Former rocket scientist, shark safety diver and award winning screenwriter, Dan Goforth’s most recent assignments were RIDING ON FAITH, the true-life story of rodeo champion Amberley Snyder and the feature film adaptations of New York Times bestselling author Col. Walter J. Boyne's DAWN OVER KITTY HAWK, as well as the sci-fi graphic novel, THE CHRONIC ARGONAUTS, from New Baby Publishing. Visit Dan's blog, Script Soup and follow him on Twitter @Dango_Forth.
In the Spring of 2014, Pure Flix Studios and screenwriters/producers Chuck Konzelman and Cary Solomon declared, in a big way, that faith-based Christian movies were NOT dead at America's theaters. Shot on a budget of $2 million, their film, God's Not Dead, did over $60 million in box office business. The team returns to take on the sequel writing God's Not Dead 2, which opens April 1, 2016 in theaters nationwide.
The two men have a long history together as a screenwriting team, going all they way back to the 90s. I asked them how they found themselves writing together on the same projects
Chuck: We’ve been friends forever. We met each other back in high school… and we’ve been laughing at each other’s jokes ever since then.
Cary: It helps that both of us realize that we’re incapable of writing separately. And we’re not kidding. We’re sort of two halves of one functioning brain when it comes to writing. I am the right brain… restless, creative, and instinctively breaking a lot of ‘rules’… but keeping things interesting in terms of story. Chuck is the left brain… always going back to structure, structure, structure. Somehow, between the two, we make it work. After enough years of working together, we’ve sort of cross-trained each other… but we’re still dependent upon each other’s core strengths.
Combining their strengths led to God's Not Dead opening to almost $10 million in its first weekend, spending nine full weeks in the top 20 Box Office Movies. The film was an inspirational story filled with love and hope that didn't shy away from what it really means to live up to the principles set down by the Bible. And yet, it ended up not only inspiring the audience, but the writers, as well. Cary explained, "The original God’s Not Dead had a profound effect on people all over the world. We received all sorts of phone calls, texts, and emails with stories that moved us deeply. Stories about people who were dying and found peace, or about families being reunited. Stories of people finding faith, or impossible situations being resolved. We were just humbled. We looked at each other and said, ‘How can we not do a sequel’? But we were committed to doing it for the right reasons… and we knew we had to make it as-good-as or even better than the first movie."
But the two were not ignorant of the challenges facing them for this particular sequel. Chuck pointed out, "Well, the first was that neither our protagonist nor antagonist from the first film were going to be in the sequel. The college student protagonist – Josh Wheaton (played by Shane Harper) wasn’t going to be available… and the antagonist professor Jeffrey Radisson (played by Kevin Sorbo) got killed off at the end of the first film. So the challenge was going to be how to create a new experience that felt tonally consistent with the original film, without using either of those characters. Fortunately, it seems to have worked. In the test screenings, better than 90% of those who’ve seen both films say they like the second one better."
So, they set about to work on the storyline. Cary said "It was actually a lot more collaborative than for most projects. About the time the first film was being released, we took a drive out to Arizona, which is where Pure Flix is headquartered. We met with Michael Scott, who’s one of studio’s principals and their lead producer. He knew he wanted a female protagonist for the second film… likely someone in her thirties. We liked the idea of making her a teacher, since it’s a very sympathetic profession, and had an idea for shifting the ‘arena’ for the central argument from a college classroom (in the first film) to a federal courtroom. Afterwards, Dr. Rice Broocks, who was an apologetics consultant for both films, and Dr. Stephen Meyer, who’s a leading proponent of ‘intelligent design,’ pointed us in a direction that allowed for creation of a situation that hasn’t yet been litigated in the real world. That made things more interesting… and meant that we’d be ‘leaning into the future’ a bit, even if it’s only fifteen minutes into the future."
So, how did you approach making the sequel?
Chuck: That was easy: there are things going on today in America that have never gone on in the history of our country. Constitutional rights abuses that would never have been tolerated in the past. Unfortunately, today’s media has become so politicized that it reports on what it wants to, rejecting anything that doesn’t fit its worldview. So in an unusual way, we’ve become like old time journalists who would go out and dig up their stories. And by telling these stories, were showing people issues that they otherwise wouldn’t see... we’re reporting it to them.
What did you want to say with this film that may be different from the first?
Chuck: The first film was sort of a wake-up call for believers. The second film is something closer to a call-to-action. From the get-go, we realized that we were echoing the Scopes Monkey Trial… but in reverse. A hundred years ago, if you mentioned evolution in a high school classroom, odds are you’d get yourself in a lot of trouble from people of faith. But now, the situation is completely reversed: Darwinism has been deified, but should you mention anything that brushes up against faith in a classroom environment, the world is going to come crashing in on you. And the consequences are likely to be really nasty.
Do you consider yourselves more as writers or producers?
Cary: We consider ourselves storytellers. And as storytellers, we look for stories that need to be made – whether the stories are ours or come from other writers. We produce, we direct, and we write. Ultimately, we believe we are being called to create a studio by-and-for storytellers...
What do you feel is the future of theatrically based faith-based films?
Chuck: There will always be a place for overtly faith-based fare. But in a larger sense, it’s time for films with faith-driven elements to ‘kick down the stall’ and enter the mainstream. This means the films will have to function first and foremast as entertainment product. Instead of stories that are primarily about ‘being a Christian’, they need to evolve into genre films – actioners, comedies, romantic comedies and dramas – all sorts of stories that happen to characters who possess an essentially Judaeo-Christian worldview. The audience is ready for that… in fact, they’re anxious to start seeing it. And Christians should have a leg up on other writers when it comes to generating stories. Because from the Book of Genesis to the next installment of Die Hard, the fundamental problem facing the human race – and the characters in your story – is human sin.
- More articles by Dan Goforth
- Riding on Faith in True-Life Scripts
- Cross Road to Film:The 'War Room' of Christian Filmmaking
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