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.
The first time I went to see a 70mm widescreen film at the Cinerama Dome in Hollywood, I was an adolescent, and I sat with my father on the far right side. I don’t remember what film we saw, but I do remember it being good enough that I wanted to return to see the left side of it.
Sometimes you get an idea for something too wide to fit in your field of vision. Seeing only portions at a time can be a mercy, though, as the entirety can be daunting. Recently as I was describing the Praying the Hours project to someone new, he said, “So it’s like a feature film and a television series.” Right, I thought. It sounds overwhelming when you put it that way.
Eight producers, nine lead actors, a gang of supporting and extra roles, many locations and shifts of people on cinematography, DIT, and editing—that’s our ground floor. I was at an event recently where a stranger introduced himself and said, “I’m working on your movie.” It’s the first time that’s ever happened. Once, I set out to estimate the number of locations, shooting days, actors, and pages of script that we are likely to accumulate by the time we finish. I stopped, sensing it is better to live in mystery when it comes to impossible tasks. David Mamet says, “work until it’s done.” That’s our focus.
But here is evidence to back up our faith: a great team of producers; fantastic actors who are willing to be vulnerable beyond what a director could hope to request; one Hour shot out in Indiana (Compline: The Story of the Reluctant Teacher); one Hour done in Echo Park (None: The Story of the Mournful Songwriter); and the next Hour (Terce: The Story of the Single Mother) nearly ready to go. Audio and video files are being synced for editing, equipment packages are slowly being completed, and new team members are being added weekly.
[By the way, welcome Wes Halula, who is working on the script for Prime: The Story of the Rushing Man, and Glen Hall, who is our production design consultant.] While people float in and out of our filmmaking ecosystem, we often say to ourselves with surprise: it’s happening.
A no-budget production can share, ironically, a freedom similar to a production with an unlimited budget because for us both money is no object. We cope calmly with shifting schedules, losing and gaining team members, locations, story plans, equipment, and/or finances because the biggest risk is the one we took when we set sail in the first place. It’s been impossible from the very beginning, so the fact that it’s getting done is like watching the experience play out in the Cinerama Dome—bigger than we can see, happening right before our eyes, can’t wait to see the whole thing.
By Director Lauralee Farrer
The “found moment” is our shorthand for authentic moments that inspire a film but cost a fortune to orchestrate. Here’s an absurd example (except that it happened in the movie Ray): A common hummingbird flies in your open window and buzzes there, then zips out. Your heart pounds as if it were an angelic visitation. You write, of a person who has an epiphany, “a hummingbird flies in her window.” Later, producers have to organize a scene that requires a hummingbird wrangler or expensive CGI. To make an even sillier point, at the time of its release, Titanic was the most expensive movie ever made, while the sinking of the Titanic happened for free. What cost so much was making it happen on cue.
On a far smaller continuum of epiphany to disaster, independent filmmakers try to manufacture the organic moment just like big budget filmmakers do. On PTH, we are using a shooting style that is half-documentary and half-narrative to capture the truthful moment, much as John Carney did so beautifully in the movie Once.
We write a story, built of bones and filled in with dialogue and action—instructions of the kind of thing to look for and to film. When actors are cast and locations secured, we rewrite around the reality in order to accomplish the same ends as the first script, but in a more organic manner. When the script for None called for a baby to be sleeping and she was irrevocably wide awake instead, we rewrote a scene that required a laughing baby.
Before the None shoot I showed DP Abraham Martinez the locations in advance. He said, “these locations are perfect for the script!” Of course they are, I wrote to them after they were secured. We write/film/edit a story from pieces of real life, relying on our ability to see the narrative in the circumstances surrounding us. I told one cinematographer: “God will show up. It’s your job to get it on camera.” This requirement to be present is unnerving to some and liberating to others. To my mind, cinematographer Jordan McMahon is the prince of the found moment. He knows how to compose and frame a shot, but he also has a sixth sense of when something is about to happen—even if it’s stillness—that speaks to the moment the scene calls for.
During one of the scenes it was my job to pick up a mousetrap and place it in one of the kitchen cupboards. We filmed it enough for me to let my guard down and realize that mousetraps are nothing to be afraid of. And then, while scooting the trap to the center of the shelf, it snapped shut, flinging peanut butter in every direction. I have no doubt my screaming was heard in Canada.
That was a simple—and hysterical—found moment that was easy to catch. Recently, as we shot the story of None, there were sober, winsome, sad, pensive, and charming moments, such as a moving bus throwing a maze of shadows across the frame shop (seen by Abe) or a picture frame reflecting the expression of the framer as he works (seen by Jordan). In the script I wrote the line of dialogue: “I just don’t think about it.” After that, on a location scout, I saw a small framed image that had written on the corner of the canvas “I try not to think about it.” That was eerie. And now I realize, often that’s what it takes: stop thinking, and see.