Filmmakers Guild workshop: Cheryl McKay – It Starts With Story

By March 12, 2018 No Comments

Cheryl McKay, a screenwriter whose work includes The Ultimate Gift and co-writing Indivisible, confessed, “Rejection changed the course of my life.”

She had my attention.

“Have you ever had a dream that God said ‘No’ to? Well, I did. I was going to be an actress. I was going to be famous,” thought McKay as a young girl.

But she relayed how God had other plans for her. McKay was kicked out of acting school because she wasn’t good enough. Her teacher told her she had a better aptitude for the production side.

So God redirected her path into writing, where she’s found her niche and purpose. He’s used her to impact the culture with her screenplays and an uncompromising set of principles has won her favor in the industry.

Within her talk chalk full of practical tips and tools for writers, she intertwined the need to blend your faith with your art. She reminded us that from Romans 8:28 that He can use difficult circumstances for our good.

In diving into the nuts and bolts of writing treatments and screenplays, she emphasized the need to get your exciting incident, often dubbed the ‘inciting incident,’ into your treatment by page 10. Most Hollywood readers won’t read past page 10, so she insisted you need to get your event that radically upsets the balance of the main character’s life within that first 10 pages.

She also coached the writers to give your audience an emotional ride that’s satisfying. You do that by mixing up the ‘tempo’ of your screenplay by interrupting the heavy or serious subject matter with humor, or you risk overwhelming and exhausting your audience. McKay showed scenes from The Ultimate Gift to demonstrate her point where the talented child actress, Abigail Breslin, went from discussing her fears about dying of cancer to a light-hearted exchange where she played matchmaker for her mother and the main character.  

But perhaps McKay’s most sobering warning was exhorting her fellow writers to never write anything into a script that causes the actors to sin in order to play the role. Whether it be taking the Lord’s name in vain, or asking someone to remove their clothing (no matter the context whether sexual or not), as Christians, we cannot compromise biblical commands and principles as a means to get our foot in the door somewhere under the auspices of using it as a stepping stone to open doors later to faith-based work. She reiterated that’s not how it works, and that’s not how God works.

“Ask God to open the right door for you,” McKay insisted. “Don’t compromise on that.”

McKay pointed out that we’re in a world where movies create movements (like how Stephen Kendrick shared how God used the film Courageous to revive prayer within the church).

She asked, “How do you want to shape the culture for Christ? You never know the ripple effect you’ll have.”

“Writing is a legacy,” McKay determined.

She ended with an inspiring quote by William James, “The best use of a life is to spend it on something that will outlast you.”


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