There are a few steps that faith and family filmmakers need to apply in order to compete against the secular tastes of the day that drive R-rated films. These steps seem to go against the norms of the G and PG rated film, but do not hurt it. However, each filmmaker has to consider to what depth he or she takes the recommendations.
1. Develop Strong Conflict. I use the GAC2 (Gack Squared) principle in all but transition scenes. The letters stand for Goal, Action, Consequence and Conflict. Every scene must have the main character (“MC”) of the scene experience GAC2 or the audience gets bored.
In the beginning of the scene the story has to reveal the MC’s goal, just like in the beginning of the movie the story has to reveal the MC’s overarching or universal goal. But, within each scene the MC has a minor goal that needs to be obtained like trying to get to someone for information, convince them to change their mind, or influence a person to hand over the whereabouts of the answer.
When the goal is well established, the audience has something to cheer for and can be taken on an emotional ride, especially once the action is taken. The action could be crossing the room, throwing a drink in someone’s face, or letting go of an embraced loved one.
Since the scene most likely has a supporting character to help reveal more about the MC, he or she has to respond in a way that reveals conflict. If the MC crosses the room toward a pretty blonde holding the answers to his forgotten life, a bodyguard might create conflict by stepping between him and her. Or, maybe the MC throws a drink in the boyfriend’s face to lose him in order to talk to the blonde, but instead he pulls a knife on the MC. Or, maybe the MC is dancing at a wedding reception with a loved one when he spots the blonde, he releases the loved one and walks toward the blonde, causing the loved one to jealously shout that she wants a divorce.
You can see that the possibilities bring interest to the scene. It also drives a question that forces the audience to desire seeing the next scene in order to find out how the story unfolds.
2. Give the Audience Something New to Think About. This is the hardest thing for most faith and family filmmakers, because it requires pushing their audience out of their comfort zone, which conservative families do not like. It can create animosity and shut down the filmmaker’s future.
Without it, the audience goes home saying, “Gee, that film was swell, but it’s just like all the others.” If the story doesn’t reveal something interesting, unique or life changing, then it should be a minor video release and not a silver screen presentation. Most people aren’t willing to pay $10 a head for a film that confirms they are living right or are better off than others.
People only find value in revelation and growth, yet those two items are the two things that no one wants to experience because it takes change and energy. Most people don’t want to think through a film, yet they talk about how stupid the show is unless it caused them to think.
People hate change, especially if the change is how they think. However, if the filmmaker has the audacity to attempt to change the minds of the audience, he will receive significant controversy – And, box office success. That is something few faith and family filmmakers are willing to bring to the table. They would prefer to make less money and not risk their mediocre career.
3. Introduce the Audience to a New Character or Location They’ve Never Seen. In the time of franchises puking out copycat films, the audience is hungry for something they’ve never seen before. I mean, how many different takes on Spiderman can we see without saying, “Enough already!”
Forest Gump, Amadeus and Rain Man won Oscars for Best Picture and were huge successes because the audience was introduced to a new character worthy of mental and emotional exploration. Similarly, locations that prompted the eye opening visual fascination and Oscars or Box Office successes include Avatar, Dances with Wolves and Slumdog Millionaire. Several films that combined both elements won an Oscar like Shindler’s List, Gone with the Wind, and Braveheart.
Most of these films took more production days and larger budgets to accomplish, something that is rare among faith and family films. That’s not to say it can’t be done, as Slumdog Millionaire was a low budget film that introduced audiences to new locations, cultures and characters.
Competing for screen time and drawing in the audience in this day and age demands the above three points be a part of every story. The question is, which faith and family filmmaker will risk his career to make a film that gives the audience a huge payoff mentally and emotionally, and drives interest in an Oscar nomination. I can’t wait to find out the answer. It makes me want to rewrite some of my direct to video scripts and take them all up a level or two.
More great thoughts! These fundamentals are easy to forget/overlook, but we do so to our own hurt. Of course, regarding the last paragraph, you know, I’m sure, why they keep doing reboots, prequels and such: following the money on that already established audience. Which makes it tough for us with our unheard of company, no-name actors, small budget, and unique story. Not impossible to stand out, just….challenging. 😉