Francis Ford Coppola said that a film gets made three times: when it’s written, again when it’s shot, and yet again when it’s edited. These are all crucial stages to storytelling in film, and each one has its own demands and creative requirements.
We are in a season where all those stages are intermingling: we are editing Compline and None; syncing Terce so it can enter the editing process; shooting pick-ups for Terce and None; finishing scripts while in preproduction for Sext and Prime; and drafting treatments for Vigils and Lauds. That doesn’t take into account all the ancillary elements to keeping a production going. Blogs and tweets and posting facebook updates and finding money, filling out our equipment packages, casting, securing locations and navigating the never-ending challenge of no-budget filmmaking: scheduling.
It’s good to stop at this stage and acknowledge that everyone who lends a hand during this time is donating to the Praying the Hours project. The hours that Meaghan Baldwin has spent in Pasadena sync’ing audio and picture for Terce. The hours that Greg King has spent at his studio in Los Angeles helping to define the editing style for the project through his work on Compline, or those spent by Patrick Duff helping to bring the footage for None to life. The hours and hours and hours spent by producers Rob Bethke, Ron Allchin, Matt Webb and Tamara McMahon who meet weekly to keep things in motion, to schedule (and reschedule), to search for lens prices, to ingest or copy footage, to color correct stills and to send the scores of emails necessary to firm up all the details of an active production shoot. And those who pray and who send money. All of them, filmmakers.
In our story on “Terce: The Story of the Single Mother,” we consider a woman (played by Liz Montgomery) who is facing difficult times that can be traced to a series of lies, bad decisions, and denials that she has allowed herself. Primarily because of her own intentional obliviousness, she is plunging headlong toward a ruined life. She is engaged by three strong-willed strangers whose intentions to come to her aid seem, at first, to matter more to them than it does to her. That’s because she has numbed herself with denial (something a lie always does) and these characters see the danger she is in even more than she does.
In storytelling mythology, the presence of three women combining to affect the fate of the story’s hero is very familiar—from MacBeth’s three witches to Sleeping Beauty’s three fairies. In this story, they are like furies (i.e. literally meaning “avengers”)—Greek mythological characters from beneath the earth who “punish whosoever has sworn a false oath.” There is the hint that the furies embody the self-curse that comes with being false.
Terce’s three inspirations take the form of a woman from the local church (played by Keri Tombazian), a contentious neighbor (played by Leontine Guilliard), and a helpful grocery store clerk (played by Nikki Barger Wheeler). Combined, they represent the presence of the Holy Spirit that is one of the characteristics of the Hour of Terce. The Holy Spirit moves as it will like the wind, and comes to our aid in the most unlikely and unpredictable places. In her story, Terce is visited by the Traveling Man who helps her to see how she might take advantage of the help that the women are offering, but that she must ask for their help first, that is, she must call down the help of the Holy Spirit. By admitting her mistakes, her need for help, and opening herself to gratitude, she can avail herself of their willing aid and find the joy and vibrancy of life that she needs to transform the hard days ahead.
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.