Categories: Arts, Forgiveness
Rob Miller is a screenwriter in Hollywood. During his interview, he shares how the Bible has influenced his writing and helped his career; explains how his ABC Family movie "Three Days" got produced; and gives insights into the creative process.
I know you worked hard to get into film writing. What was the process?
Well, I think persistence wins the prize in this instance. I was interested in writing from an early age. And when I got out of college and I went to work as a TV writer/producer, I realized writing was my forte. But after awhile, radio promos and news campaigns didn't challenge me enough. So one day I sat down and decided to write a screenplay -- not because my motive was to sell it, but because I loved writing. I had no idea how to sell a script when I moved to L.A. I just packed that script in the trunk and thought that in 10 minutes, I'd become the greatest thing ever. But after awhile, I realized that it was going to take lots of work, lots of years, and lots of getting back on the horse after failed attempts. My love of writing kept me going despite obstacles. Ideas started to come at a rapid pace, ideas that God was giving me. I determined early on that the type of story that I enjoyed writing was very similar to the type of stories that I was raised hearing from the Bible - stories about redemption. Throughout my scripts individuals face up to their faults and go through periods of troubled waters in order to be redeemed, like the Prodigal Son (Luke 15:11-24). But while I enjoyed writing about the transformation of individuals, my scripts weren't selling.
So, did you continue using the theme of redemption?
Well, I changed the type of writing I was doing, not the themes. I began to write essays. In fact, the first essay I wrote was published all over the world, even in China. The theme for it was "love thy neighbor" -- right from the story of the Good Samaritan in the Bible (Luke 10:29-37). I continued writing essays and getting published. Looking back over my essays, which deal with forgiveness, overcoming obstacles, and friendship, it's so obvious to me that my Biblically inspired upbringing and the Bible's immediate significance in my life influence my work today.
You can certainly see the theme of redemption and forgiveness in your movie, "Three Days." How did you come up with the idea?
Well, one day I just wanted to write a Christmas movie. And while I was sitting there in my cold house in North Hollywood, ideas just flooded into my thought so instantaneously that it was clear to me that these ideas were coming from God. I started writing the story about a man who had taken for granted the good in his life, primarily his wife. He was caught up in materialism; he was thinking about having an affair; he wasn't expressing any sense of gratitude for anything; and he had no humility. Then, he loses his wife. And I thought, "What would we do if we had the chance to live over the last three days of our lives knowing we were still going to lose them? So I wrote "Three Days." In the movie, the main character has to learn to appreciate his wife and love his father. He is so embittered against his father that he has shut him out of his life. But in order to move forward, he has to confront those feelings and forgive his father. There's a line in the movie that explains the process of forgiveness: "In order to be forgiven you must first forgive."
What was the process of getting "Three Days" to production?
It certainly didn't happen over night. The producer who I first contacted immediately liked it, and I thought it would be optioned. But it took a roller coaster ride that lasted years, and took my emotions with it. I even wondered whether or not a story about gratitude and forgiveness was saleable. I discovered later that along the way I was being deceived. Finally, I decided to get off the roller coaster and just let go completely. I put the script in God's hands. And then when I was on vacation with my family (I had just gotten married), I got the call saying that the script was sold. When the movie was made, it was made very quickly. And the basic story about forgiveness remained intact. Two script-writing projects I'm working on now are along the same lines. One is another Christmas movie that reveals the gift of generosity and loving others. The other depicts how one individual realizes that loving his family, which he had neglected during the pursuit of his career, is more important than fame and self-gratification.
We need more movies like yours, Rob, that reveal the goodness in humanity.
They are all so natural to write. Millions of people around the world tuned in because of the positive, redeeming messages that resonate with so many of us. I think that when studios aren't afraid to air such positive, clean, good-message movies, the rewards they reap are extraordinary. Most advertisers want to advertise for these types of movies. They want their product to be associated with clean, wholesome, family values.
But it took a long time to get "Three Days to production." Was there anything from the Bible that sustained you during the process?
Oh yes. One passage that has come to mind so much over the years is "the battle is not yours, but God's ... set yourselves, stand ye still, and see the salvation of the Lord" (II Chron. 20:15, 17). When I realize that I'm not the one who has to "battle" to write or sell the script, that all I have to do is "see the salvation of the Lord," then the burden of responsibility shifts from me to God, and I get a much greater sense of peace. This is particularly helpful in Hollywood. Before you sell a script people continually say, "Do you realize the odds of selling a script? They're astronomical against you, and even more astronomical of getting it made." For "Three Days," I kept rejecting the idea of odds, of chance. I kept praying to know that my script was in God's hands and that one person having a bad day could not kill a project, make me happy, or send me into despair. It is extremely difficult to hold onto this spiritually elevated viewpoint when so many different people have to sign off on an idea. But when we can hold on, the results are tremendous. When the movie was finally produced, everything fell easily and naturally into its perfect place -- the cast, the music, even the weather.
How do you really know if an idea is a right idea?
Well, that's a question that's been asked for a long time, and there doesn't seem to be an easy answer. There's not some beam of light that comes and says "right idea." For me, the best way to answer the question is this: Along the way, I became extremely discouraged. I'd often stop and ask God for a sign telling me that I was going in the right direction. And each time, I'd get a sign -- a note from Readers' Digest, a positive comment about my idea or talent. Those little signs, those answers to my humble prayers, were indications that I was going in the right direction. But first I had to be willing to walk away from the idea, the career path, or the goal and trust in God. And I think if we pray to God in humility, He's not going to turn a deaf ear.
So, how would you explain the creative process?
Well, I think it's different with everybody. But one thing I do know: ideas don't originate from me, but from God. And when an idea is good, or is from God, it comes to me as a complete idea. It just flows. And I'm constantly listening to understand how to fine tune the characters and plot right up to the end. I have confidence in God to direct not only a script, but my whole life as an artist, as a writer.
Is there anything you would tell teens about writing, your industry, or life in general?
Patience and discipline are keys to success in any career. Love the entire process, the journey. Love the learning, the starts and stops, the failed attempts and the steps forward. You can't just love the financial rewards somewhere down the road. You have to love the salad days (the period when all you can afford is salad). And then when you get to your goal, you'll love that too, but you won't look back with bitterness or hardness. Also, don't be in a rush. And take criticism, and don't take it personally. As a writer, artist, or in any type of creative industry (actually all industries), you're going to be criticized again and again.
How do you deal with criticism?
You have to realize that although others may reject you for a particular role or reject your script, God never rejects you. You're not personally being rejected. Consider it as a part of the learning process. It's so important to be willing to make something better. If you settle for "good enough" you miss the possibility of "great." A lot of writers have problems with notes - edits, criticisms, ideas, input from the producers. Their egos get involved, and they refuse to change a single line. I look forward to getting notes because I don't take such personal ownership in every line, scene, and character. I realize a movie is a process of unfoldment that doesn't belong to me. This is humility: realizing that an idea never really came from me to start with; it came from God. You write it and let go. My wife helped me learn that because she had more experience in the movie industry. You have to realize that your script is going to be changed; a lot of people will be attaching themselves to it; actors will portray characters differently than you had in your mind. You have to treat it like you would a job or business, and not take changes so personally. I remind myself that God is the producer, writer, director, producer, and that my job is to give the best performance I can.
That reminds me of the Bible verse, "I will cry unto God most high; unto God that performeth all things for me" (Ps. 57:2).
That's so appropriate.
How do you deal with other pressures in your industry?
The Bible passage, "Be still, and know that I am God" (Ps. 46:10) has helped tremendously. "Be still" in the face of a screaming producer or a pressing deadline or whatever you may face as a writer. You have to be still a lot, because you're faced with things that seem overwhelming at times. It's the Bible that builds that rock, that principle, that safety zone in your life. The 23rd and 91st Psalms and I Corinthians 13 are passages you read through your life that come back and give you the strength you need when you're faced by the rude actor, the screaming producer, the bad review, etc. You're able to stand strong and firm because you have that spiritual background. And you think, "Wow, Jacob and Esau went through a lot worse times than I did. Look at David's struggle compared to mine. He had Goliath to deal with. Look at Joseph." Those Biblical stories can be translated to today; just insert new names, new careers and new situations. The same principles available to resolve it back then are available to us today.
About Rob Miller
Rob Miller is a fulltime writer. His original movie script, "Three Days," premiered as a Christmas movie starring Kristin Davis ("Sex in the City") and Tim Meadows ("Saturday Night Live") on ABC Family in 2001. It was the LA TIMES' TV TIMES cover story the same week. It was one of the most successful movies in the history of the channel. "Three Days" has run all around the world and is considered a "perennial."
Rob's current script-writing projects include "Secret Santa," "Heartbreak for Hire," and "A Christmas Wedding," all of which are movies attached to producers.
He has published numerous essays in I, the Chicken Soup for the Soul series1, The Christian Science Monitor, and various internet publications. Titles of some of his essays are "A Birthday Song," "Calling On a Girl Named Becky," "Cookies, Forgotten and Forgiven," "A Tale of Canine Courage," "Superman Learns How to Ride," "My Friend Kim," "The Sweetest Cupcake," "The Most Beautiful Girl I Never Knew," "Mi Amiga, Any Way You Say It," "A Little Help for the Undecided," "A Year for Which I'd Waited a Lifetime," and "How This Man's Script Leapt to TV -sort of."
Rob shares his love of writing with junior high school students by teaching creative writing and screenwriting at Berkeley Hall School in Los Angeles.
Rob was born in Atlanta, Georgia, raised in North Carolina, and attained his B.A. in Journalism from the University of Georgia. He honed his craft at the UCLA Extension Writer's Program, and he is a member of The Writer's Guild of America. Rob currently lives in Northridge, CA with his wife, Gina, and 8-year-old step-daughter, Chloe.
More insights and advice from Rob
During the interview, Rob shared some helpful insights for those interested in getting into screenwriting or any creative industry.
What's your advice for people who want to write and get into this industry?
- Be patient.
- Write from your own experience.
- Do any kind of writing you can, and write a lot. I've written some two dozen scripts.
- Don't write anything you don't know about, and don't think your experience isn't interesting enough to write about. You can find interesting things and good stories in your own life.
- Start out simply. Don't try to go for it all at once. Start out slowly. Take baby steps.
- Develop the love and feel for telling a story. Writing a script is a difficult thing if you don't have the necessary background and structure in "story."
- Don't rush.
What would you tell people about the pressures that seem to go with the industry?
Sometimes it's hard to take a stand for morality, for what is right - but it's worth it.
- Don't be pressured into losing your ethics.
- Stay principled. Hold your ground.
- People will respect you for taking a stand for principle, for not allowing yourself to get sucked into the game or to be intimidated.
- You'll feel better about yourself if you maintain your integrity.
In the interview, you explain how you know
if an idea is good or not. Could you relate this
specifically to writing?
Sure. The way I tell whether or not an idea is
good is really how easily it flows. There are
times when I can do a whole treatment or whole
script, and it works, even down to the right page
count. Other times I struggle to move forward.
It seems that I'm trying to force a scene into
the script. When I come across such stumbling
blocks, I examine my motives. I ask myself: "Is
this project a big commercial idea to make money?
Am I just writing it because I think my agent
will like it? Or, do I really love this idea and
want to write this script?" When I stop and
step away from it, I get a clear feeling that
tells me it will flow or that I should move on.
If it doesn't flow, I know I need to scrap the
idea and go to another idea that will flow. The
more you do this, the easier it is to tell whether
or not an idea will work.
Sure. The way I tell whether or not an idea is good is really how easily it flows. There are times when I can do a whole treatment or whole script, and it works, even down to the right page count. Other times I struggle to move forward. It seems that I'm trying to force a scene into the script. When I come across such stumbling blocks, I examine my motives. I ask myself: "Is this project a big commercial idea to make money? Am I just writing it because I think my agent will like it? Or, do I really love this idea and want to write this script?" When I stop and step away from it, I get a clear feeling that tells me it will flow or that I should move on. If it doesn't flow, I know I need to scrap the idea and go to another idea that will flow. The more you do this, the easier it is to tell whether or not an idea will work.
1 A Fourth Course of Chicken Soup for the Soul and Chicken Soup for the Unsinkable Soul