Burning Heart presents a Lauralee Farrer production

Archive for December, 2011

The Barn Burned Down

This brief verse by Masahide is a favorite of mine:

The barn burned down
Now I can see the moon.

Fasting is a big part of my spiritual life. It can take endless forms and have as many different purposes: fasts can be short and intense or long eras of spiritual discipline or seasonal (e.g. lent). They can affect food, actions, attitudes, creativity or sometimes all aspects of life. Fasts are sometimes about giving up and sometimes about taking on. Most are reminders to look up from life and remember God’s presence.

The fast I am in now is called, for short, the barn/moon fast. I felt the urge to this fast after a conversation with my lifelong friend Dianna Boone, who prays fervently for PTH against every nuisance she can imagine—from health-related, to equipment, to travel, to household, to finance.

Oddly, the opposite seems to have happened: the last four weeks have been a relentless series of inconveniences—from dead car batteries to randomly canceled bank accounts, checks returned by mistake, weird illnesses, jury duty, insurance woes, computer failures, hurricane-force wind storms, and so on. Nuisances have not abated; however, their consequences have often been miraculously redeemed. That’s why Masahide’s poem sprang to mind. I think it describes elegantly what artists are supposed to do: one foot in suffering, the other in epiphany.

To do this honestly, we must acknowledge nuisance, heartbreak, or sorrow for what they are. There’s nothing more onerous than someone who leaps over your inconvenience (or suffering) to force a silver lining because of their discomfort.

It’s equally as important to stay open for redemption that cannot be anticipated. When my car battery died on the way to work, I stopped at A&A Tire where the owner, Sarkis, shared moving memories about Christmas that surprisingly brought both of us to tears. Barn: $115. Moon: a hug from Sarkis and wishes for happy holy-days. He also pointed out, had I left the car for the month I am in Indiana on the old battery, it wouldn’t have started when I return. So—nuisance or blessing? Both.

The barn/moon language has become part of a shorthand on our producing team since we started this fast (I’ve been joined). I’ll get a warning text: “barn burning!” And sometimes later: “I can see the moon!” One of the unexpected by-products is a strange calm that pervades even the most threatening of our circumstances. Several have expressed in the face of daunting challenges that they feel a peace that is otherwise inexplicable. Perhaps that is the epiphany of the barn/moon fast.

Think what kind of risk-taking we can do in our work when that is at the core of our daily lives. When we are unafraid of what might threaten to derail us, and confident—even excited!—to see how God might show up.

It’s Christmastide, leading to the season of epiphany. The ancients believed that the veil between the two worlds of earth and heaven was more permeable during this season, and God’s presence more visible. If that’s true here in Indiana, we plan to shoot it.

– Lauralee

Ft Wayne actress Larissa Clark has been

Ft Wayne actress Larissa Clark has been cast in a supporting role as the “eager young voice student” in Praying The Hours. http://ow.ly/i/oAFD

Lighting by the Moon

by Director Lauralee Farrer

Last year, when Tamara, Jordan and I were location scouting in Indiana, Huntington-born producer Matt Webb took us to the St. Felix Friary. A beautiful monastery that had fallen mostly into disuse (now refurbished), it still retained the bones of its former glory. We looked out on a field white with snow under a full moon that was bright enough to shoot by.  We were transfixed.

The lighting scheme for the Praying the Hours project has one primary and nearly impossible goal: natural light. This is less of a challenge during the day than it is at night, of course, so we have conversations about artificial back ups, just in case the dream plan doesn’t pan out. Nevertheless, we have referred to that experience so many times that it has been the standard on which we have based our dreamiest hopes. Will this camera capture natural light at night? Is that lens fast enough? Our final and most important scen

e takes place in a cemetery: which one would best accommodate being lit by the light of the moon, with snow?

A week or so ago, the night Lance and Mary Clark picked me up at the airport, Lance asked if I’d like to go by the cemetery. We were not actually sure when we arrived. “I think this is it,” he said, squinting out the window. We had to pull up, park, and look around to be sure we were actually seeing headstones because it was so dark. We just stared into the black. Our idea never seemed so naïve.

Nevertheless. We are scheduled to shoot in the cemetery at Compline hour on the 9th of January by the full moon. We are praying for a clear night and for snow on the ground to act as a huge reflector. In the meantime, we’re like farmers checking the almanac for all our shoot days. Will the lake freeze before we are scheduled to shoot “Compline looks out the window on a frozen lake”? Will there be snow on the ground and a clear sky for the full moon when “Compline sings by the light of the moon”? Will any of the Compline Hour shots we have planned outside even be possible?

Strangely enough, courage comes in the form of a humbling number of people who have emailed, facebooked, or texted to say they, too, are praying for a clear sky, a full moon, and snow on the ground outside Huntington, Indiana, on the 9th of January. Our loud chorus won’t guarantee that it will be so: God is not our gaffer. He’s our God.  But he does love boldness. And we love joining together in a boldly hopeful idea.

We make our plans, we control what we can, and then we wait on God. In the long run, it won’t matter the outcome—we’ll get what we need. What will matter is that we believed together in our expectation that God will be found, and since it is God’s intention to be found, the plan doesn’t seem so naïve anymore.

’tis love that’s born tonight

Christmas, 2011

by Director Lauralee Farrer

Oh the joys of preproduction. Last week our world was rocked: our bank cancelled our accounts for random reasons even they cannot explain; insurance rates skyrocketed; our lead actor, Marcia Whitehead, has been struck with a vicious case of bronchitis and we have no idea when she will be able to come; camera equipment that was supposed to arrive on Nov 17 came just recently and the supposed Dec 1 shipment now seems like a far-away dream; the workflow of our new, magical equipment is a brain-burning challenge, and equipment that was supposed to work together, doesn’t. Oh, and it’s unseasonably warm. Great. We’re here for the snow.

It might seem in adequate against the threat of no money, no equipment, no snow, and no actor to say that we’ve been blessed by hospitable hosts at Huntington University. But sometimes kindness has a mysteriously powerful effect. HU has graciously given us use of 3 apartments and an empty house that is close enough to Becker Hall that J-term students can walk to the production office. We hope it will become a place for everyone to hang out after shoots. It will certainly get used—five of our team will live there, our production office and DIT will be there, and we will shoot it as one of the production locations. Julie, in the housing office, has gone beyond the pale to help us and though the furnishings we are scrounging aren’t going to get us in Architectural Digest, it’s definitely independent filmmaker chic.

I went to dinner last night at Janet Clark’s (head of the digital media department Lance Clark’s mother) and came home with enough food to sink a ship and enough stories on Lance to blackmail him for anything else we need (which would be useful if he wasn’t already giving us everything he’s got).  Producers Matt Webb and Ron Allchin are preparing for their own trek out here and managing things from afar. Abe Martinez, Martina Nagel, and Jordan McMahon have been working to prep cameras and shooting philosophy, Michael Cioni has put the power of Light Iron at our disposal, actors Chris Min and Marcia Whitehead are diving into their characters, Rob Bethke is managing websites and press, an army of people are praying up a storm, and a few student  interns are even coming back early from Christmas break!

James Taylor, in his terrific holiday album At Christmas, is singing from my MacBook Pro’s inadequate speakers the last verse of “Some Children See Him”:

Oh lay aside each earthly thing
And with thy heart as offering
Come worship now the infant King
‘tis love that’s born tonight…
’tis love that’s born tonight.

Today, Christmas Day, three filmmakers—Lori Fox, Tamara Johnston McMahon and Jordan McMahon—will arrive at FWA and then “home” to a $5 tree with a $1 star on the top, stockings hung by the couch with care and a feast worthy of the artists they are. Every production has challenges. Not every production has love. I hope you are as rich as we are this Christmas.

En Route to Indiana

I am ecstatic that principal photography starts mere days from now! For months the producing team has been working diligently on every detail imaginable in order to make this happen; everything from equipment (the Scarlet camera that played so hard to get!), the budget (where’s it coming from!) the actors (who do we know!), the locations (where do you live!)…all while striving to stay true to the ethos of Praying The Hours — aka don’t get too caught up in the small stuff. It’s been a blast, it’s been a trial and we’ve been blessed with a stellar crew (selfishly speaking, they work tirelessly and don’t have an “off” button, but essentially speaking, they love this project!). Jordan (my husband) and I leave for Huntington, Indiana early Christmas morning to meet up with Lauralee Farrer, Marcia Whitehead, Lori Fox and Lance Clark (others to join shortly thereafter) to actually start what we’ve always meant to finish. In addition to helping the other producers I’ll also manage continuity as Script Supervisor, a challenge I truly enjoy.

Alongside Lauralee, this is the second time I’ve started this project. Seeing past all those pained, costly and seemingly failed attempts at such a worthwhile project, I now see why Praying The Hours was meant for such a time as this. Had we succeeded in making the project all those years ago, PTH would not have been given due justice. Now, this project knows what it means to be. I only hope I can keep up…

Tamara Johnston McMahon

The beginning of production

Since I started writing the script for Praying the Hours nearly a decade ago, it has been a long and emotional ride to January 2012. During that journey, loved ones have been born and loved ones have died—including Matthew Diederich, whose last words to me were, “when are we going to make Praying the Hours?” Shortly after that conversation Matthew was killed, and the heart of our current feature script is based on our imagination of his journey from this life into eternity.

Many still and moving frames have been shot in attempts to embody time and prayer into characters. Untold time has been spent in design and camera planning; and words, words and more words have been written and passionately spoken and prayed. Countless hours pursuing production financing have been invested by producers who never lost their passion for the story, but weren’t able to secure the funds and filmmakers who started the journey with us but are unable to continue.

Now—at our own risks—the current team moves forward with faith in the project’s value and our determination to bring it to fruition with or without financing. As our friend Dottie Davison says, we are counting on a “budget of God’s love” to carry us to the mysterious end.

In January, we will have two Red® Scarlet™ cameras and a fantastic team of filmmaker-friends who will travel to Huntington, Indiana, under the supervision of segment producers Matt Webb and Lance Clark, where we will complete the first of ten shoots, and launch on the long road to capturing this ambitious project for the screen.

As of the end of 2011, our leads are cast, our cameras purchased, interns being gathered, our production team organized, and our stories in development. We push forward knowing that nothing gets achieved without momentum, and also knowing that we are throwing ourselves into a fray that we have all, in one way or another, felt called to engage. We have made our plans—now we see what epiphanies will happen along the way.

Thank you for your interest and your company,

Lauralee Farrer

Director, Praying the Hours

19 Days until the Praying The Hours film

19 Days until the Praying The Hours film project begins principal photography in Huntington, Indiana! Follow the blog: prayingthehours.com

Regarding our funding…

“Be calm and orderly in your life so that you may be violent and original in your work.” –Gustav Flaubert

Independent films like the Praying the Hours project are often made on a wing and a prayer, as the saying goes, but every production of this size needs a budget and a schedule to move forward responsibly. That’s how to create calm and order in the world of pre-production so that all the “drama” (story and otherwise) ends up on screen.

We’ve created these pages because, in the words of our friend Keri Babbes, “how will we know what you need if you don’t tell us?”

We have spent a good deal of time strategizing equipment, schedule, budgets and financing. We can use help at nearly every level: money, talent, prayer, and sage advice. When we say we need $120K, it’s likely that those are up-front hard costs that we can’t finagle around. Suffice it to say that those of us at the center of this are risking all we have to risk, continuing to move forward in faith, and trusting in the mystery to create its own momentum. To paraphrase Tevye from Fiddler on the Roof: “this is true [we need the money to move forward], and this is true [we are moving forward no matter what], and they can’t both be true. And that is also true!”

There are hard costs (e.g. equipment, airline tickets, insurance) and negotiable costs (e.g. remuneration, travel amenities, food), but everything needs to be done whether it’s paid for or not. What seems to separate the takers from the givers is in the details—are people treated respectfully? Is the work valued and given our all? Is the work worth doing? Independents are used to working for little or deferred pay, but that can’t compromise what ends up on the screen or we’ve all wasted our time. It’s also true that life is short, and we ought to expect to value the communities in which we are privileged to work, and to nurture long-lasting relationships.

That’s what we are after: to love each other and the work so that it communicates love to the audience when it finally reaches them. That is our grander goal, otherwise, a film is just a film.

Thank you for your support!

– Lauralee and the producing team

The hour called VESPERS (played by Beth Castle)

The hour called SEXT (played by David Frere)

Huge thanks from the PTH producing team

Huge thanks from the PTH producing team to Dave Deroos, Stephen Childs, Robert Cruickshank, Ann LaVigna, and Karen Black for contributing!

The hour called COMPLINE (played by Marcia Whitehead)