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.
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.
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.
June 19, 2012 | Categories: Production | Tags: artist, Babette's Feast, creative work, evolution, fear, fight, good taste, Ira Glass, journey, lauralee farrer, Mako Fujimura, praying the hours, This American Life | 1 Comment
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
June 14, 2012 | Categories: Production | Tags: being human, compline, Dan Long, desire, dreams, groggy, Jonathan Foster, lauds, laughter, lauralee farrer, mournful songwriter, none, Pat Duff, praying the hours, Prime, recovering stranger, reluctant teacher, Rob Bethke, rushing man, sext, sizzle, sleep, summer, Terce, twitter, watermelon, Wes Halula | Leave a comment
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.).
April 21, 2012 | Categories: Production | Tags: aaron ballard, AIFF, Ashland Independent Film Festival, babies, Beth Castle, challenge, compline, elizabeth Montgomery, Greg King, Jonathan Foster, lauralee farrer, Marcia Whitehead, none, Not That Funny, Pat Duff, praying the hours, Tamara McMahon, Terce, The Warren Report, Tony Hale, transcendence, vulnerability, Warren Etheredge | Leave a comment
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 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.
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)
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.”
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.
February 6, 2012 | Categories: Production | Tags: abe martinez, camera, jordan mcmahon, lauralee farrer, martina nagel, praying the hours, productio, red, ron allchin, scarlet x, weather | Leave a comment