Burning Heart presents a Lauralee Farrer production

Archive for February, 2012

Treading Into None

by Tamara Johnston McMahon

As we fast approach principal photography for None (The Hour of the Mournful Songwriter starring Aaron Ballard and Chris Min), I find that it is just as important to get in touch with the hour of prayer as it is to finalize the numerous last-minute production details (and, in some cases, maybe even more important). When nailing down locations, scheduling cast & crew, finalizing script notes, gathering props (etc, etc, etc) all seem to overshadow the very reason I signed on to make this movie in the first place. It’s probably a good (if not imperative) idea to stop, breathe, and let Rilke recalibrate my sight to what’s truly important. You’re welcome to join me as I do this…

I love those dark hours,
those melancholy ones,
when all my senses are alert.
I have found in those hours,
like reading someone else’s letters,
my ordinary life has been lived a hundred times.
It is a legend that reaches beyond me.
I realize the promise of a second eternal life.
I am like a tree that grows next to a grave
holding high in its mighty branches
the dream a lost boy once dreamt
though he lies in my roots’ embrace
forever gone in sadness and lament.

—Rainer Maria Rilke, The Book of Hours, I,5
Ich liebe meines Wesens Dunkelstunden (translated by Martina Nagel)

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If You Build It…

by Christopher Min


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.


A Word that Out-Distances All Our Speech

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,
a storm,
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.”


Professor and Filmmaker

By Lance Clark

In the fall of 2010 PTH’s producer Matt Webb and I began a series of conversations that began with “What if…” I’m sure you have all started out a few meaningful talks that way and in the end you are usually left asking more “what if” questions than discovering answers. Matt and I soon found that a few of our “what ifs” turned into “could we?” and then graduated to “how can?” and finally “when will…”.

I love dreaming and casting vision for our digital media arts film program at Huntington University and one of my early dreams for the program consisted of networking with independent filmmakers and fellow believers who have a passion for storytelling. Matt is a 1998 graduate of H

untington University, and I have had the privilege of staying connected to him and his journey over the years. When I heard that he was studying film in the Los Angeles area I really started to pray about how God would someday cross our paths. It wasn’t long before we started those “what if” chats.

Most of you probably have never heard of Huntington University. It is a small private liberal arts college nestled in the northeastern part of rural Indiana. I have had the privilege of teaching at HU since 1993 and have been truly blessed to have some outstanding students come through our program. I play the role of executive producer on several student films each year. There is great value in steering students through the production process, yet I always knew in my heart that to really stretch our student academically and professionally we needed to take it to the next level and work with professional filmmakers. Hence, Matt’s connections and his passion for our program led him to teach a film class in January of 2011. Little did I know how much of an impact this would have on me and our students because during those few weeks of his class Matt asked director Lauralee Farrer and a host of other indie filmmakers to venture out to guest speak here in Huntington. I look back now and see how God was laying the tracks for the filming part of Praying The Hours.

Fast forward 12 months and we started principle photography in January of this year. What an amazing turn of events. As a segment producer on this film my main job was to help manage the eleven students that signed up to serve as production assistants. The typical “J-term” class meets two hours a day for a few weeks before the spring semester kicks in. Our students knew that this was not going to be any ordinary class and that we would be filming several hours a day and in many cases late at night. I think taking risks is a huge part of success and I know that this was a very big risk for PTH’s production crew and our program. My prayer was that our students could really contribute to the filmic process in meaningful ways and that our students and campus could provide the film crew the equipment and location needs that were required by the script.

Lauralee flew out a few weeks before Christmas to scout things out and to get a real sense of the various locations she wanted to film in and to cast some of the principal parts for the Compline segment. I was fortunate enough to get to spend some very valuable time with her during those weeks and was able to peer inside her creative genius head on how independent film can work in an organic way. Lauralee and the entire film crew that came from Los Angeles adhere to a filmmaking code known as the Kinema Commonwealth. The basics of their manifesto center on three community values: 1. Respect for the individual filmmaker; 2. Respect for the community in which you are filming; and 3. respect for the artistic integrity of the film project at hand. I watched and engaged with the crew from LA closely over the four weeks of filming and was blown away by how everyone not only adhered to these principles but practiced them in very real and meaningful ways. Despite long hours, basic living conditions and working with our student production assistants the PTH crew never complained. Matt and I wondered if it could really work, and in the end I know it did. I’ve not seen any of the footage but I have had several post conversations with our students who now have a deeper and richer exposure to filmmakers that love their craft and who show love for those around them. Now when I talk to Matt our conversations usually end with “What’s next.”


Borrowing from Real Life

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.


Returning to the Motherland

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 PetersMiller and Meadows dorms, Sam Ward and the drama crew at Emmanuel Community ChurchFaith Community ChurchVince 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!


Working with the RED Scarlet

by cinematographer Jordan McMahon

When I got the news that Red was FINALLY relinquishing the never-ending saga of the Scarlet-X, my heart skipped a beat. For months the discussion was what camera to purchase for our feature film “Praying The Hours”.  Up until this point I had only ever held a Red-One so I was excited, but a bit anxious to actually get acquainted with the Scarlet and shoot.   I met with our Senior DP, Abe Martinez and Producer, Ron Allchin a few days prior to leaving for Indiana to go over camera settings, the look of the segment and weather concerns, all of which helped to thaw my pre-existing cold feet.

Stepping out of the Fort Wayne Indiana airport on Christmas day was surreal in itself, but the slap of cold that hit my face put a new focus on what challenges the elements may have on our shoot. The Scarlet, being hot off the drill press, didn’t come with a weather manual (nor was there too much on the online bulletin boards).

During the course of the Compline shoot, Martina Nagel (segment DP) and I saw the gambit of weather: snow, sleet, hail, sun, and rain. Overall the Scarlet did well except for the few times it said ‘shutting down’ due to wind chill and shooting for prolonged periods of time. (And for you uber techy camera folks out there who are researching the probable causes why your Scarlet is shutting down, it’s also noteworthy to mention that we had to use a Red One battery because our side handle didn’t arrive in time.)

Having the opportunity to shoot in Indiana and step away from the constant pulse of LA was a breath of fresh air (literally). More importantly, we set out to capture the story of Compline and hoped that the Red Scarlet could handle it. I think it did exceptionally well and I’m glad to have had the opportunity.


Wearing Many Hats

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.

Local news interviewing our director

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

Lots of hard work put into beautiful lighting.

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)