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Posted by on Mar 12, 2015 in Faith in Writing, Filmmaking | 21 comments

The Problem with Christian Movies (It’s Not the Acting)

The Problem with Christian Movies (It’s Not the Acting)

 

“I don’t really like Christian movies. The acting is SO terrible!”

I can’t tell you how much I’ve heard people expressing their dislike of Christian movies with variations on this sentence. I guess it makes sense. Independent Christian movies are made on a much smaller budget than their Hollywood counterparts. Actors are quite often drawn from a small pool that includes friends, family, church members, and that nice bald guy from the local Home Depot. 

The occasional professional actor in a Christian flick is usually more of a C-list variety. Like, “Oh, I remember that guy, he played Screaming Man #4 in Attack of the Shwormoglobbrians.”

It seems to be a common belief that bad acting is the number one problem with Christian movies, that if only we had the budget or connections to hire big-league actors, our movies would stand on par with Hollywood productions, or at least come close.

 

I disagree.

 

I mean, yes, actors with talent and training go a long way toward good production value. But I don’t think a lack of professional actors is the root of the problem.

 

The problem is not the acting. The problem is the writing.

 

Christian films, in general, tend to be really badly written. I’m not trying to be mean. It’s just a sad fact. Here are two things I think we’re missing in most of today’s Christian screenplays.

 

#1: Great Dialogue

 

Great screenplay dialogue is prompt, witty, and crammed full of subtext.

In most independent Christian movies I’ve seen, the dialogue is flat, predictable, and almost completely void of subtext. People say exactly what they mean, usually with perfect grammar and stilted emotional pauses that were probably written into the script.

 

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Even a fantastic actor would have a hard time making that dialogue sound anywhere NEAR believable. They’d struggle through it, trying to bring every ounce of life they could to the banal script, and then when the movie was out they would get slapped with the verdict of “terrible acting.”

Now that’s just not fair at all.

 

#2: High Concept Stories

 

“High Concept” is a term that gets thrown around quite a bit in the world of screenwriting, but what does it actually mean? For me, a high-concept story starts with a synopsis that promises something I haven’t seen a million times before. Something like this:

“A thief who steals corporate secrets through use of dream-sharing technology is given the inverse task of planting an idea into the mind of a CEO.” (Synopsis taken from IMDB)

Inception is a high-concept story. Industrial espionage using dreams? Yes, please.

Most Christian films are not high-concept. There seem to be three main story types that these movies fall into.

 

Archetype #1: Sports Film

 

A man, who is a major jerk, is a successful athlete until something bad happens and he loses his mojo. In order to be a successful athlete again (and win back the woman he loves) he must learn that his sport is actually a weird convoluted metaphor for life, and that he should not be a jerk anymore. Oh, and also pray a lot.

 

Archetype #2: Family Drama

 

A man is a major jerk, and is also very wealthy. Something bad happens. His family falls apart. In order to get his family back, he needs to learn to trust in God and not be a jerk. He does this. Then everything is awesome again.

 

Archetype #3: Non-Christian Person Gets Stranded

 

A man is a major jerk. One day he is stranded in a place where everyone else is a Christian. He learns that it is bad to be a jerk, and good to be a Christian. He becomes a Christian who is not a jerk anymore, and good things happen to him.

 

This is not high-concept.

This is theme, thinly wrapped in story in an attempt to make it a little less like medicine.

Yes, the theme–the message–is important. But a message whispered by an outstanding story is so much more powerful than a message shouted by a mediocre story.

Great dialogue from great characters. High-concept stories. Christian movies need this a lot more than professional actors.

 

I’d like to clarify that I’m not trying to bash Christian movies. In recent years, the production value of Christian movies has really risen, and that’s exciting. However, production value always begins with a truly great story, and I think that fact is often overlooked in the search for professional actors, pretty cinematography, and cool visual effects.

 

Next I’ll be talking about books. Stay tuned.

21 Comments

  1. Good points, Braden! I think you’re on to something with the writing being more of a problem than the acting. I know that I, personally, can stand slightly imperfect acting if the story is great.

    • I can too. And the thing is, good writing can coax a great performance out of unskilled or untrained actors, just like bad writing can get a bad performance from great actors.

  2. Good post! I like this one better than the introduction to the series. 🙂 Especially the high concept point, I’m not sure I’ve heard people bring that up before.

    • Heheh, good! 😉 I haven’t really heard it either, as regarding Christian films. But we need it, I think.

  3. When u talk about Christian books, u should write about Ted Dekker. The movies rnt great, but the books r

    • I do like some of Dekker’s books, especially the Saint/Showdown/Sinner trilogy. Good stuff!

      • One Christian movie that I didn’t fell like face palming when I watched it: How to Save a Life. Not only is the story logical, it faces more bug issues than the average film

  4. Great post. I agree about the whole acting/writing thing. I’ve had plenty of people blame it on the acting and what you’ve said makes plenty of sense.
    Thanks for sharing.

    • No problem! Glad you liked it. 🙂

  5. Too true! I am REALLY looking forward to your script! Can I be in the movie? lol By the way, I have a stack more of current movies for your evaluation….in your spare time, or movie night, whichever comes first. 😉 ❤

    • Haha, I’m looking forward! 😉

  6. This is very true. It’s kind of the same as the reason I no longer like to watch animal movies very often. So many of them are pretty much the same. The story and the characters are so important. Without that, the message has no power.

    • Meeeeh, animal movies. I did like War Horse, mostly because of Spielberg’s directing.

  7. I agree. I thinkk it would be amazing if there were more Christian movies with sophisicated plots like Inception, or Unbreakable. 🙂

    • Me too! It’ll happen at some point. 🙂

  8. Yes. It needs to be said, specifically by someone in the Christian and writing community, not just atheists and the general population. It can make me feel like an unwelcome opinion among many of my IRL Christin friends when I say I rarely like Christian movies.

    • Yeah, I also tend to be the lone dissenting voice. Sometimes, just because something is labeled as “Christian”, I think it’s automatically seen as a very holy cow that should not be poked at.

      • A voice in the wilderness….Your comments are dead on. Sadly, those who need to hear the message, rarely see themselves in it. Now how about another post on “Christian Film” -what is it, made my Christians? for Christians? so Christians will like it? Someone says a prayer and is saved? Or should it be reality, dirty gritty life, but there is a true source of hope & possible redemption.

        Sorry I couldn’t post this separately, only let me attach on to your previous comment. Good job!

        • Thanks, Francine! And yeah, excellent point. Honestly, I’m not a big fan of the term “Christian Film”. I’m even less a fan of the term “Christian Industry”. Let’s stop thinking about industry and just make good art that leads people to truth.

      • I think you might enjoy this article by Peter Jones over on the Kuyperian Commentary on the subject. Really good stuff
        http://www.kuyperian.com/making-movies-christian/
        Love your article, by the way. Personally I feel if something claims to be Christian art, it needs to endure a rigorous gauntlet regarding every aspect.
        Keep up the fantastic work my good sir!

        Matt Gibson
        Florida.

        • That’s a great article. Point nine ftw.
          And yes. It should be held to the same standards as every other kind of art, if not higher!

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