After watching many good and bad inspirational Christian films I began pondering what story structure elements make for a successful inspirational film. My observations are that the good ones use empathy, underdog status and flawed characters with ambitious personal and spiritual goals to hook the audience.
Inspirational films that aim at changing lives have life lessons in them. Definition of Inspire: “To affect, guide, or arouse by divine influence; to stimulate to action; motivate; to breathe life into.”
I’d really like to hear your views on this. Maybe this could help other filmmakers trying to make inspirational faith-based films, as this seems to be a surge of these films lately.
– Craig, Capetown, South Africa
It’s a good line of digging, Craig. But I think you could ask the same questions about all filmmaking — faith-based, secular, agnostic, red, blue, green or anything in between. What makes for a good faith-based film are probably all the same story elements and techniques that make any film a good film. And the opposite is also true. Cheese is cheese — whether it’s a lo-fi apocalyptic, evangelistic thriller or M. Night’s The Happening.
In films of faith, I think it’s a good habit not to analyze the story on whether it hits a certain set of expected high notes. Yes, that underdog quotient and sympathetic plight are good ways to make the audience care about your protagonist’s quest, but I would argue that those are important story streams for any good film adventure. That’s because they are universal human themes that have been used in story-telling for thousands of years. Check out the Epic of Gilgamesh, an ancient Sumerian poem written 2,500 years before Christ, for a reference point.
For me, the bottom line is we just need to learn how to be better story-tellers, and one of the best example we have to draw on are the parables of Jesus. He captivated crowds by using real-life, human situations, emotions and dilemmas his audience could all relate to in order to communicate eternal truths. He plucked strings in his followers’ souls, and they reverberated with themes of rescue, sacrifice, courage, nobility, grace, redemption and resurrection.
I believe people’s emotional strings reverberate in the same way even today.
So pluck away. Help the audience care about your characters’ quest by making it their quest.