Want to get the creative juices flowing? Here are some different things to consider...
"Give me any two pages of the Bible and I'll give you a picture", Cecil B. DeMille
For illustration, here are some examples of how compelling plotlines can be developed from individual stories or texts from the Bible. Please feel free to choose your own biblical passages or stories for your own pitch.
(Genesis 49.1 - 33) A tear-jerker. An elderly widower with failing eyesight gathers his sons around his deathbed to pass on his final advice. Some of them have pleased him; others have been a big let-down. But which one will get his blessing - and why?
(1 Kings 3.16 - 28) A courtroom drama. Two prostitutes battle for custody of a baby.There’s a tragic death, bitter rivalry, the drama of a court case and a twist at the end. But who gets to keep the child?
(Proverbs 7.6 - 27) A neighbourhood tragedy. A curtain-twitcher spies on a neighbour as she seduces a local lad while her husband is away. The story features a desperate housewife, a hunky young man and a nosey neighbour. But does it end in a tragic death?
The Nick of Time
(Ecclesiastes 9.13 - 18) A war story. A small city is besieged by a powerful enemy army. A penniless but intelligent man comes up with a plan to save the day. However, after the war, his success is quickly forgotten. But what’s the plan and why did he fall by the wayside?
(Jeremiah 31.15 - 17) A wartime drama. A mother is devastated when her children are deported by enemy troops and taken to a foreign land. After initially refusing to be comforted, she is given concrete hope that one day they will return.
(Micah 7.5 - 7) A family drama. A man is betrayed both by neighbours and members of his own family. He is sustained only by his faith. The text deals with issues of trust, shame, hope and patience. But who are the enemies? And how do they betray him?
(Hebrews 13.3) A prison drama. A woman befriends a prisoner who is under lock and key. She learns that he is being tortured and begins to closely identify with his sufferings. But why is he in prison and what can she do to help?
(Acts 27.1 - 44) A vessel sets out on a long voyage, but one of the passengers is upsetting the crew with dire warnings. It's full of life-threatening action and ethereal messengers. How would this story have looked in say 1800 or look in 2500?
In his highly acclaimed book about writing screenplays, Save the Cat, Blake Snyder lists ten different premises, claiming that all movie plot lines fit into this. We asked writer and film enthusiast Dave Hopwood to take us through the ten premises with an eye for the parallel story in scripture.
Read the first premise below or download all 10 premises.
The first premise is Monster in the House: The frightening intruder who invades a confined area and must be beaten for good to prevail. Jaws would fit into the category, as would Jurassic Park, in fact most monster movies. Also films like The Day After Tomorrow, where the monster is the environment. But a movie like Fatal Attraction would fit too. Glen Close invades Michael Douglas’s life as a result of a disastrous one-night fling and begins to dismantle his family. The intruder does not need to be a supernatural one, just a powerful, destructive force.
This made me think immediately of David and Goliath.
If we take the Biblical account from 1 Samuel, chapter 17 and approach it through the door of the Monster in the House, where might it take us? Well, Goliath could be a vindictive intruder who invades a family home in order to rob or destroy. The very thing that happens in Firewall when Paul Bettany invades Harrison Ford’s house and holds the family hostage in order to force the father figure Harrison to offload millions of dollars into Bettany’s account.
So, who will stop the predator? The story of David and Goliath is known precisely because it is the young David who steps in when all the other older Israelites refuse to step up. So perhaps, in our intruder scenario, it’s not the father or older members of the family who defeat the monster, but the youngest member. Boy or girl. Approach the story of Goliath through this door and it might take you in unexpected directions.
Rather listen than read? Check out this dramatic reading of the book of Acts, recorded with a great cast by the Riding Lights Theatre company - some of whom have also appeared in Reel Issues Films Productions.
A Literary approach: This website has a proven global appeal for A level literary students, with fascinating background on how the Bible has influenced major texts from Shakespeare to Shelly and from Chaucer to Dickens. Check it out here with a section on the Bible here.
The Bible may seem like an unlikely source of ideas for a successful film. However, many Hollywood movies contain biblical themes – 2012, Atonement, I am Legend, Seven Pounds, The Devil’s Advocate, Chronicles of Narnia: Voyage of the Dawn Treader, The Matrix, The Shawshank Redemption and The Sixth Sense, to name a few.
This competition involves a tougher challenge than merely coming up with your own story and hoping to find a way to weave the Bible into it.
While you’ll need to stick broadly to the original biblical story or text, there’s also lots of room to be creative. This might involve filling in the blanks when things are left unsaid, exploring a key theme in more detail, or revising certain details for the 21st century (e.g. names, locations or imagery).
When reading a biblical story or text, try to boil it down to its essence. How would you sum up the story or passage’s key thought in a single sentence? If you feel drawn to a single verse, make sure you read it in context, as this will help you. If you’re struck by a particular story, think how it could be retold for a modern audience.
To help you find your way around the Bible, we’ve included our own Bible Style Guide. This will help you get to grips with how the Bible is structured, understand key terms and get a handle on its interpretation.
You can also use various versions of the Bible to inspire your pitch. You may want an easy-to-read translation like the Contemporary English Version, Good News Bible or The Message. You might prefer to look to some of the great phrases that have entered the English language, such as ‘the writing’s on the wall’.
DO feel free to do your own background research on a text or story that strikes you as interesting.
DON’T try to come up with a storyline yourself and then raid the Bible for a verse that fits.
DO develop an idea organically from the Bible so that your story feels genuine.
DON’T be afraid to use some artistic licence as you develop a storyline from your chosen passage.
DO go off the beaten track. There are lots of biblical stories or texts that have hardly ever been brought to life in the arts.
DON’T be afraid to push boundaries, but also don’t be controversial just for the sake of it.
DO review how you might simply retell biblical narratives.
DON'T assume that narratives should be retold in the original historical contexts – let your imagination go.