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Professor McDougal demonstrates the fine art of screenwriting to student Keith Osmun.    Photo by Nathan Machard
Professor McDougal demonstrates the fine art of screenwriting to student Keith Osmun. Photo by Nathan Machard
Edward McDougal, who had directed a number of movies in the past, has come to Taylor Fort Wayne to teach a course on script writing. Classes so far have been tough, and students are coping with large amounts of homework, including a project to finish a 100-page screenplay by the end of the course. While all the work is trying, Professor McDougal is confident that it will help his students write a better screenplay.

Prof. McDougal is no stranger to the difficulties of screenplay writing. His most recent film, “Dog Jack,” is based on a children’s book about a runaway slave who took to following a group of Union soldiers during the Civil War. However, before the movie script was complete, significant deviations were made from the original story in the book so that the movie would be more suitable to a larger audience. Such changes were difficult for the author, but necessary for the movie. Prof. McDougal has warned his students many times that such changes will often prove necessary in the Hollywood environment.

But it’s not just tampering with creativity that can be a challenge to writers seeking to make their way in Hollywood. Christians face their own problems as well. Prof. McDougal gives one example. “We invited a secular group of adults to watch the first cut of our latest feature [“Dog Jack”]. A Civil War chaplain mentions the word “Christ” and, immediately, one of our attendees suggested that he use “God” instead. What other film character is so carefully kept out of feature films by studio executives than a Christian who radiates the love and power of Jesus Christ?”

But the biggest problem for Christians is not censorship of their message, especially in this day of independent films. Rather, it’s presenting that message with class and respect for the audience.

“It goes without saying that we need to tell good stories and be at the top of our craft,” Prof. McDougal points out. “If we want the secular world to watch our movies and hear their messages with all of the competition out there. But the world has had no trouble listening to Bach or Flannery O’Connor or Graham Greene and holding their works dear to their hearts. They get away with lifting up the name of Christ in their music and writing without turning off their secular audiences, so why can’t we?”

The same could be said to many Christians who object to the idea of “Christian cinema” entirely, saying the movies are too crass and sinful to be usable as an outreach. Rather than reject it as a lost cause, Prof. McDougal points out, “If we accept John Bunyon and C.S. Lewis’ ministry as valid, then there is a place for the Christian writer and director in Hollywood to bring fun and truth to their audiences. Paul didn’t shun preaching in Rome because of the level of its sinfulness. It’s the poor who need a physician.”

It’s not just cinema where Prof. McDougal hopes his students will have an impact. Ultimately, he hopes to see their writing being a positive influence on the world regardless of what medium they write for. “More than anything else, I want to see them seize their potential as Christian writers and see themselves as members of the body of Christ.”


Nathaniel Chen is a professional writing major at Taylor University Fort Wayne.

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Nathaniel Chen

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