By Brian Bird
My digging with Lee and Leslie Strobel produced a few other powerful subplots, which I also realized were essential for THE CASE FOR CHRIST. For instance, at the same time Lee was trying to debunk Leslie’s faith, as the awarding-winning legal affairs editor for the Chicago Tribune, he was also investigating a true cop-shooting story that ended up having uncanny parallels to his personal faith quest.
Meanwhile, his own troubled relationship with his father provided another a deeply poignant through-line, when he discovers that most of the great icons of atheism in history—Nietzsche, Freud, Camus, Voltaire, Wells, and Jung, among others—all had significant “father wounds” like he did. During the film, these additional elements keep the audience guessing, while all weaving together in a satisfying, organic way.
In all of this, I also hung into a maxim of screenwriting: “Never let the truth get in the way of a good story.” Here’s why: We’re not making a documentary film here. We’re a making a narrative film … an entertainment. It’s a completely different endeavor.
My job is to pull you into our world and make it so compelling you never want to leave. The worst thing that can happen is for the audience to trip over some aspect of the story and then spend the next minute thinking about what they are going to have as a midnight snack.
Sometimes true life doesn’t lay out neatly in a three-act structure. Sometimes in real life, the hero’s journey (character arc) doesn’t escalate in the right way, or resolve itself the way it needs to in a movie. When that’s the case, you take necessary license to make it all work.
In Lee Strobel’s case, much of his and Leslie’s story rolled out beautifully in movie structure—in fact, I would say approximately three-fourths of their true life in 1980 is there in the movie as it happened.
The rest is our job as storytellers trying to take audience members on such a compelling journey that it will change their lives for eternity.
Brian Bird is the screenwriter and co-producer of THE CASE FOR CHRIST. This piece first appeared on Outreach.com.