So You Wanna Be a Screenwriter?

Have you ever watched a Hollywood film or television sitcom and thought, “I could do that!” Today we’ll chat with LaVonne McIver James, founder of Faith in Films Forum, to learn more about this field.

 Welcome to Words That Keep, LaVonne. Tell us, how long have you been writing?

I started writing creatively after graduate school. As an undergraduate, I worked as a reporter for a local newspaper, and  I was Editor-in-Chief of my college newspaper, so I’ve been writing for over twenty years.  Writing is something that I am compelled to do. If I didn’t make one cent from writing, I would still write.  If I received no accolades for writing, I would still write. If I’m not writing, I’m thinking about writing.  I have all these stories bouncing around in my head just waiting to get out.          

How did you get involved in screen writing?

I took a course, “Using Film in Public Relations” in graduate school. Students were required to write a very short script. I was hooked after that class. I completed my first script about a year later.

What other kinds of writing do you do?

I am a published short fiction writer,  and I am working on a non-fiction inspirational book.

In what ways is screen writing similar to novel writing?

All storytelling is conflict in motion. Without conflict, there is no drama.  Also, whether you’re writing a novel or a screenplay, you must create well-developed, interesting  characters that undergo a transformation. Otherwise, readers or viewers will not invest emotionally in the characters.   I think an obvious similarity is that whether you are crafting a story for the page or the screen, there must be something compelling at stake. If the stakes aren’t high enough; if obstacles don’t escalate,  you lose your audience.

Agreed! Without conflict you end up with a long home-movie–the kind you finagle your neighbors into watching, only to find them dozing off halfway in. In what ways is screenwriting different?

Screenwriting can be somewhat  formulaic. The three act structure must be followed with very little room for deviation unless you are writing an art film. With novel writing, you have more room for creativity (structurally speaking).

 Our family loved Chasing the Giants and my daughter was very impacted by To Save a Life. Do you think we will continue to see great Christian films on the big screen? What is the state of the Christian film industry?

The Industry has undergone a  transformation in the last ten years for two reasons: the success of “Passion of the Christ” and Christian filmmakers who began making movies that appeal to Christians and non-Christians.  In addition, the more recent trend of churches making movies that make money has contributed to the success of the industry overall. This wasn’t always the case. There was  a period when most Christian movies by Christians were about the end of times or based on a Biblical figure. Now, many Christian films are family entertainment with Christian themes interweaved.

Interesting. So basically, Christian films are becoming more organic. Where do you see the Christian film industry in ten years?

I hope the industry continues to produce films that appeal to all audiences.  If Christians are to influence culture, they must become the primary storytellers. One of my favorite quotes is from Plato: “Those who tell stories rule society.” In our digital generation, filmmakers are the primary storytellers.

One of the greatest challenges for many Christian writers is finding ways to create dynamic, authentic characters living out real-life drama without watering down their message or sermonizing the reader. How do you keep your stories edgy enough to reach our sensory-saturated culture without adding ear-blistering profanities? 

You must write a great story. 

So once again, story is king! What are you working on now?

For the first time, I am working with a writing partner on a script about a female FBI agent. I can’t say more about it at this point. In addition, I am in the beginning stages of a project based on the true life story of a Christian woman who was the victim of medical malpractice.  Both projects are very special to me. I am also working on raising funds for a television project. 

In addition to my writing projects, I am developing a seminar series for Christian Screenwriters.

Interesting. If a writer wanted to try their hand at screen-writing, how might they begin?

I would read scripts, more scripts, and then more scripts.

LaVonne LaVonne McIver James is a thought leader in the Christian film community, an accomplished writer, and an up-and-coming producer.  She will be speaking at the Kingdomwood Christian Film Festival in Atlanta, Ga. September 30 – October 2. 

Find out more about her, her films, and her writing at the following websites:

FaithinFilmsForum 
ChristianScreenwrite
Favor Entertainment

Remember, for the month of August, I’m giving away one free three-page critique to one lucky reader per post. To be entered into the drawing, leave a comment, fb share this post, or tweet it. (You can be entered three times, one for each method.)

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About Jennifer Slattery

Novelist and speaker Jennifer Slattery, also writing as Jen Pheobus, uses humor, grace, and truth to inspire God's children to live abundant, Christ-centered lives. She does content editing for Firefly, a southern fiction imprint with Lighthouse Publishing of the Carolinas, and is a regular contributor to Crosswalk.com; Internet Cafe Devotions; Faith, Friends and Chocolate; and manages the social media for Takin’ it to the Streets, a ministry that serves Omaha’s working poor and homeless. She’s placed in numerous writing contests and her work has appeared in numerous compilations, magazines, and e-zines.

Posted on August 16, 2011, in Screen writing, writing and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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