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Challenge from an Artist to Christian Filmmakers, part 3

Challenge 3: Leave the story behind.
We in the film industry can find ourselves increasingly drawn into the world of the imagination.  As exciting as creating imaginary world's can seem, it's best to regularly leave the excitement behind in favor for the real world.

We strengthen our stories by living in the real world.  Have you ever watched a movie or read a book only to encounter plot points which seemed unauthentic?  We all do it.  We get blinded by the story we are making and tell handicapped stories.  However, some people keep a good grasp on reality, and their stories carry the added weight of experience.  

We strengthen our families by living in the real world.  The elements of strong families have not changed with this influx of media.  Wise Christian families only consume a little media, opting to spend their family bonding time in work, service, worship, reading aloud, or pleasant conversation.  To consume media, even Christian media, may be a shared experience, but it does not naturally lead to a healthy family culture.  Someday we may find our children leaving us for a modern pied piper, having grown up listening to his song during our watch.  Our families are healthiest when we leave the contrived world behind and embrace the real world.

We understand God better through His real creation than through our own.  The mad man does not have a problem with his imagination; he has a problem with his perception of reality.  In similar ways, we can believe lies about God, lies backed by some powerful mental imagery.  However, the created world offers a check on those ideas, and in that check we can recognize the evidence of a God of order, meaning, and power.  The wise will also delve into the truth contained in His scripture to understand God more specifically.

Sometimes inventing worlds in our heads allows us a limited amount of insight into this real world.  G. K. Chesterton once wrote, "All my mental doors open outwards into a world that I have not made."  While we live in a made world, every time that we imagine something we testify that we could not make a world this complex, both stable and surprising.  Thankfully, as interesting as our shallow imaginations are, we cannot stay there.  Such a life is unsustainable.  The real world will eventually break in, rudely awakening us from our dreams.

And when it does, may we recognize the glory around us and leave our imaginations for the greater role we play in the real story of life.

Digging deeper: Colossians 2:8, II Corinthians 10:5, I Thessalonians 4:11


Challenge from an Artist to Christian Filmmakers, part 2

Challenge 2: Tell a good story.
What story are we serving?  Is the story worth our service?

It's easy when the adrenaline courses through our veins to pursue whatever story comes into our lives.  However, these stories take a while to tell, and involve a lot of energy.  It's not a bad idea to ask whether or not this story is worth all that effort.

Telling a good story means that it is well told.  Does it open in an engaging way?  Does the story lead us into a believable world with meaningful characters?  Does it follow correct plot structure for movies?  Does it move us by the emotion bottled up inside?  If it does, it's probably well told.  I had the wonderful privilege of working with John Moore on a remake of an earlier film.  He created Heartstrings, which was fairly popular, but he knew that he could tell it better.  And so he's created Ace Wonder: Message from a Dead Man as a total retake on the concept.  It carries its message with power and eloquence.

Telling a good story also means that we remember where reality is.  Stories aren't real, but they remind us of what is real.  Even the most bizarre story, if it is a good one, it reminds us of something that is not bizarre.  Men from mars are still men, deep down inside.  They are generally intelligent beings who live by some universal moral code.  The stories we tell are not reality, but deep down inside, do they reflect reality?  

Telling a good story lastly means that we tell God's story.  We humans often act completely oblivious to the good work that God is doing in this world.  Do the stories we tell reflect God's work, or are they, too, oblivious?  The fool says in his heart there is no God.  A foolish Christian lives like it.  And foolish Christian filmmakers do not acknowledge God or His work in their stories.  As Michael Dornbirer once encouraged me, "Write something that'll turn your audiences' eyes heavenward!!"  The market is already filled with films which do not acknowledge God.  By discussing the ignored spiritual reality, we tell a worthwhile story.

And if we tell our stories well, our audience may be the better for the listening.

Digging deeper: James 3:2, Romans 14:19, I Corinthians 10:31


Challenge from an Artist to Christian Filmmakers, part 1

I am somehow involved in the Christian film industry, though not a filmmaker.  I'm excited about this industry, have been blessed to work on some great films, but I'm learning some in the process.  I hope that you will find them as helpful as I have found them in my own life.

Challenge 1: Serve the story.
The burgeoning Christian film industry is very exciting.  So exciting that we can forget about the most important aspect of the industry: telling stories.  

I've felt the rush.  I've seen it in other's eyes.  The lust for something that movies give us.  It's just really exciting to be a part of that.  In the excitement we must remember that we are merely there to serve the story.  

Serving the story means that we do not seek personal fame and fortune.  The industry revolves around the fulfillment of desire and selfish ambition, but God calls those "earthly, natural, demonic."  Instead God calls us to the gentleness of wisdom.  What is appropriate for this situation?  Do I need to take center stage, or does the story require me to recede into the background?  Others will seek the spotlight to their detriment and to the detriment of the story.  We must, in contrast, seek what's best for the story that we are telling.

Serving the story also means that we work hard to support the story.  In the excitement we can get a little tipsy with the thrill, but the story is not served when we skip over basic tasks like script-writing, storyboarding, and other menial disciplines.  These quieter, less glorious tasks make or break the story.  I've seen many filmmakers dabble at the craft without any real progress.  On the other hand, one of the most principled filmmaking families is working on their first full length feature, Remember.  It promises to deliver the limited budget and major elbow grease that they've poured into it.  Sometimes serving the story requires discipline.

Serving the story also means that we don't rush through the process.  Time is money and money is time, so therefore we need to take the time to get it right the first time.  Because it takes even longer to go back to try it again.  It's been great to work on some films where they did great planning, humbly working hard at the filmmaking job, but I've seen other filmmakers out there flounder.  One filmmaker learned his lesson the hard way and spent 4 years filming a movie that could have been filmed in less than a month.  (His next film will be awesome, though—much more planned out.)  Measure twice, cut once.

So instead of spending our time and money serving our own desires, let's find good stories to tell and serve those stories well.

Digging deeper: Romans 15:1-3, James 3:13-18