Burning Heart presents a Lauralee Farrer production

Archive for March, 2012

The Power of Generosity

By Director Lauralee Farrer

One recent morning, before the None shoot, an unexpected expense came up that was very disheartening. That afternoon, in an equally random, unexpected way, someone texted to say she had been praying for us, and thought: I could give some money. I could do that. And a figure came to her mind, so she thought, that’s good.

The expense was over three times the amount of the donation, but a strange thing happened: we were more encouraged by the gift than we were discouraged by the expense. It made me wonder if there is such a thing as kairos (grace) money as well as time.

The incredible timing of her gift gave us the feeling that God sees us and draws others to us who are called to pray or to give at just the right time—this is a mysterious lesson that is as inspiring as it is unpredictable. It gives you the assurance that you are not alone. That, as Goethe said, the cosmos will open to help when you need it.

Other amazing things have given us the same “illogical” but profound encouragement. For example, we were planning on shooting with two cameras, but we still hadn’t received all the equipment for the one Red Scarlet that we ordered and paid for back in October. Yet the day of our first shoot here in Los Angeles—the very day—another friend of the production received the Red Scarlet camera he also ordered back in November, and he rushed it over to us to use. To my mind, that’s two miracles: that the camera arrived within hours of our need for it, and that the new owner was as excited as we were that we should use it. The brand new camera for which he’s been waiting breathlessly since November—that’s the one that he dropped off for our use and thanked us for the privilege of doing so.

We are limping through the costs one inch at a time. That is stressful. But now and then, at just the times when we need it, an inspiring gift of confidence, generosity or other encouragement will come through. Like the day that a location turned sour and we lost an important venue, only to replace it immediately with something much better—Mario’s Añejo Duddery in Echo Park. We rewrote the scene to make use of his unique place, and we had a blast. He thanked us over and over for coming to his shop, took photographs with us, invited us back, helped move equipment, acted as an extra in the scene—even loaned Aaron Paul Ballard a shirt for a pickup scene that he later gave him as a memento.

Alongside these uneven ups and downs, slowly but surely, we’re shooting the project. We are 2/10ths of the way done. No one is quitting their day jobs or wrecking their marriages or losing their health, and the film is starting to get in the can (or the hard drive). That, too, is a mystery. It’s not easy. Tamara and I were just discussing yesterday how this work pushes us to our edges and forces us to face our weaknesses. But it’s good work. And good stories. And good filmmaking. And in the midst of the good stories and filmmaking, the generosity of friendship is the truly transformational power, through which we end this process different people than we began it.

Thank you, Patrick Duff for the photos, and for your remarkable friendship.

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Calling at a Decent Hour

by Lauralee Farrer

When we were in Indiana, early one morning before a day of shooting, I texted my friend Keri Tombazian to ask her to pray for me. I realized with horror that I had texted her at a little before 3 a.m. in Los Angeles (or at the hour of Vigils). Later, at a “decent” hour, I texted again to apologize. Typical of Keri, she replied: “don’t ever worry about that. My phone is on kairos time.”

Kairos, of course, means “grace.” Chronos time is the polar opposite, it is unforgiving, relentless, unstoppable. That’s the time we live by, mostly, with the exception of the transcendent kairos moment here and there. In a conversation with Tricia Harding the other day we were both bemoaning the fact that in this life, at least, we will always be caught in tension between chronos and kairos. The late Ray Anderson put it this way: we are made of dust yet we have eternity in our hearts.

Making this movie that focuses so intently on the hours, you’d think the one thing I wouldn’t forget is time. The truth is, I not only forget the hours, I forget to pray them. That’s a short route to hypocrisy and to losing sight of the purpose of this ambitious project in the first place—which is to dive more deeply into the mystery of the place where time and prayer merge.

So, we have a modest plan. We have a small team that thinks about distribution and social media, as we hope that by the time we’re done with this project we’ll have our own delivery system for it. In those conversations, we’ve been considering the value of Twitter for slowly building an audience. We invited Eric Jessen and Matt Lumpkin to one of our producer meetings to give their opinions on the subject. Both said the same basic thing about the secret to Twitter: say something interesting.

Among us, we decided what would interest us would be a daily tweet at a specific hour of prayer with a reflection, scripture, or thought about the personality of that hour. To remind us that while we are making the movie Praying the Hours we ought to be praying the hours as well.

Starting on Monday, March 26, 2012, and for 30 days thereafter, we will tweet every day at 3 p.m. at the hour of None—the hour we finished shooting last week and are starting post production on. Follow us on @praythehours .

None is the hour of the day when “shadows lengthen.” There are only a few hours left to daylight and the heart sinks to consider it, knowing that you will not complete all that you hoped to in this day (it applies equally to a lifetime). This is the hour to pray for courage, to rise up and ask God to help you focus on something that has eternal value. It’s a good hour to admit your limitations and embrace grace.


Stop Thinking and See

By Director Lauralee Farrer

The “found moment”  is our shorthand for authentic moments that inspire a film but cost a fortune to orchestrate. Here’s an absurd example (except that it happened in the movie Ray): A common hummingbird flies in your open window and buzzes there, then zips out. Your heart pounds as if it were an angelic visitation. You write, of a person who has an epiphany, “a hummingbird flies in her window.” Later, producers have to organize a scene that requires a hummingbird wrangler or expensive CGI. To make an even sillier point, at the time of its release, Titanic was the most expensive movie ever made, while the sinking of the Titanic happened for free. What cost so much was making it happen on cue.

On a far smaller continuum of epiphany to disaster, independent filmmakers try to manufacture the organic moment just like big budget filmmakers do. On PTH, we are using a shooting style that is half-documentary and half-narrative to capture the truthful moment, much as John Carney did so beautifully in the movie Once.

We write a story, built of bones and filled in with dialogue and action—instructions of the kind of thing to look for and to film. When actors are cast and locations secured, we rewrite around the reality in order to accomplish the same ends as the first script, but in a more organic manner. When the script for None called for a baby to be sleeping and she was irrevocably wide awake instead, we rewrote a scene that required a laughing baby.

Before the None shoot I showed DP Abraham Martinez the locations in advance. He said, “these locations are perfect for the script!” Of course they are, I wrote to them after they were secured. We write/film/edit a story from pieces of real life, relying on our ability to see the narrative in the circumstances surrounding us. I told one cinematographer: “God will show up. It’s your job to get it on camera.”  This requirement to be present is unnerving to some and liberating to others. To my mind, cinematographer Jordan McMahon is the prince of the found moment. He knows how to compose and frame a shot, but he also has a sixth sense of when something is about to happen—even if it’s stillness—that speaks to the moment the scene calls for.

While shooting Compline in Indiana, our found moments were created by things like snowfall, the availability of an abandoned house, an unstable mousetrap covered in peanut butter. Marcia recounts:

During one of the scenes it was my job to pick up a mousetrap and place it in one of the kitchen cupboards. We filmed it enough for me to let my guard down and realize that mousetraps are nothing to be afraid of. And then, while scooting the trap to the center of the shelf, it snapped shut, flinging peanut butter in every direction. I have no doubt my screaming was heard in Canada.

That was a simple—and hysterical—found moment that was easy to catch. Recently, as we shot the story of None, there were sober, winsome, sad, pensive, and charming moments, such as a moving bus throwing a maze of shadows across the frame shop (seen by Abe) or a picture frame reflecting the expression of the framer as he works (seen by Jordan). In the script I wrote the line of dialogue: “I just don’t think about it.” After that, on a location scout, I saw a small framed image that had written on the corner of the canvas “I try not to think about it.”  That was eerie. And now I realize, often that’s what it takes: stop thinking, and see.


Thanks to Those Who Gave Us Something Extra

By Director Lauralee Farrer

If you’ve read Matt Webb’s blog on the Kinema Commonwealth, then you understand why I rankle a little at the name “extras.” I don’t need to buy the world a coke and teach it to sing harmony, but extras are human beings, not happy meals. I know that actors are used to the title “extra” and not offended by it, but I like what they are called in the world of opera: “supernumeraries.” The word simply means someone who is paid for a temporary contract, but I like hearing them called “supers” and I like that the word can be applied to actors, professors, police, ministers, judges, military personnel, writers or—if Wikipedia is to be believed—knights and ladies. Now we’re talking royalty.

Extras are the rarest kind of human being—people who will drive all the way from their homes to Echo Park late on a work night, stand in line for an hour just to be in the blur of a filmclip, and go inside to stand for two more hours while the band they’ve come to hear is annoyingly stopped and started and stopped again. In the case of our independent film, they didn’t do it for a paycheck, or to save $5 bucks at the door, but just because they are friends of the production, and because they enjoy one another’s company (and a free Parson Red Heads concert!). We are indebted to Emily Morton who organized our crowd on the night that we shot a vintage clothing shop turned temporary club, who cared for people, made sure they knew what was happening, and whose gift to the production in that form cannot be repaid. Our DP Abe Martinez overheard one of the extras laughing who came out to hear the Parson Red Heads in our PTH story of “None, the Story of the Mournful Songwriter.” Kerry Royce has a unique laugh that he recognized right away: “I used to hear her laugh listening to podcasts while we were in Africa,” he said, “it made me feel like home.”

That’s sort of what extras do—make a unique environment feel like home, and I cannot thank them enough for coming out that night. They give a scene authenticity, focus, attention. Tish Dragonette is the consummate extra. She has a great time while she is there, is patient, attentive, and interested. Not to mention beautiful. Kahle McCann too. He’s good at paying attention and helping to direct focus to what you are trying to create out of thin air, which is, of course, some approximation of real life (also beautiful). And Sarah Parker: unique, lovely, fun. When I listened tonight to Loren Roberts’s mix of the Parsons’s set, I could hear the voices of our friends cheering: full-throated, happy, believable, committed. The script calls for “the crowd goes wild” and for Evan to say, “thank you. Thank you.” When I heard exactly that happen, I got goosebumps, and I thought, that’s more than I hoped for. Something extra.


The Kinema Commonwealth

While I was a student at Fuller Theological Seminary I studied theology and film with a focus on trying to integrate my faith and my art. I didn’t want to make films exclusively for Christian audiences, and I wanted to do more than just think theologically about the stories I brought to film. So after three years of theological study and rich dialogue with Lauralee, Matt Barber, Aaron Schuh and other Christian friends who were filmmakers, the idea emerged to “simply” articulate what it was that was important to us when it came to making films, and use language that could be adopted by filmmakers of all faiths or none. And with the great help of Barber and others, the Kinema Commonwealth Manifesto came into being.
The manifesto is a one-page document outlining values for filmmaking that might help shape the decision-making process for artists in the craft. A little ironic that after four years in graduate school, the culmination of my work could be summed up in one page (single-spaced!). The crux of the manifesto is that as filmmakers we want to create filmmaking environments that are based on respect for individual filmmakers, the larger community and the film itself. Rather than have a bottom line drive decisions, we wanted our love for people and the craft to shape our decision-making process.
So we tried it out on a short film, Weathered, and received some great feedback. Crew members told us that they had never felt more cared for on a set. One camera operator cornered me and kept pressing me for why we were so kind to everyone. When I told him it grew out of our faith he cried, “I knew it! I knew you guys were Christians or something!”, and then he told me about his Orthodox upbringing and how much he loved working with us.It’s a contagious kind of thing. Lauralee and the producers of Not That Funny made the values of the manifesto central to that filmmaking culture and process, and now we are living it out (or trying very hard to) on Praying the Hours. And we’re consistently told that it makes a difference. That people feel cared for. That the environment is collaborative. That at some level it’s working and the Kinema Commonwealth community is growing.The Kinema Commonwealth Manifesto is not a rigid set of rules or a pie in the sky dogmatic theory. It’s just folks who love making movies and loving those they make movies with. Trying to make the world a better place to be one frame at a time. To learn more about the manifesto or dialogue about ways to engage the values in everyday filmmaking, shoot me an email at matt@burningheartproductions.com.
Photo credit of Matt Webb goes to Patrick Duff

Thoughts from Lori Fox

The opportunity to be part of the PTH team came as I was transitioning out of film and into a new city and career path. I was exposed to the concept of praying the hours after Director Lauralee Farrer had shown me a copy of her book Praying the Hours in Ordinary Life. I was personally looking for something to reconnect with my faith in Jesus Christ in a new way—the old forms and rhythms of the past were no longer fulfilling to me spiritually. As I was reared in the pentecostal tradition, I wanted to look elsewhere and my attention turned to a more liturgical and contemplative expression.

As I began to study the subject matter I came alive on the inside. It was re-awakening something within me, something older and wiser than me, the rhythms of daily grace in an ancient form. When Lauralee approached me about helping on the film, I felt the urgency of something I knew I wanted to be apart of. A team of us gathered and began to construct what these hours would visually look like based on years of thoughts, journals, and story boards that Lauralee brought to the table. The moods, colors, lighting shifts, seasons, and emotions opened up a new reality to me, one that was beyond time while also within it. It suggested a balance of fully living in this world while maintaining an otherworldly perspective.  Somehow the two merge together flawlessly.

I was glad the first hour to be filmed was Compline. This hour was one I identified with the most, not only through past disappointments and losses but also in my current transition of ending one phase of life and entering another. Being part of the crew in Indiana gave me the chance to blend art and spirituality in a way that felt like a beautiful form of worship.

During the shoot I overheard comments reflecting the years Lauralee had been planting seeds to see this film project come about. I stepped back and took the whole experience in. The subject matter was a bountiful spiritual feast after feeling starved for quite some time. I am thankful to be part of a project that will be the same for others who need it as I did. Now that I have completed this transition, all I can do is pray encouragement and strength to those continuing to labor.

To the cast and crew I say, be strong and don’t give up! Provision will come, grace will meet you, and those longing for the nourishment of this ancient practice of prayer will be fed because of your efforts.


Dear Chris,

Dear Chris,

No matter how much I think I’m going to give the attention to our stories that they deserve before we start shooting them, as time runs out I find that I increasingly feel like a mother who has left a child unattended somewhere. As we get closer to shooting, I have nightmares of walking the street looking for something and I can’t remember what it is. Stress dreams.

What calms me during these times of disbelief in myself is the belief in ourselves. The deep-down confidence that we are so much more capable than the inadequacy we fear; that everything’s going to be all right. If I can calm enough to let that emerge, I won’t worry whether circumstances go perfectly or all wrong. Remember in Indiana when we discovered that our lens was drifting out of focus and nearly 1/3 of our footage was unuseable? After the first wave of nausea I thought, “oh, this is just the place in production where all is lost.” I have been there before.

Tomorrow we will start a few days of prep to shoot next week. Our producers are belabored with setbacks: jury duty, a much-needed paying job, sickness, work deadlines, burnout, tragic losses, worries about money that hasn’t emerged, locations that fall through, exorbitant permit fees, and equipment that has not arrived. We have asked for help too late, too little, or too inelegantly. And through all of it, I wonder: are you all right? Do you know that night and day we are thinking about, preparing for, planning for you?

I remind myself to trust the layers and layers of creation that have gone into this coming week: the story conferences, the hours of writing and rewriting, equipment prep and location scouts, casting, props, endless conversations—and soon the shooting, acting, capturing of footage and the editing, color correction, music, sound mixing later—layers upon layers upon layers of chances to improve. Literally hundreds of people giving their good will, their love, time, money and energies because they believe. Then I think, how can we fail? Think of the army of people, the hours of time, the love. That is a potent river of force.

Deeper yet, I remember that we are telling a story of something ancient, set into motion with the beginning of the world, as old as time. We are not making something up, we are clearing the debris to get in touch with something under the surface, that already is. We are throwing all our inadequacies into the flood of that God-spoken creation, and we believe that something extraordinary, something transcendent can happen. This experience—our own epiphanies, not just Traveling Man’s—is what God wills for us. In some way to calm ourselves and “know that God is” means to embrace the idea that we cannot fail because this isn’t something we are creating in the first place.

It’s only one step from “how is this possibly going to come together” to “how can this possibly fail?” But that’s the step between backstage and onstage, between “wait for it” and “now!” Once we step out, as we will tomorrow, we throw caution to the wind and trust that God is going to show up.

Here we go, again, my friend. See you tomorrow.
Lauralee