Friday 23 September 2022

Dear Malaysian churches, here's how to pretend to be more creative than you really are

Look, the easiest way to be creative (when really, you're not), is to hire a creative. There are many hidden creatives in your church, most of them not doing anything because you do not ask them to. 

Ask them. Better still, pay them.

Whether you pay them or not, most Christian creatives will usually feel, uh, led enough to offer their time to you for free or at a severely discounted rate because, church, you know?

When that isn't an option for whatever vague reasons you tell yourselves, remind yourself that stealing is a sin. So, whatever you do, DO NOT STEAL. Even if your intention is to give credit and skate along on the safe side of the applicable laws.

However, as they say, "Good artists copy. Great artists steal.

What? But you just said don't steal! Go read the article. I'll wait.


You back? Well, okay. Here is a super handy-dandy cheat sheet on how YOU as a Malaysian church can ultimately pretend to be OH SO CREATIVE by being inspired by Christian shows from America. Because honestly, one come-to-Jesus youth summer camp romance is pretty much the same as another, and as the author of Ecclesiastes says, there is nothing new under the sun.

There IS nothing new under the sun. 

The idea itself (falling in love at summer camp and also finding Jesus) is not copyrighted, but the execution of it is. First of all, here are a few DO NOTS you should adhere to.

  1. DO NOT under any circumstances copy all the dialogue and present yourself as the scriptwriter. NO. That is copying, that is stealing, and that is LYING. 
  2. DO NOT use all the same songs (or 90% of the same songs) from the show because that is being really, really blatant. 
  3. DO NOT use the same names la. Even if you change the surname, it's pretty obvious ok. Can don't be so obvious or not?

Why? Really simple. Because if there are sufficient similarities, even if you credit the original inspiration, people are going to be like, "eh, copy only. So same wan." Very not creative!

But you have an edge here, okay? Because once you localise the show, and I mean seriously localise it, not just change a few words, you have the best opportunity to pretend to be WAH SO CREATIVE HOW YOU THINK OF THIS?!

Remember: the idea of it is not copyrighted, the execution of it is. So take the overall idea and run with it. 

Ok ok, but how? Here are some very simple pointers:

Change the main character backgrounds

The Boy is in his last-chance foster home? Foster system WHAT foster system. It kind of exists in name la, but in practice??? In Malaysia, the Boy is more likely to go to an orphanage or group home, or even, say CPS. Even where places mention "fostering programme" it's more towards child sponsorship (like World Vision-style) and not USA-style where the child goes to stay with another family. Also, the government portal talks about "Probation Hostel/Asrama Akhlak" not "juvie" and they seem to jump directly from shelter homes to adoption (though foster child is mentioned once or twice). Also, the Boy is in trouble for stealing a cop car. Do people steal police cars? IDK maybe they do. But that is a very recognisable plot point. So change it. Make him a Mat Rempit or something. 

Then the Girl is the daughter of the campsite owner? Look, no one in Malaysia owns a summer camp, ok. We all just rent a hotel or maybe a campsite owned by some big church or NGO. So "owner of the campsite and daughter" doesn't make sense. Change it to the youth pastor and his daughter. Wah tension already. You want more tension? Try senior pastor's daughter. Bwahahaha.

The rest are teens, everyone's in school, not much is said about them so it's fine to just not mention it.

Just changing these two key background stories would actually already make your story different enough that it's not immediately recognisable.

Localise the jokes & language

Look, the reason it was ridiculous/funny that the Boy lied that they were "cousins" was because the Boy is White and the Friend & Camp Mom are Black. It's an obvious LIE. Your casting has two Chinese guys, cousin ma cousin lor, your church is 90% Chinese, what's the big deal? Find another joke that makes it obvious they're not actually related. Or think of another joke altogether. 

Your localisation must be thorough. John Hughes who? If it doesn't make sense to you because it's too American or too old, find something else that people watch which has the same "makeover" impact. The Chinese-Ed/English-Ed divide is also big enough a barrier - and probably more relevant in a local context. If the final connection point between Friend and his Love Interest is a quote from some super obscure show from the USA that no one here knows, find some super obscure show from Malaysia (or Singapore) that they can be crazy about and quote from. (I like horrible, terrible, vegetable as an inside joke, but that's just me.)

Malaysia is very multilingual. We tend to call things by their original names, whether they're in BM or in Chinese or whatever. USE THOSE TERMS. Lean into stupid bilingual puns. It's what your audience is used to anyway.

You have your own version of church camps, each has its weird points and competitive aspects. At my youth camp, we used to have marks for how tidy our rooms were, so there was a guy who SLEPT ON THE FLOOR so he wouldn't have to make his bed the next morning. What dumb things have your own friends done in camp? Draw from your own experiences.

You can also draw inspiration from scouts/guides camps and their chants! 100% relatable because I was never a girl guide but I've heard them in school and from friends anyway. 

Choose new songs

Keeping one or two key songs might work, but if most of the songs are the same, there's no running from the fact that you're drawing very heavily from the original. You probably don't have time to write your own songs because duh, otherwise you'd have written your own script, but you can find songs with similar themes that may even fit your revised script better! Plus, if you consider local songs as well, you have a wider range to pull from. Or, well, yeah BTS will work. 

You have to pay for the music license anyway, no matter what songs you end up choosing.

Actually adapt it for stage

A screenplay and a stage play are very different things. There are many things you can do on screen that you can't do on stage, and vice versa. So the act of just adapting the script for stage will already change key scenes and how they play out, maybe even the sequence of events. You need to figure out entrances and exits because you can't tell people to only look at one part of the stage. You can't have a quick montage of days passing or camp games that involve the beach and diving, but you can't just remove the scenes either because then the heavy lifting of character development and establishing relationships would then disappear with those scenes. You'll have to find another way to do it on stage. 

The Boy has a fear of heights but brags about the Blob (a high dive) because he doesn't know what it is? That's not something you can do on stage. Find something else that he could possibly be afraid of but brags about anyway because the Camp calls it something else. I dunno, some food he just can't stomach? 

If you've changed the location, you can't have that special garden anymore. But you can still have a special hangout spot, especially if they always return to the same campsite. It just won't be a garden she's tended for eleven years.  


Just changing these four things would lead to vastly different dialogue, which would lead to a very, very different execution of the idea, which is still Boy meets Girl at Camp and finds both Jesus and love. 

Is it a lot of work? Yes. Will it take a lot of time? Yes. Will it make you seem more creative than you really are? Probably, yes, depending on how much you actually end up changing.

Now, wouldn't it have been more worth it to write your own script in the first place?

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