Script Notes on The Birth of Jesus
Posted on December 22, 2014 Posted by John Scalzi 107 Comments
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
Yes, I know. I’m going to hell for this one.
We could probably do some “Cross-promotion” (GET IT?) by providing holiday cooking projects we could share on Today or GMA.
I don’t know why you’re going to get hell for it. You’re making fun of Hollywood, not holidays.
Oh, man, I think I love you! :-)
This is really how these things go, isn’t it?
This is hysterical. As a Christian I thought I would be offended, but the humor is undeniable. I can Totally see this happening in Hollywood.
Thanks for a smile on a gloomy Monday afternoon.
Dude, you gotta quit going to those meetings in L.A.
All hail Chad the Intern.
Needs more musical.
Peter Stone rocks!
Can we find a way to make the Romans a time-travelling group of US Marines, and then we can have Michael Bay to direct?
There’s more interesting people there anyway.
I love it!
simpsons did it.
This story just begs for Jean-Claude Van Damme in a dual role.
Just hope Eric Idle doesn’t sue you for plagiarism, Scalzi!
I’m looking forward to purchasing a Mecha-Caesar actionfigure.
They are future ninjas for Christ.
Another game spinoff right here, and Chad didn’t even notice it. He is so fired.
Needs more cowbell.
(I loved this post. A lot.)
Quick question; is Chad seeing anyone?
[hiccuping with laughter] That was *hysterical*! Thank you :).
Still a better movie than Kirk Cameron’s Saving Christmas. :)
But seriously, brilliant stuff as always!
Well I just printed it out & put it on my door at work (in a church) if that is any help.
The only thing that makes this implausible is that Hollywood would never give an unpaid intern a producer’s credit.
In the circles of some Theologians, Hell is defined as no more and no less than:” Mankind’s Common Grave”, and we are all going there someday.
I’m with M.A: those meetings in L.A. are messing with your head in an admittedly funny way.
Love the humor! Reminds me of the interview with the innkeeper you wrote a while back.
I am somewhat (but not greatly) mortified to say I found myself agreeing with Chad’s points including a franchise with a slew of sequels squeezing the story for all its worth.
How can you go wrong with “Jesus:Origins” and the three magi doing a 12 Monkeys / Terminator thing.
I would totally go see this movie on Christmas Day.
The animatronic animals need to have a musical dance number where they shake their butts at the camera.
Oh, Chad, you missed the best parts — the prequel trilogy (real “wrath of god Old Testament stuff” to quote Ghostbusters) and the sequel trilogy (hello Book of Mormom tie-in!). Gotta think big-picture here, my man.
If it was for HBO they would ‘game of thrones’ it and add a bunch of sexposition and nudity.
Uhm…awesome! As a pastor with a masters and working on a doctorate I have to say that there might be some recent archaeological scholarship which might be able to back up the Awesome Jesus Ninja Triad. One item to note, there was a span of about 2 years there between birth and the Awesome Ninja Triad… a time traveling gag could be used there somehow.
Funnily enough, the Saxons totally agree with you abut Gabriel announcing to *shepherds*.
In the Heliand, a Gospel written for Saxons in the 800s, Gabriel comes to Theng Joseph’s Horseguards to announce the birth. It was evidently inconceivable that the birth of such an important person would be announced to mere Shepherds.
Joseph and Mary are high status Thengs. They are welcomed at Hill Fort Bethlehem with open arms, given the best rooms in the house (Saxon hospitality would stand for no less), wrap Jesus in cloth of gold and jewels and then lay Him in a manger.
Hollywood thinking has been around for millennia.
(Though honestly, the person who wrote that Gospel was genius.)
I love it! However, I feel that Chad has overlooked an important ingredient for December 2015; you really need some orcs for all those people who don’t know what to do with their lives now the Hobbit is wrapped, and if you swap elks for camels as well you’ve got a real vibe with Thranduil which should resonate with key demographics. It’s going to be great!
I’m pretty sure these two are the team who produced Noah. After all, fallen angels as rock monsters seems like it came from this brain trust.
“Christ: Race to the Manger” could be another Temple Run clone.. Hey, it worked for Oz and Brave, why not this too?
You know what they say, though, right? You go to heaven for the climate, and hell for the company. This was hysterical! :-D
Sometimes you are really, really scary.
pax / Ctein
Satan called–Your room is ready
When am I going to learn not to read Scalzi’s blog at the office? It is SO hard to explain the muffled explosions of guffaws from my cube.
Nicely played, sir. For someone who claimed just last week that his brain wasn’t up to doing much more than cat photos for the rest of the year, you are quite impressively coherent.
I thought you liked Peter Jackson’s The Hobbit?
When your agent reads this piece of hot-awesomeness s/he is going to be very angry you did not release it as an amazon.com single.
Sitting here and wondering if you’ve ever read Lamb by Christopher Moore.
The time travel, robot, and demon parts added into the basic Christmas story remind me of “Rise of Endymion.”
Brilliant! I note that the VP shares a name with another person who thought the Christ story sucked and apparently wanted a more palatable alternative (see Matthew 16:21-22).
Thank you. I soooo needed this. I’m sitting in my father-in-law’s study “checking my email” and trying to choke back the guffaws of sacrilegious laughter.
It’s not sacrilegious laughter. Mocking the suits of Hollywood is good, holy work.
But, you said nothing about lens flare – twinkling stars, campfires, and epic battle scenes are all improved by lens flare! I know this director who can show you how to appropriately inject it into your movie…
Please don’t let me bust out laughing during Midnight Mass. Please don’t let me bust out laughing during Midnight Mass…
I was laughing so hard – it is classic Hollywood! And you know, they’ve had a reboot coming for a few centuries now… well done.
That’s a little terminator for my thinking, not that it’s a bad thing, I’m looking forward to the new movie, but it’s like the Pocahontas story line being remade over and over again, just in new forms.
Can’t believe no one has beaten me to this yet but…
Future Ninjas for Christ is the name of my next (Christian?) band :)
I think I’ll stay in and watch the Star Trek Christmas episode on Netflix, thanks.
Joseph as Warrior of the 37th Century could also explain this whole virgin birth thing, using nanites or something.
Yeah well, it sounds good, but I can tell you right now that all it promises to do is turn into another one of those Angels From Space things, and they’ve only been done about ten thousand million sesquipedillion times.
So. Is it Old Man’s War or Redshirts that is going to have, uh, problems with its translation to live action film? (I know, I know, you cannot say one way or the other. Also, I’m so kidding.)
I think the lamb should be played by Lamb Chop, just sayin’.
Needs more females. Chad had nothing to say about Mary’s cousin Elizabeth? Disappointed, hollywood.
I scared my cats outa the room, I laughed so hard! This is a howl.
Wondering what tour twitter ratio is between rage and mirth?
So, the thing where your writing was bad the other day? That’s all better now?
I think it needs MORE of a “Pacific Rim” vibe, myself. ;)
Okay, I’ll be That Person: I don’t have a problem with the tone or the subject matter or the POV, but I respectfully suggest it goes on a bit too long and loses some of the funny as a result. Sorry but my take on it.
is there any chance Sara Jessica and Idris Elba switch offerings? Would look more empowering. Also, Christopher moore would help a lot with the banter part of Matt and Luke could get him on board. hehehehehe
Nah, it’s already been done. It’s in its 10th season on the CW…
If this is a cry for help for us to deliver you from your Holliwood ordeal, you’re gonna need to cry louder, sir. Now, a couple of half serious comments that I guess will make me look like an ass:
-Is it only me, or codenaming the future as “the East” makes total sense? The Sun rises from the East, see? That is where the days come from, visually speaking. So the Holliwood bigpants may be onto something there!
-Also, some credit for Christopher Moore is due. He did a lot of Kung-Fu gospel in “Lamb”
..aaand I misspelled Hollywood. Twice. I guess that DOES make me look like an ass. :(
You’ve spent too time in Hollywood, Scalzi. We’re worried about you.
Chad is certainly an up-and-comer, but may I suggest adding a girl urchin-type who tends the animals at the inn. She sleeps in the stable and gets kicked out when Mary pops out Baby J. She appears to vanish, but in the third sequel there is a reveal that she is the mysterious presence who has been shadowing our boy his whole life, protecting him from the fallen angel hordes at key moments — it’s Mary Magdalene, the hooker with the heart of gold who has been watching over him since she saw the Wise Men fight off their first attack of the demons outside the manger. Grown up JC is smitten when he learns her true identity, but given their differences it’s a love that can never be.
Pharoah, let my people go. To your theater, to enjoy your bottomless vats of soda and popcorn.
A little too much eggnog, I think.
Sounds about right. :)
Also, Smartypants up there is brilliant. MM could be played by Emma Stone. I smell Oscar. Hooker With a Heart of Gold wins it every time. Especially if we dirty her up a bit and stick her in disheveled robes. Not during the parts where she hangs out with Jesus after the attempted stoning, of course, because duh. But BEFORE Jesus befriends her, definitely. Beautiful woman playing Unattractive Hooker With a Heart of Gold totally pwns the Best Actress category. Let’s be forward-thinking here, people.
Chad doesn’t get a producing credit unless he’s the son/nephew of Peter’s boss, the son/nephew of Peter or his wife, or banging Peter or Peter’s kid. And even then, associate producer at best.
Agreed on Idris and Sarah swapping gifts and Emma as MM.
Guys.. guys… Look I know Chad has a couple of ideas, and is getting a bit of extra leash to run with because he is somebody’s cousin, but if you want to do a serious re-write of the script, see if you can get hold of that John dude. Did you read what he did with that apocalyptic Revelations script? OK, sure some of it was a bit wacky. what can I say other than he will NOT be ordering mushrooms on his pizza again. On the other hand, what if the Jesus Ninja Triad was actually 4 people instead? Then the could ride in to Shanghai on black horses snorting fire. I know the original script says 3 wiseguys, but seriously, this IS a re-write. Make it four, and we can maybe get Samuel L. onboard.
Additionally, if there are gonna be Romans in the movie, and time travel, I got a way awesome idea for them: the Romans are actually the offspring of a group that was supposed to be another Jesus Ninja Squad from the future, but their time machine malfunctioned and dumped them way too far in the past, and the leader of the squad got his brains scrambled and thought they were sent to… I dunno.. kill the Jesus dude. Is Christopher Lee available? or better yet Liam Neelson?
Quick bit of marketing: Possible to make Roman Kung-Fu action grip soldiers that can tie in merchandise-wise?
Damn temps in the typing pool can’t even spell “Neeson” correctly. This joint is falling apart. Never let Chad recommend people for jobs.
You’ve seen Exodus: Gods and Men! I was wondering how that got so messed up that Moses could become a guerrilla warrior and carry a sword instead of a staff, but now I get it! Thanks John!
No hell simply for this post—I can pretty much guarantee that. I am a pastor, after all. What amuses me is that even after all the script doctoring, it’s still closer to the source material than were either Noah or The Hobbit..
But when is Idina Menzel going to belt out her song for children to torture their parents with?
First I laughed. Then I cried, because it reminded me of my own attempts at selling screenplays back in the 90’s.
(“We love your script, but this scene needs to be cut.” “Wait, what? THAT scene? That’s the central turning point of the entire script! That scene is what leads to everything else that happens in the story! If that scene is taken out, everything else falls apart!” “Yeah, that scene.”)
– – – – –
Several people have recommended Christopher Moore’s LAMB. You might also enjoy Moore’s THE STUPIDEST ANGEL, with Zombie Santa and other Christmas-season treats. It also includes one of my favorite sentences, because it says so much in so few words: “He was a clump-filled catbox of a man.”
You know, make the ninjas North Korean and I would watch it… LOL
Between this and the Good Omens radio show, I won’t be humbuggy until Easter at the earliest!
Thank you for the laughs and Happy Holidays to you and every one dear to you!
… I’d watch it. I have terrible taste, don’t I?
“Future Ninjas for Jesus” — my first laugh out loud moment for Tuesday morning. And I really want to meet Chad.
But, where’s the bestest mostest supercoolest part of the whole Christmas story -the giant inflatable duck?
My buddy Thomas doubts that the duck will be as cool as it may seem at first. Unless it is like 50 feet high and has radioactive breath. In which case go for it.
Where are the dinosaurs?
My favorite paragraph:
“(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.)”
Because Hollywood science is the bestest science!
anyone else think that this post is in response to feedback john got on scripts for his 2 books he has optioned ?
“Old is a relative term. *80 is the new 40″. So for old mans war 25 is the new 80. We want to get the young female crowd. No one wants their sexy lead character to start out as grandpa and possibly have old man smell. So the 25 years old become 18 year olds. Think about it.”
Lamb Chop is too 1950s passe for that pivotal lamb role; I suggest contacting Aardman to see if Shaun the Sheep is available. Of course, whoever ultimately gets the gig may have to agree to sleep with the director first (Hollywood’s old “Casting Paddock” tradition).
Now I have to add “Lamb”, “Bad Omens”, and “Agent to the Stars” to my Christmas Holiday re-read list.
Chad obviously stands for Cyberdyne humanoid autonomous droid. He takes the intellectual approach rather than the less nuanced methods used by the T-series.
Good timing, because two nights ago my wife and I saw a modern take on the Christmas story that was both funny and true to the originals. It’s called “Mary and Joseph”. Playwright is Tim Geger, but I have not looked to see whether it has been published. IF you see a performance, go!
I think, realistically, if this is going to be a true Hollywood production, then there has to be at least one scene with Mary twerking, no?
No, no, Mary Magdalen does the twerking. Before she gets saved and all. I realize that’s in the second or third movie, so for the first movie, we have Herod’s harem (that’s catchy) twerk. 2nd and 3rd movie, Herod’s harem, naughty Samaritan girls, and Salome twerk.
I assume you are familiar with Roddenberry’s version…where he does a Hollywood treatment of the Bible. That’s been a favorite of mine for years.
I read this to two of my kids. My sixteen year old is striding back and forth shouting “Get Chad off the project!”
“Peter Stone”—Now I see what you did there. (“Upon this rock I will build my church.”)
This brings to mind some editor’s contemporaneous description of Ace Doubles (1950s and early ’60s paperbacks with two short novels, with covers upside-down from each other): “If the Holy Bible was printed as an Ace Double, it would be cut down to two 20,000-word halves with the Old Testament retitled as ‘Master of Chaos’ and the New Testament as ‘The Thing with Three Souls.’ ” Both of which I’d like to see as movies.
As for actors who might play agents from the future, I can’t help but think of the first one I ever saw on TV: Robert Lansing as Gary Seven. He did a fine job, in my opinion, but sadly is unavailable.
I suspect Chad the Intern of being a closet satirist (and given Hollywood, one can understand why he wishes to remain in the closet about this aspect of his identity). Certainly his suggestions strike me as the sort of things that would be made by someone who is busy waiting for the Dried Frog Pills to kick in and for some skerrick of sanity to manifest in his listeners.
Chad is obviously the prototypical Miracle Worker…
“Christ: Origins” is a little too obscure for the title. Let’s change it to “Christ: The Embiggening” (unless we want to save that for the sequel).
“If it was for HBO they would ‘game of thrones’ it and add a bunch of sexposition and nudity.” No need to ‘game of thrones’ it — the Bible, including the gospels, is about nothing if it’s not about sexposition and nudity. Salome, anyone? The Baptist’s head on a salver? The Slaughter of the Innocents? Eunuchs for the Kingdom of Heaven? Mel Gibson already showed how to do it.
Okay, so now that Chad is producing, do you need a new a new intern? I mean, I’m old, so I don’t eat much, have absolutely NO experience, so I have NO preconceptions to get in the way, and I can be tricked… Let me know, big guy, okay…?
TV show idea: Agents of A.J.N.T (also pronounced agent)(Awesome Jesus Ninja Triad)
Okay, here’s a bit of innovative casting. Just think about it: Miley Cyrus as Mary. What do you think? She could break into song as the baby is born and maybe the labor pains could include some serious twerking and (in the uncut or director’s version) full details of the birth done in close-up and in rhythm to the song being sung. Having both PG13 and R versions expand the audience, you know. And it’ll be a hit on cable.
I can’t believe Chad didn’t think of this. He’s lost all credibility now. Needs to be fired.
This is kinda what Ridley Scott did with Exodus.