In the beginning was the Word.
That’s the opening of the biblical book of John in the New Testament. But it’s also the truth regarding one of my favorite forms of storytelling–filmmaking.
I recently attended the third annual Christian Worldview Film Festival in San Antonio, Texas. I’ve been attending Christian film festivals since 2007, and I’ve seen the world of independent Christian films grow in leaps and bounds. It’s become much more competitive. From the early days of flatly recited lines and grainy home-video-quality, we’ve reached an era where decent to professional-level actors inhabit well-lit HD worlds, complete with orchestral soundtracks and excellent sound quality. I didn’t see many of the films this year myself, since I got sick for the majority of the week and had to stay home. But the films I did see tended to have the same qualities over and over–they were beautifully shot, well acted, tightly edited, beautifully scores, mediocre stories. I’m not, of course, saying that all the stories there were mediocre. I might have missed many brilliantly-written films while I was home with a stomachache eating Saltines and drinking Sprite. I’m just saying that most of the best films that I saw were generally cheesy, preachy, or just kindof–fell flat.
And this has been a typical pattern every year I’ve attended. With some notable exceptions, I see dozens of beautifully made films with disappointing stories.
Like all of creations, for any film, in the beginning is the word.
On the other side of things, there have been a few films I’ve seen over the years where the lighting may have been less-than-stellar, the audio was fuzzy and low-quality, and the acting may even have been well on the amateur side. But the story–the story was enticing. It kept me glued to the edge of my seat, unable to take my eyes from the screen, and left me impacted when the credits began to roll.
In all honesty, I”d rather see the latter.
There are people who create stories, and there are people who create stories that have already been told. I think sometimes in Christian filmmaking, we have one type trying to be the other type. Not that they can never coincide, but in my experience they rarely do. The person who thinks in story-terms, who pulls ideas out of thin air and forms them into words, may not be a person who can look at those words and bring them to life with a camera, a microphone, and editing software. And vice versa. Those with a passion for bringing stories to life may not have what it takes to create those stories in the first place.
Filmmakers, before you begin your big project, consider working with a wordsmith–someone who understands and has studied plot, dialogue, story structure, timing, character motivation, et cetera. And once you have a story, consider having other story creators take a look at what’s been made and give their opinions on changes that might make it stronger, better, and more touching. Your film may depend on it.
Because with every film, in the beginning were the words.