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.
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)
by Director Lauralee Farrer
In a recent interview for the Los Angeles Times, Steven Spielberg described the challenges he faced with The War Horse, a film that stitches together a series of strangers by their mutual love for the same horse. It’s a big structural risk: it might easily become a series of disconnected vignettes. Given he had approximately seven minutes each, “making the characters unforgettable was the challenge,” he says. I was intrigued by his comments, as the Praying the Hours feature faces a similar challenge.
As I sat on a cramped plane to Ft. Wayne, Indiana, prepping for a project with roughly the bagel budget of a Spielberg film, films using similar structures sprang to mind including The Red Violin, The Yellow Rolls Royce, and even Crash. Crafting story is the great equalizer: when it comes to creating a screenplay that works, Spielberg’s writers boot up their laptops the same way we do. Our writing team includes some of the best talent I know—Kiri Zooper Hart (producer of story development), Martina Nagel, Jonathan Foster, Matthew Webb, and Tamara Johnston McMahon—yet worrying over this challenge has taken quite a bit of our focus.
The key to unforgettable characters is authenticity, in what my friend Bobette Buster calls “the gleaming details” of life that everyone senses to be true. Every story’s challenge is to create characters that are genuine, we just have to do it quickly. We have to keep the audience interested while we describe the character of the Hour convincingly, interestingly, and above all, in vivid familiarity.
In the two-hour feature that will comprise the core of the Praying the Hours project, Traveling Man will have about seven minutes to visit with each of the eight characters embodying the Hours. The descriptions of the characters give a hint at how we have worked to be both universal and specific:
- Vigils, the Doubting Believer
- Lauds, the Childless Woman
- Prime, the Rushing Man
- Terce, the Single Mother
- Sext, the Recovering Stranger
- None, the Mournful Songwriter
- Vespers, the Grieving Fiancé
- Compline, the Reluctant Teacher
Once we started casting, our characters began to come to life, and they will be the living, breathing incarnation of our stories. Now that we are entering production, we will see if what we’ve been able to articulate on paper can come to real life on camera. Or, to put it in language appropriate to the season of Christmastide, if the word can become flesh.
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.
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,
“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
Huge thanks from the PTH producing team to Dave Deroos, Stephen Childs, Robert Cruickshank, Ann LaVigna, and Karen Black for contributing!
We are 20% toward our goal of $120,000 to begin production in January. Consider ways in which you can help us reach this by December 31st!