I know something about you.
Don’t worry, it’s not about a new scandal, and you haven’t been hacked again, as far as I know. It’s simply this: you have been trying desperately to figure out how to crack the faith-based film formula, and while you have had moderate success here and there (even a broken clock is right a couple of times a day, right?) you’ve also had plenty of misfires.
I know that you are frustrated.
It must be so disheartening! After all, everyone knows the formulas for your non-faith-based films that have served you so well: Joseph Campbell’s Hero’s Journey; Blake Snyder’s Save the Cat; Robert McKee’s Story, but like Indiana Jones in his hero’s journey, you’re staring at a pile of amazing treasure, and you have the enormous obstacle of a great chasm in the way.
And you don’t have a whip.
The wealth you could accumulate with that formula in your hands is unimaginable, and I know that you’ve thought about it. With the knowledge of how to successfully tap into those middle America faith-based box office ticket sales, you could finally add the new wing to your beach house in Malibu. You could finally buy that new candy apple red Jaguar F-type R you’ve had your eye on and park it in your driveway for everyone to see. You could finally get that plastic surgery you’ve been dreaming of, ever since Renee what’s-her-name got so much publicity for making her big face change.
But you just don’t have a whip.
Well, breathe a sigh of relief my friends, and schedule your consultation with Dr. Grossman, because after months of research by the tireless staff at the Thimblerig Institute for Faith Based Film Studies©, with untold hours spent watching a variety of faith-based film successes and failures, guess what?
We’ve done it.
We’ve cracked the formula.
We know what you need to do.
And we’re giving this information away, for free.
This won’t be as earth-shattering as the mythical memo sent by Christopher Vogler while he was working for Disney, but these nine things might be just what you were looking for.
So get your assistant to take notes.
9 Things Hollywood Can Do To Make The Perfect Faith-Based Film
1. The Perfect Christian Film needs to look good.
This first point seems pretty obvious, but the history of faith-based film may lead you believe that Christians like films that aren’t shot and edited well. Nothing could be further from the truth. Recent films have proven that Christian audiences want their films to look as good as Hollywood’s best, so don’t try to save money by hiring a kid just out of film school. Pony up the dough and get competent, experienced people to shoot, sound, and edit the film.
Don’t worry. You’ll save money on acting, as the mass of faith-based audiences don’t seem to mind amateur actors, especially if said actors play supporting characters, and they are outspoken Christians in real life.
Save more money and get your cousin who went to music school to compose the soundtrack on his Yamaha MOX6 keyboard. The score is inconsequential as long as you can get a few songs by current contemporary Christian musicians to play over the opening and closing credits. That’s the stuff the audience will eat it up.
2. Message is King.
Good news! You can also save money on screenwriting, as typical faith-based audiences are mostly concerned about the message rather than the story. That being said, it’s important that you run your message by a few friendly Christian leaders to make certain that it’s kosher before releasing the film, which will also probably get you some good bullet point quotes you can use to further promote your film. And while certainly the film should have some entertaining moments of drama and comedy to keep the audience engaged, ultimately you can forget Samuel Goldwyn’s Western Union quote.
It’s all about the message! Say that to yourself a few times to let it sink in.
3. How to Write Characters for Faith-Based Films.
Since we’ve established the importance of the message in faith-based films, we should take a moment to explain what should take place in the creating and writing of characters, so as to avoid confusion.
The protagonist should be noble with few flaws, and the flaws he or she has should be pretty minor. We don’t want any Lester Burnhams (Kevin Spacey in American Beauty) or Colin Sullivans (Matt Damon in Departed) sneaking into the casts of our faith-based films. And if you make the bold choice of having the protagonist wrestling with his or her faith, something miraculous should happen to help convince or reassure the hero that he is following the right spiritual pathway. Forget suffering servants, the faith-based audience wants the hero to live in victory!
As to the antagonist, it is helpful if the antagonist is written to be fairly one-dimensional, with underdeveloped motivations for being opposed to the hero or the faith that the hero represents. The antagonist exists solely to stand in opposition to the protagonist, and we needn’t spend an inordinate amount of time on the motivations.
Also, seriously consider having the antagonist pray the prayer of salvation at the climax of the film, possibly even right before he or she dies. Yes, that would be a big encouragement to the audiences, even if you have to sort of force the situation.
Such an ending is highly recommended, and should not be considered hacky or manipulative.
4. More on the Writing…
I know, for something that doesn’t seem to be so important for faith-based films, we are spending quite a bit of time on the subject of writing. Isn’t that strange? But research is research, so we continue.
There are several things that you may be used to having in feature film scripts that you don’t need to spend too much time worrying about in the faith-based scripts you will develop: symbolism, metaphors, allegories, subtlety, structure, interesting narrative, poetry, innovation, creativity, ambiguity, unanswered questions, analogies, euphemisms, paradoxes, satire, irony…
oh, you get the idea.
Just avoid being provocative, and focus on being on the nose and didactic, and you’ll do well.
5. Christians like their celebrities, too.
If you can get a celebrity to cameo in your film, it will be a sure draw to the box office. It can be a singer, an actor, a sports star, a reality TV star, a journalist, or even a pastor! As long as the celebrity is an inoffensive household name in Christian homes, they don’t even have to act well!
Christian or not, having a pseudo-famous name attached will somehow make the film seem more legitimate, and if there is some question about the faith of the celebrity, it will also get the faith-based audience talking about the film as they wonder hopefully if the celebrity is a Christian, too!
More publicity for your film, right?
6. Faith-based = Family Friendly.
That being said, you can potentially get away with a PG-13, but that should probably only be for scenes of mild violence, or a mildly bad word or two if you’re being really edgy.
But you should definitely avoid the temptation of making a film that shows the unfiltered ugliness of sin or the unbridled passion of love, so that you might earn the coveted Dove Seal of Approval, the earning of which indicates to all of your potential audience that you have successfully made an absolutely inoffensive movie.
7. Movies Based on Bible Stories
Don’t do it any more.
Trust me on this.
8. Speak the Language.
If you were going to make a film for a teenage girl audience, you would make certain to use current idioms and expressions in your film to help make the film more accessible. In the same way, make certain to pepper modern Christianese throughout your film, and you will be loving on your faith-based audiences, showing them true fellowship, even in the buckle of the Bible belt.
To help you with this, I refer you to the excellent online resource, The Dictionary of Christianese.
9. Help the Audience Spend Money.
If you’ve been to ComicCon, you know that those fans love to spend their money on merchandise that ties into their film obsession, and faith-based audiences are the same. So make it easy for them! You might not be able to make an action figure of your movie’s characters, but you could always have a well-known pastor write devotional materials connected to your movie which will be sold in Christian bookstores all across the fruited plains, and would sell like autographed dancing Groot Bobbleheads at ComicCon!
In fact, if you do the devotional material first, you can write your movie based on the material and not the other way around. After all, don’t forget that it is the message that matters.
Does your main character wear a special piece of Jesus jewelry? Merchandise! Does he or she (usually he) say some sort of catch phrase? Slap that bad boy on a t-shirt and make it merch! Get that merch into Lifeway and Family Christian Stores! But don’t just stop there, also get it into WalMart, Target, and other major retailers who will sell anything to make a buck.
Everyone makes money, and everyone is happy!
There you have it. If you are a clever, intrepid, go-getting Hollywood producer, you should be able to take these tips and blaze the trail for conquering the faith-based film market. The heavy lifting has been done for you by our crack team at the Thimblerig Institute for Faith Based Film Studies©, and now all that’s left for you to do is to take it and make it a reality.
Shhhh… can you hear it? Is that the purr of a Jaguar’s engine?