Zealot screenwriter James Schamus: “It’s all about Jesus.”

Zealot screenwriter James Schamus: “It’s all about Jesus.” January 23, 2016


James Schamus, the former CEO of Focus Features and a frequent collaborator of Ang Lee’s, is making his directorial debut at Sundance this week with a film called Indignation — and while promoting his film, he has also talked about his work on the film adaptation of Reza Aslan’s Zealot: The Life and Times of Jesus of Nazareth, which Lionsgate is producing with Harry Potter producer David Heyman.

Here are some of the significant bits from an interview Schamus did with Deadline:

SCHAMUS: . . . I said to my wife that I was going to say no to everything unless it’s just so weird and different. And so I am having breakfast with the great producer David Heyman who tells me he just optioned this book Zealot, about the life of Jesus Christ, at Lionsgate. And if there’s one headline for this interview, it should honestly be, ‘For James Schamus, it’s all about Jesus.”

DEADLINE: Elaborate, please.
SCHAMUS: Lionsgate and David have been so understanding, because I took a year to break down all of Reza Aslan’s research, and another half year writing a script. I turned in a first draft that was accompanied by a 300-page research bible, so that every single aspect of the story I’m telling about Jesus is in a world that I feel confident current scholarship can back me up. The gift that Reza Aslan gave is there’s been basically 100 years of amazing scholarship about first century Palestine, and Jesus, and Judaism in that era, and nobody’s ever paid attention to it in the culture. Reza was able to synthesize and tell a story that really reflects the current scholarly consensus, or at least the engagements of discussions about Jesus, and it is mind blowing. It’s a whole other story than you’ve ever imagined, and so, I did that first draft. And then I directed this movie, and finally, this month I’m back to it. I’ve been working on it every day. Here. I go back to my own little, I’d say, bible. [He hoists a hefty bound copy].

DEADLINE: You’ll direct this?
SCHAMUS: No, this is a screenplay gig. It’s up to them, we don’t have a director yet. Every single scene in the movie is informed by this research. Every single aspect of it, when they eat, when they travel, when you go to Jerusalem, I’ve got the map. When he visits the Essenes at Qumran, the Dead Sea Scroll people, I’ve got the layout, and I put the characters directly in. So the big surprise of my life is that right now, honestly, it’s all Jesus. I hope to finalize my next draft on that script shortly.

There’s more where that came from, so be sure to read the whole interview.

I must admit I’m skeptical of the claim that Aslan’s book reflects “the current scholarly consensus”. Just look at the reviews cited at Wikipedia, for starters. I look forward to hearing from actual scholars some day whether the film based on Schamus’s script brings Aslan’s thesis closer to modern scholarship or pushes it further away.

— The image at the top of this post is taken from the front cover of Aslan’s book.

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