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.
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. It 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).
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.
There 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.
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.
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 preview is now live on our website! http://prayingthehours.com
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Catherine Keller once asked, “What is theology but an incantation at the edge of uncertainty?” I can’t help but consider that the same might be said of filmmaking – or more specifically, of Praying the Hours.
It was a faithless act, really – saying yes to Lauralee. Or, if you prefer, it was a leap to faith in Kierkegaardian terms; it was not taken out of or because of. Rather, a leap was taken, so faith became necessary. My deep love and appreciation for LL notwithstanding, there was no foreseeable reason to say yes. I haven’t aspired to express myself artistically in front of the camera for years, there would be no financial compensation, and the commitment would be formidable. Still, I had an inexplicable compulsion to make what might be called a bet, a gamble – even a challenge or a dare – not to Lauralee, but to something else.
I have a friend, Jennifer, who is a practicing Hindu. She tells me that when she goes to the temple, she hopes for the reciprocal experience and blessing of darshan, which involves the act of seeing and being seen by the deities of her faith. In order for darshan to occur, the deities must be invoked to inhabit constructed representations, in this case statues, bearing their respective likenesses. She tells me that if there is no deity, there is no exchange, no darshan and of course, no blessing. But what has this do with filmmaking?
Elizabeth Gilbert has spoken of the illusive nature of creativity, explaining that in ancient Greece and Rome, creativity was not believed to originate in humans. Genius was not a state to be achieved or a thing someone could be. It was something disembodied, something independent, something other. It could not be possessed or controlled, but it might be encountered. Since then, the enlightenment has brought about a shift in conceptions concerning the locus of creative enterprise. As the spaces for conversation about that which lies beyond the realm of epistemological verification disappeared, the locus of genius, creativity, and inspiration shifted to human beings. As Wittgenstein famously concluded, “What we cannot speak about we must pass over in silence.” But passing over in silence need not imply that we can’t at least leave an empty space at the table. You know, just in case. For my part, participating in Praying the Hours is an attempt to leave just such a space.
Through my experience thus far, I’m beginning to intuit that faith resides in the building, the constructing – or the leaping – as it were. For me, it began with the incantation of an affirmative response; the ‘yes’ in the absence of reason. An openness to possibility, a bet, a dare to that which must be passed over in silence. Now, collectively, the onus is on us to set a stage here, at the edge of uncertainty. Our construct, our representation is comprised of C-stands and lanterns, makeup, hard drives… The equipment, the material, the medium is really not important. It’s all just matter unless, amidst our strange alchemy, the inexplicable happens and the ineffable decides to shows up.
by Director Lauralee Farrer
The character of the Traveling Man in the Praying the Hours project is crossing over from this life into the next, and he carries in his pocket a copy of Rainer Maria Rilke’s book of poetry on the divine hours. This is a nod to Dante being guided through the Inferno by the Roman poet Virgil, and our statement that something other than logic is necessary to navigate the space between the worlds of the seen and the unseen.
In this life, and in the next, our crucial journeys require an eternal word too deep for common speech. In my faith, God created the earth and those of us who walk on it by speaking just such a word of mystery. Later, God embodied that Word to become human.
Traveling Man is “summoned” by the Hours as they appear by his hospital bed, and in the 24-hour period it takes him to die, he observes their lives from the perspective of eternity. A series of epiphanies guides him through the day of his crossing over, and leaves his friends also subtly changed.
In at least one of the segments of our project, “Compline, the Story of the Reluctant Teacher,” the Traveling Man reads one of Rilke’s poems aloud to the character of Compline—a decision we made in the moment of shooting. We chose a poem that had been translated from the German by DP Martina Nagel for the compline chapter of the book Praying the Hours in Ordinary Life. As Chris Min read, we were all moved by the eerie symmetry between the poem’s imagery and the imagery we were shooting:
I live my life in ever-increasing circles
That stretch across all things.
I may not manage to complete the final circle
still I must attempt it.
I revolve around God, the tower of old,
And I spin amidst thousands of years.
Yet I remain unclear of my role—
am I a falcon,
or a beautiful song?
Ich lebe mein Leben in wachsenden Ringen I,2
Rainer Maria Rilke, The Book of Hours
As Chris read the poem and we filmed, something beyond speech happened, and the poem and our experience merged.
Friend of the production Denise Klitsie quotes Walter Brueggemann on the mystery of experience and poetry illuminating each other. He says, in fact, that the work of prayer, “consists in the imaginative use of language to give extremities their full due and to force new awareness and new configurations of reality by the boldness of speech. All this is to submit to the Holy One in order that we may be addressed by a Word that out-distances all our speech.”
by Director Lauralee Farrer
In each of the unique stories for the Praying the Hours series, the writing team draws on the realities of our locations, the stories of the actors, and the personality of the Hour of the day for each story. It’s one of the tenets of no-budget filmmaking to write around what already is, but in our case, it goes deeper than budget. Our shooting style accommodates capturing the unexpected—much as might be the case with documentary filming. In the case of each person we’ve asked to portray an Hour, we’ve tried to craft the story in such a way that the telling will be deeply intuitive for them. Often, that means drawing from the life of the actor for the story they will be telling—a very untraditional choice to make. In most cases, this requires great bravery from our cast. Marcia Whitehead recalls:
In sculpting the script for Compline, the director wanted to borrow heavily from my life experience to bring the Hour of Compline to life. As we discussed this on several occasions during the weeks preceding the shoot, I became more and more emotional, fearing that exposing so much of my soul would be profoundly painful. It’s not that I was afraid to let people into my life on a deep level, but I was afraid that reliving certain experiences for the camera would take me back into the emotional depth of the original events.
On the evening we shot a nursing home scene where Compline’s adoptive mother speaks cruelly to her, panic overtook me, and I actually told the director I didn’t think I could do the scene. What saved me was the wonderful woman who was cast in the role of Compline’s adoptive mother. Marilyn Sumner is one of the most delightful people I’ve ever met and we formed an immediate bond. My brother and I are both adopted and it turns out that Marilyn has two adopted children so we connected on many levels. She was so dear during the shoot that when the camera stopped rolling, she was eager to be sure her dialogue wasn’t hurting my feelings. We assured each other that we were just “playing pretend.” My feelings were not hurt at all, actually, and we had a great time together—she said to the crew afterward that it was one of the most significant experiences of her life! And my fears of reliving past pain were never realized.
I, Matt Webb, grew up in Huntington, went to college at Huntington College before it became a university, and even worked in the admissions office at HU for a couple years at the turn of the century (I love that I get to write that!). But when I first moved to LA in 2004 it never really occurred to me that I would go back to make a film.
But a few years ago I ran into Lance Clark, the head of the film department at HU, and learned that they had a burgeoning new film program with new facilities, new equipment, and a lot of new students. Some months later I felt compelled to contact Lance and ask him if he might ever be interested in developing a relationship between a film crew from LA and students at HU. He was.
Later that day I was running errands around Fuller Seminary and I swung by Lauralee’s office and said, “Hey, if you are ever interested in shooting a film in Indiana, I have a school with a film program that would be interested in partnering.” And then…well…then there was Compline!
Returning to Huntington was more than just exciting and nostalgic. It was life giving in ways I never expected. We received such a warm welcome from Peggy Bradley and her whole team at Heritage of Huntington. We were amazed with the generosity of Tom Clounie and Tom Gates to help make shooting at Mt. Calvary Cemetery absolutely gorgeous. Julie Hendryx and Lance Clark at Huntington University made our stay comfortable and opened doors all over campus. The students at HU worked hard, with many late nights and in some unusual circumstances (think 40 feet in the air on a lift in sub-freezing temperatures at midnight in a cemetery!).George Killian, the head of the music department at HU, agreed to play a role in the film and entertained us with his great sense of humor. My parents provided meals, housing, a pool for shooting underwater, vehicles…the list goes on. Not to mention the many, many churches and individuals (Ron Allchin and his parents, Janet Clark, Carlene Peters, Miller and Meadows dorms, Sam Ward and the drama crew at Emmanuel Community Church, Faith Community Church, Vince Haupert, the HU Admissions Office, and the 509 Community) who provided meals along the way. Even working with friends like Ruth Reed and local businesses like Zays Leasing and Rentals and the Rusty Dog Irish Pub was an exercise in learning generosity.
Before January I was excited to introduce my friends from Los Angeles to my hometown, let them see where I was shaped and grown, and reconnect for myself. Little did I know that the love and care of the Huntington community would be so overwhelming. I can’t wait to return and do another project in the motherland!
by producer Rob Bethke
Part of the adventure of producing low-budget films is the necessity to step into many different roles – in other words, filling in the gaps in your production crew. I used to fall into the trap of imagining filmmaking as a bit of a power trip, where directors and producers impart their brilliant visions upon the crew and then sit back (sipping a latté) and watch the little workers carry out their creative wills. Of course, I would have never admitted that I expected such a thing, but it’s probably there in the back of the minds of many a wannabe filmmaker. The reality is quite different, particularly when you are forging your own vision into existence without relying on an angel investor to pay all the necessary humans for their expertise and long hours of work.
This is a low-budget film production. There is no studio executive hovering over us, tweaking the script, micro-managing budgets, and constantly thinking about how this film will make millions of dollars by appealing to males 16-23 years-old. We are beholden to nothing except the vision of the writers and director. Now, there are plenty of limitations, but there is also a significant lack of stress that makes it much more enjoyable. This doesn’t mean that we don’t work hard, however, which is suppose to be the theme of this post… We work very hard… to be team players, to care for one another, and to get the film made with professional quality.
Let all aspiring filmmakers have ears to hear what I have to say! Your work ethic and positive attitude are worth much more than any specialized skills you may bring to a film project. If you want to find your way into “Hollywood” (a goal which I wouldn’t necessarily recommend), or if you want to figure out how to be a part of making films, then work hard and be happy. A willingness to step into the jobs that no one else has time to do – but desperately need to be done – will win you deep appreciation from the producers/directors, who will most likely want you to be around on their next project in a larger capacity. Likewise, a person who is polite and pleasant to work with gives energy instead of taking it away from those around them. We all would rather have “energy-givers” around us!
I came to Indiana for our first shoot in January of 2012 not exactly sure what I would do with my time there. My responsibilities have mostly kept me busy with social media and web presence for Praying The Hours. But as I observed and listened to the others on the crew, explaining the challenges and needs of the production, I realized that there were gaps that needed to be filled and that I needed to step into them. One of our key producers became sick, so I volunteered to cover some of his responsibilities on set. By continuing to observe the frustrations or stress of others around me, I often saw that I had the time or energy to take tasks from them so that they could breathe easier. This kind of
attitude is invaluable on any production. Those with such willingness to DO WHAT NEEDS TO BE DONE – without whining about whether it was my “job” or not – are the ones that I want working with me on film sets and the person that I try to make sure I am being when contributing to film projects. That’s how you become a filmmaker.
(FYI, all the pictures here are random and have nothing directly to do with this post. Just some that I grabbed on my phone during occasional breaks in production while in Indiana)
by Director Lauralee Farrer
It’s risky to use non-actors to do your storytelling—you have to know that something else about them is compelling: that the camera will find them interesting, that they are going to give something authentic that will be moving, they are going to be brave enough to bring something fresh that no one else could bring.
The process of capturing those authentic moments relies some on shooting style, but mostly that the actor will allow the director to guide them someplace they might not expect, but where they’ve already agreed to go.
There is an important moment in the story of Compline when she opens a photo album to see photographs of herself with someone recently dead. Such a strange experience—to hold in your hands evidence of their existence, and at the same time know that from the taking of those photos to the looking at them, everything has changed. You hold proof in your hands that they existed, and yet they are no more.
That scene was the first one in which we asked Marcia to speak in Compline’s voice, and I knew she was willing, but also circumspect:
Up to that point, I had not been required to speak on camera, so I didn’t feel pressure to “act.” I was nervous, however, because somehow I felt like the real challenge was about to begin. In previous days, when I felt I’d blown it on camera, I would stop and apologize or somehow acknowledge my error. Lauralee came to me before this scene and very quietly said that no matter what, don’t break character or acknowledge the camera or production team in any way. She told me to just go with whatever happened. I sensed there was something behind her admonition, but accepted it at face value. In this scene, I was to open a photo album that arrived in the mail and see photographs of Compline with loved ones. We shot photos of me with fellow actors Chris Min, Liz Montgomery, and Aaron Ballard to be used in that album—so those were the photos I was expecting to see. However, on the first page was not Chris Min but Matthew Diederich—our beloved friend on whose death the Traveling Man is based. Though I was stunned, I remembered that Lauralee warned me to keep going no matter what. I stared at his sweet face, and the tears that came were not “acting.” One of the things Chris Min told me about acting is to always tell the truth. In that scene, I did.
by Director Lauralee Farrer
When I asked Marcia Whitehead if she’d consider portraying the character of Compline shot recently in Indiana, I knew that water would be involved since our story team had already decided we wanted to use water in all its forms (immersion, drinking, ice, rain, snow, etc.) as a metaphor for dreaming, so water will play a big part in the hours of compline, vigils and lauds.
I was pleased to find out that Marcia loves the water and the opportunity to swim in it. That’s good, because we did more than four underwater test shoots in the Webbs’ terrific indoor swimming pool. What I was not as pleased to discover (after the fact) was Marcia’s fear of ladders. She writes:
I knew when Lauralee invited me to portray the character of Compline that I would be faced with many challenges because I’m not a film actress. But I was certainly not prepared for all that I would be asked to tackle. There is a dream sequence in Compline that required me to climb down an iron-runged ladder, built into a concrete wall, while dressed in a floor-length nightgown and robe, wrapped in a bed sheet, and wearing 3-1/2 inch stiletto heels. I am not afraid of heights or airplanes, and tall buildings and rooftops are enjoyable places for me. Ladders—not so much. Physical strength and coordination are not my greatest assets, so it took a lot of courage to climb that ladder without begging the director to find some other way. Thank goodness for fellow actor Chris Min, who was below me with a reassuring hand on my back to ensure that I would not fall to my “death by concrete floor.”
Another part of the dream sequence was shot in an indoor swimming pool on a beautiful snowy day, once again in the floor-length nightgown and robe, with the bed sheet. I had to get up on the diving board backwards on my hands and knees, crawl backwards to the end and climb down into the water on a metal ladder attached to the diving board. Again, with the ladder—again, in stilettos! It took a little trial and error, but I did it—over and over and over again.
Poor Marcia! Due to a drifting focus problem with our long lens—we had to reshoot that backstage ladder again, and once again, she had to climb. I have many times said that Marcia is a good sport, is fearless, is bold, but I had no idea that a ladder would threaten her more than some of the other risks I have seen her choose to take. However, in her boldness, she overcame. She says:
When we reshot the scene of me climbing down that iron-runged, perpendicular ladder, I was on about the fourth rung before it occurred to me I wasn’t remotely afraid!
by Director Lauralee Farrer
While in Indiana we shot a scene that borrowed heavily from the life of singer Marcia Whitehead who portrays Compline. It was brave of her to be willing to let us write it into the story. None of us—including her—were prepared for what would happen when that scene was shot. As she said afterward, she tapped into something unexpectedly deep and wide, and suddenly we were not shooting the scene of an epiphany as much as we were having one. The shockwaves hit Chris Min who was in the scene with her, Martina Nagel who was behind the camera, Stephan Hughes who was holding the boom mic just out of the shot, and one of our producers who had to wipe tears from his face with his forearms afterward. Even the student processing the DIT later revealed that listening to her dialogue changed his life.
What might a 55+ year old opera singer have to say while simply washing her face that would bring so many disparate people to empathetic tears? What deep well did she tap into that would make a 20-something college student say “I felt you were telling my own story in there.” Martina said later, musing, “what happened in there is very very rare. It’s extraordinary, what happened. Extraordinary.” She gave up trying to define it. She didn’t have to. We all felt it.
This is an example of the reason we decided to expand the stories of the Hours to more than just the 5-7 minutes each that will fit into the narrative feature. Taking the time to tell the longer story of each Hour gives us a chance to linger a little while and be surprised. The surprise is how universal these things are turning out to be. That’s what we are after—telling our stories cleanly enough that they can bridge the often wide and treacherous gaps between people who mistakenly think they have nothing in common.
Not long after we shot that scene, I received a note from a theology and art student named Cynthia Glass, who has been following the PTH website:
To be honest, I don’t really know why I am writing this email . . . maybe just to tell you how deeply moved I am by the subject matter, to the point that I can’t visit the website for very long without being overwhelmed by the bittersweet tightness in my chest. . . . That the depth of life can be lived in a moment is a concept that has dogged me my whole life, but I’ve always brushed it aside for want of the ability to verbalize what it was that I felt. Now, the more I read about the development of your film . . . it’s so rare that I find a work of art that hits so squarely in the middle of my own lived experiences. There have been a few pieces of music, some literature and now this. Anyway, here I remain: in awe and bursting with hope at the thought of what this project could be.
These are humbling and yet rewarding sentiments: we hope to make something that extends beyond ourselves, that reaches someplace deep that we can share in recognition together.
by Director Lauralee Farrer
When sixth-century Benedictine monks stopped eight times a day to pray, their intention was to infuse menial work with the sacred by reminding themselves of the presence of God. They believed that being in the service of God can transform a temporal act into an eternal one, and the daily prayers were intended “to sanctify the day and all human activity.”
It’s a stretch for some to consider filmmaking a sacred calling, but there is little difference between plowing a field, making soup, cleaning laundry, and changing from a wide lens to a long one. The chores are not more or less sacred, but rather the purpose of the chore-doer. It is a deeply held belief in the Abrahamic traditions that all of life can be infused with the holy. Persian poet and mystic Rumi made the point succinctly: “The man pulling radishes pointed the way with a radish.” If pointing the way has eternal value, pulling radishes can be as sacred as preaching.
A production assistant on our recent shoot in Huntington, Indiana, was overheard to bemoan, “All I do all day is run back and forth.” The process of filmmaking is hardest, in some ways, on the P.A.’s: they have youthful dreams of being film directors but start out feeling like servants. Keeping a set running smoothly requires a cadre of willing and indefatigable facilitators to cook, drive, pick up, clean up, arrange, and rearrange an infinite number of details. Hardest among the chores, to quote Milton, is the patience to “only stand and wait.” The whole process can grind to a halt for something as small as a missing prop or a crew that needs coffee, so every activity in the communal process of making a film is equally important.
We are filled with gratitude for those who cared for us in Indiana: for the churches and dorms and university offices and individuals who fed us; for the students who drove us back and forth to the airport or who spent days running errands; for Huntington University that gave us sweatshirts so we might better survive the cold; for the families and friends who donated money so that we could pay for things that could not be donated or purchased at thrift stores; and for the community of people who prayed from afar and helped us carry an array of burdens.
Primarily we are grateful to HU Digital Media Director Lance Clark and our own producer Matt Webb who managed the myriad of elements necessary for us to capture Compline’s story on camera. Their generosity of spirit sanctified our days, and made our work on this segment of Praying the Hours a terrific experience—a fine example of Martin Luther King Jr’s challenge: “anyone can be great because anyone can serve.”
by Director Lauralee Farrer
Yesterday and today my Google calendar informed me that I had no events scheduled, yet they were two very different days: the first so complicated it was impossible to record all that had to be done; and the second with a single chore—go home.
Last night around 11:00 p.m. we shot the “martini” (or final shot) of Compline for the Praying the Hours project. Fittingly, it was an image of the Compline character standing on the stage of her dreams. From the time we started arriving in Indiana four weeks ago until last night, all efforts to bring Compline to life are captured on our hard drives and shuttles.
For now, the most demanding stage of one of our stories is done. The material we’ve shot will enter the next stage of creation with senior editor Greg King to whom we are giving some beautiful imagery, performances, sounds, and experiences made by a very generous community of neighbors and students. We had our first experience of working together as a team within PTH, learned a lot, had a great time, and left fulfilled and exhausted. At around 2 a.m. this morning cinematographer Jordan McMahon said, “we’re gonna miss this in a few days.” And we will.
Independent filmmaking is like white-water rafting—you can spend months getting the right gear together and making meticulous plans only to jump into rapids that are outside your control. Two kinds of skills are required then, the ability to plan strategically and thoroughly, and the ability to roll with the elements. It’s rare to find both of those characteristics, but we saw it in abundance throughout the shoot. There were plenty of McGyver’d shots involving pyrex trays, china balls, pool lights, and jerry-rigged lenses and batteries for a camera so new that all the accessories
weren’t even available for basic functioning.
We had annoyances and heart-stopping misfortunes, things that irritated and things that threatened to shut us down—like a main actor delayed a week by bronchitis, a rented lens that drifted out of focus and ruined days of principal footage, sick crew members, broken heater systems, and most of all, wildly shifting weather. From 50 degrees down to 10, we had rain, sleet, snow, and sun. Beautiful vistas that are great for tourists but nightmares for film continuity. Still, even those situations were redeemed beyond anything we might have imagined: lost footage was reshot with stronger rewrites, a week’s delay of shooting meant more time to adjust to the learning quirks of new equipment, shooting all eventualities of weather meant terrific production value, and our needs activated an amazing generosity and hospitality in the community.
We leapt into the rapids, threw our urgent requests toward heaven (with the help of a great many of our friends and family), and then our untamed God did his own thing. That’s unnerving if you have plans that require you to maintain control, but for those who worship a God who is bigger than they are, the result can be something transcendent beyond anyone to control or even explain. Which is probably why, even now, the story team is writing and the production team planning the next and the next and the next.
(by Producer Tamara Johnston McMahon)
Jordan McMahon, cinematographer (and my husband) extraordinaire, had the privilege of going up in a hot air balloon for aerial footage of Huntington, Indiana the other day! It was his first time up and, with the Scarlet-X in hand, of course he was beyond willing. A tight squeeze, Dream Catcher Balloon Team’s Chris Smart took Jordan several hundred feet up in a basket barely big enough for two, plus tripod and camera. Black helium balloons were released to test wind direction and speed before finally setting off around 4 o’clock, just in time to establish Huntington University and other key locations during Vespers (magic) hour.
After seeing Jordan off, my friend and colleague, Lori Fox (Wardrobe & Set Design) and I drove around in the Picture car (Compline‘s), doubling as balloon chasers and, more importantly, subjects to be filmed. Uncertain of what to do first, we did what seemed reasonable given Jordan was having all the fun — we stopped at the local Dairy Queen for a cone (which neither of us had had since high school and that was not a few years ago!). Proud of our detour (which we later discovered Jordan was 100% witness to), Lori phoned Dream Catcher who in turn radioed Chris to sync our coordinates. We repeated this process a few times and, by Jove, I think we finally got it!
At landing, Chris and his team of balloon experts circled around and gave Jordan the balloon landing blessing, a tradition that dates back to when celebrating a good landing meant walking away from it. More than merely walking away, an afternoon passed that at least three of us will never forget and, at the very least, it is quite possibly the first balloon ride the Scarlet-X has ever taken. And it was on Praying The Hours.
“The winds have welcomed you with softness. The sun has blessed you with its warm hands. You’ve flown so high and so well that God has joined you in your laughter and set you back into the loving arms of Mother Earth.“
by Director Lauralee Farrer
We are created in such a way that we cannot see our own faces, but require others to let us know how we look—what expressions we are telegraphing or whether or not we have spinach in our teeth. This is a hint to me that we were made to live in community.
It’s not surprising that the way we communicate is by telling our stories to each other. I think that’s the way we create ourselves, so to speak, or shape what has already been created. We tell stories to each other of our own lives, often to remind ourselves of what is right in front of us.
Our hope with the Praying the Hours project is to give a glimpse into characteristics of time with which we are so familiar that we have ceased to be able to see them. The Greeks had two names for time: kairos and chronos. Chronos is clock time—time that is laid out in rows and calculated like money—its value is determined in increments. A minute can be wasted without regret while a lifetime cannot. This is the kind of calculation of time that makes it possible for us to be precise about class schedules and paid working hours. The Greeks named a god after this time, a god who devoured his children.
Kairos, however, is more mysterious, less controllable, more exciting. The Hours of kairos are marked by the sun and the moon, the seasons and the cosmos. Each increment of kairos, no matter how small, contains all that is Ultimate, all that has eternal value. To speak of kairos is not to talk about a moment or a lifetime but something more like a happening. A song or a potent emotion can crack the surface of chronos and plunge us into kairos. You can spend a lifetime there, like the Pevensie children in Narnia, and return without a second of chronos having passed. Kairos time has a different character than chronos, naturally—kairos means “grace.”
When I first became aware of the distinctions between “kairos” and “chronos” time, I felt, as Eliot put it in Four Quartets, that the end of all my exploring was to arrive where I started and “know the place for the first time.” It was then that I thought we might be able to embody the hours into characters and tell a story of chronos and grace that would be immediately familiar to people. Our challenge as filmmakers is to remember that we are telling not just the story of characters but of the Hours themselves. And so far, the place we have most often discovered the path into kairos is through the human face.
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.
This brief verse by Masahide is a favorite of mine:
The barn burned down
Now I can see the moon.
Fasting is a big part of my spiritual life. It can take endless forms and have as many different purposes: fasts can be short and intense or long eras of spiritual discipline or seasonal (e.g. lent). They can affect food, actions, attitudes, creativity or sometimes all aspects of life. Fasts are sometimes about giving up and sometimes about taking on. Most are reminders to look up from life and remember God’s presence.
The fast I am in now is called, for short, the barn/moon fast. I felt the urge to this fast after a conversation with my lifelong friend Dianna Boone, who prays fervently for PTH against every nuisance she can imagine—from health-related, to equipment, to travel, to household, to finance.
Oddly, the opposite seems to have happened: the last four weeks have been a relentless series of inconveniences—from dead car batteries to randomly canceled bank accounts, checks returned by mistake, weird illnesses, jury duty, insurance woes, computer failures, hurricane-force wind storms, and so on. Nuisances have not abated; however, their consequences have often been miraculously redeemed. That’s why Masahide’s poem sprang to mind. I think it describes elegantly what artists are supposed to do: one foot in suffering, the other in epiphany.
To do this honestly, we must acknowledge nuisance, heartbreak, or sorrow for what they are. There’s nothing more onerous than someone who leaps over your inconvenience (or suffering) to force a silver lining because of their discomfort.
It’s equally as important to stay open for redemption that cannot be anticipated. When my car battery died on the way to work, I stopped at A&A Tire where the owner, Sarkis, shared moving memories about Christmas that surprisingly brought both of us to tears. Barn: $115. Moon: a hug from Sarkis and wishes for happy holy-days. He also pointed out, had I left the car for the month I am in Indiana on the old battery, it wouldn’t have started when I return. So—nuisance or blessing? Both.
The barn/moon language has become part of a shorthand on our producing team since we started this fast (I’ve been joined). I’ll get a warning text: “barn burning!” And sometimes later: “I can see the moon!” One of the unexpected by-products is a strange calm that pervades even the most threatening of our circumstances. Several have expressed in the face of daunting challenges that they feel a peace that is otherwise inexplicable. Perhaps that is the epiphany of the barn/moon fast.
Think what kind of risk-taking we can do in our work when that is at the core of our daily lives. When we are unafraid of what might threaten to derail us, and confident—even excited!—to see how God might show up.
It’s Christmastide, leading to the season of epiphany. The ancients believed that the veil between the two worlds of earth and heaven was more permeable during this season, and God’s presence more visible. If that’s true here in Indiana, we plan to shoot it.
Ft Wayne actress Larissa Clark has been cast in a supporting role as the “eager young voice student” in Praying The Hours. http://ow.ly/i/oAFD
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.
by Director Lauralee Farrer
Oh the joys of preproduction. Last week our world was rocked: our bank cancelled our accounts for random reasons even they cannot explain; insurance rates skyrocketed; our lead actor, Marcia Whitehead, has been struck with a vicious case of bronchitis and we have no idea when she will be able to come; camera equipment that was supposed to arrive on Nov 17 came just recently and the supposed Dec 1 shipment now seems like a far-away dream; the workflow of our new, magical equipment is a brain-burning challenge, and equipment that was supposed to work together, doesn’t. Oh, and it’s unseasonably warm. Great. We’re here for the snow.
It might seem in adequate against the threat of no money, no equipment, no snow, and no actor to say that we’ve been blessed by hospitable hosts at Huntington University. But sometimes kindness has a mysteriously powerful effect. HU has graciously given us use of 3 apartments and an empty house that is close enough to Becker Hall that J-term students can walk to the production office. We hope it will become a place for everyone to hang out after shoots. It will certainly get used—five of our team will live there, our production office and DIT will be there, and we will shoot it as one of the production locations. Julie, in the housing office, has gone beyond the pale to help us and though the furnishings we are scrounging aren’t going to get us in Architectural Digest, it’s definitely independent filmmaker chic.
I went to dinner last night at Janet Clark’s (head of the digital media department Lance Clark’s mother) and came home with enough food to sink a ship and enough stories on Lance to blackmail him for anything else we need (which would be useful if he wasn’t already giving us everything he’s got). Producers Matt Webb and Ron Allchin are preparing for their own trek out here and managing things from afar. Abe Martinez, Martina Nagel, and Jordan McMahon have been working to prep cameras and shooting philosophy, Michael Cioni has put the power of Light Iron at our disposal, actors Chris Min and Marcia Whitehead are diving into their characters, Rob Bethke is managing websites and press, an army of people are praying up a storm, and a few student interns are even coming back early from Christmas break!
Oh lay aside each earthly thing
And with thy heart as offering
Come worship now the infant King
‘tis love that’s born tonight…
’tis love that’s born tonight.
Today, Christmas Day, three filmmakers—Lori Fox, Tamara Johnston McMahon and Jordan McMahon—will arrive at FWA and then “home” to a $5 tree with a $1 star on the top, stockings hung by the couch with care and a feast worthy of the artists they are. Every production has challenges. Not every production has love. I hope you are as rich as we are this Christmas.
I am ecstatic that principal photography starts mere days from now! For months the producing team has been working diligently on every detail imaginable in order to make this happen; everything from equipment (the Scarlet camera that played so hard to get!), the budget (where’s it coming from!) the actors (who do we know!), the locations (where do you live!)…all while striving to stay true to the ethos of Praying The Hours — aka don’t get too caught up in the small stuff. It’s been a blast, it’s been a trial and we’ve been blessed with a stellar crew (selfishly speaking, they work tirelessly and don’t have an “off” button, but essentially speaking, they love this project!). Jordan (my husband) and I leave for Huntington, Indiana early Christmas morning to meet up with Lauralee Farrer, Marcia Whitehead, Lori Fox and Lance Clark (others to join shortly thereafter) to actually start what we’ve always meant to finish. In addition to helping the other producers I’ll also manage continuity as Script Supervisor, a challenge I truly enjoy.
Alongside Lauralee, this is the second time I’ve started this project. Seeing past all those pained, costly and seemingly failed attempts at such a worthwhile project, I now see why Praying The Hours was meant for such a time as this. Had we succeeded in making the project all those years ago, PTH would not have been given due justice. Now, this project knows what it means to be. I only hope I can keep up…
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,
19 Days until the Praying The Hours film project begins principal photography in Huntington, Indiana! Follow the blog: prayingthehours.com
“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!