The Voice: Spring 2001

The Voice

Schelhaas writes for Touched by an Angel

By Sonya Jongsma Knauss ('97)

Luke SchelhaasIt isn't often that popular network television shows tackle big issues like science, faith, and the existence of God. Dordt alum Luke Schelhaas ('96) helped that happen on a recent “Touched by an Angel” episode. In a February program, a fifteen-year-old girl decided to write a research paper trying to scientifically prove the existence of God--partly as an act of defiance against her atheist father, who just happens to be her science teacher.

Schelhaas wrote the script for the episode, his first full-length script-writing experience for the show since he joined the “Touched by an Angel” crew four years ago. Martha Williamson, the show's executive producer, describes the show as “family edgy,” meaning it portrays difficult issues in a setting where families feel safe watching together. The show deals with real issues and real people finding the strength to get through difficult times.

“The show tries to show that there's hope, but not that everything's just all peachy and good,” Schelhaas explained.

Schelhaas started working for “Touched by an Angel” in Salt Lake City as a production assistant, an entry level position, through contacts he made as a Dordt student on the off-campus Los Angeles Film Studies Program. He did such diverse tasks as shopping, running to the airport, getting groceries and lunches, answering phones and filing, but his work as script distributor was the key part of his job.     

Two years later he became a writer's assistant, a position he has held for almost two years. He works with writers and producers on the weekly television show's script, giving input on possible changes, proofreading, writing some scenes, fact checking, and lining up consent agreements of copyrighted material.

Since he's not officially a “writer,” it was unexpected that Williamson asked him to write the script for an entire episode. In the past, she has asked him to rewrite scenes for an episode, but not write an entire show.

Williamson originally suggested Schelhaas think about writing an episode in which a child comes up with a science fair project to prove the existence of God. After Schelhaas's research and in consultation with Williamson and the show's other writers, the end plot featured a teenage girl who stumbles upon the intelligent design theory in her effort to find out whether God exists.

Schelhaas says he did a substantial amount of research before writing the episode, and he became very excited about what he learned.    “There are quite a few books giving strong evidence that evolution as a theory has a lot of holes in it,” he says. “The evidence doesn't necessarily point to the God of the Bible, but there is strong evidence for intelligent design, a creator.”

Schelhaas says his goal was to tell a good story, bringing out what the universe tells us about how amazing God is, while at the same time avoiding sounding like he was only trying to make a statement.    

“Ultimately the episode does show that both science and faith are necessary,” he explains. ”What we can know through science and faith and the Bible complement each other as we search for the truth about the way things are.”

He started thinking about the episode a year ago and spent some time working on it last June during the show's six-week break.

The first step was coming up with a six to eight page outline, giving the story its basic plot and structure, and following a four-act structure with three act breaks for commercials. Each act break had to be preceded by a new piece of information, something that would keep viewers watching through the commercials to see what happens next, Schelhaas said.

He had more time than writers usually do to work on the episode, and his outline went through various changes before he began writing the actual fifty-two-page script a month before the crew filmed the episode. After finishing a first draft of the script, Schelhaas flew to Los Angeles twice to work directly with the show's other writers and to put out the final draft.

“It was very much a collaborative process,” he says. “They're not all my words in the final episode--although for the most part it's my plot, my take on the relationship of the characters.”

Schelhaas was on set while the episode was filmed, which took a little over a week. The
writer is on set in case anything needs rewriting on the spot or to make sure the actors don't stray too much from the dialogue.

"It was an amazing experience to sit there and to see the words and characters I wrote come to life," Schelhaas says. “This has been a tremendous opportunity.”

Schelhaas would eventually like to work in film. He has written a sixteen-minute film, which crew members from “Touched by an Angel” helped him put together. The film, directed by a friend of his has been submitted to a number of independent film festivals and has so far been accepted to a festival in Utah and one in Southern California. He also has written a feature- length screen play, which he would someday like to shoot, but he says it would take at least three million dollars to be able to do that.

Despite that obstacle, Schelhaas feels called to be a salt and light in the world of film, doing what he can to help redeem this area of culture.     “The film and television industry has been one area that Christians have seemed to stay away from,” he says, adding that the entertainment industry will continue to have a huge influence whether or not Christians are involved.

“I enjoy being creative and feel God has called me to this work and placed me here,” he says. “It's given me a chance to do what I love and to have a positive influence.”

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