clock menu more-arrow no yes

Filed under:

Finding great movies for families - part two

FADE IN:EXT. ANCIENT AMERICA, SHORELINE - DAYNEPHI, SON OF LEHI watches his children play on the beach. A small settlement is on the hill behind him. NEPHI (Voice Over)I know that the Jews do understand the things of the prophets, and there is none other people that understand the things which were spoken unto the Jews like unto them, save it be that they are taught after the manner of the things of the Jews. But behold, I, Nephi, have not taught my children after the manner of the Jews.INT. MODERN-DAY BYU CAMPUS, JOSEPH F. SMITH BUILDING ROOM B092 - DAYDENNIS J. PACKARD, a BYU professor of philosophy, is teaching a class on \"Great Cinema for Families\" during BYU's Campus Education Week. As he speaks, we recognize it was his voice that just read Nephi's words from the Book of Mormon. DENNISNephi is talking about a way of thinking that can help us recognize great movies. When Nephi speaks about the \"manner of the Jews,\" he is talking about a certain type of education, which is to read between the lines and draw inferences from things. WOMAN 1I don't see what that has to do with watching movies. Movies don't require thought, they just require staring blankly and turning off your brain. DENNISWhat is a good film? Here is the \"manner of the Jews\" answer: A good film is one that invites us to discern and to feel in a more divine way. WOMAN 1A film is a religious experience? DENNISA good film is one that invites us to understand in a more godly, prophetic way about the characters and about what happens to them. A story becomes a religious experience because to understand it you have to think and feel in a more divine prophetic way. MAN 1We have to invest ourselves. WOMAN 1I don't think my kids will do this. I don't think I can do this. DENNISWe can learn. Remember when Nephi asked the angel about the meaning of the tree in his father's dream? The angel doesn't spell it all out. He's really stingy. He shows Nephi things until Nephi comes to understanding. He's bringing Nephi along. That is the \"manner of the Jews.\" Watching a movie in this close way is a religious refining experience.LIAM BROWN, who is assisting Dennis in the class, projects the Web site CampusStudios.com onto the classroom's large screen. Liam clicks on the menu word \"distribution.\" He then clicks on \"learn\" and then \"reviewing,\" which brings up an online course for learning how to understand, enjoy and critique movies. DENNISFor a movie to give our families this experience it needs a good plot. In a good plot you can begin to sense what could happen, but you have to be real attentive to the details. We are not looking for something that starts off and you don't know where it is going. But we are also not interested in the obvious. We want one where you get a glimmer of where the story is going IF we pay close attention to the details.Liam scrolls down on the Web site to where it has the \"Four Keys to a Great Movie.\"Great Plot. Great Characters. Great Theme. Great Filming DENNIS (Reading off the Web-site course)The key idea when we talk about great plots is something called a line of action. A great plot will have several lines of action, or what you might call subplots. The key is to understand what a line of action is. A line of action is a sequence of scenes in which a character is pursuing something. WOMAN 2What if I don't care what they are pursuing? DENNISDifferent lines of action are obviously going to resonate with different age groups in different ways. However, if a line of action is developed well, meaning that the line of action preserves some kind of dramatic tension throughout the film, we can end up caring about almost any reasonable action a person is pursuing. WOMAN 1That's it? DENNISThere is more to plot. As the scenes develop the character's objective becomes clearer. At the same time the difficulties in achieving the objective increase. The stakes rise. Then, the character either gets what he wants — or doesn't.Liam scrolls down more to show various clips from the movie \"To Kill a Mockingbird.\" He clicks on the first clip that shows the character Scout trying to figure out how to relate to other people.SLOW FADE TO:The last clip from \"To Kill a Mockingbird\" is ending, showing how Scout's character has grown. DENNISWe want, at the end of a line of action, to have some bang up scene where something really insightful or decisive occurs that is a growth on character of that person. Bad, or not very good movies, are plot-driven. They start on the plot, and the character is trying to accomplish something, but by the time you get to the end they are the very same person they started being from the beginning. There's no change. MAN 1So we want a story about somebody who is really bad at the beginning and is all sweet at the end. DENNISThat's not what we are looking for. We are looking for characters that we can sympathize with right from the beginning and yet have got some stretch where they can grow and develop. And by the end of the movie, whether they accomplish their goal or not, something significant has happened to that character where he has grown. WOMAN 2That doesn't mean we have to like the character's growth. For it to be a good film, that character's change can't contradict eternal values. DENNISExactly. This is one way you can judge. The change or growth needs to be something that we can agree with. In this \"manner of the Jews\" way of looking, these are the places where the Lord, the prophets, the characters and the audience come together. And we are all saying, \"Yes! That's right. I agree with that.\" That's what you are looking for. WOMAN 1We are supposed to learn something in movies? DENNISThe movie needs to teach you something interesting about how to deal with different people, how to think about your father, various things like that. WOMAN 1So we need to avoid any depiction of evil. DENNISOn the contrary. Brigham Young built a theater in Salt Lake City to \"show on the stage the character of evil.\" It isn't trying to show how bad the rest of the world is. No — he wants to show the character, the nature of evil. WOMAN 1You mean graphic violence is good? DENNISWe are looking for more like what the Old Testament stories do. Those stories often show all the build-up to the act without showing the act. They then show the attitude and consequences afterwards. This method of showing evil shows the nature, the mindset of the person committing that evil. That's what we have to have. WOMAN 1So I'm looking for more evil . . . DENNISA lot of movies are just full of evil. Somebody's pursuing something, and then there is an evil person, and evil here, evil there. And we are just showing all this evil. In the end we don't understand the evil, it's as confusing to us as ever. We don't understand their thinking, where they went wrong. We don't understand the character of evil as a result. In a good movie you understand the nature of evil.Woman 1 looks satisfied and nods. Dennis walks to Liam, says something inaudible to him, and then addresses the class again. DENNISAsk yourself, as you watch the beginning of this movie, what this film is about. Look at the little details, the way that it is shot, the music, everything about it. If it is a great film, every little detail helps.Liam clicks on the computer and pushes a button on the DVD player.INT. PROJECTION SCREEN - DAYCold, stark mountains give way to warm picturesque Austrian valleys. A young woman sings about escaping to the hills when she feels lonely. It is the opening to \"The Sound of Music.\"INT. SMITH BUILDING ROOM B092 - DAYClose on the class as they watch the screen. Their faces reflect that, even though they have seen this movie before, they are looking with new eyes. They are making inferences. The are watching \"after the manner of the Jews.\"FADE OUT


Writer's Disclaimer: This \"screenplay\" is based on actual events at a real class during the 2009 BYU Campus Education Week. In certain cases incidents, characters and timelines have been changed for dramatic purposes. Certain characters may be composites, or entirely fictitious. Most of the dialogue by Dennis Packard is accurate — although some has been altered for dramatic purposes. No animals were harmed in the writing of this article.E-mail: mdegroote@desnews.com