The Greatest Story Ever Sold

By: Justin Warner

Constellation Pictures

A Division of Beatrice Foods, Inc.

Sherman Oaks, California

Dear Mark:

Just looked over your treatment for “The Gospel of Jesus Christ, Son of God” (needs a new title; we’ll talk later). I think Bob and Gordon are close to greenlighting this one; it’s got action, it’s got drama, it’s original (“what if God had a son?” — brilliant!), and the ending practically guarantees a strong buzz.

I’ve made a few notes (outlined below) that I hope you’ll take as helpful suggestions from a voice of experience. None of these are big changes. They’re just little tweaks and adjustments that might help you get this thing out of your desk drawer. If you can shoot me a full draft (taking these issues into account) by Monday the 23rd, I’ll make sure it’s on Gordon’s desk before he leaves for Portugal on Tuesday.

* * * * * * *

Opening/Prologue: Love the baptism scene. I have a problem with the Holy Spirit coming down as a dove. Doves are a bitch to train and they crap all over everything. Don’t bring up digital animation; it costs a fortune and Gordon won’t sign off on it unless we get Burton or Schumacher to direct. Can the Holy Spirit appear in the form of a dog? We have a great Irish setter named Churchill who just got done shooting The Boy from Hope Street. You’d like him; he’s very austere. If it has to be a bird, consider a parrot or a macaw. They’re a lot smarter than doves, and you could even teach them to say “This is my beloved Son; in Him I am well pleased.” (Great trailer material!)

The “temptation in the desert:” Forty days and forty nights is a heck of a long detour in the first act. I’d lose it, or do the whole thing as a two-minute montage (possible soundtrack: “Highway to Hell” or “Horse With No Name” — listen for the thematic connections).

Calling of the Disciples: I understand what you’re getting at, but the whole “fishers of men” theme won’t play outside the Village. Here’s an alternative: have Jesus choose his disciples in a pickup basketball game. Set it in the inner city, give Jesus some street cred and open it up to a multi-ethnic cast. I can get Will Smith attached as James, son of Zebedee. (Don’t worry, white audiences will accept black disciples, as long as Jesus is white.)

Love the miracles. I have a problem with the one about the quadriplegic. In your outline, this guy wants to see Jesus, can’t get past the crowds, so his friends “stripped off the roof where Jesus was, and, having made an opening, they let down the pallet on which the paralytic was lying.” Nice idea, kind of tedious in the execution. Consider this: Jesus is healing people up on the roof of an old building (think the Beatles in Let it Be). The quadriplegic guy gets his friends to shoot him up to Jesus in a cannon. In any other movie, it’s a horrible idea — but here, Jesus heals him anyway, so a rough landing is actually a bonus. (Note: When he lands on the roof, the handicapped guy should make a comment like “Sorry, the elevator wasn’t wheelchair accessible.”)

The Miracle of the Loaves and Fishes: Why just loaves and fishes? This is a great chance for a party scene. Remember the old Bud commercials (was it Bud or Michelob?) — we cross-fade from a barren desert to the Hefner mansion in five seconds. Also, we can get some serious backing with a little innocuous product placement. I happen to know the guys at Mountain Dew and Doritos would give their left nuts to be part of this miracle.

Jesus Walks on Water: I don’t understand his motivation here. “Hey, it’s a nice day, I think I’ll go for a little stroll across the Sea of Galilee!” I don’t care if he’s the Son of God, you don’t want your main character to look like a show-off. And once again, I think your solution lies in a basketball game. Have Jesus jog past a playground in the “hood” alongside a reservoir. Some kids are playing a half-court game (I can get Lil’ Bow Wow attached). One kid misses a free throw, and it bounces off the backboard toward the water. His buddy says: “You lost our ball, you big loser.” Jesus says: “I don’t think so.” The rest writes itself.

Re: the Pharisees — unsympathetic clergy are a BIG RED FLAG to backers and distributors. You’ll save yourself a lot of grief if you pick another punching bag. What if the Pharisees were all executives at some big, corrupt chemical company? They sure wouldn’t take kindly to Jesus’ “Blessed are the poor” schtick. So they conspire to eliminate the troublemaker. It’s basically the same story, just told from a different perspective with a different situation and different characters and without all the religious implications. Another thought: If the Pharisees are in bed with the public utilities, they could co-opt Jesus’ slogan “Let your light shine” without paying royalties. Then when Jesus turns the other cheek, they turn around and sue him for trademark infringement. Just try it; I think you’ll like it better.

Peter’s Denial: I like it, although I see a funnier alternative if we can get Chris Rock attached. Instead of Peter denying he knows Jesus, Chris the apostle tries to convince everyone that he knows Jesus, but nobody believes him! (Again, this is a kind of black humor that most whites can appreciate.)

Judas Betrays Jesus with a Kiss: Too risky. But what we could try, if we can convince them it’s good publicity, is betrayal with a Hershey’s Kiss. We’d have to put a positive spin on it; Jesus could say something like “Judas, must you betray me with something so rich and chocolatey?” Also, if Jesus throws the Kiss in anger, the Roman centurions should dive and fight over it. Other possibilities: betrayal with Butterfingers, Hot Pockets, Zima.

The scene before Pilate is terrific. Great courtroom drama. (I see Malkovich or Quentin Tarantino as Pilate; I’ll have Lisa call their agents.) The only thing that’s missing is Jesus’ point of view. He’s kind of tight-lipped, and understandably so, but the audience is going to feel cheated if no one so much as puts up a defense. What you need is a battle-worn but principled public defender to give one final impassioned speech on Jesus’ behalf. Suggestions: Anthony Hopkins (too British?), Wilford Brimley (living??? need to check), Morgan Freeman (only if Chris Rock, Will Smith unavailable for other black roles).

Golgotha (“Skull Place”)…very evocative. I’ll ask Gene if we can rig up an actual skull with jaws that open and shut. Again, great trailer material.

The death scene: This is going to be a tough one, but hear me out. I don’t think we can do a crucifixion. It’s disgusting. We’ll lose our female audience. Plus the three days in the tomb, the resurrection and ascension into Heaven, it’s all a little slow and airy-fairy for a summer release. Imagine this: Jesus is strapped to the electric chair. The guards throw the switch; Jesus starts convulsing (very tastefully; no eyes popping or hair frying), and then his body goes still. Everyone watches. Then, through the power of God (or whatever; Bob thinks we may have to lose the God stuff eventually), the current actually reverses direction, sending the electricity back through the switch and into the hands of the executioners! Jesus stands up, vindicated, and his persecutors are killed — and yet Jesus never harms them directly. That is a satisfying ending, my friend. We can talk about the ascension.

I hope these aren’t too overwhelming. Bob, Gordon and I all really believe in this script. And we believe that you are the man to write it. (Although we may call in Matt and Luke for some punching up — but don’t worry, your contract guarantees at least Story By.)

Talk to you soon,

Russ Redfern

Vice President for Script Development

Constellation Pictures

P. S. Minor note on Jesus: Does he have to be Jewish?


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