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4 Reasons Why Homeschoolers Should Study Screenwriting (and get English Comp credit for it.)

May 25, 2017

If you have a budding homeschool writer or filmmaker, they should be learning to write screenplays. Screenplays represent a unique literary genre that forms the foundation of one of the most influential forms of art and entertainment in our world today, movies and other visual stories.


I’ll begin with two quotes:

“Film is the literature of our age”  AND  “Those who tell the stories shape the culture”

script-tight

The first is by Steven Spielberg. I’ll reveal who said the second one in a moment.

These two quotes remind us how influential and pervasive stories through film have become in our culture. No one can deny the influence of these stories, whether told on a cinema screen or a mobile phone. My 30+ years as a professional filmmaker have convinced me of the importance of raising up a new generation of filmmakers and writers who will take us into the future.

So here are the four main arguments I’ll make to encourage you to consider screenwriting as an important field of study for your creative homeschooled student.

  • Screenplays are a unique literary genre, deserving disciplined study.

  • Screenplays make use of the major elements of all good creative writing.

  • Screenwriting is the foundation of a highly influential cultural expression, movies.

  • Christians can make better movies.

First, as Mr. Spielberg argues, screenplays made into movies are the pervasive form of storytelling in our modern culture. And, they truly are a literary genre unto themselves. They require discipline and study to master their unique form and storytelling conventions. For instance, did you know that screenplays are always written in the present tense? That’s because all we can write is what we see on the screen in front of us. We can’t make full use of inner thoughts of characters. A well-written screenplay reveals their choices through the ways they act when challenged. If you have a budding screenwriter, this is a great creative challenge.

Secondly, screenplays make use of the same storytelling elements found in other literary forms, such as short stories and novels. For instance, we must create interesting and dimensional characters, devise interesting plots with rising conflict, and draw our audience into the story with vivid descriptive language and compelling themes that touch our emotions while entertaining us.

Third, most people don’t understand the immense importance of the screenplay as the foundation of all movies. It has been said that it’s possible to make a bad film from a good script, but it’s impossible to make a great film from a poor script. It’s like the blueprint, foundation, and framing of a movie. Of course, movies–good and bad–exert tremendous influence in our culture.

That leads us to my final point

…making films that are powerful and influential and reflect a Christian worldview. I believe all Truth is God’s Truth, and that all Beauty reflects His Glory. I hope to envision and equip young storytellers to follow God’s call to speak powerfully to culture through many forms of films and videos. Most of us admit that few popular films that are labelled “Christian” exhibit the highest literary and artistic reach we are capable of. There was a time when the Church led the way in the arts. We should aim that high.

Now, to the second quote; “Those who tell the stories shape the culture.” It’s from Aleister Crowley, the famous British occultist in the early 20th century. His vision was to undermine the Christian worldview and values of his culture, and he argued for a takeover of popular storytelling to achieve his end. He saw the potential.

I have had the privilege of teaching many passionate and creative young homeschoolers who are learning to tell powerful stories of their own. I am so encouraged by them, and they give me great hope for the future. They are learning to tell stories that change the world.


For further reading: There are a zillion screenwriting blogs out there, but one I especially like is The Rabbit Room. They have a film section, plus many other forums that, to me, represent some of the best writing and thinking about the arts in the Church today.

Ministry Media Audit

May 12, 2017

002-laptopPeriodically, and especially when you are beginning to plan a media strategy or campaign, it’s important to understand where you have been and where you are right now.

In the marketing world, this is called a social media audit and competitive analysis. The goal is to examine what you have been doing, historically, to help guide your next steps.

I’m going to tweak the language here to better fit media ministry teams, but there are a lot of resources out there that provide various kinds of social media audit checklists, templates, and advice. I also assume that your past media presence may have not been exclusively in the new/social media space.

As we look at an existing media ministry, large or small, here are some key points we want to study:

  • Current Media Activities and Content
  • Current Media Presence
  • Current Audience
  • Current Performance
  • Our Persona in these channels and in this content
  • “Competitors” – Analysis

Here’s a more detailed breakdown of each section. You’ll want to make lists and gather information on:

  1. Current Media Activities and Content
    • Projects (broadcasts, distribution, and campaigns of various kinds)
    • Content Assets (films, programs, recordings, and other media we own or create)
  1. Current Media Presence
    • “Traditional” media (TV & Radio stations, print distribution, etc.)
    • Social/New media (web sites, blogs, social pages, accounts, etc.)
  1. Current Audience
    • Size (overall, and by channel, above)
    • Description (demographics, personas, and how they compare with your Objectives)
  1. Current Performance
    • Growth (Do you have historical numbers?)
    • Compare with Objectives (If you have existing objectives, do a comparison. If you are creating new Objectives, how does this fit?)
    • What kinds of content have been most effective in reaching your goals for each media channel?
  1. Our Persona in these channels and in this content
    • Ways we present ourselves (Do you have a consistent public ‘face’? Do you feel that our identity is appropriate to your Objectives and ministry Context?)
    • Consistency across your media channels and content
    • Consistency with your Objectives
  1. “Competitors” – Analysis
    • Like-Minded: Are there others in this same ministry space? (Objectives, Content, Success, Strategies, etc.)
    • Others: Are there others, even opposition, who are influencers in your area? (Objectives, Content, Success, Strategies, etc.)
    • What can you learn from others in your ministry space? (Things you might like to imitate? Things that seem to work toward your Objectives? Things you want to avoid?)

If you take the time to dig into these questions in more detail, it will help you see our strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and to help guide your Persona, Follow-Up, and Content development.

This content is part of what I teach in the Foundations of Media Strategy course at MissionMediaU. Check it out if you want to learn more.

 

Icons made by Freepik from http://www.flaticon.com is licensed by CC 3.0 BY

Periodic Table of Instructional Design –

December 2, 2016

Periodic Table of Instructional Design – a Fun and helpful infographic http://ow.ly/yrhh306LE3Z #onlineeducation #instructionaldesign

I spend part of my time now teaching and developing online courses. This handy infographic gives dos and don’ts related to everything from learner interactions to behind-the-scenes technical considerations.

periodic-table-small

Now Streaming – “The Enemy God” indigenous film

November 28, 2016

I’m really pleased to announce that a feature-length film I produced, “The Enemy God” is now available for streaming rental or purchase on Vimeo On Demand. Watch the trailer here, then, just click on the “From $2.99” button on the video to rent or purchase.

The Enemy God from Tom Khazoyan on Vimeo.

This multi-award-winning film tells the story of a Yanomamö shaman and his search for the truth about the spirits he served. It is a powerful, true story, told from the point of view of an indigenous people group from the Amazon rainforest.

Pinhole photo from Crystal Bridges museum

July 6, 2016

I posted a pinhole photo from Crystal Bridges museum last week. This is from my #Rolleiflex #mediumformat camera on #kodaktmax400
I love the spaces in this museum as much as the artwork in the galleries. Beautifully done.
#architecture #crystalbridges http://ow.ly/i/kXMKH

crystal-bridges-empty-gallery

My dramatic feature script, “Sand Devils”

March 7, 2016

My dramatic feature screenplay, “Sand Devils” is now a Finalist at the 2016 Nashville Film Festival. I’m really grateful to know this redemptive story, set among Dinka refugees in Sudan, is touching some hearts. They had over 1600 entries in total this year, so I feel very honored to be among the 8 dramatic feature screenplay finalists. http://ow.ly/ZbU3Q

NFF 2016 logo

Storytelling 101 – Why one version works and the other does not.

January 29, 2016

I saw this short animated film today from a Facebook share. It’s called “The Present” and it has won a bazillion awards at film festivals. It’s touching, simple, visual, emotional – all of the things we know makes an idea “stick.” The comments in Vimeo and on FB posts are pretty uniformly positive. It’s definitely worth a viewing.

The Present from Jacob Frey on Vimeo.

Now, for a comparison.

Facebook is so helpful to give us the “people also shared” links on this stuff, so we can sometimes stumble on other interesting items (anything to keep us swiping and clicking.)

So, I took the bait and clicked on this link:

http://9gag.com/gag/aXXWodz

It’s a comic version of the exact same story. For some reason, it doesn’t affect me the same way as the short film. From looking at the comments (language-warning), it doesn’t have the same effect on readers either. Just a different audience?

I’d suggest it’s a radically different visual and storytelling style. It’s graphic, static, and less warm-and-fuzzy, for sure. Also, notice that, in contrast to the film version, the story is told through dialogue – especially the boy’s feelings toward the dog. What was left shown and un-said in the film was expressed definitely and very on-the-nose.

What other differences do you see? Think about the difference in the impact of each version and think about what you can learn.

(Note, this comic is just a clipping and not the whole comic. Click on the link above to see the whole thing.)

3-legged dog