Burning Heart presents a Lauralee Farrer production

Production

Of Premieres and Purpose

by Lauralee Farrer

It always seems that just when it’s most important to post, most interesting, there is least time for it. Blog posting for me, like journalling, is nearly always frustratingly anticipatory or reflective, losing the amazing energy of the “now” of filmmaking. Rather quietly, and without fanfare for the Burning Heart Productions team, the first fruit of our years-long effort premiered twice in the last few weeks.

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The first time, by invitation of Evan Rosa, for several thousand college students attending the Torrey Conference. It was the launch event for the Center for Christian Thought’s new series on Thoughtful Films. 1378731_10151919668490600_1916926809_nIt was our privilege to be there, and to hear the rich and potent responses from panelists and tweeting audience members that night.

Then we had the singular privilege of producing the Inauguration Eve program for the new president of Fuller Seminary (and friend) Mark Labberton. Among many others, we shared that stage with our guests the Eagle Rock Gospel Singers and guest performers Aaron Paul Ballard, Patrick Duff, Cynthia Glass, and Matt Tinken (seen here, at rehearsal). cropped rehearsal photo ERGS

That evening, where we showed “None: The Prayer of the Mournful Songwriter,” was a great privilege, and far more satisfying than had it been a more conventional film premiere.

PTH Labberton screeningThere have been waves of responses from both events, that continue to sift into our email inboxes or onto our facebook timelines. Among my favorites is a reaction from Robert Johnston, professor of theology and culture at Fuller Seminary, whom I asked, “did you like the film?” He responded, “I don’t think I can respond to the word ‘like.’ I am still trying to figure out what you have done to me.” We received many emails, delving deeply into the subjects and emotions stirred, many saying that conversations are still going on about it, and many who articulated our dream response—”that story was my story.”

Among the latter was friend Matt Lumpkin, who, among other things,  said the experience made him reflect on a poem he’d written recently. I include it here, with his kind permission, in the anticipation that talk about these themes of time, lament, hope and praying the hours, will continue.

The Line

I see a great wave of life washing over a thousand generations
Shimmering through their thoughts and rituals
Their texts and traditions

Their fierce struggle to etch the suffering of this day
into the dark stone face of the universe.

The spirit of their little lives,
a melody made of a thousand shrieks of joy and terror
A billion first breaths and a billion last deaths
The rests between notes.

I see that to make my mark is nothing.
I must join my mark to the line.

Matthew Lumpkin


Finally, a long-awaited story. The first of many.

In a little more than a week, after years of work, the first installment of Praying the Hours will be seen publicly. That story, “None: The Prayer of the Mournful Songwriter,” has become very dear to us and we are glad to put it out in the world. The fact that something from this project will finally be seen has had a sobering effect on those of us who have been working on it from the beginning.

It’s easy in the midst of a long-form piece of work to keep your head down and push forward, one step at a time. To show even a piece of it to others is to look up from that labor and remember why we started in the first place: to remind ourselves that eternity is not something that happens after we die, but runs like a river under the surface of ordinary life. The images so familiar to us from this story remind us of how we have tapped into that along the way.

Above you will see a preview of None’s story. Thank you, to those of you who have traveled with us from any stage of the journey. Over the next year, there will be a lot of these little revelations: so, a new era has started.


The long-awaited Praying The Hours previ

The long-awaited Praying The Hours preview is now live on our website! http://prayingthehours.com


Reflections on None

By Patrick O’Neil Duff, Senior Editor

Today I turn 32 years old. My life consists of daily interaction with my two-year-old daughter, my four-year-old son, and fifty-some-odd college students. In other words, I live in a cesspool of unwashed hands and runny noses, surrounded by individuals who don’t know how to keep themselves healthy. For the past month, I have been swapping various pathogens with little prospect of health, and right now, I am sick. Worn down and stretched thin. And it’s my birthday.

Last night, with a great sense of weary contentment, I finished a rough cut of the Praying the Hours segment entitled “None: The Story of the Mournful Songwriter.” I wanted to take a moment and share my experience.

“None” tells the story of a musician whose musical career and ambitions have dwindled and who lives within a tension of competing hopes and dreams, a reality in which much is desired and little is fulfilled. A business owner and family man, he has little time to devote to anything outside obligation, and often even obligations fall to the wayside. Though the possibility of a career in music has darkened as a possible horizon for None, it is still the place he finds expression, beauty, sadness, solace, and regret. His life is not a daily grind of gears—the gears have become so worn down that they spin aimlessly, no longer even able to achieve any desired purpose. None’s spark is all but used up; but then old friends return, and a chance to rekindle that spark of long-abandoned dreams is realized.

I borrow shamelessly from G.K. Chesterton in the following thoughts on kairos and chronos time—a concept at the core of the Praying the Hours project. In his book Orthodoxy, Chesterton writes:

As we have taken the circle as the symbol of reason and madness, we may very well take the cross as the symbol of mystery and of health. Buddhism is centripetal, but Christianity is centrifugal: it breaks out. For the circle is perfect and infinite in its nature; but it is fixed for ever in its size; it can never be larger or smaller. But the cross, though it has at its heart a collision and a contradiction, can extend its four arms for ever without altering its shape. Because it has a paradox at its centre it can grow without changing. The circle returns upon itself and is bound. The cross opens its arms to the four winds; it is a signpost for free travelers.

Chronos is a circle; it seeks to keep everything bound and under control. Kairos is a cross, a collision and a contradiction; it is something unleashed and released. Kairos breaks into chronos, the extraordinary into the ordinary, the sacred into the profane, the infinite into the finite. It is the Incarnation of God as Jesus the Christ, it is Paul the Apostle’s experience on the road to Damascus, it is the still small voice and the “strange warming of the heart,” that John Wesley described as the believer’s experience.

Every story in Praying the Hours has this kairos collision. For me, this moment happens in “None: The Story of the Mournful Songwriter” in the final scene, as None stands at the back of a crowd, watching his friends play music, contemplating a paradox of weariness and contentment:

I see that nothing lasts forever.
I can make peace with that.
But I still feel alone.

As I have spent time with this edit, I realize that None and I are kindred spirits. At one time, my dream was to work in the film industry. This dream faded as my prospects to fulfill it fell away one by one, and other things in my life filled the void. Other passions and talents were revealed to me: I love to teach, I love being a husband and a father. However, in this process, I gave up my creative dreams when I felt drawn to attend Fuller Seminary, a graduate institution for the study of theology. I became active in leadership at my church. I started investing in people, family, students, and I gave up on any notion of making movies. Since I started seminary in 2007, I hadn’t worked on a single creative project.

And then my kairos moment happened. Director Lauralee Farrer asked me to be involved with Praying the Hours, and at first, I told her “no.” How could I commit to anything more with so much going on in my life—family, work, school, church? It was my wife, Sarah, who gave me a firm shove in the project’s direction. Break free.

Film editing was something I had given up on. I had let it go. Mourned its loss. Moved on. And then I believe God gave me something I had buried and forgotten. God gave editing back to me. A mind-blowingly amazing, undeserved, unexpected gift. And I am devastatingly thankful and humbled.

I am weary yet content. I am officially a year further in this journey. If kairos is indeed a signpost for free travelers, as Chesterton posits, we must have our heads up as we walk, ever looking around for these signposts which light the way.

 

 


Du, gestern Knabe, dem die Wirrnis kam

Yesterday you were a boy,
today blind passion makes your blood swell.

You do not mean to seek lust but joy;
you have been chosen as a groom
whose desire is only for his bride.

But the spirit of lust pulls at you,
even ordinary arms suggest nakedness.
Even pale cheeks on pious paintings
blush with strange appeal.
Desire twists like a snake,
rising to the beat of the tambourine.

Suddenly you are left alone
with hands that will betray you
unless your will delivers a miracle.
But news from God comes
rushing through dark alleys
into your heart.

Rainer Maria Rilke, The Book of Hours, I, 38
translation by Martina Nagel, illustration by Denise Louise Klitsie,
from Praying the Hours in Ordinary Life (Cascade Books, 2010)


Setting Things in Motion, Keeping Them in Motion

by Lauralee Farrer

Francis Ford Coppola said that a film gets made three times: when it’s written, again when it’s shot, and yet again when it’s edited. These are all crucial stages to storytelling in film, and each one has its own demands and creative requirements.

We are in a season where all those stages are intermingling: we are editing Compline and None; syncing Terce so it can enter the editing process; shooting pick-ups for Terce and None; finishing scripts while in preproduction for Sext and Prime; and drafting treatments for Vigils and Lauds. That doesn’t take into account all the ancillary elements to keeping a production going. Blogs and tweets and posting facebook updates and finding money, filling out our equipment packages, casting, securing locations and navigating the never-ending challenge of no-budget filmmaking: scheduling.

It’s good to stop at this stage and acknowledge that everyone who lends a hand during this time is donating to the Praying the Hours project. The hours that Meaghan Baldwin has spent in Pasadena sync’ing audio and picture for Terce. The hours that Greg King has spent at his studio in Los Angeles helping to define the editing style for the project through his work on Compline, or those spent by Patrick Duff helping to bring the footage for None to life. The hours and hours and hours spent by producers Rob Bethke, Ron Allchin, Matt Webb and Tamara McMahon who meet weekly to keep things in motion, to schedule (and reschedule), to search for lens prices, to ingest or copy footage, to color correct stills and to send the scores of emails necessary to firm up all the details of an active production shoot. And those who pray and who send money. All of them, filmmakers.


When the Heat is All the Way Up

by Lauralee Farrer

A few weeks ago, we stopped tweeting at Compline (bedtime) and started tweeting at noon, the hour of Sext. That’s because we have finished the script for Sext: The Story of the Recovering Stranger and are heading into production this month. [Some who follow us @praythehours might be happy that we’ve moved on from Compline, which we chose to tweet at 11 p.m. But be warned: late-night Vigils is still to come!]

For now, every day at the hour of 12:00p.m., a tweet reminds us that the center of the day is a unique and potent time, a time to look back on the morning and forward to the afternoon and make one of many small decisions that add up to defining your life. It’s why the Western monastics consider it the hour struggle between “the noonday devil and the angel of intensity.” It’s a time of contradictory emotions and tumult when—during the summer—the heat is turned all the way up.

In Sierra Madre, where I live, there used to be a startling blast of a horn at noon to test the alarm for voluntary fire department. I loved that horn and was very disappointed when the city decided to end the tradition. There is another, deeper tradition associated with Sext, and that’s the call to peace. Many stop long enough at their mid-day meal to light a candle and say a prayer for peace, with the acknowledgement that prayer comes with reorienting the pray-er toward peace as well. For many a meal is shared with others at noon, providing a moment to look up from individual labors and acknowledge the simple pleasure of living and working together. Peace is built on such simple moments.

We have a weekly producer meeting for the Praying the Hours project, and if we skip more than one or two, we share the feeling that something is amiss, something that isn’t fixed by all the emails that shoot back and forth during the week. We are reminded that we are undertaking a long and arduous process—like circumnavigating the globe—and that the heat of production is made worthwhile by the pleasure of one another’s company.


The Self-Curse of Denial

by Lauralee Farrer

In our story on “Terce: The Story of the Single Mother,” we consider a woman (played by Liz Montgomery) who is facing difficult times that can be traced to a series of lies, bad decisions, and denials that she has allowed herself. Primarily because of her own intentional obliviousness, she is plunging headlong toward a ruined life. She is engaged by three strong-willed strangers whose intentions to come to her aid seem, at first, to matter more to them than it does to her. That’s because she has numbed herself with denial (something a lie always does) and these characters see the danger she is in even more than she does.

In storytelling mythology, the presence of three women combining to affect the fate of the story’s hero is very familiar—from MacBeth’s three witches to Sleeping Beauty’s three fairies. In this story, they are like furies (i.e. literally meaning “avengers”)—Greek mythological characters from beneath the earth who “punish whosoever has sworn a false oath.” There is the hint that the furies embody the self-curse that comes with being false.

Terce’s three inspirations take the form of a woman from the local church (played by Keri Tombazian), a contentious neighbor (played by Leontine Guilliard), and a helpful grocery store clerk (played by Nikki Barger Wheeler). Combined, they represent the presence of the Holy Spirit that is one of the characteristics of the Hour of Terce. The Holy Spirit moves as it will like the wind, and comes to our aid in the most unlikely and unpredictable places. In her story, Terce is visited by the Traveling Man who helps her to see how she might take advantage of the help that the women are offering, but that she must ask for their help first, that is, she must call down the help of the Holy Spirit. By admitting her mistakes, her need for help, and opening herself to gratitude, she can avail herself of their willing aid and find the joy and vibrancy of life that she needs to transform the hard days ahead.


Time Shaped Like an Arrow

by Lauralee Farrer

Somewhere I read that “time” was the noun most often used in the English language. Who knows how (or why) such surveys are conducted, or by whom; nevertheless, that result would not surprise me. We live in time the way fish live in water, so talking about it—or making films about it—opens us to a world of reflections as vast as there are people on the earth. Yet it is surprising how similar our feelings and experiences are in time. We waste too much of it, forget the things that are most important, run out of it before we’re ready to.

Praying the Hours producer Ron Allchin recently received an article from a friend who knew that he was working on this project. The article quoted Kevin Miller in his book on Technological Prudence: What the Amish Can Teach Us:

For the Amish, there is a steadfast determination to make technology fit what anthropologists call relational time. The ancient Greeks and the Apostle Paul called it kairos, or “ripeness,” time. When we zip past an Amish buggy on a Holmes County, Ohio, or Lancaster County, Pennsylvania, road, it hits us that our modern time is on a different wave length than the time those Amish in our rearview mirror are experiencing. Ours is a trajectory of time shaped like an arrow.  Chronos time gets us “there” quickly and efficiently but just as often leaves us feeling as if there is nowhere. There was little joy in the journey….

“A trajectory shaped like an arrow”—that’s a lovely phrase for chronos, and one that accurately describes the aim we take with hours intended to be productive, but that are often woefully empty. In this film project, we are trying to imagine the gap between kairos and chronos time visually, through the character of the Traveling Man. He’s called that because his journey in the film is from life toward death, or put another way, from temporal time into the eternal. As he is crossing over, he witnesses his friends from a perspective hidden to him before the accident that ended his life on earth. And as each hour of his last day passes, he sees something he wished he had known before—something he attempts to communicate to those he loves and leaves behind.

If chronos is time felt like a released arrow, then perhaps kairos is felt like a kiss: immediate, memorable, alive, and life-giving. The analogy may be more poetic than practical, but it makes it easy to choose.


Fighting Our Way Through

By Lauralee Farrer

There’s a popular quote from Ira Glass, host of “This American Life,” that makes much of the idea that our creative work often outstrips our good taste. I admit, even though I am not a beginner, I find it soothing:

“Nobody tells this to people who are beginners, I wish someone told me. All of us who do creative work, we get into it because we have good taste. But there is this gap. For the first couple years you make stuff, it’s just not that good. It’s trying to be good, it has potential, but it’s not. But your taste, the thing that got you into the game, is still killer. And your taste is why your work disappoints you. A lot of people never get past this phase, they quit.

Most people I know who do interesting, creative work went through years of this. We know our work doesn’t have this special thing that we want it to have. We all go through this. And if you are just starting out or you are still in this phase, you gotta know its normal and the most important thing you can do is do a lot of work. Put yourself on a deadline so that every week you will finish one story. It is only by going through a volume of work that you will close that gap, and your work will be as good as your ambitions.

And I took longer to figure out how to do this than anyone I’ve ever met. It’s gonna take awhile. It’s normal to take awhile. You’ve just gotta fight your way through.” 

Fear of doing work that doesn’t live up to my own standards is the thing most likely to keep me from ever getting there. I have often been so tyrannized by the idea that I will not have enough time to do the work I see in my mind that I waste time trying to get over my agitation instead of working. Glass reveals this like a long-held secret—we stop on the road of our own evolution as artists because we haven’t arrived yet.

Some are fond of saying that an artist never “arrives.” I don’t care for that idea. I think there are those (Mako Fujimura comes to mind), who have worked assiduously for decades moving from hobbyists to craftspersons to artists, and have done work to which each can say: “That’s what I meant.” This mirrors Babette’s sentiment at the end of the movie Babette’s Feast: “An artist waits her whole life for the chance to do her very best.”

Yet there is one stop beyond even “one’s very best” on the journey. Doing work with a community of people you love, throwing your shoulders against something impossible to move and feeling it shift, standing in the back of a crowded theater and being transformed by your own film as if you’d never seen it before—this is a mystery one step beyond our control.

What we are after with Praying the Hours is the chance to do our very best, the transcendent experience of knowing that though we are making something, what it might become requires more than our combined skill. To elevate art by the comparison, perhaps it’s the way parents feel when they observe the miracle of their children from a momentary objective distance and are amazed.

In the meantime, our days are filled with not quitting, with doing a lot of work, with finishing one story and then another and another, closing the gap so that our work becomes as good as our ambitions. And then, something even more than that.


Tweet Dreams

For those who follow us on twitter @praythehours, you know that we tweet at the Hour of prayer on which we are currently working. Our “terce” tweets ended a week or so ago because we’ve  finished shooting “Terce: the Story of the Single Mother,” and we’re entering a month’s worth of assembly cuts, scriptwriting, perfecting our shooting experience, and finance-juggling. In July we hope to start shooting again, but in the meantime, we’ll be tweeting on Compline into July.

Editor Greg King is finishing an assembly cut on “Compline: The Story of the Reluctant Teacher,” Pat Duff is working on “None: The Story of the Mournful Songwriter,” and Dan Long will be working on Terce. Writer Jonathan Foster is working on the script for “Sext: the Story of the Recovering Stranger,” Wes Halula is working on “Prime: The Story of the Rushing Man,” and I am working on “Lauds: The Story of the Single Woman” and “Vespers: The Story of the Grieving Fiance.” I still find a strange kind of encouragement realizing how many have made this project their own, and are working with enthusiasm to bring it about. Tony, Wes, producer/writer Rob Bethke and I talked today at lunch about the Prime story of a man rushing through his own life. It’s the story that has had the most resonance with the men I know, who fight to be present in their own lives, and to remain human, while wresting that life into existence in the first place. A hard balance faced not only by men. Nevertheless, it’s an hour that has room for the unintended humor that often accompanies the idea that we are in control of our own lives, and we laughed as much during lunch as we talked or ate.

As of June 1, 2012 we started tweeting Compline. Compline takes place at bedtime, whenever that happens for you. For one inclined to symmetry in  praying the hours, Compline might take place around 9p.m. to mirror the hour of Prime at 9 a.m.; however, no one I know goes to bed at that hour. I chose 11p.m. not because I go to bed by then either, but I to leave room for Vigils to occur somewhere between midnight and 3 a.m. The tweets of Compline ponder the mystery of sleep, and how we enter that world of absurdity nearly every night of our lives only to return hours later without knowing where our minds have gone or for how long. This we rarely question, but it’s bizarre when you think about it.

These are good days, summer days, days with fans in the window at night and the sizzle of heat remaining on the concrete long after the sun sets late in the evening. If you live in Southern California, they are bright days of outdoor movies, visits to the beach, and groggy afternoons at your computer desk. Our dreams during the summer are different than those of winter: they smell of night-blooming jasmine, sticky watermelon rinds in the trash, and the musk of desire—for love, for adventure, for something extraordinary to happen.

—by Lauralee Farrer


Reel Spirituality Makes Tax Deductions Possible

We are very pleased to announce that the Reel Spirituality initiative of the Brehm Center for Worship, Theology, and the Arts (of which PTH director Lauralee Farrer is artist in residence) has made it possible for donations to Praying the Hours to be tax-deductible.

On Wednesday evening, June 6, 2012, we finished the 3rd of 9 shooting segments we hope to have completed by the end of this year. We will need approximately $42,000 to reach that goal, and then on to post production and distribution strategies. For those who would like to help with these costs or ongoing monthly payments, checks can be sent to:

Burning Heart Productions
Post Office Box 1658, Sierra Madre, CA 91025-9658.

Checks must be made out to “Fuller Theological Seminary”
“RS #2940-000 for Burning Heart” must be in the memo line in order for it to get to us.

Thanks for the ongoing monthly support of many—you might want to consider this option to benefit you when tax season comes again.Special thanks to Carmen Altamirano whose thoughtful inquiry started the process that led to this very convenient result.

With gratitude and love,

the Praying the Hours producing team: Lauralee Farrer, Tamara Johnston McMahon, Ron Allchin, Matt Webb, Rob Bethke, Grace Oh, Terence Berry and Kiri Zooper.

PS if you prefer to give through paypal, go here for instructions.


Ich Glaube an Alles Noch Nie Gesagte

I am drawn to the things that have never been said.
I am determined to release these godly feelings
and not hold back
what others do not dare to ask.

If that’s outrageous, my God, forgive.
All I am trying to say is this:
My very best offerings are spontaneous,
without hesitation or irritation,
in precisely the way children love You.

Like waters swell and ebb into the open sea,
I want to proclaim Your name, in mounting waves,
like no one has done before.

If that is audacious,
then let me be rude for the sake of my prayer,
which, sincere and solemn,
rises before Your veiled face.

—Rainer Maria Rilke,
The Book of Hours, I, 12

translation by Martina Nagel, illustration by Denise Louise Klitsie,
from Praying the Hours in Ordinary Life (Cascade Books, 2010)


TERCE: The Light Climbs, the Worker Pauses

I worship You
with primal joy,
Holy Spirit,
Living God.
—Terce refrain

The light of Terce is bright, a sharp spotlight on our work. We have found the rhythm of a focus that has snapped into place, and the last intuition we have is to stop. And yet. Benedict urged stopping at this hour precisely to say, this work is not my purpose. My purpose is to praise God. In fact, monks are encouraged to drop their work tools wherever they are, whatever they are doing, when the bell for Prime rings, to remember God’s presence, and to acknowledge, as Rabbi Abraham Heschel put it, “Just to be is a blessing. Just to live, is holy.”

This hour corresponds to the season beginning with Pentecost. Imagine how the disciples, knowing that Jesus had resurrected from the dead and given them a great commission, were charged with the seriousness and fervor of the task ahead. And yet they were required to wait. And wait. And wait. The Spirit finally descended on them at the third hour: the hour of Terce (Acts 2:15) the same hour, only a few months before, in which Jesus was crucified (Mark 15:25). “The man who can articulate the movements of his inner life . . . is able slowly and consistently to remove the obstacles that prevent the Spirit from entering,” counsels Henri Nouwen in his book The Wounded Healer. “He is able to create space for Him whose heart is greater than his, whose eyes see more than his and whose hand can heal more than his.” If the fire for work comes from our own bellies, we set in motion all things small: personal agendas, careers, professions that will prove inadequate at the end of our lives. As someone observed, no one ever regretted on his deathbed that he did not spend enough time at the office.

If the fire for our vocation comes from the Spirit, the result is miraculously fulfilling. We are taught that the secret to finding our lives is to lose them for the sake of the gospel (Matthew 10:39). Pentecost celebrates the miraculous arrival of the Holy Spirit, sent to give birth to the Church. The Spirit empowered Peter to share the story of the gospel with a crowd that had gathered because the ruckus of the Spirit’s descent called loudly for their attention. At first, they charged the disciples with drunkenness, because their giddy joy was so uncontainable. When Peter explained what had happened, three thousand people “were added to their number.” Three thousand, who became the Church. The spirit of Terce is one of solidarity, of empowering the community to work as one body for the kingdom—wherever we are in the world, alone or apart.

The Spirit that fell at Pentecost is the same spirit within which we live today. It is not something that we make room for in a corner of our hearts, like a piece of furniture. It is rather like stepping from a vacuum into open air. Terce marks a necessary stopping to call the Spirit down upon our work so that we may continue fueled not by calculation but by obedience, not by might but by the Spirit, not by duty but by joy. “He will yet fill your mouth with laughter,” Job assures us, “and your lips with shouts of joy” (8:21).

The personality of Terce is characterized by this joy, joy that is prompted by gratitude. Joy is alive—a vivacious, sweet, tender, and powerful woman walking alongside to whom one can, every morning, express thanks for God’s blessings. Though the Hour’s prayers are short, they are potent then, and they are merely a respite fromthe work that calls anew on the heels of those prayers. Artist Denise Klitsie says of the return to work: “the space in your head where you need to go in order to interact with the work is sacred. Allow yourself to say all the things in you to say. Go deep. Accept. Trust. Go into the images.” The work remaining to be done is the same as when we stopped to pray, but we are different when we return.

—by Lauralee Farrer
excerpt from Praying the Hours in Ordinary Life (Cascade Books, 2010),
illustrations by Denise Louise Klitsie


Unorthodox and Personal

by Lauralee Farrer

The team behind Praying the Hours often comments that by the time we finish all of our shoots we will run like a well-oiled machine. Until then, we learn the lesson of courage required by any art form: keep going. More time, SO MUCH MORE TIME, is spent on logistics, planning, organizing, preparing, reorganizing, paying and strategizing than on storytelling. The periodic despair over not being able to give the material the creative attention it demands washes over me almost daily now. These are the “first- world” challenges that escalate during the days leading up to a shoot.

The story of Compline (shot in Indiana and portrayed by Marcia Whitehead) is being cut by Greg King. None (shot in Echo Park and portrayed by Aaron Paul Ballard) is being sync’d and will be cut in May by Pat Duff. “Terce: The Story of the Single Mother” is our current project, portrayed by Elizabeth Montgomery. Today we spent half a day in our primary location talking about lights, production design, shot lists, cast members, and babies.

We talked about babies because the DP for this hour, Martina Nagel, has a baby son who was there with us while we worked. Our lead actor, Elizabeth Montgomery, has an even younger baby girl who will be, in some ways, the off-screen subject of our narrative. While we were working, a text from cast member Tony Hale came saying he was at the hospital with Beth Castle who gave birth today—two months early—to a baby boy. Our minds continually drifted over to the image of her and her husband Greg, keeping vigil by the neonatal intensive care unit.

The story of Terce has many layers, but two of them touch on the birth of a vulnerable little one and the ways in which Terce never really grew out of that archetypal vulnerability. So again, the art we were planning mimicked the lives we were living. We need each other. That’s the reality that our character Terce must learn to embrace: the difficulty of asking for help and the poison of thinking that she (or anyone else) can survive without it.

At the Ashland Independent Film Festival last weekend, producer Tamara McMahon, writer Jonathan Foster and I were privileged to watch our film Not That Funny in front of an audience for the first time. We met Seattle writer/director and media personality Warren Etheredge (of The Warren Report). Today, in an e-mail exchange about Praying the Hours, he wrote, “I am always amazed/saddened, that more filmmakers don’t attempt spiritual material like this. Kudos to you for pursuing such an unorthodox project with such obvious personal resonance. It is that level of passion and commitment and vision that forms the soul of all great art.

It was a generous note, and his phrase, “obvious personal resonance” touched me today, especially. The themes of this project keep resonating while also striking the gong anew. Each hour holds its own mysterious stories, in addition to the ones we have planned. This is both the challenge, and the transcendence, of the work.

And while we are at that work, welcome to the world Fletcher Castle. We are praying the hours today, for you.

Follow us on Twitter @praythehours as we shift, this next week, from tweeting None (3 p.m.) to Terce (10 a.m.).


A Producer in Charge of Prayer

My name is Grace and I am lucky enough to be the producer overseeing prayer for this project. Never heard of this fascinating title? I will go out on a limb and say you’ll be hard pressed to find another producer of prayer for a film. Little credit for this is due to me but to the nature of the Praying the Hours project, and the importance that director Lauralee puts on prayer as an integral part of the production.

The Praying the Hours project is being built on a legacy of prayers—for many years Bette Farrer, an intercessor and Lauralee’s mother, prayed continuously for the movie. Her prayers form the foundation of what we continue to build on, and though she has moved on from this life to the next, her mantle has passed on to those of us who have committed to pray for this project. It’s a privilege to follow in such awesome footsteps and to be part of something that God is creating here on earth as He has already done—I believe—in heaven.

On the most basic level, my job is to inform the prayer team on a regular basis of the needs and requests submitted by the production team and to be a conduit between the two. That, however, is like saying that flying is only about getting from one place to another—without taking into consideration the miraculous adventure of flying itself. Prayer is an organic, living state of being, and I have the immense privilege of experiencing it with our production crew and prayer team. What makes this film unique is that God’s will and guidance is sought every step of the way. Story? We pray. Equipment? We pray. Finances? We pray. Cast members? We pray. You get the idea.

We are nearly a year into this project now (in the current form) and I can’t decide which I find more amazing: God answering all of our prayers (which shouldn’t surprise, but you know it does!) or how people have been responding to the filming process and even more so the call to prayer. Maybe both are equally awe-inspiring.

A constant source of prayer requests have been for finances and equipment. Can you blame a small independent film? And yet, often at the 11th hour, God has miraculously made possible that which would seem impossible. Although God has not dropped all the money we need on our laps, he has provided for us at every step of the way. Our human preference might be to say, I’ll take the whole lump sum, God, but God seems more interested in the process. As a team, we have, time and again, gone before God asking for what we need and He has answered in His own unpredictable way. I have seen what this does. It requires us, His people, to be in constant communication with Him—which perhaps is the whole point. Does it still require a lot of faith and going out on a limb? It sure does! But it’s also an amazing experience of fellowship and faith.

Behind the scenes of this project are countless prayer team partners who have agreed to pray for our film. I see them as our silent crew that give of themselves without acknowledgment. Each member of our prayer team is a source of inspiration and encouragement for me and I am grateful to be behind the scenes in prayer with them.


NONE: When the Shadows Lengthen

When daylight wanes
and shadows lengthen,
to forgive is to make whole.
—None refrain

How beautiful this dappled, soft hour of light, and yet heartbreaking. Grey at the temples, the hour of None is melancholy, a time to ponder things we thought would always be with us. The loss of our plans, our parents, our pains have eroded confidence in the ability to conquer time. There is not much light left to the day to work or read or see by, nor to the seasons of our lives. Mortality is undeniable, and even those who are most ambitious—or deepest in denial—must admit time is short before winter. A lonely hour, None is when monks pray alone in their cells for a holy death. We crave contact with something transcendent at this time of day precisely because temporal things are dissolving into shadow. None is the second most populated hour at coffee houses,whether for stimulant or company, it hardly matters.Though natural to reflect on loss, Teilhard de Chardin urges hopeful patience: “Only God could say what this new spirit gradually forming within you will be. Give our Lord the benefit of believing that His hand is leading you, and accept the anxiety of feeling yourself in suspense and incomplete.” Suspense is natural to this, the ninth hour, when even Jesus Christ cried out to God “why hast thou forsaken me?” Receiving no answer, He sighed, “it is finished,” and breathed His last. Perhaps the torpor common to this time of day is a soul-memory of that black hour marking the death of our Savior.

The None hour is an hour of sleepy prayer,when the light plays among the shadows it creates and we are haunted by old dreams. Poet Henry David Thoreau’s oft-quoted sentiments become our standard of judgment: “I wanted to live deep and suck out all the marrow of life, To put to rout all that was not life and not, when I had come to die, discover that I had not lived.” This is the hour that tests determinations such as these, and the gentle challenge of None is not to give up, for there is time left. Now, at the hour when things that we have relied upon fail, first look to what endures: “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever” (Hebrews 13:8). Trust is an important attribute of this hour.“Wait for the Lord; be strong, and let your heart take courage; wait for the Lord!” the Psalmist urges (27:14).

For some, None brings temptations to anxiety, of turning inward to critique and mourn lost youth, or worse, to try to recapture it. But this is a season to turn one’s mind toward legacies with eternal value: “The first and most basic task of the Christian leader in the future,” says Henri Nouwen in The Wounded Healer, “will be to lead his people out of the land of confusion and into  the land of hope. Therefore, he must first have the courage to be an explorer of the new territory in himself, and to articulate his discoveries as a service to the inward generation.” So, the past may be transformed from failure into gift. South African leader Nelson Mandela, when asked upon his release from prison if he feared death, quoted William Shakespeare: “Cowards die many times before their deaths; the valiant never taste of death but once. Of all the wonders that I yet have heard, it seems to me most strange that men should fear; seeing that death—a necessary end—will come when it will come.” Embrace this, said Mandela, and you will “disappear under a cloud of glory.”

At this hour, we are urged to shift our thinking from what we have left unachieved to what we might yet leave behind, and to apply our energies to forgiveness and generosity. When the disciples criticized a woman who had lived a sinful life for pouring an expensive bottle of perfume on Jesus’ feet, He rebuked them with what is surely a strategy for facing eternity without fear: “For this reason I say to you her sins, which are many, have been forgiven, for she loved much” (Luke7:47 NAS). So then, in the day toward which we all journey, it may not be asked of us whether we sinned, but whether we loved.

—by Lauralee Farrer, illustrations by Denise Louise Klitsie
excerpted from Praying the Hours in Ordinary Life (Cascade Books, 2010)

follow our “None” tweets @praythehours


Filmmaking in Widescreen

by Lauralee Farrer

The first time I went to see a 70mm widescreen film at the Cinerama Dome in Hollywood, I was an adolescent, and I sat with my father on the far right side. I don’t remember what film we saw, but I do remember it being good enough that I wanted to return to see the left side of it.

Sometimes you get an idea for something too wide to fit in your field of vision. Seeing only portions at a time can be a mercy, though, as the entirety can be daunting. Recently as I was describing the Praying the Hours project to someone new, he said, “So it’s like a feature film and a television series.” Right, I thought. It sounds overwhelming when you put it that way.

Artwork by Denise Klitsie

Eight producers, nine lead actors, a gang of supporting and extra roles, many locations and shifts of people on cinematography, DIT, and editing—that’s our ground floor. I was at an event recently where a stranger introduced himself and said, “I’m working on your movie.” It’s the first time that’s ever happened. Once, I set out to estimate the number of locations, shooting days, actors, and pages of script that we are likely to accumulate by the time we finish. I stopped, sensing it is better to live in mystery when it comes to impossible tasks. David Mamet says, “work until it’s done.” That’s our focus.

But here is evidence to back up our faith: a great team of producers; fantastic actors who are willing to be vulnerable beyond what a director could hope to request; one Hour shot out in Indiana (Compline: The Story of the Reluctant Teacher); one Hour done in Echo Park (None: The Story of the Mournful Songwriter); and the next Hour (Terce: The Story of the Single Mother) nearly ready to go. Audio and video files are being synced for editing, equipment packages are slowly being completed, and new team members are being added weekly.

[By the way, welcome Wes Halula, who is working on the script for Prime: The Story of the Rushing Man, and Glen Hall, who is our production design consultant.] While people float in and out of our filmmaking ecosystem, we often say to ourselves with surprise: it’s happening.

Wes Halula, photo by Jacob Abrams

A no-budget production can share, ironically, a freedom similar to a production with an unlimited budget because for us both money is no object. We cope calmly with shifting schedules, losing and gaining team members, locations, story plans, equipment, and/or finances because the biggest risk is the one we took when we set sail in the first place. It’s been impossible from the very beginning, so the fact that it’s getting done is like watching the experience play out in the Cinerama Dome—bigger than we can see, happening right before our eyes, can’t wait to see the whole thing.


Prayers for a Holy Death

by Lauralee Farrer

A strange thing happened on our first day of principal photography for “None: The Story of the Mournful Songwriter.” The script called for a woman to interrupt the main character “None” (Aaron Paul Ballard) as he is trying to write a song. She urges him to open his frame shop early because of a framing emergency.

Because framing “emergencies” are hard to come by, we had concocted this idea that she wanted to frame a rock and roll poster for her boyfriend’s birthday party that night.

A long and equally strange series of events led me to send a Facebook message to director Michelle Steffes the night before and ask if she might be available to play that customer. She wrote back, “do you want me to act? Or to help you find someone?” I knew for certain I wanted her to play the customer, but I couldn’t explain why. So I didn’t. A great sport (and a good actress!) she said she would give us her day, but that she had one chore she had to take care of: a framing emergency. Imagine her surprise to be called to the set of a functioning frame shop.

Her boyfriend’s father had passed away that week and she had to get his photo framed for the memorial service.  A strange coincidence. While I was trying to tell her what I wanted for the first scene, all I could think about was her boyfriend’s father.

Finally, I realized why: the hour of None is when monks go into their cells alone and their prayers include the petition for a “holy death.” That means they face the disappointments that accompany the “none” season of their lives, and ask God to sanctify their remaining years. I asked: will you let us frame this photo in the film? She called her boyfriend, and he said yes.

That found moment shifted the tone of the whole scene. When her character returned to pick up the frame job, she was invited to an impromptu Parson Red Heads concert that night, as a way of lightening what was sure to be a heavy evening. She asked what she owed for the framing job, and I told Aaron, “just tell her it’s on the house, and to ‘come back in happier times.’” So, Aaron said just that. And, in a case of life imitates art, he gave her the framing job he had done, and he choked up on every take (and so did I). Later that evening, when None sees Michelle at the concert, there is a brief but very genuine moment of connection between them. We did not film what we planned, we filmed what we were given.

I do not know Michelle’s boyfriend, but I  spent quite a bit of time with his father’s photograph that day, filming it and framing it, and—for my part—praying for him and for the family. It was a very rich and mysterious connection. Just the sort of thing one should expect from this particular hour of prayer. We asked permission of Joey (through Michelle) to tell this story, and he agreed, adding: His name was David. Rest in peace.


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.


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