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  • Bringing Spiritualism to the Screen – God Help You

    November 30th, 2009

    As I travel the country speaking to new groups of writers and attending pitchfests and conferences outside of Los Angeles, a certain trend in the types of material I hear has become clear and it alludes to a huge cultural difference between those who live in LA and NY and those who live elsewhere.

     

    At an LA-based pitching conference, perhaps 5 out of 100 pitches I receive revolve around spirituality, new age religion or some faith-infused plotline. But at recent trips to Santa Fe, Portland, and Dallas, I would say at least 40% of the total projects I was pitched or consulted on were based on spirituality in some form, including some sort of Native American angle or practice. Since Native Americans currently only make up about 5% of the U.S. population, why do people think this would be a big commercial success?

     

    And why is this observation of the connection between location and religion important? Because if no one in LA connects to this spiritual/new age/true believers movement, then why would we make a movie about it? Now, Los Angelinos are known for being progressive, spiritual and new age, but we’re more the organic, yoga, too lazy for real religion type of progressive. Screenwriters and producers in Los Angeles worship a different deity…and it’s green and fits in your wallet. I am convinced that this difference in attitude towards religion is what’s keeping many writers from writing a commercial project – because they think religion IS commercial…and it’s not.

     

    Religious types will often retort with how successful “Passion of the Christ” was – and it was – but that was an anomaly directed by Mel Gibson. Now, there is a huge book market for these types of projects and most of these pitches would make for great novels, just not movies.

     

    There is also a big and potentially profitable niche market for faith-based movies – “Fireproof” proved that one. However, this is a mostly Christian market and we all know how Christians feel when someone tries to horn in on Jesus. So, there really is no market for new age spirituality or Native American tradition. I cannot think of one company that is actively looking for anything like this. If I’m wrong, please – companies – tell me so because I got about 100 pitches I’d like to send your way.

     

    I respect how important spiritualism is to some people and if there is some sort of religious theme you would like to express through a completely unrelated story, that’s fine. Or maybe you read a passage in the Bible and it inspires an idea for a horror or action movie – that’s fine. Or maybe a character’s spiritual beliefs are a small part of his or her arc – that’s fine too. You just have to be aware of how much you are including the religious/spiritual aspects on the page. I understand trying to bring one’s religious beliefs to a larger audience – but that’s what Republicans are for, not screenwriters. As a general rule, if you want to write a commercial and mainstream Hollywood movie, keep your religious beliefs in your heart and your head, not on the page.

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