Of Christian Filmmaking

Inconsistent updates again, I know, but this time I had an excuse! Last weekend, I was in a little town almost three hours away for a Christian filmmaking conference. I say “conference” liberally, as there were only thirty of us in attendance, half of which were my age or younger.

I drove down to the tune of Focus on the Family’s Radio Theatre production of Darien’s Rise by Paul McCusker, which did a couple things: first, it kept me from zoning out during all that highway driving; second, it was a refresher on the story itself (I’ve been a fan of the series since I was fifteen when a friend begged me to read it for her); third, it reawakened the bit of daydream I’ve had of turning it into a film – appropriate, considering I was on my way to a Christian filmmaking conference. Anyway, enough about that. I arrived in that town way early, so I found the conference location (an old church-turned-home-and-photography-studio) and found a cute coffee shop in which to kill some time before registration.

imagesNow, there was only a small group of us Thursday night, as it was an extra session that was a live filmmaking demo. The hosts had written a script for a sketch, which we all read through before volunteering for roles. (I volunteered to play a distracted, gum-chewing, all-around-slobby cameraman. I even took the hat they gave me to wear and put it on backward and left around my neck the headphones my character was supposed to wear. Really not my type of character, but I had fun with it.) Then they started setting up the photography studio for the shoot: teaching us how to light (especially when greenscreen was involved, which we were using then), about sound equipment, setting up the camera for different shots, and the like. Much of it, I already knew, between college courses and Chapel Media, but it was a nice refresher. We managed to film all the important parts of the skit before the session time ended, and we parted ways for the night. Thankfully, I was staying with a couple not very far from the church and so did not have far to drive.

Friday and Saturday followed a seminar-type of format. The most prominent speaker was Rich Christiano, who has made eleven Christian films to date; I’d only seen one of his films before then, but the count has gone up to three at the time of this writing. While a couple of his seminars were of a technical nature, his first one, “The Philosophy of Christian Film” was insightful and, I think, one of the best things we heard that weekend. He wasn’t the only one to speak about that level of Christian filmmaking, though, for there was another who did similar talks on using art to the glory of God. The latter’s younger brother was also a featured speaker, teaching us from his experiences gleaned from making videos for his YouTube channel and being a professional cinematographer. A professional sound designer also skyped in for a session on sound. The rest of the sessions were led by our local hosts, who have produced two feature-length films (though one still had a little more work to do, they said).

Between the seminars, we were supposed to mingle. Of course, I had a difficult time of it unless someone approached me first. But at one point, I had observed a teen demonstrating a homemade camera-and-microphone harness to a few others and was curious. Even though I waited till he was alone, I did approach him and ask him about it, a short conversation during which I noticed on his nametag that he lives about forty-five minutes away from me. I didn’t have the guts to ask him about possibly collaborating in the future until the next day, but at least I managed to do it on Saturday. (I’ve even shown him the one story I’ve written that would be the least difficult to pull off and he’s told me that he’ll show me a skit script once he’s completed it.) The only other people I really made a connection with were three other teens who collectively approached me. Though our first conversation was awkward (at least, I thought it was because I sure was awkward), they sat with me on Saturday and we got to know each other better then.

On Friday night, we watched the almost-complete film made by the hosts; on Saturday, we watched the newest Rich Christiano film, one that hasn’t been released to DVD just yet (but will be soon). And though I’ve known and noticed this before, I realized it more than ever on these two nights: it’s difficult to strike a balance between blasting the audience with your intended message(s) and only whispering the message. While neither of these films whispered, the first had a couple moments in which, bad as it sounds, I just wanted to the characters to stop talking and move on with the story: as a Christian, I was glad that these things were being said and thoroughly, but as someone who enjoys story (and who hasn’t looked at movies quite the same way since college and dreams of maybe getting into Christian film someday), I don’t like being pulled out and disengaged when three pages’ worth of dialogue could be condensed to one and still have umph. The second film, however, handled its messages much better, with a great deal more grace and flow; on top of that, it was a good story. I recommend this one: A Matter of Faith by Rich Christiano. I wouldn’t rank it with Fireproof or Courageous, but I enjoyed it on both the storytelling and spiritual planes.

Well, that there is my long-winded excuse for not posting anything last week. 😉 And it’s one I hope to have again. I liked the practical and philosophical sessions and maybe, hopefully, I’ll have a chance to build a little on that before next year rolls around.

And, sneak peek, I will be addressing Christian films a little more in upcoming posts, particularly because the weekend of the conference was also the weekend the Kendrick Brothers’ War Room (finally!) came up to Canada and because I won a copy of the Burns Family’s Beyond the Mask in a door prize draw at the conference.

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