Many faith and values films are actually religious films in disguise. They are typically written, directed and produced by a person who has a specific message to get across. He typically desires to use film rather than a pulpit, and isn’t well versed in the craft of story telling.
In mid July, I will be teaching two workshops at Karitos 2012 on developing story for film, to a faith and values audience. The number one thing I will attempt to share is how to integrate a message into a great story, rather than trying to attach a story to a message.
The first rule is to make sure the main plot line is filled with some form of a protagonist or hero taking some proactive action. This plotline is called the Action Plotline. The second rule is that the message can NEVER be a part of the Action Plotline, but MUST be a part of the “B” Plotline.
The typical argument I get is that the message is very important and therefore needs to be in the Action Plotline instead of a secondary plotline. However, while a book might be able to succeed in this manner, films typically fail. The reason for this consistency of failure is due to messages being good or wholesome and Action Plotlines needing conflict and consequences to survive and progress.
Rarely will an author risk his key message in a sea of conflict. It is much easier for the hero to learn it during a lull in the Action Plotline. In this way the hero can find a unique application for it in order to save the day by the end of the film, making the storyline and climax of the film more valuable.
By applying the message in this way through the “B” Plotline, the audience gets a glimpse on how to translate the message into their lives. It becomes a perfect demonstration for multiple types of applications based on each viewer’s life experience. The message instantly becomes a tool for use in life.
However, many Christian filmmakers put the message into the Action Plotline, which slows down the story and causes the audience to feel preached at. And, few people will accept a message that is preached at them rather than shared with them.
We all like to feel close to our pastor and listen to him share his message as a good friend or a person of wisdom who wants the best for us. But, the hero or main character isn’t our friend unless he is specifically crafted to connect with us.
This skillful style of writing requires subtext and no preaching, relegating the message to the “B” Plotline. This combination will not only inspire faith, but it will energize the viewer to consider some form of action in their own life – Making the story and the message a great experience.