Screenplay | Drama | 116 minutes
by Eric Pauls | email@example.com | 403.918.3970
An evangelical church community begins to unravel after their pastor announces he is affirming of gay marriage. In the following week, they must learn to love their neighbours before they destroy everything they claimed to care about.
"Lament" is a drama about an ensemble cast of characters whose lives are thrown into flux after their Pastor announces from the pulpit his intentions to officiate a gay wedding. The church is divided over this decision 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. Meanwhile, inside his home Luke's parents are meeting with his Aunt Stacy, who has recently become engaged to a woman. She is asking Luke’s father Tom, a 42-year-old pastor to officiate the wedding, something his church would not allow. However, before Tom can answer he notices the fire and rushes to the backyard to put it out.
Sunday - The congregation fills the pews as the worship band finishes its final song. Pastor Tom, steps up to the pulpit to give his sermon and then closes by announcing he will be officiating his sister's gay wedding in the fall. The congregation is shocked and soon erupts into a full-on shouting match. Eventually, Tom and his family have no choice but to leave out the side door.
Monday - Tom goes to see his sister and her fiancé, hoping to talk about whether or not it is a good idea for him to be their Officiant, but when he sees how in love the couple is, his choice is clear. Meanwhile, Gary, a church board member, is meeting with Youth Pastor, Nathan, and his wife, Kim, for dinner, hoping to find allies in the movement against Tom's new cause. However, Gary is unaware that Nathan is currently engaging in an affair with Gary's 18-year-old daughter, Taylor. Taylor is well liked and talented but because of the difficult home situation, she has been left vulnerable to Nathan who holds a position of power.
Tuesday - Tom returns to a hostile work environment and is informed by Gary that he has to appear in front of the board on Friday. That night, Gary goes to the hospital to be with his sick wife, while his daughter attends the youth Bible study. It is after that Bible study that Luke hears the sound of Nathan and Taylor having sex in Nathan's office.
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 is 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 they know Pastor Tom will be there. The event goes on anyway, but during the evening Luke almost gives away his newly discovered secret while Tom and Gary 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 psychologically 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 Gary's wife, and to apologise to Gary for the argument they had. When Tom arrives he finds a hostile Gary 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 awakes to find his wife has left early. Meanwhile, Tom is attending the board meeting where, now seeing clearly, he hands in his resignation. That night, Gary 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, Gary 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. Gary 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 realises 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 Gary his support and now, completely broken, he accepts.
Sunday - With no pastors to lead the service, Kim volunteers to speak from the pulpit and gives a vulnerable yet powerful speech about the state of the church. While elsewhere, Gary 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
Gary 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
Shortlisted for the Sundance Writers Lab, Lament is a look inside the evangelical church. The church is an institution that I was raised in, that shaped me, and I still have many ties to. I have seen churches 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 the correct interpretation of scripture 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 contrast between loving thy neighbour and judging thy neighbour that I derived my story from. 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 tell in Lament.
Gay rights is a fight I am passionate about but not one I have much credence to speak on. However, that is not what Lament is meant to be about. Instead, the film sees homophobia as a symptom of a more fundamental problem. In the script, the members of the church spend their week consumed with their indignation towards the act of homosexuality, but it is while they are focused on stamping out the perceived sin that real evil is allowed to be perpetrated. This theme is reflected in the opening prologue wherein a boy attempts to burn his pornography in a misguided act of repentance and shame and ends up burning his parents’ fence down. It is my hope that the film will create empathy for the LGBTQ community and showcase the church’s need to embrace that empathy lest they become an institution that perpetuates hate.
The film will take place over seven days. Starting on a Sunday morning and moving through the week until finally arriving at a conclusion on the following Sunday, it will use the clear distinction of each passing day to give the film a sense of direction and urgency. Our setting could be stereotyped as a mundane and boring one. I personally have struggled to keep my eyes open during the average sermon and find the homogenised membership rather interminable on first impression. However, I know that all of these people have complicated and moving backstories that they hide when they walk through the church doors. It is my intention to draw the truth of these characters out over the seven days by weaving all their narratives together and forcing these characters to collide with one another. I will move through their lives and the settings like moving through a maze of interconnected corridors. Similar to Altman’s Nashville or Spike Lee’s Do the Right Thing, it is in this weaving through the narrative and through our setting that the story will transform from a plot-heavy film to a meditation on the larger themes of shame, love, and empathy.
This ensemble-cast story is intended to be a low-budget production with no major set pieces and an intentional focus on character and performance. Lament’s demographic is people raised in the church or in communities where religion is heavily influential and who have now grown disillusioned with the institution. The argument could be made that this represents half of America after the recent election results. 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.
Lament is a difficult story for me to tell. Each character, each scene, each moment is drawn from something I've experienced and therefore draws on pain and grief I've experienced. This way of writing is new to me as in the past my connection to the story was far more subconscious, but it is this personal connection that allows me to tell a fictional work steeped in reality and fully-realized human experiences. Lament will be a challenging film, and unlike the church that loves to ignore that which does not fit its narrative, will not shy away from the full reality of life: its ups, its downs, the beautiful, and the ugly.
A mock trailer, designed to convey the potential mood, tone, and look of lament (for demo purposes only).
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.