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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.

The cast of Praying The Hours

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Cast of Praying The Hours

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

Thoughts from Lori Fox

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

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

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

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

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

Dear Chris,

Dear Chris,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Treading Into None

by Tamara Johnston McMahon

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

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

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

If You Build It…

by Christopher Min


Catherine Keller once asked, “What is theology but an incantation at the edge of uncertainty?”  I can’t help but consider that the same might be said of filmmaking – or more specifically, of Praying the Hours.

It was a faithless act, really – saying yes to Lauralee.  Or, if you prefer, it was a leap to faith in Kierkegaardian terms; it was not taken out of or because of.  Rather, a leap was taken, so faith became necessary.  My deep love and appreciation for LL notwithstanding, there was no foreseeable reason to say yes.  I haven’t aspired to express myself artistically in front of the camera for years, there would be no financial compensation, and the commitment would be formidable.  Still, I had an inexplicable compulsion to make what might be called a bet, a gamble – even a challenge or a dare – not to Lauralee, but to something else.

I have a friend, Jennifer, who is a practicing Hindu.  She tells me that when she goes to the temple, she hopes for the reciprocal experience and blessing of darshan, which involves the act of seeing and being seen by the deities of her faith.  In order for darshan to occur, the deities must be invoked to inhabit constructed representations, in this case statues, bearing their respective likenesses.  She tells me that if there is no deity, there is no exchange, no darshan and of course, no blessing.  But what has this do with filmmaking?

Elizabeth Gilbert has spoken of the illusive nature of creativity, explaining that in ancient Greece and Rome, creativity was not believed to originate in humans.  Genius was not a state to be achieved or a thing someone could be.  It was something disembodied, something independent, something other.  It could not be possessed or controlled, but it might be encountered.  Since then, the enlightenment has brought about a shift in conceptions concerning the locus of creative enterprise.  As the spaces for conversation about that which lies beyond the realm of epistemological verification disappeared, the locus of genius, creativity, and inspiration shifted to human beings.  As Wittgenstein famously concluded, “What we cannot speak about we must pass over in silence.”  But passing over in silence need not imply that we can’t at least leave an empty space at the table.  You know, just in case.  For my part, participating in Praying the Hours is an attempt to leave just such a space.

Through my experience thus far, I’m beginning to intuit that faith resides in the building, the constructing – or the leaping – as it were.  For me, it began with the incantation of an affirmative response; the ‘yes’ in the absence of reason.  An openness to possibility, a bet, a dare to that which must be passed over in silence.  Now, collectively, the onus is on us to set a stage here, at the edge of uncertainty.  Our construct, our representation is comprised of C-stands and lanterns, makeup, hard drives…  The equipment, the material, the medium is really not important.  It’s all just matter unless, amidst our strange alchemy, the inexplicable happens and the ineffable decides to shows up.

A Word that Out-Distances All Our Speech

by Director Lauralee Farrer

The character of the Traveling Man in the Praying the Hours project is crossing over from this life into the next, and he carries in his pocket a copy of Rainer Maria Rilke’s book of poetry on the divine hours. This is a nod to Dante being guided through the Inferno by the Roman poet Virgil, and our statement that something other than logic is necessary to navigate the space between the worlds of the seen and the unseen.

In this life, and in the next, our crucial journeys require an eternal word too deep for common speech. In my faith, God created the earth and those of us who walk on it by speaking just such a word of mystery. Later, God embodied that Word to become human.

Traveling Man is “summoned” by the Hours as they appear by his hospital bed, and in the 24-hour period it takes him to die, he observes their lives from the perspective of eternity. A series of epiphanies guides him through the day of his crossing over, and leaves his friends also subtly changed.

In at least one of the segments of our project, “Compline, the Story of the Reluctant Teacher,” the Traveling Man reads one of Rilke’s poems aloud to the character of Compline—a decision we made in the moment of shooting. We chose a poem that had been translated from the German by DP Martina Nagel for the compline chapter of the book Praying the Hours in Ordinary Life. As Chris Min read, we were all moved by the eerie symmetry between the poem’s imagery and the imagery we were shooting:

I live my life in ever-increasing circles
That stretch across all things.
I may not manage to complete the final circle
still I must attempt it.
I revolve around God, the tower of old,
And I spin amidst thousands of years.
Yet I remain unclear of my role—
am I a falcon,
a storm,
or a beautiful song?


Ich lebe mein Leben in wachsenden Ringen I,2
Rainer Maria Rilke, The Book of Hours

As Chris read the poem and we filmed, something beyond speech happened, and the poem and our experience merged.

Friend of the production Denise Klitsie quotes Walter Brueggemann on the mystery of experience and poetry illuminating each other. He says, in fact, that the work of prayer, “consists in the imaginative use of language to give extremities their full due and to force new awareness and new configurations of reality by the boldness of speech. All this is to submit to the Holy One in order that we may be addressed by a Word that out-distances all our speech.”

Professor and Filmmaker

By Lance Clark

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

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

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

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

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

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

Borrowing from Real Life

by Director Lauralee Farrer

In each of the unique stories for the Praying the Hours series, the writing team draws on the realities of our locations, the stories of the actors, and the personality of the Hour of the day for each story. It’s one of the tenets of no-budget filmmaking to write around what already is, but in our case, it goes deeper than budget. Our shooting style accommodates capturing the unexpected—much as might be the case with documentary filming. In the case of each person we’ve asked to portray an Hour, we’ve tried to craft the story in such a way that the telling will be deeply intuitive for them. Often, that means drawing from the life of the actor for the story they will be telling—a very untraditional choice to make. In most cases, this requires great bravery from our cast. Marcia Whitehead recalls:

In sculpting the script for Compline, the director wanted to borrow heavily from my life experience to bring the Hour of Compline to life. As we discussed this on several occasions during the weeks preceding the shoot, I became more and more emotional, fearing that exposing so much of my soul would be profoundly painful. It’s not that I was afraid to let people into my life on a deep level, but I was afraid that reliving certain experiences for the camera would take me back into the emotional depth of the original events.

On the evening we shot a nursing home scene where Compline’s adoptive mother speaks cruelly to her, panic overtook me, and I actually told the director I didn’t think I could do the scene. What saved me was the wonderful woman who was cast in the role of Compline’s adoptive mother. Marilyn Sumner is one of the most delightful people I’ve ever met and we formed an immediate bond. My brother and I are both adopted and it turns out that Marilyn has two adopted children so we connected on many levels. She was so dear during the shoot that when the camera stopped rolling, she was eager to be sure her dialogue wasn’t hurting my feelings. We assured each other that we were just “playing pretend.” My feelings were not hurt at all, actually, and we had a great time together—she said to the crew afterward that it was one of the most significant experiences of her life! And my fears of reliving past pain were never realized.

Returning to the Motherland

I, Matt Webb, grew up in Huntington, went to college at Huntington College before it became a university, and even worked in the admissions office at HU for a couple years at the turn of the century (I love that I get to write that!). But when I first moved to LA in 2004 it never really occurred to me that I would go back to make a film.

But a few years ago I ran into Lance Clark, the head of the film department at HU, and learned that they had a burgeoning new film program with new facilities, new equipment, and a lot of new students. Some months later I felt compelled to contact Lance and ask him if he might ever be interested in developing a relationship between a film crew from LA and students at HU. He was.

Later that day I was running errands around Fuller Seminary and I swung by Lauralee’s office and said, “Hey, if you are ever interested in shooting a film in Indiana, I have a school with a film program that would be interested in partnering.” And then…well…then there was Compline!

Returning to Huntington was more than just exciting and nostalgic. It was life giving in ways I never expected. We received such a warm welcome from Peggy Bradley and her whole team at Heritage of Huntington. We were amazed with the generosity of Tom Clounie and Tom Gates to help make shooting at Mt. Calvary Cemetery absolutely gorgeous. Julie Hendryx and Lance Clark at Huntington University made our stay comfortable and opened doors all over campus. The students at HU worked hard, with many late nights and in some unusual circumstances (think 40 feet in the air on a lift in sub-freezing temperatures at midnight in a cemetery!).George Killian, the head of the music department at HU, agreed to play a role in the film and entertained us with his great sense of humor. My parents provided meals, housing, a pool for shooting underwater, vehicles…the list goes on. Not to mention the many, many churches and individuals (Ron Allchin and his parents, Janet Clark, Carlene PetersMiller and Meadows dorms, Sam Ward and the drama crew at Emmanuel Community ChurchFaith Community ChurchVince Haupert, the HU Admissions Office, and the 509 Community) who provided meals along the way. Even working with friends like Ruth Reed and local businesses like Zays Leasing and Rentals and the Rusty Dog Irish Pub was an exercise in learning generosity.

Before January I was excited to introduce my friends from Los Angeles to my hometown, let them see where I was shaped and grown, and reconnect for myself. Little did I know that the love and care of the Huntington community would be so overwhelming. I can’t wait to return and do another project in the motherland!

Working with the RED Scarlet

by cinematographer Jordan McMahon

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

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

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

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

Wearing Many Hats

by producer Rob Bethke

Part of the adventure of producing low-budget films is the necessity to step into many different roles – in other words, filling in the gaps in your production crew.  I used to fall into the trap of imagining filmmaking as a bit of a power trip, where directors and producers impart their brilliant visions upon the crew and then sit back (sipping a latté) and watch the little workers carry out their creative wills.  Of course, I would have never admitted that I expected such a thing, but it’s probably there in the back of the minds of many a wannabe filmmaker.  The reality is quite different, particularly when you are forging your own vision into existence without relying on an angel investor to pay all the necessary humans for their expertise and long hours of work.

This is a low-budget film production.  There is no studio executive hovering over us, tweaking the script, micro-managing budgets, and constantly thinking about how this film will make millions of dollars by appealing to males 16-23 years-old.  We are beholden to nothing except the vision of the writers and director.  Now, there are plenty of limitations, but there is also a significant lack of stress that makes it much more enjoyable.  This doesn’t mean that we don’t work hard, however, which is suppose to be the theme of this post…  We work very hard… to be team players, to care for one another, and to get the film made with professional quality.

Local news interviewing our director

Let all aspiring filmmakers have ears to hear what I have to say!  Your work ethic and positive attitude are worth much more than any specialized skills you may bring to a film project.  If you want to find your way into “Hollywood” (a goal which I wouldn’t necessarily recommend), or if you want to figure out how to be a part of making films, then work hard and be happy.  A willingness to step into the jobs that no one else has time to do – but desperately need to be done – will win you deep appreciation from the producers/directors, who will most likely want you to be around on their next project in a larger capacity.  Likewise, a person who is polite and pleasant to work with gives energy instead of taking it away from those around them.  We all would rather have “energy-givers” around us!

I came to Indiana for our first shoot in January of 2012 not exactly sure what I would do with my time there.  My responsibilities have mostly kept me busy with social media and web presence for Praying The Hours.  But as I observed and listened to the others on the crew, explaining the challenges and needs of the production, I realized that there were gaps that needed to be filled and that I needed to step into them.  One of our key producers became sick, so I volunteered to cover some of his responsibilities on set.  By continuing to observe the frustrations or stress of others around me, I often saw that I had the time or energy to take tasks from them so that they could breathe easier.  This kind of

Lots of hard work put into beautiful lighting.

attitude is invaluable on any production.  Those with such willingness to DO WHAT NEEDS TO BE DONE – without whining about whether it was my “job” or not – are the ones that I want working with me on film sets and the person that I try to make sure I am being when contributing to film projects.  That’s how you become a filmmaker.

(FYI, all the pictures here are random and have nothing directly to do with this post.  Just some that I grabbed on my phone during occasional breaks in production while in Indiana)

Just Tell the Truth

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.

Narrowly Avoiding Death by Concrete Floor

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!

Squarely in the Middle of My Experience

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.

To Sanctify the Day and All Human Activity

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.”

You Have No Events Scheduled Today

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.

Up In A Balloon!

(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.

Dream Catcher Balloon Team (260/224-0251)

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.

Telling a Story Everyone Already Knows

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.

Unforgettable Characters in Seven Minutes or Less

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.

The Barn Burned Down

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.

– Lauralee

Ft Wayne actress Larissa Clark has been

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

Lighting by the Moon

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.

’tis love that’s born tonight

Christmas, 2011

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!

James Taylor, in his terrific holiday album At Christmas, is singing from my MacBook Pro’s inadequate speakers the last verse of “Some Children See Him”:

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.

En Route to Indiana

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…


Tamara Johnston McMahon

The beginning of production

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,

Lauralee Farrer

Director, Praying the Hours

19 Days until the Praying The Hours film

19 Days until the Praying The Hours film project begins principal photography in Huntington, Indiana! Follow the blog: prayingthehours.com

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