Dear Matt and Luke:
We just read through your story treatment of The Birth of Jesus. We love it. Love it. Seriously, “love” is not nearly the right word for what we feel about what will almost certainly become a perennial seasonal classic. I hope the two of you have made space for awards on your mantelpieces; I think it’s about to get very crowded up there!
We’ve shared this important piece of work around, including with the marketing folks and our intern, Chad. While everyone agrees that your vision for this story is critical and elemental, we do have a few notes that we feel will help this film reach the audiences who so desperately need to hear its message, while at the same time staying true to this timeless tale. You’ll find them below.
1. We’re a little worried about the title. The Birth of Jesus has a vintage feel to it; we need something a little more four-quadrant, which will bring in audiences of all ages. How do you feel about Christ: Origins? It’s punchy and gives us a template for sequels, if we go that route (Christ: Dead Sea Rising and Christ: The Final Chapter are two titles Chad suggested). Let us know.
2. Mary and Joseph are central characters and we love that they are clearly there for each other and involved with each other, no matter what. That’s a real Notebook-like vibe that date night audiences really go for. But you don’t give them a lot of dialogue that grounds their characters into their relationship. Can you punch up their scenes, give them some banter, and maybe inject some humor into it? A pregnancy and birth offer up a lot of opportunities for zany slapstick scenarios. Chad noted that Juno rode that basic idea to a screenplay Oscar, and he has a point. Think about it.
3. On that note: Channing Tatum as Joseph?
4. We were worried about the logistics of having a birth scene near a manger — it’s a little downmarket for our audiences — until marketing pointed out this gives us an opportunity to create a line of stuffed animals timed to the film release. That really helps us with the 10-and-under audience.
With that in mind, please give thought to how we can incorporate into the birth scene a group of wisecracking, animatronic livestock, who comment on the action. Also think about how we can make the livestock extensible beyond plush toys. We’re talking spin-off animated series and theme park characters here.
5. Chad’s idea here: Ariana Grande as a baby lamb who is Jesus’ first pal. Or even better: Sidekick! Then we can also get her to sing the movie theme song. We’ve got Charli XCX writing that. It’s gonna be huge.
6. The angel announcing the birth of Jesus to the shepherds is a powerful scene, one that’s really going to justify the CGI and 3D conversion. The thing we were wondering is why an angel — a supremely powerful creature — announces the birth of the single most important person in the world to… shepherds. We’re just not seeing the utility there, and the shepherds don’t really do much with the information.
Then Chad had a suggestion: What if the angel is secretly a fallen angel, and the shepherds aren’t really shepherds at all, but a secret order of demon worshippers disguised as shepherds, who have been waiting for centuries, at the ready, to kidnap the savior foretold by prophecy at the moment of his birth, and the fallen angel is telling them so they can put their dark plan into action? Now, that makes sense! Even better, we can have the sheep they guard act as spies for the forces of good — the lamb played by Ariana Grande can race to the inn to tell the other livestock, who will then form a woolly shield around Jesus. I get a lump in my throat just thinking about it.
7. Video game idea — Christ: Race to the Manger. Let’s talk to Electronic Arts about that.
8. This takes us to the Three Wise Men. Frankly, we were all a little confused by these characters. They sort of come out of nowhere and their reasons for offering up very expensive gifts are sketchy at best. So marketing and Chad spitballed it and came up with a couple of things we think you’re going to love. One, the three wise men are not from The East — they’re from The Future (which they call “The East” as future slang). Two, they’ve come from the future not just to give gifts, but to act as bodyguards for the baby Jesus against the demon-worshipping hordes. They are future ninjas for Christ.
Three, their gifts have changed slightly. One of them (who we see played by Idris Elba) brings a robot, who will teach Jesus about humanity and martial arts. The second one (Sarah Jessica Parker) will be bringing the traditional fragrances, only now they’re from Chanel — marketing will work out the deal. The third (Jack Black) brings gold, because gold. The battle scene between the Awesome Jesus Ninja Triad (it’s a zippier description, much better for action figure sales) and the demon worshipping hordes is going to be spectacular; we’re already negotiating with Yuen Woo-ping for the wire-fu scenes.
9. Also, to secure Chinese financing, we’ll have to move the location of the birth from Bethlehem to Shanghai. I’m sure we can find a way to make this canonically sound.
10. The only problem with the demon worshippers vs Future Ninjas subplot is that by necessity it pushes Joseph and Mary out of the narrative frame a little more than we would like. The good news is once again our intern Chad has come up with an ingenious solution — what if Joseph isn’t really the humble carpenter he’s been portrayed as, but has also traveled even further back in time than the Awesome Jesus Ninja Triad, because he knows they were defeated by the demon-worshipping hordes, and that he is Mary and Jesus’ only hope of survival? So the visit to Bethlehem, the trip to the inn, the birth in the manger are all set-up the real story of the film: The final confrontation between Joseph, Warrior of the 37th Century, and Asphalbelub, the fallen angel — who is also revealed to be secretly from the future, not to mention a Venusian/Murderbot hybrid.
(This is important because suddenly this story, previously magical — and let’s face it, maybe a little far-fetched — is now grounded in actual science! Because time-traveling warriors and murderbot hybrids are plausible in a physical universe. This is like how George Lucas explained the Force with Midi-chlorians — and boy, that cleared up a lot of questions for everyone.)
Naturally, we need to work on the details, but according to Chad, it all ends up with Joseph defeating Asphalbelub, putting Mary and Jesus on his timechopper (cleverly disguised as the manger this whole time!) and returning to the 37th Century, where Jesus learns fighting skills and matter manipulation from his robot guru before coming back down the time stream to take on the Romans, all of which leads up to the ultimate, final confrontation between him and Mecha-Caesar.
I think you’ll agree these new elements really work to strengthen the story of Jesus’ birth.
Also, we’ve made Chad a producer on the film.
Let us know what you think — after the new year, of course. We understand there are a few holidays to get through between now and then.
Peter Stone, VP of Story Development