Creating Theme-based Films | Natalie Pohorski

Engage Art | Artist to Artist, In the Know, Reflection & Growth | May 1, 2019

How to weave a story

Most filmmakers at some time in their career will be tasked with creating a film based on a specific theme or choose to pursue theme-based filmmaking on their own. There isn’t necessarily a right or wrong way to weave a theme into your storytelling, but here are some tips for those who may not know where to start.

1. Research – In the case of the Engage Art Contest, you have been given a passage of scripture (Ephesians 6:10-20) to respond to. The first thing to do to understand the theme is to read the passage more than once. Taking it a step further, you can use additional texts such as a concordance or commentary to provide further insight.

This passage is several verses long, and while the general theme of “The Armor of God” has been applied, there are several other subtexts; such as, spiritual warfare, the physical versus heavenly realms, being a fearless ambassador of the gospel, never ceasing in prayer, etc. Whether you plan to engage in a specific theme or more generally to the passage, make a conscious, intentional choice, because it will certainly come through in your film and making a choice will help keep your vision focused.

2. Style/Genre – Before you get started outlining your story, I recommend deciding how you would like to tell the story. Are you looking to create a short film? A short documentary? A music video? What would be the most powerful and effective medium based on the theme and your personal talent? For example, maybe you are a motion graphic artist who is moved to create an animated film or lyric video. Maybe using music to tell a story is more your thing—then go with a music video.

In addition to deciding how you will tell the story, you will want to figure out what mood or style you feel the theme demands. Is the film meant to challenge its audience? Empower them? Remember, as a Christian artist whether you are making a film based on a passage of scripture or not, your worldview should come through in the end. Will the type of film and style you have chosen get through to a broader audience with perhaps a different worldview than you? These are all exploratory questions worth answering before you begin writing your film.

A Few Tips on Crafting Your Story

  • Keep it simple! Again, this is a way to keep a clear vision and focused story. Trim anything unnecessary.
  • Don’t forget that film is a visual medium. If you’re like most of us and writing dialogue doesn’t come easily, then don’t write any! Come up with either narration or tell it visually with no words at all. If you are in the percentage that can write interesting and authentic dialogue, then capitalize on it! A well-written and performed conversation can go miles towards impacting the audience and with fairly minimal production.
  • Location, location, location! I always find it helpful to have accessible locations in mind when writing my stories. In some cases, this can be limiting, but in a film contest setting when you have already been given parameters, it can help you in the long run.

Some last thoughts on making these films… God has given you a unique voice and perspective. Don’t be afraid to let your personality shine through in your film. Everyone has been given the same passage for this contest, so think about how can you shine a light on this topic in a new way. “A children's story that can only be enjoyed by children is not a good children's story in the slightest.” according to C.S. Lewis.

Similarly, I believe a Christian story that can only be enjoyed by Christians is not, in fact, a good Christian story. Consider how your film can further God’s kingdom. In an international context, remember that your experience comes from your personal upbringing and background. The beauty of the Living Word is that it speaks to all people, breaks boundaries, intersects groups, and offers a relevant message that anyone can connect with. Will your film do the same?

Natalie Pohorski is an independent filmmaker and video producer based in Madison, WI, and was a member of the jury for the Carolinas Engage Art Contest.

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