The audience is listening… for their own heartbeat

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.

About Brian Bird

8 Replies

  1. Travis M

    Hey Brian,
    What a great encouraging post!It’s always a blessing for wanna-be producers to have the opportunity to peek into successful producers lives! Thanks for making yourself available through the VSN mentoring program. I look forward to getting to know you better this upcoming summer through Act one’s Executive program (provided I get accepted)
    God bless and
    cheers from Germany

  2. I’m thrilled you found me, Travis, and hope this site will spread the creative love beyond borders. Let your colleagues know and fill the Suggestion Box with your questions. I’ll try not to lead you astray.

  3. Craig

    Hi Brian.
    I am not sure why I struggle with my loglines. It’s not that I don’t know what the subject matter or the central question is about. But whenever I come to articulate it I get tongue-tied with the many facets but particularly about why the story is unique. I thought I’d list the ideas that originally attracted me to a particular story and incorporate that as part of the subject . I’d be interested to know your methodology on this one. I’ve been using Jeff Schechter’s approach :”When a TYPE OF PERSON has/does/wants/gets A. he gets/ does/tries/ learns B, only to discover that C now happesns and he must respond by doing D.”


  4. I think Schechter’s approach is fine, Craig, but to be honest I’m not real big on doing loglines. There’s nothing wrong with the discipline of trying to boil your story down this way, but I find I usually have to get more of my story down on paper before I can identify my logline. I also never use loglines when I’m pitching a story to a network/studio/investor. I want my story to stick with people, not the logline.

  5. Craig

    Hi Brian
    Thanks for the above reply. Only just read it. Puts me at rest knowing I don’t always have to pin a logline down right up front. Thanks! BTW Not sure why I am not receiving your replies via my email? Also never sure where really to post my questions?
    So hopefully this is a good place for the next one:
    I remember you talking in an interview about having been taught not to preach but rather to ask the right questions in the screenplay. I’ve just watch an interview with Paul Haggis who said the same thing. Any tips/methodoly on arriving at the right questions and when to ask them or is it just an intuitive thing? I understand these are not the structural questions but story questions and it seems important for arriving at a unique telling of the story.

    Thanks for the guidance.

    Craig Galbraith

  6. Craig

    Hi Brian,
    After reading John Truby’s “Anatomy of Stories” & listening to his audio on writing memoir’s, I now realised what I was looking for when asking about Inspirational films – Does it exist as a genre. If so what the what are the rules of the genre; what are the keys techniques to writing the plot; what is the key question asked by this genre, Is there a story shape? Main reason for using this genre; other genres linked to Inspirational genre.

    Interested to hear your thoughts.


Leave a Reply