God blesses

I’m so happy to say that The Nothing had it’s world premier opening night of the Nashville Film Festival Thursday April 14th, 2011. We couldn’t be any prouder of what God has done with this project so far. It was awesome and terrifying to watch it on the big screen… OK, maybe it was only terrifying to watch it on the big screen, but it was definitely awesome afterward.

The funny thing (or again, terrifying thing) is that a week before the official world premier, our movie was literally in pieces. I don’t want to speak for the other post crew and producers, but I wasn’t the only one at my wit’s end, sleep deprived, agitated, depressed, and in an extremely desperate state. We were working toward the festival exhibition copy deadline, that was a huge hurdle. I don’t want to (and honestly can’t physically) recount all the specifics, but the term “dark night of the soul” is used in the description of those hours. It seemed like we were trudging through mire. I honestly felt like the project had suddenly become cursed.

The morning after the worst of it, I had finally gotten a little rest at home, I had some coffee and when I was faced with the reality of the film awaiting me on the other side of the front door, I broke down and cried. The thought of leaving my house and facing the battle again, after it had beat me down so thoroughly, broke my heart. I kind of wanted to quit… or at least scrap the festival.

Thankfully my wife was there (with the support of a multitude of prayer warriors behind her). She immediately prayed. I don’t remember the whole prayer, but I remember being reminded that this project, this movie, this divine piece, was not cursed. It was, in fact, blessed. Reading these blogs you would realize that this isn’t the first time I had to realize this. This is a reoccurring theme with me. I constantly need to be reminded that this project is blessed, not cursed. For whatever reason my default setting is that something bad will happen and destroy what I’ve been hoping/longing/expecting/praying for. This is a curse I’ve carried around for so long, I don’t even know where it started. I’ve learned to live without getting my hopes up too much, because of the fear of disappointment.

God has done so much with this film already, but to use it to reveal an unnecessary lifelong limp is a true gift. It’s actually quite simple. This project is God’s – and if it’s God’s, it’s blessed. Period. The end. I’m god’s project – and if I’m God’s, I’m blessed. Period. The end. Sure bad things can still happen. I expect they will… but I don’t expect that they all will.

The premier had some technical hiccups. It still has work to be done. This was the first time we had seen or heard it on the big screen, so naturally some changes need to be made. But you know what? People laughed when they were supposed to, they cried when they were supposed to, they were lifted up, they were vested in the story and the characters. They consider it a success, and so do I.

And I can’t wait for you to be blessed by it.

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God has X-ray vision

It’s actually beyond that, right? He isn’t limited to seeing through things, He sees all, all the time, whether it’s physical, spiritual, emotional, imagined, in the sub conscious, in the forefront of the mind, underwater, on a deserted island, in a galaxy far far away…God is a seer. More importantly than that, he is a perceiver. Not only does He see all, He interprets it, and reveals it.

I’ve spent the majority of the last two weeks locked in a bedroom with the other three producers from the film. We were trying to make the Nashville Film Festival deadline for local entries. This made for a two week cram session to get the film ready. While the festival did take works in progress, we still were trying to layer in every possible exploitable element at our disposal. That meant getting the tightest edit possible, layering in as much rough sound as we could, dropping in as many of our visual effects as possible, and finding workable music to sell some of the more emotional scenes. A necessary piece of this pie is constantly watching the film over and over to see what worked and what didn’t.

As the time passed we got less and less sleep (some less than others), and as we viewed the film over and over, we began to go snow blind. This is pretty common, and has a relatively easy remedy; take a break. We could not. We didn’t have the time.

We were able to bring in some eyes to take a look at it and let us know what was lacking, what was working, what wasn’t, etc. different eyes, each seeing the film from a different prospective. Their help proved to be relevant, and insightful. We took the notes with eagerness. We were so hungry for the feedback that we were unable to provide to ourselves, and we want, so bad, for this film to be good, that we hungrily accepted the fresh thoughts. With a renewed energy, we were able to return to the ever smalling bedroom, and plow even further into it’s ultimate truth.

Two things strike me – First, the way God used these people to reveal His vision further. And second, the capacity He gave us to climb the stairs to editing room once again, when we were all too tired, beat down, and blind to continue on our own.

Not only did He have x-ray vision to see through convoluted, sea of images and sounds coming out of the monitor, but He led us. He steered us to our submission. This is a major landmark for us. The film isn’t done, we have miles to go before we sleep, but we released it. A screener from the film festival will watch our unfinished piece, and decide if he/she knows where we’re going with it, and then decide if they like our direction.

It was of the utmost importance to me to submit the film to our festival, but I am confident in God’s (x-ray) vision to see, and in turn, direct this film on it’s journey. Up til now this journey has been about me, and the rest of the cast and crew, but now it’s about so much more than that. This marks our journey into sharing with others what God has shared with us.

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God is an antidepressant

Of course I’m not saying that God is some sort of pill that you, yourself are in charge of administering to yourself on some sort of regulated schedule. God is bigger than that. God doesn’t need our go ahead, and we don’t have to “take him” with a meal.  I’m also not making some sort of broad, ignorant statement about “how pointless medication is, if you believe in God”.  This is not a blog post about that.

This blog is my personal account of the filmmaking process. And where I am in that process, is a spot that has a tendency to depress some filmmakers. We have finished shooting. We cut loose at the cast and crew wrap party. And now we are deep into editing. This is a hard place to be. It moves slow, and it is full of concessions.

They say that a movie is made 3 times. First, in the screenplay. I get it. Second, in the actual shooting. I get it. And third in editing. I get it. This one is the roughest, because it’s the final. It’s where you find out that great pieces of dialogue don’t work anymore, or the angle you loved on set, doesn’t fit the personality of the scene. It’s a “dying to self” in a weird way.  You  have to kill some of the preconceived notions in order for the final product to be consistent. 

I think this resembles the Christian journey. When we find Christ, we begin the process of dying to self, so that we can find ourselves consistent with God’s  product. It’s the right thing to do… that doesn’t always make it easy. You find people that don’t know how to relate to you anymore. And habits that don’t hold your attention like they used to. And you have a totally altered future. 

It’s the right thing, but that doesn’t make it easy. And it isn’t necessarily a pretty transformation. The end product can be beautiful, and some elements of the journey can be, as well, but in the end, they don’t call it “blossoming to self”, or “happy sunshiney rainbowing to self”, they call it “dying to self”. And death is sometimes ugly.

Reassessing everything you believed to be true, can be depressing.  And on a smaller scale, reassessing everything you believed to be true about a film that you’ve been working on for over 2 years can be depressing. That’s where I am. I’m redefining. I’m earnestly trying to find the movie that God wants.

As I mentioned in an earlier post, God is a collaborator. So, He is by my side as we work to edit this thing. He’s revealing His vision. And I believe, as hard as this process is, and, just as dying to self is for the greater good, God has an amazing final product in store.  

What keeps me going, and keeps me from being buried in depression, are the affirmations that He has given me on this journey so far. He has been an unmistakable force throughout this process. So unmistakable, that to not expect Him to come through would be the foolish instinct. Admittedly I’m foolish plenty. But His vision is so laughably tangible, I never camp out in my foolishness, I always end up back on target, finding my joy in Him, and my solace in His perfect plan…

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God is a financial planner

The principal photography of The Nothing was shot for 8 days in July. We picked up 4 more days throughout August, and we have a half day left to shoot in mid September. While we only shot a day a week in August, for every shoot day there was a rehearsal day, a  location scout, and the organization of cast and crew. What else… we’ve already started editing. And let’s not forget the hunk of time and energy that went into pre-production.

This has been a long process. Satisfying, but long. And there are still miles to go before we sleep. That’s a long time to cling to basically one truth; God told us to make this movie. All other endeavors are question marks. The normal actions I’ve taken for income, are suddenly irrelevant. Realize that that’s not just me saying that… it’s God eliminating whatever control I thought I had over sources of income. As a result, I’m broke. Broker than I’ve ever been… and I know I’m not the only one.

I’m not whining. I’m not even really worried anymore. But this is a personal account of the process, and this has been an element that has played a major part in my personal life. God gave me the call to the movie. I trusted God to take care of me and my family. He is taking care of my finances. I am broke. 

I think for most people there is a disconnect between the last two sentences. “How can you be broke if God is taking care of your finances”? Easy, God didn’t call me to be rich. God didn’t call me to even be comfortable. He called me to make this movie… my financial status has nothing to do with it. 

It’s interesting how simple things become when you strip everything away but the truth. My wife and I have been forced to confront everything we thought to be constant… ways we thought God had to act to be God. When we stripped everything away that we don’t know, what we’re left with is a simple truth. God will take care of us. And even that has a purer bottom line meaning. It doesn’t mean, we won’t get hurt. It doesn’t mean we won’t lose our house, or our car, or whatever. It simply means that if we put it, whatever it is (finances in our case) in His hands his will will be done. As humans we associate this with our earthly lives and endeavors, but God, while sensitive to our remedial understanding, is more concerned with the immortal, big picture of “Taking care of us”.

I stated in one of my earlier posts, when there was a big rainstorm on set, that I didn’t pray that the rain would go away. I prayed that God’s will be done. We had a two hour rain delay and we still shot 13 pages. He didn’t make the rain dissipate early. He simply got us the pages we needed in spite of the rain. The movie was His will, so He made it happen. I absolutely believe that God has the power to change the circumstances surrounding us. He could have squelched the rain, but I think Christianity is a journey for peace. A peace that is also achieved through Christ in the midst of the storm, not just in the avoidance of the storm. 

If we’re in a financial storm, I can pray that the storm would pass, or dissipate (and I believe it will eventually). But I have a chance to be stronger Christian, or person, specifically husband, or father, when I pray for God’s will in the midst of storm. I trust him. And honestly I want what He wants for me, because He knows what I need more than I do.

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God is an action hero.

(The first portion of this blog was written in the midst of filming (7/7/10). Hopefully this accounts for the short and somewhat blank update. The second portion was written July 27th (a couple of weeks after principal filming) and hopefully is a clearer interpretation of God the action hero. Enjoy.)

(July 7th, 2010) God is an action hero. He does not wield a weapon, bite down on a cigar, have a quippy catch phrase, or sport a perfectly manicured 5 0’clock shadow around the clock, day after day…but he does save the day in the nick of time.

We are 2 days into filming (I actually have to be on set in a couple of hours for day 3), and I am blown away at what has happened, how it has happened, but mainly when it has happened. Of course the day to day specifics are enough to make my head explode, but as I think about the entire journey of this production, and the time line from a little over 2 years ago to now… I kind of want to cry (of course that could be sleep deprivation).

The truth is we couldn’t have made this movie 2 years ago. We could have made a movie, but not this one. It could have been called “The Nothing”, but it wouldn’t have been “The Nothing”. This is the movie God called us to make. He knew that when he planted the seed 2 years ago, for that movie.

The technology, the people, the business plan, even the budget are elements that we didn’t have at our disposal 2 years ago. Originally we had 3 days, 5 actors, and a couple of crew people. I walked on set 2 days ago, and was met with people working, who I had never met. These are elements previously unavailable to us.

(July 27th, 2010) Being a step removed from principal filming and the barn, and the 90+ degree temperatures, and the porta-potties, and the reversal of my life schedule (we shot 4pm to 4am), I can honestly still say “God is an action hero”. He saved the day… everyday.

I should say this first; this was not by any stretch of the imagination a traditional set. The crew did what needed to be done, whether it was in their job description or not. People hauling, building, creating, erranding, etc. for the sake of getting the job done. The cast was prepared for anything, and were constantly on the business end of “on the fly (necessary) schedule changes”. They rolled with the punches. Perhaps the most effective duty performed by everyone was a great attitude. These were less than ideal circumstances to be working under… especially since everyone’s time, energy, and talents, are worth more than we could ever offer them.

We had to shoot a ridiculous 72 pages in 8 days. It’s not done. It’s simply not done. Not without sacrificing something. But we did it, because we started with the sacrifice, and everything else was gravy. The actors rehearsed for a month and a half, before ever even seeing the barn. We stacked up cameras, so we were shooting with 2 most of the shoot, and even 3 for a day and a half. Essentially we were in one place for the shoot, which meant minor lighting adjustments, and no major load in/load outs. The set was… well set, and needed very little adjustments throughout the shoot. As I said before, the cast and crew were ready to work hard. And I’ve been living with this script for over 2 years, so the vision was set.

Let me be clear… all that wasn’t us. Yes, we did our part, but it was an earnest adherence to a plan set forth by God.

God definitely shined in that respect, but the amazing thing was watching Him take care of us when things were out of our hands…for example the weather.

Rain is an issue any filmmaker has to take into account, whether it’s an outdoor shoot, travel delays, or (as it was in our case) loud rain noise on the tobacco barn roof. While it bungled our shoot for a few days, there was one day that was especially rough. I was confident going into this shoot that this was God’s project. It was for Him, through Him, and inspired by Him. The rain wasn’t the first challenger of my confidence, but it was the biggest (which I totally recognize as a blessing). I was able to look at the A.D. Drew Langer’s Iphone weather radar app. and surpass the prayer for God to roll the storm away, and instead concede that He was in control of both the shoot and the weather, and however He decided to get this movie made, I was on His side, and He was the leader.

So, I prayed, not that the storm would dissipate, but that His will be done. Period. We held for the rain for over two hours, and still shot 13 pages, and we only went over by a half hour. P.S. 72 pages divided by 8 days is an average of 9 pages a day… We shot 13 with a two hour delay… God is an action hero.

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God is on purpose

The closer we get to shooting, the more I realize how far out of my element I am…It’s awful… but awesome…but awful…but ultimately awesome. If you ever want to know how little you know about making a movie, start making a movie. I’m realizing that while there are some basics that are constant i.e. you have to have a camera, there are exponentially more non-basics that vary depending on the budget, crew, cast, schedule, locations, etc. and include the actual budget, crew, cast, schedule, locations, etc. As near as I can explain it, it’s like building a pyramid upside down on a greasy piece of taut dental floss, in a windy area… only, since I’ve never done this before, it’s like doing it in the dark.

Whatever might have worked in the past by others, is somewhat irrelevant in this circumstance. Every film is it’s own entity.  It has it’s own personality. It has it’s own rhythm.  And while we do have the constants we can rely on; like the fact that we will use a camera, the personality of the film is dictated in piece by what camera we use, who uses it, the mood of the shot, the mood of the movie, how much light we use, where the light is, who will set up the light and on and on… and that’s just the camera.

Believe it or not, this system (the pyramid on the dental floss) actually works to our favor. I know I said it was awful… but it’s also awesome, did I mention that. This is the awesome part; I am out of my element on purpose- not necessarily my purpose… Of course it would be easier if I had done this before, if my partners had produced before, if we had been responsible for such an elaborate orchestration before. But we haven’t. God did that on purpose. I can find my confidence, not in my ability, but in my assuredness that I am in this position by God’s design.

Maybe God set this up this way so we didn’t get in our own way, so we didn’t create a battle between God’s plan for making this movie and our human knowledge of how to do it. Maybe it’s some sort of insurance that I will stay tethered to Him throughout the entire process. Maybe God set it up this way so there would be no doubt that He made this movie, not us. I’m guessing it’s all three and more.

What I know; is that God gave me a call, so He’s responsible for a means to answer that call…and so far so good. Apparently it isn’t impossible to balance a pyramid upside down on a greasy piece of dental floss, in the wind…and in the dark.

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God is a collaborator

Let me first say; God is an artist. He’s the creator, He’s the architect. He is singularly responsible for creation. I believe this with all my heart. So know that when I call Him a collaborator, it is not a whole definition of Him.

He doesn’t need us to help him create. Take a look at the world around us. He didn’t need us when He made the sun. He didn’t need us when He made the other planets. He didn’t need us when He made our planet. In fact, look what has happened to the Earth since we got a hold of it. In general we are responsible for the deterioration of His gift to us, His creation. He certainly doesn’t need us to help him realize His artistic vision.

Film is a collaborative art. Visionaries with different creative passions come together to create a piece of art that no one person can claim sole ownership of. In general collaborative arts are more beautiful to me for that reason. It some how diminishes whatever ego might play into creation. It’s an amazing thing to realize (not just with false modesty) that an art project wouldn’t have been made without the input of all the people involved.

When God let’s us collaborate with Him, He lets us become a part of something bigger than us. When I take my two year old son to check the mail with me, and I let him “help me” carry the mail back to the house. I don’t need him to carry it. It isn’t too heavy for me. I am not reliant on him to get the mail from my mailbox to my house… But it means the world to him to get to be a part of the project… and the truth is; I take great joy in watching my son help his daddy, with so much enthusiasm.

Am I saying that making a movie is as menial as checking the mail? Well, to a two year old, checking the mail isn’t menial at all.  And to a dad, watching his son serving to the best of his ability, well there isn’t anything menial about that either.

Hopefully this movie will impact more people than my mail would. And hopefully God will use it to change people’s broken hearts and perceptions of Him and Heaven. But that isn’t my call. I don’t decide who sees this movie. I don’t decide who works on this movie. I don’t decide…anything about this movie. This is God’s project. He has graciously allowed us to collaborate with him. And whether it’s carrying His mail, or blocking the actors, I will do it with as much enthusiasm as my son had. And it will be worth it, to know that it might make my Father smile.

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