I know it sounds cliché, but in just a few weeks, I’ll be moving to Hollywood to pursue a career in the film and television industry. It’s okay to laugh. Only a year ago, I would have laughed at me too. You probably have this image in your head: A young hopeful wannabe-hip, wannabe-artsy, clean-cut Christian moves to Hollywood to either A) join the ranks that brought us the cheesy Christian cinema suffered by Churches and youth groups the world over; B) start a non-profit whose sole mission is to count the number of F-words in every major studio release; C) sell out completely and begin producing porn or…Dear God, let there be a D)!
When they’re not lecturing me about how easy it is to "lose God" in Hollywood, all my Christian friends ask me what kind of movies I want to make. I hate that question! For starters, I can certainly tell you what kind of movies I’m not going to write! When I was in college, I was in a campus ministry that was heavy on the outreach. Street ministry always made me feel uncomfortable, and it had nothing to do with the fact that we were going up to complete strangers, minding their most personal business and then trying to pray with them in the middle of the street.
What bothered me is that we were given tactics to use—insincere game plans and strategies to win people to Christ. We never really listened to people, we just waited to talk again. One day, I tried actually putting myself in the other guy’s shoes. I quickly discovered what a sham it all was. That stuff wouldn’t work on me, so why was I trying to work it on others? And how disrespectful to God! I discovered that I was a robot. And a lot of Christian films are propagandistic robots. Who are these movies for? Not for me! And I will never write a film that I wouldn’t want to watch, that wouldn’t make me laugh, cry or ponder my very existence.
If I hear another person tell me that they don’t go to the movies to think, I’m going to chew my foot off! Granted, I’m not trying to make every movie a Ken Burns documentary, but there’s nothing wrong with engaging the mind as well as the adrenaline. Some of my favorite films are Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, Gattaca, Snatch, Fight Club, Dogma, Primer, Bamboozled, Notorious, Celebration, The Usual Suspects, Waking Life … the list goes on!
Is it possible to be a Christian and write those kinds of movies? I have an idea about how Eternal Sunshine could have been a Christian movie—just go there with me for a second. What if Joel is a seminary dropout harboring unresolved guilt and a misunderstanding of grace? What if he’s really writing sermon ideas on that pad of his that annoys Clementine so much? What if the job he’s dodging is as a youth-pastor at a stuffy church in a stoic denomination? Does that make the story intrinsically corny? No. So why wasn’t Joel a Christian? Because writer Charlie Kauffman is not a professing Christian! Charlie Kauffman wrote the movie for himself and people like him. And I don’t mean spiritually or politically, I mean generally: kinda witty, kinda wordy, kinda geeky, kinda strange and totally insecure. And as a result, the movie was well received by people who could relate to those idiosyncrasies in life.
What details would change if your favorite mainstream movie were written by a Christian?
When I sit down in my overpriced-closet-of-a-Hollywood-apartment to write, I will write with everything in me. I won’t be ashamed of who I am and, more importantly, I won’t feel compelled to project an image of myself that isn’t real. I am who I am, and there are others like me who really love God, really love art, and are really underrepresented in the media. If you take a peek inside my brain you’ll see the crowded fetuses of a political thriller, a romantic comedy, a one-hour drama series, an apocalyptic miniseries (like we need another one of those), a slacker comedy, a fantasy epic, a 1930s period piece and, yes, a family movie with prepubescent lead characters. I implore you—resist the temptation to put yourself, or be put into, a box. God is the Author of Supreme Creativity, and we have to approach art with the confidence that He will accept our loving offerings of artistic worship and use them to bring Himself incredible glory. Now that’s a good option D)…