Screenplay | Drama | 101 minutes
by Eric Pauls | firstname.lastname@example.org | 403.918.3970
When the pastor of an evangelical church announces he is affirming of gay marriage, his congregation is sent into a self-destructive tailspin. In the following week, they must learn to love their neighbours before they destroy everything they claimed to care about.
Taking place over the span of one week, LAMENT follows several members of a church, including its Godhead, Pastor Tom who after His sister, Stacy is engaged to be married to another woman is inspired to question his own beliefs on gay marriage. When he finally voices these questions, the reaction from the church is drastic and divisive, setting in motion a series of events that will have dire consequences.
As the congregation tries to extinguish Tom’s growing pro-LGBT stance, underlying issues in the community unravel unnoticed. Nathan, a handsome and married youth pastor, is involved in a predatory relationship with seventeen-year-old Taylor, a member of the youth group he leads. Luke, Tom’s son, burdened by being the “pastor’s kid” is set on a self-destructive path fueled by extreme bouts of apathy and doubt, and Ed, Taylor’s father and one of the congregation’s elders, is faced with the impermanence of life as he watches his wife slowly die of cancer.
By the following Sunday, everything culminates, and lives are forever changed. Tom realizes that for the sake of those he loves, he must walk away from his flock, now aware that they are more concerned with maintaining a firm grip on power, than sharing the love they proclaim to have for the world.
Shortlisted for the Sundance Writers Lab, Lament is the story of a church collapsing after the lead pastor decides he is in favour of gay marriage. Having grown up in the evangelical church this story is inspired by my own experiences. It is a story about good people being corrupted by an institution of power and it is an important story I desire to share. I myself approach the story from both a place of contempt and disillusionment, but also empathy for a group of people desperate to hold onto their community and what they find their meaning in.
Being raised in the evangelical church, I watched this community feed the poor, give to the needy and provide people with a sense of place and purpose. I grew up surrounded by people who cared for my well-being and the welfare of the world around them. This upbringing was largely positive. However, I also saw the dark side of this institution as having the correct interpretation became paramount above all things. "Sin" was hidden away and never spoken of unless it was to shame and condemn, and friends of mine developed depression as they tried to hide what they perceived as their sinful nature from their friends and family. To believe you are born a sinner, unfit to be in God's presence, is a heavy burden to bare and though the church members would say they were free from sin, the fear that they could become separated from God created a culture of shame and guilt that corroded everything.
It is this juxtaposition between loving thy neighbour and judging thy neighbour that I derived my story. I have sat in a pew and listened to a congregation demand the resignation of a pastor who affirmed gay marriage. I have been part of a youth group run by a pastor who carried on several affairs with women in the church, including a recent high school graduate, but I have also seen kids from broken families be loved unconditionally and a family who tragically lost their son in a car accident be carried through hard times by their church family. It is the two sides of this story I want to share in Lament.
This ensemble-cast narrative is intended to be a low-budget production with no major set pieces and an intentional focus on character and performance. The film will be targeted at the demographic raised in the church, or in communities where religion is heavily influential and people have grown disillusioned with the institution. The argument could be made that this represents half of North-America when you consider the current political climate. However, the film is more specifically aimed at individuals in this demographic who still see value in spiritual practice and tradition but hope to transform the old system into something inclusive, progressive, and active in positive social change. I began writing this script almost as an act of catharsis, but as it got into the hands of others who devoured it with enthusiasm and excitement it began to take on a life of its own. Colleagues have begun to read the script and I’m seeing it impact them in a way I have not seen other scripts do. This tells me I have a film that will connect in a deep way with a large audience, and it is their enthusiastic, charged, response that inspires me to invest my whole self into telling this story.
"Lament" is a drama about an ensemble cast of characters whose lives are thrown into flux after their Pastor begins to question an ideology that they had taken for granted. The church is divided over these questions and their reaction exposes the dark underbelly of the community. By the following Sunday, no one is left unscathed.
Prologue - The pastor's son, 14-year-old Luke, stands in the alley behind his parents' home with a deck of cards at his feet which feature naked women on them. He proceeds to douse them with lighter fluid and light them on fire. Fire spreads and soon his parents' fence is ablaze. Luke watches in horror for a moment then flees down the alley filled with guilt for the sins that seem to be piling up.
Sunday - The congregation fills the pews as the worship band finishes its final song. Pastor Tom steps up to the pulpit and gives his sermon, but while doing so he notices two women sitting in the front row, holding hands. This expression of gay love in the church stops Tom in his tracks until he realizes he has just imagined the couple sitting there. Rattled by the vision, he stumbles through to the end of his sermon and dismisses the congregation.
Monday - Tom wakes early in the morning, still thinking about the vision he had the day before and decides to go see his sister and her fiancé, whom it is revealed to the audience are the women from the vision. He asks them why they haven’t asked him to officiate their wedding and they explain that it is because the church would not allow him and they thought he did not support their union. He arrives home that night having witnessed the life this loving couple is building together and begins drafting an email to the elders of the church with his questions about their stance on gay marriage. That night, the church youth, including the young arsonist Luke and his teenage crush, seventeen-year-old Taylor are having bible study. It is afterwards that Luke overhears Taylor and the twenty-nine-year-old married youth pastor, Nathan, having sex in the storage room.
Tuesday - Tom is at the church performing his pastoral duties when Ed, an elder of the church and father to Taylor, arrives wanting to discuss the email Tom sent out the night before. Ed informs him, “as a friend”, to send out a retraction or risk losing his job. That night, Tom returns home, convinced that he has done the wrong thing but finds his wife waiting for him, proud of the action he has taken by sending the email. Meanwhile, Ed goes alone to the hospital to be with his sick wife, while his daughter is off with Nathan trying to avoid the reality of her mother's situation.
Wednesday - Tom is at the church that morning when a church member named Greg arrives to speak with him. Greg reminds Tom that several years earlier he had confided in him that he was gay and Tom counselled him to be straight. Now married and with children, Greg is appalled by the fact that Tom could change his mind on this issue and vows to see him removed from the church. Tom has no response as Greg leaves him standing in the centre of the sanctuary.
That night is the Community Dinner, a monthly event for the church where they open their doors and serve a meal to anyone who wants to attend, but this month many of the church members aren't showing up because of Pastor Tom’s email. The event goes on anyway, but during the evening Luke almost gives away his newly discovered secret while Tom and Ed get into a very public fight about homosexuality. That night our characters all go to bed, some more easily than others. This includes Nathan and his wife Kim who is starting to grow suspicious of her husband.
Thursday - Wanting to find out what Luke knows about the affair, Nathan shows up at his school and offers to take him out for lunch. It's there that he learns Luke knows everything. Turning on the boy, Nathan attempts to emotionally manipulate Luke using the porn addiction and other "sins" Luke had previously confided to him.
That night Luke doesn't want to go to the youth event at the roller rink but he can't tell anyone why and so Tom drops him off. Tom then heads to the hospital for a visit with Ed’s wife, and to apologize to Ed for the argument they had. When Tom arrives he finds a hostile Ed who exclaims that he will not have someone who condones an abomination like homosexuality praying with his sick wife. Tom is broken-hearted as he picks up his son who is also distraught after he let his anger get the best of him and attacked Nathan in the centre of the roller rink. It is on that ride home that they finally open up to each other and begin a dialogue about what they are going through.
Friday - Nathan wakes up in both physical and emotional pain. The night before he had hurt his arm when Luke tripped him, but Kim had also accused him of having an affair with Taylor and forced him to sleep in the living room. Now he awakens to find his wife has left early. Meanwhile, Tom has arrived at church to find the Elders have called an emergency meeting. Finally seeing the institution he has dedicated his life to for what it is, he hands in his resignation. That night, Ed and Taylor intend to go to the hospital together but she blows him off when Nathan asks her to meet. However, at this rendezvous, Nathan breaks up with her and then proceeds to shame and manipulate her into silence.
Later on, Ed is alone at the hospital, Tom and his family are sharing a meal with her sister and fiance, and Nathan has come home to Kim and convinced her of his innocence. Meanwhile, Taylor arrives home alone, completely broken, and begins to take her Mother's leftover medication. Ed arrives home shortly after and finds his daughter unconscious on her bed.
Saturday - Tom and his son are playing basketball in the driveway when Tom's wife tells them the news of the attempted suicide. Upon hearing about Taylor, an angry Luke rides his bike to Nathan's house and confronts him. While Luke yells at Nathan from their front lawn, Kim realizes Nathan is guilty of the affair and Taylor's current condition, and kicks him out of her home for good. Meanwhile, Tom goes to the hospital to offer Ed his support and now, completely broken, he accepts.
Sunday - With no pastors to lead the service, a divided congregation fills the pews, but the pulpit remains empty. Elsewhere: Kim sits at her breakfast table,Ed and a recovering Taylor sit together at the bedside of their dying mother/wife, Nathan sits alone in a hotel room, and Tom begins to rebuild the fence with the help of his whole family.
Tom Schular (40) - Lead Pastor/Jamie's spouse
Nathan Ballard (31) - Youth Pastor/Kim's spouse
Kim Ballard (29) - Doctoral Student/Nathan's spouse
Luke Schular (14) - Part of the church youth group/ Jamie and Tom's son
Ed Wiebe (52) - Church Board member / Taylor's Father
Taylor Wiebe (18) - Part of the church youth group / Gary's Daughter
Jamie Schular (40) - Working Mother / Tom's Spouse
Jacob Patterson (14) - Part of the church youth group / Comes from a broken home
Stacy Schular (35) - Tom's sister / Engaged to a woman
A mock trailer that convey the feel and tone of the film.
We are going to be bringing the Art House to the Church - Not observing, but going inside the scene, placing the camera between the actors, and bringing out the humanity of every character. By doing this we hope to push past the cliché our church setting provokes and show this deeper level that viewers can engage with. This may seem like a simple idea but for a member of a church to be portrayed as complete, three-dimensional portraits, it opens the audience up to the reality of a church community that has so rarely been seen on film.
Colour and light will be a tool we use to create this transcendence, allowing us to reframe and illuminate a setting and topic so mired in cliché. The church will be a sublime fever dream of pastels, golden sunlight, and velvet shadows. There will be dark reds and glistening, rich perspiring skin tones of people carrying the weight of the world on their shoulders.
In Lament, clichés and tropes will exist only so they can be upended. This will be done substantively with the emotional terrain of the characters, and it will be done visually with angles and light. For example, the opening scene sees Pastor Tom at the kitchen table providing marriage advice. This is a position he is very used to but this time it involves his sister and homosexuality, and suddenly he is out of his element. As he is about to share his unearned wisdom, he is lit up by the flames that are growing in his backyard and must run off to put out his burning fence. The chaos of the moment reflects his confusion about the decision he will have to make. In another shot, Pastor Tom will be bathed in beautiful sunlight that pours through the window and backdropped by the freshly painted white wall as he watches his sister and her fiance embrace and kiss. These visual elements convey the wonderful life these women have built and that he is part of in that moment.
The film will be shot with anamorphic lenses, which will allow multiple characters to play out scenes in the same widescreen frame, but more often will also allow us to place the characters alone in that wide frame, conveying the isolation this religious community has created amongst its members. These lenses are also typically associated with large blockbuster movies but by using them to depict this community we will display the church setting in a new light. It is my hope that with these decisions the audience will relinquish their judgment and preconceived notions and simply be able to watch the story unfold.
Eric Pauls is a writer, director, and composer based in Calgary AB, Canada. He began his film career creating both narrative and documentary shorts which have played at festivals around the world. He then wrote, directed and composed the score for his debut feature film To the Mountain. That film debuted at the 2017 Oakville Film and Art Festival, was picked up for distribution, had a successful theatrical run, has been sold all over the world, including to HBO and was recently named a Standout Discovery by Itunes.
Most recently the Canada Council for the Arts has commissioned him to direct an experimental documentary about a theatre community. He has also been nominated for a 2018 Alberta Media award for best Orignal Score for his work on the short film Up in Smoke, his short documentary Process premiered at this year's North West Fest, and his script Lament has been shortlisted for the 2019 Sundance Writers Lab.