Filmmaking is a precise and hard process and there are a lot of factors that must come together to produce a good film. There is the Casting, the Crew, the Locations, the Production, the Editing, the Music, the Sound Design and the Final Color Correction and Sound Mix. ALL of these elements must be good to produce a quality movie. But NONE of them are worth anything if the script is no good. The script then, which is usually the starting point, becomes critical to the success of any movie. My brother Dave and I write our own scripts and we spend a lot of time working on them to do the very best work we can. And since we direct the scripts we write, it is always a benefit because the Director MUST KNOW HIS SCRIPT to be effective when dealing with actors.
There is no set formula for writing a script so I will just tell you how I write down my ideas. For example, for those of you who have seen the movie I did called The Secrets of Jonathan Sperry, I will tell you how that idea came about and my process for writing that script. First, you need an idea and I am not really sure how I came up with the Sperry idea. One day, I was just thinking that I wanted to make a movie that would motivate people, but especially older Christians (I call them Senior Saints), to want to be used to impact others for the LORD and to show them that life does not end as a Christian when you become 75 years old. That you can have a ministry and a real impact on people in your circle of influence. So, I thought it would be cool to show a movie about a 75 year old man who starts to influence three 12 year old boys to motivate them to want to read the Bible and follow the Lord. And he would do this using his wisdom! I called the idea The Secrets (Wisdom) of Jonathan Sperry.
The name Jonathan Sperry was actually a name I came up with for another script idea many years before. In fact, my brother Dave liked that name so much is that he started using it as the lead character of a story idea he had but when I started on my script, I took it back. My brother and I, especially when we first got started in Christian films in the 1980’s, were always discussing movie ideas. Dave is a very talented Writer/Director who has many ideas and is great to bounce things off. In fact, when I went to film Time Changer in 2002, I already had the Sperry idea in my mind and wanted to shoot that movie after Time Changer. (I actually filmed Unidentified next and Sperry 6 years later).
While filming Time Changer, I realized that Gavin MacLoed, who was a key actor in Time Changer, would be perfect as Mr. Sperry. Gavin and I were becoming fast friends and I took him out to eat one night while we were filming (Italian of course!) and told him about the idea. It really touched him and he wanted to play the part right away. I was thrilled and told him I would begin to work on the script in the near future. The idea I had was limited because I only had 4 or 5 scenes figured out in my head but part of it was the ending of the movie which I told Gavin and he really liked it which encouraged me. So, I sat down and started writing.
First, I set the movie in 1970 as I wanted to do a period piece. I grew up in a small town in update New York and so I modelled things after my home town. In fact, we ended up shooting the movie in Holley and Brockport, NY which is near Rochester and close to where I grew up. The first scene I had in my mind is a scene we call the cemetery scene, where Mr. Sperry takes the 3 boys to the cemetery so he can share a Bible lesson with them. This is probably Gavin’s and my favorite scene in the whole movie.
Then, I knew I needed some conflict in this film and would need a bully, a boy who always picks on other kids. So, I thought, lets show the bully come into a pizza place and where the boys are eating pizza with Mr. Sperry and the bully (Nick) would pick on them and make fun of Mr. Sperry. Then, I must show how Mr. Sperry gets out of this situation using his wisdom! Those were the first two scenes I wrote.
The idea of this movie was to show how Jonathan Sperry uses and shares his wisdom with the boys to influence them. I then wrote the ending of the movie (which was one of the scenes I always had in my head) and then wrote down some other scenes that came to mind. I use the Final Draft program when I write but you can use anything you want. And since I knew the cemetery scene came maybe about half way in the movie, I put that in the middle. I knew the bully scene with Nick would come after the cemetery scene, so I put it there. I then put the last scene after that. And as I added scenes, I just placed them where I thought they might go. All in all, when I was done, I had written 32 pages of the movie but I was now out of scene ideas and I had no opening sequence and nothing in the beginning to even set up the movie.
So, what did I do? I sent what I had to my brother Dave and said I am out of ideas and need your help! And did he help. Dave came up with the first 16 pages of the script and critical element of adding a girl into the movie, the character of Tanya. The first scene he wrote showed the 3 boys walking downtown because Dustin (our lead) wants to see Tanya who works at her parents diner because he “likes” her. This Tanya story line was much needed. In fact, when Dave sent back the script which was now 48 pages, that one story line enabled me to finish the first draft of the script which ended up being almost 90 pages.
In many cases, and this is important, I just writer fillers. I know we need a scene in a place, and I just normally write something even if I know it’s no good, just to show we need something there to fill the space. It may even be something as simple as: WE NEED A SCENE HERE AT THE DINER. After I got the first draft done, my brother and I started to discuss the script and identify where the weak points were and what was missing and each guy would normally begin to work on certain parts to try to make the story better. We go back and forth and work it and work it and work it, until we both feel good about the end result. We want to make sure we keep the movie pacing well. We know we write heavy dialogue driven stories and so pacing is critical. In fact many times, you can just pace a movie faster by cutting into the middle of a conversation when you move to the next scene. You don’t need stuff like “Hi” and “How are you” in every scene you write.
The entire movie, The Secrets of Jonathan Sperry, was a labor of love for me and I am grateful the movie came together as it did. I hope that gives you some insight as to how I write my scripts. Currently, I am working on a new script that I already have about 40 pages written that I am very excited about. I haven’t sent it to Dave yet as I am still working it but I will ask for his help to come up with things when I run out of my ideas.
Lastly, let me say that the message for the LORD and the truth conveyed is always the most important thing in our scripts and it really helps if you know what message you are trying to communicate even before you start your scripts. I have always done this which really helps. For example, Time Changer is a message on the authority of Christ, Unidentified was a message about the deception of UFO’s and to present the true gospel. My last film, A Matter of Faith deals with the whole issue of Evolution vs Creation and how important that whole subject is. For End of the Harvest, I wanted to write a script about end times. Every script I have written is because there is a certain point I want to address and I always want to share the gospel so a non-believer watching will consider receiving the LORD for salvation. Christian films have great purpose and when produced to first please the LORD, He can and will use them for HIS glory and to advance His Kindgom! AMEN. Thanks for reading and I hope this was helpful, especially to those of you who have an interest in writing.
Rich Christiano is a Christian Producer/Writer/Distributor having written and directed several feature films including The Secrets of Jonathan Sperry, Time Changer, A Matter of Faith and Unidentified. See trailers of these films at Christian Movies.