Film Arts Teachers Outline a Christ-Centered Approach to Storytelling » Liberty News

Durrell Nelson (left) and Michael Torres teach a screenwriting course for film arts students (Photos by Ross Kohl)

Creating movie or TV scripts as a Christian should be more than just setting an intention and an obstacle, inventing characters, and letting the page fill with text. When Christians create through their faith, using their God-given gifts, it becomes a form of worship toward their Creator, according to two Liberty University film arts professors, Zaki Gordon Center.

Professors Michael Torres and Durrell Nelson share this approach to storytelling in their recently published textbook, “Screenwriting: An Adventure into Wonder.”

While Liberty’s film arts curriculum has always taught the intersection of storytelling and Christian faith, the concept for the manual was born out of the realization that there were few to no resources that taught how a screenwriter can use his faith to influence his craft.

“From what we’ve looked at over the decades, I don’t think there’s been a playbook on screenwriting that starts with God and how he created us,” Torres said. “(This manual) is written for screenwriters and begins by telling them that first and foremost they are a child of God. Trying to get students to own that and think about it as they create is what we want – bringing who we are as God’s creation and followers of Christ into how and what we create.

Reflecting the three-act structure of a screenplay, the book is divided into three sections. It opens with an explanation of how every human being is created in the image of God, encouraging the scriptwriters to accept their conception as a child of God and to use their gifts to tell their personal stories through their relationship with him. While writing the book for screenwriting, Torres and Nelson said this approach could be applied to any art form.

“I personally believe that since the image of God is in every human being, whether Christian or not, any art that comes out of it is ultimately a gift from God,” Nelson explained. “We took that starting point and then looked at how we normally teach screenwriting. The book still has all the basics of screenwriting in the second section, but it begins by talking about how we are all created with the ability to tap into the creative parts of ourselves.

At the end of each chapter, or “scene,” readers are given a writing exercise that helps them reflect on new aspects of their relationship with God, their personal story, and how best to tell it in a screenplay.

The third and final act, Nelson said, “burdens you with the responsibility to create from the heart of God.” This core—the emotional, God-inspired stuff in their story—can often fall aside when students focus solely on the formatting and story beats of their screenplay.

“After teaching them the nuts and bolts of writing a story, most students take a very structured mathematical approach to following the formula,” Nelson said. “What tends to happen when they just focus on that is they leave out the heart of the story. They don’t know what’s at stake. They don’t look at the big picture. This (manual) helps them to start writing with a good heart.

The Cinematic Arts Department has already started using “Screenwriting: An Adventure into Wonder” in its screenwriting classes.

“We want (the students) to recognize that the whole business begins with God,” Torres added. “Anything you do can be a cult, and your life can change as a result. First and foremost, they think about their relationship with God, then wonder why they are writing this story, whatever it is. We hope to inspire people with this idea.

Nelson has over 30 years of film experience as an actor, director, producer, screenwriter and stunt coordinator. He is the director and producer of the feature films “Texas Rein” and “Waking in Southport”, and director of the second unit of the television pilot “Eleanor’s Bench”. As a professional SAG actor, his credits include “Drop Dead Diva”, “Killing Lincoln”, “Jag”, “An American Carol”, “Eleanor’s Bench”, “A Haunting”, and “X-Files”. Durrell is an award-winning screenwriter and recipient of the prestigious Jerome Lawrence Award for Playwriting. He holds an MFA in creative writing from Queens University at Charlotte and an MFA in professional writing from the University of Southern California.

A 30-year veteran of film and television production, Torres has written, produced and directed projects ranging from 30-second spots to feature films. For a decade, Michael worked as chief producer and director of gospel docudramas, music videos and an award-winning original musical “Adventures to a Colorful Life.” More recently, he wrote and directed the award-winning short film Paper Football. He holds a doctorate. in Communication from Regent University.

Over its nine-year run, Liberty’s Cinematic Arts Program has developed seven feature films, a television pilot, and a short film. The two-year immersion cohort for the BS in Film Production and Content Development allows students to focus solely on filmmaking. In addition to creating their own short film and business plan, students earn at least one IMDb credit on a professional film project.

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