Category Archives: Creativity

Writing leads to mental illness

Hellfire and Brimstone PreacherA young Jewish film student from the Bronx walks into a bar with a Southern Baptist preacher, a Goth 7-Eleven clerk, and a gay vintage clothing storeowner.

Sound like the setup for a corny joke?

Actually, those are some of the characters and one of the locations in the screenplay I’ve been writing for the last three months, along with my writing partner Deborah Hocutt.

When those characters inhabit your brain for that long, you have the makings of a serious mental illness. I’m beginning to understand why so many writers have quirky, borderline schizophrenic personalities.
Goth

And for those who’ve lost sleep worrying why I haven’t posted on my blog in the last three months, you have your answer.

The script for “Shooting the Prodigal Son” is getting close.
If all goes well, we will complete this draft by Easter.
Soon afterward, we’ll find out if enough people will consider it screen worthy enough to support it with their money. If so, we’ll move into preproduction. Perhaps we’ll be ready to begin principal photography late this summer.

It has been a long, winding road, starting in January 2010. The writing team got down to serious work in February 2012. This is the third major rewrite.

Man Drinking CoffeeI’m feeling pretty good about this one. Although I must admit, I felt the same way about the previous two. So my optimism is guarded and nervous. But optimistic still.

Even if this project never gets off the ground, I am a richer person for having spent the last three years immersed in Jesus’ parable of the lost son. There are so many spiritual gems to be discovered, we could mine it for another 2,000 years and still find wonder and inspiration in this simple story. It is, I believe, the essence of the Gospel.

We’ve set out to interpret it for our culture in a fresh, relevant and entertaining way. Over the coming weeks and months we’ll find out if we succeeded. Pray for us.

In the meantime, I’ll return to a more frequent blog post schedule. There are so many exciting things going on. Among them are next Friday’s TEDxRVA event, in which I will participate. Can’t wait to tell you about it.

Let us entertain and inspire

I finally got around to watching that Christian movie that’s been sitting next to my chair for the last three months. I knew I needed to watch it. Everybody at church who’s seen it says it is great.

“Have you seen it?” they’d ask

“Well, not yet,” I’d confess.

I felt guilty. But I was dreading the two hours I’d have to spend with it. I knew what was coming. The protagonist will cry when he reaches the bottom of his arc. Somebody will preach at me. And somebody will accept Jesus or make a commitment to live a better Christian life. That’s the “Christian Film Formula.”

Cover of "O Brother, Where Art Thou?"

To be honest, I’d rather spend time with one of my favorites: “O Brother, Where Art Thou?”

But I “needed” to see that movie, so I loaded it up and settled in for the tears, the sermon and the altar call. The movie did not disappoint.

It was well-made. Great lighting, camera work, editing, and music. I laughed. I cried. I was inspired.

I’m a Christian. As a member of the choir, I was effectively preached-to. And the makers of the film claim “thousands coming to Christ as a result” of their movie.

There’s a market for these films. Sony and Fox have each set up distribution divisions for Christian and Family Movies. There are more than half-dozen web sites that specialize in the distribution of Christian and Family DVDs.

But I wonder how deep the market penetration is among folks who are not part of the religious establishment.

It seems to me there’s a niche waiting to be filled: really good movies that entertain and inspire, and will appeal to people outside the Christian cocoon… movies that tell great stories with a voice that’s neither preachy nor condescending.

Let’s face it: our culture is less churchy than it was for our parents and grandparents. Much of society yawns at our well-intentioned efforts to “reach” them with the Gospel. But we really do have some good news to share. So how do we do it?

Obviously, the best way to preach the Gospel is to live an authentic Christ-like life. Do the things that Jesus did. What’s the old saying? “Preach the Gospel. If necessary, use words.”

Sometimes, words are helpful, too. But what words? And how to speak them?

My younger son and I were walking around Greenville, South Carolina’s downtown area on a recent Friday evening. We came upon a young man, standing on a box, preaching judgment and condemnation from a Bible he waved in our faces. Is that the way to communicate the love, joy and hope offered by God through Jesus? I don’t know. And I surely don’t want to judge the young man, who must have been doing what he believed to be God’s will. After all, there’s plenty of precedent for that approach in the Bible.

But really… must we take ourselves so seriously? Can’t we lighten up a bit? We have some great stories to tell. Let’s have some fun telling them. We can even poke a little fun at ourselves… Lord knows there’s plenty to laugh at.

Remember how Jesus started his Sermon on the Mount? It wasn’t, “Repent or you’re going to hell!” It was, “Blessed are you…”

Our little writing and production group is passionate about breaking out of the “Christian Film” mold to produce something that entertains and inspires those beyond the typical audience for such movies.

It won’t come across as the typical, sanitized, well-scrubbed Sunday school tale. In fact, it might be perceived as a little irreverent. We’re not trying to, but we’ll probably offend some of our religious friends. But who knows? Maybe a few Christians will be entertained and inspired, too.

I think that’s what happened when Jesus first told the story of the Prodigal Son.

Don’t give up pain too soon

There is pain, disappointment and, of course, hard work associated with doing anything worthwhile.

I’m certainly finding that true as we’re struggling with revisions to the first draft of our screenplay for “The Prodigal Project.”

Fortunately, there are wonderful people around who continually cheer us on and affirm us.

I know, intellectually, that pain is a necessary ingredient to significant creative work. But that doesn’t keep me from wanting to get past the pain as quickly as possible.

I was recently reminded, through a daily devotional message by Richard Rohr, that it is through the pain of mystery and unknowing that we learn to listen… really listen to what God is trying to tell us.

Richard Rohr

He writes, “In terms of soul work, we dare not get rid of pain before we have learned what it has to teach us. Much that we call entertainment, vacations, or recreation are merely diversionary tactics, and they do not ‘re-create’ us at all. The word vacation is from the same root as vacuum, and means to ’empty out,’ not to fill up. One wonders how many people actually have such vacations! We must be taught HOW to stay with the pain of life, without answers, without conclusions, and some days without meaning.” – Adapted from Everything Belongs: The Gift of Contemplative Prayer, pp. 43-47, by Richard Rohr.

A more secular expression of the same idea is found in that wonderful exchange between Tom Hanks and Geena Davis in the 1992 movie, “A League of Their Own” directed by Penny Marshall and written by Kim Wilson, Kelly Candaele, Lowell Ganz, & Babaloo Mandel.

Davis’ character is quitting the baseball team because, she says, “It just got too hard.” Hanks replies, “Hard?! Of course it’s hard. It’s supposed to be hard. If it wasn’t hard, everyone would do it. The hard is what makes it great.”