Catherine Keller once asked, “What is theology but an incantation at the edge of uncertainty?” I can’t help but consider that the same might be said of filmmaking – or more specifically, of Praying the Hours.
It was a faithless act, really – saying yes to Lauralee. Or, if you prefer, it was a leap to faith in Kierkegaardian terms; it was not taken out of or because of. Rather, a leap was taken, so faith became necessary. My deep love and appreciation for LL notwithstanding, there was no foreseeable reason to say yes. I haven’t aspired to express myself artistically in front of the camera for years, there would be no financial compensation, and the commitment would be formidable. Still, I had an inexplicable compulsion to make what might be called a bet, a gamble – even a challenge or a dare – not to Lauralee, but to something else.
I have a friend, Jennifer, who is a practicing Hindu. She tells me that when she goes to the temple, she hopes for the reciprocal experience and blessing of darshan, which involves the act of seeing and being seen by the deities of her faith. In order for darshan to occur, the deities must be invoked to inhabit constructed representations, in this case statues, bearing their respective likenesses. She tells me that if there is no deity, there is no exchange, no darshan and of course, no blessing. But what has this do with filmmaking?
Elizabeth Gilbert has spoken of the illusive nature of creativity, explaining that in ancient Greece and Rome, creativity was not believed to originate in humans. Genius was not a state to be achieved or a thing someone could be. It was something disembodied, something independent, something other. It could not be possessed or controlled, but it might be encountered. Since then, the enlightenment has brought about a shift in conceptions concerning the locus of creative enterprise. As the spaces for conversation about that which lies beyond the realm of epistemological verification disappeared, the locus of genius, creativity, and inspiration shifted to human beings. As Wittgenstein famously concluded, “What we cannot speak about we must pass over in silence.” But passing over in silence need not imply that we can’t at least leave an empty space at the table. You know, just in case. For my part, participating in Praying the Hours is an attempt to leave just such a space.
Through my experience thus far, I’m beginning to intuit that faith resides in the building, the constructing – or the leaping – as it were. For me, it began with the incantation of an affirmative response; the ‘yes’ in the absence of reason. An openness to possibility, a bet, a dare to that which must be passed over in silence. Now, collectively, the onus is on us to set a stage here, at the edge of uncertainty. Our construct, our representation is comprised of C-stands and lanterns, makeup, hard drives… The equipment, the material, the medium is really not important. It’s all just matter unless, amidst our strange alchemy, the inexplicable happens and the ineffable decides to shows up.
by Director Lauralee Farrer
The character of the Traveling Man in the Praying the Hours project is crossing over from this life into the next, and he carries in his pocket a copy of Rainer Maria Rilke’s book of poetry on the divine hours. This is a nod to Dante being guided through the Inferno by the Roman poet Virgil, and our statement that something other than logic is necessary to navigate the space between the worlds of the seen and the unseen.
In this life, and in the next, our crucial journeys require an eternal word too deep for common speech. In my faith, God created the earth and those of us who walk on it by speaking just such a word of mystery. Later, God embodied that Word to become human.
Traveling Man is “summoned” by the Hours as they appear by his hospital bed, and in the 24-hour period it takes him to die, he observes their lives from the perspective of eternity. A series of epiphanies guides him through the day of his crossing over, and leaves his friends also subtly changed.
In at least one of the segments of our project, “Compline, the Story of the Reluctant Teacher,” the Traveling Man reads one of Rilke’s poems aloud to the character of Compline—a decision we made in the moment of shooting. We chose a poem that had been translated from the German by DP Martina Nagel for the compline chapter of the book Praying the Hours in Ordinary Life. As Chris Min read, we were all moved by the eerie symmetry between the poem’s imagery and the imagery we were shooting:
I live my life in ever-increasing circles
That stretch across all things.
I may not manage to complete the final circle
still I must attempt it.
I revolve around God, the tower of old,
And I spin amidst thousands of years.
Yet I remain unclear of my role—
am I a falcon,
or a beautiful song?
Ich lebe mein Leben in wachsenden Ringen I,2
Rainer Maria Rilke, The Book of Hours
As Chris read the poem and we filmed, something beyond speech happened, and the poem and our experience merged.
Friend of the production Denise Klitsie quotes Walter Brueggemann on the mystery of experience and poetry illuminating each other. He says, in fact, that the work of prayer, “consists in the imaginative use of language to give extremities their full due and to force new awareness and new configurations of reality by the boldness of speech. All this is to submit to the Holy One in order that we may be addressed by a Word that out-distances all our speech.”
by Director Lauralee Farrer
In each of the unique stories for the Praying the Hours series, the writing team draws on the realities of our locations, the stories of the actors, and the personality of the Hour of the day for each story. It’s one of the tenets of no-budget filmmaking to write around what already is, but in our case, it goes deeper than budget. Our shooting style accommodates capturing the unexpected—much as might be the case with documentary filming. In the case of each person we’ve asked to portray an Hour, we’ve tried to craft the story in such a way that the telling will be deeply intuitive for them. Often, that means drawing from the life of the actor for the story they will be telling—a very untraditional choice to make. In most cases, this requires great bravery from our cast. Marcia Whitehead recalls:
In sculpting the script for Compline, the director wanted to borrow heavily from my life experience to bring the Hour of Compline to life. As we discussed this on several occasions during the weeks preceding the shoot, I became more and more emotional, fearing that exposing so much of my soul would be profoundly painful. It’s not that I was afraid to let people into my life on a deep level, but I was afraid that reliving certain experiences for the camera would take me back into the emotional depth of the original events.
On the evening we shot a nursing home scene where Compline’s adoptive mother speaks cruelly to her, panic overtook me, and I actually told the director I didn’t think I could do the scene. What saved me was the wonderful woman who was cast in the role of Compline’s adoptive mother. Marilyn Sumner is one of the most delightful people I’ve ever met and we formed an immediate bond. My brother and I are both adopted and it turns out that Marilyn has two adopted children so we connected on many levels. She was so dear during the shoot that when the camera stopped rolling, she was eager to be sure her dialogue wasn’t hurting my feelings. We assured each other that we were just “playing pretend.” My feelings were not hurt at all, actually, and we had a great time together—she said to the crew afterward that it was one of the most significant experiences of her life! And my fears of reliving past pain were never realized.
I, Matt Webb, grew up in Huntington, went to college at Huntington College before it became a university, and even worked in the admissions office at HU for a couple years at the turn of the century (I love that I get to write that!). But when I first moved to LA in 2004 it never really occurred to me that I would go back to make a film.
But a few years ago I ran into Lance Clark, the head of the film department at HU, and learned that they had a burgeoning new film program with new facilities, new equipment, and a lot of new students. Some months later I felt compelled to contact Lance and ask him if he might ever be interested in developing a relationship between a film crew from LA and students at HU. He was.
Later that day I was running errands around Fuller Seminary and I swung by Lauralee’s office and said, “Hey, if you are ever interested in shooting a film in Indiana, I have a school with a film program that would be interested in partnering.” And then…well…then there was Compline!
Returning to Huntington was more than just exciting and nostalgic. It was life giving in ways I never expected. We received such a warm welcome from Peggy Bradley and her whole team at Heritage of Huntington. We were amazed with the generosity of Tom Clounie and Tom Gates to help make shooting at Mt. Calvary Cemetery absolutely gorgeous. Julie Hendryx and Lance Clark at Huntington University made our stay comfortable and opened doors all over campus. The students at HU worked hard, with many late nights and in some unusual circumstances (think 40 feet in the air on a lift in sub-freezing temperatures at midnight in a cemetery!).George Killian, the head of the music department at HU, agreed to play a role in the film and entertained us with his great sense of humor. My parents provided meals, housing, a pool for shooting underwater, vehicles…the list goes on. Not to mention the many, many churches and individuals (Ron Allchin and his parents, Janet Clark, Carlene Peters, Miller and Meadows dorms, Sam Ward and the drama crew at Emmanuel Community Church, Faith Community Church, Vince Haupert, the HU Admissions Office, and the 509 Community) who provided meals along the way. Even working with friends like Ruth Reed and local businesses like Zays Leasing and Rentals and the Rusty Dog Irish Pub was an exercise in learning generosity.
Before January I was excited to introduce my friends from Los Angeles to my hometown, let them see where I was shaped and grown, and reconnect for myself. Little did I know that the love and care of the Huntington community would be so overwhelming. I can’t wait to return and do another project in the motherland!
by producer Rob Bethke
Part of the adventure of producing low-budget films is the necessity to step into many different roles – in other words, filling in the gaps in your production crew. I used to fall into the trap of imagining filmmaking as a bit of a power trip, where directors and producers impart their brilliant visions upon the crew and then sit back (sipping a latté) and watch the little workers carry out their creative wills. Of course, I would have never admitted that I expected such a thing, but it’s probably there in the back of the minds of many a wannabe filmmaker. The reality is quite different, particularly when you are forging your own vision into existence without relying on an angel investor to pay all the necessary humans for their expertise and long hours of work.
This is a low-budget film production. There is no studio executive hovering over us, tweaking the script, micro-managing budgets, and constantly thinking about how this film will make millions of dollars by appealing to males 16-23 years-old. We are beholden to nothing except the vision of the writers and director. Now, there are plenty of limitations, but there is also a significant lack of stress that makes it much more enjoyable. This doesn’t mean that we don’t work hard, however, which is suppose to be the theme of this post… We work very hard… to be team players, to care for one another, and to get the film made with professional quality.
Let all aspiring filmmakers have ears to hear what I have to say! Your work ethic and positive attitude are worth much more than any specialized skills you may bring to a film project. If you want to find your way into “Hollywood” (a goal which I wouldn’t necessarily recommend), or if you want to figure out how to be a part of making films, then work hard and be happy. A willingness to step into the jobs that no one else has time to do – but desperately need to be done – will win you deep appreciation from the producers/directors, who will most likely want you to be around on their next project in a larger capacity. Likewise, a person who is polite and pleasant to work with gives energy instead of taking it away from those around them. We all would rather have “energy-givers” around us!
I came to Indiana for our first shoot in January of 2012 not exactly sure what I would do with my time there. My responsibilities have mostly kept me busy with social media and web presence for Praying The Hours. But as I observed and listened to the others on the crew, explaining the challenges and needs of the production, I realized that there were gaps that needed to be filled and that I needed to step into them. One of our key producers became sick, so I volunteered to cover some of his responsibilities on set. By continuing to observe the frustrations or stress of others around me, I often saw that I had the time or energy to take tasks from them so that they could breathe easier. This kind of
attitude is invaluable on any production. Those with such willingness to DO WHAT NEEDS TO BE DONE – without whining about whether it was my “job” or not – are the ones that I want working with me on film sets and the person that I try to make sure I am being when contributing to film projects. That’s how you become a filmmaker.
(FYI, all the pictures here are random and have nothing directly to do with this post. Just some that I grabbed on my phone during occasional breaks in production while in Indiana)