Burning Heart presents a Lauralee Farrer production

Posts tagged “compline

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.


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


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.).


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.


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.


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.