; we tell the story inside us dying to be told. It is in raw form. Then at a later time, we come back and use the left-brain part to critically go through what we've written. It could be someting as simple as correcting spelling and grammatical errors or it could be deciding that not enough information has being given about a character or that a particular scene would be better located elsewhere.

So what I'm suggesting is that during the initial stages the artist should write without concern for what form it is taking or what the content is. In later revisions, it is legitimate for the same author to go back and start to question whether what is on the paper is the best presentation of the author's vision.

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I tend to believe that if you are a christian, who is writing.  You are doing all you need to be doing.  There should be no effort to instill a specific message in your piece, just portray truth vividly and the truth you portray will be Truth.  I am of the belife that the Holy Spirit is still int he insipration business.

I've been off of the board for a while, and I am hurriedly scanning topics, but this caught my eye, and I agree with Dan highly.

A few years back I wrote the first draft of a script with only the intention of telling a Hollywood type story that could be shot real low budget. I had no other intentions than that.

After I was done I took a step back and realized that I had just written a version of the prodigal son parable. That happens to be one of my favorite Biblical passages, and has had a great impact on my life (perhaps more than I realized up until that point).

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On December 31, 2004 at 6:53:52 PM, DanBuck said:

Matt Pope gave the long answer (and a good one).

 

Here's the short answer:

 

Be a good Christian and make good art. That's it. Don't try to make Christian Art, don't try to make more Christians with your art.

 

I am a Christian screenwriter and filmmaker. 

I believe God calls people for certain tasks. I believe a calling is a spiritual awareness to do a certain thing at a certain time for the glory of God. Christian art included. 

Colossians 3:17: And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.

As Christians, bringing people to Christ and finding new ways to bring them to him is literally what we are called to do. 

Matthew 28:16-20 18 Then Jesus came to them and said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 19 Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”

 

 

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Step By Step said:  

As Christians, bringing people to Christ and finding new ways to bring them to him is literally what we are called to do. 

 

Bringing people to Christ is certainly one of the things that we are called to do, but I'd venture to say that the arts as practiced by Christians can and should be broader than that.  A good film's message and meaning sits below the surface.  It is not evangelical propaganda.  It is not direct apologetics.

That stuff doesn't bring a whole lot of people to Christ for two reasons.  1)  It never makes it that far out of the Christian bubble for secular people to actually see it.  2)  When they do see it the messages are so in their face that they are startling, and the blatancy of the filmmaking comes across as bad storytelling and immature artistry.  It ends up making us look like goofs.  It might reach out to some people, but it pushes a great deal away.  As well, it does little to develop good understanding of storytelling and the arts within the Christian subculture.  Too many people think that some of this poor quality of filmmaking is acceptable.

I'm a filmmaker who is a Christian (not to be confused with a "Christian filmmaker") who has a short animated film that is currently out in the film festival circuit.  It has underlying Christian themes (again below the surface) and I've had people tell me how it has impacted them in spiritual ways.  But the film is also intentially not propaganda in that it leaves room open for questions as to what is going on with it's themes.  It is intentionally residing within a sub-genre where dealing with some of these questions is acceptable within secular views of film.  It was created with the thoughts of it going outside of the Christian subculture and, as said, a blatantly Christian evangelical film can never do that.  I find it interesting that the film has, to date, won 6 awards at international film festivals, but hasn't been accepted by one Christian film festival (even though Christians have told me how much the film has touched them.)  Meanwhile most "Christian films" cannot make it into the secular film festival circuit.  I'm not saying this to brag, (okay maybe a little :)  ), but to try and make a point.  Too many films made within the Christian sub-culture are films that only Christians will want to watch and that don't have the chops to get outside of the Christian bubble, yet the Christian ghetto is largely supporting those films while neglecting others that are not as directly evangelical propaganda and thus reinforcing the wrongheaded views of what good film should be leading to more Christian films of that caliber.  

We don't need to make evangelical films.  We need to try and make *good* films.  If we are serious about our faith some of this will make it's way into the storytelling in some shape or form.  It is then that our films will have impact and will reflect a culture that is attractive while also attracting people to that culture.  

This is a loose saying because the disciplines to have some relationship (or cross pollination if you will), but we should leave the preaching to the preachers, the apologetics to the philosophers, and the storytelling to the storytellers.

 

Edited by Attica

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Hello my friends! I have to agree with many people here in saying that the 'simple answer' this is best because it truly answers the question without the extra fluff. That is to say, this is the answer of how ANY believer does their work as unto the Lord and does it well. Simply live out and work out your faith in fear and trembling, and seek to make better work. Work as unto the Lord. Because His grace is sufficient for us.

And I should say, that is how to be a good plumber, a good teacher, a good pastor, as well. It is no different for an artist. It is simple because it's true. As it comes to the nature of making good art, in particular, it is required, more than almost ANY other profession, to be obsessed with discovering and delivering TRUTH through the medium. So learn the truth and deliver it well, through the medium. 

Worrying about what happens AFTER your work is digested by an audience is a fools errand, and it is not very helpful to an artist in making better work. Rather, it can muddy the waters for an artist, and contribute to allowing a lack of genuineness to taint the work. This must not occur, and it is a very dangerous place for an artist once he/she starts to let the relationship with his/her audience to become more important than the relationship with the Master. THAT is what matters. Now, maybe the Lord cares about marketing, maybe not. We can't always know this. But we CAN listen to, and obey HIM above all.

An artist does their best work when they can focus on the essential, the true, and the initial calling to make art, instead of on the marketing, the money, the fame, the audience... and if these other people are 'pleased' with the work. These are all symptoms of loosing your moorings as an artist. So continue to keep the real essential simple things as the main things, or rather, keep your relationship with the Lord as the more important impetus for the art. Pleasing men instead of God is NOT a desirable attribute of living a good Christian life, nor does it improve one's work, which ought to be done 'as unto the Lord.'

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