Summer Intensive Schedule

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Summer Intensive Schedule

The 2018 Summer Intensive is coming up soon for our grad students, and they can look forward to some excellent classes this session. If you're in the Walla Walla area, Expect to see our students on campus the last week of August and first week of September.

Community Members: Come meet our students, and hear from guest speaker Kyle Portbury, the Director of the Tell the World film. Kyle's presentation will be 3 p.m. on Sabbath, September 1 at the College Place Village Church.

New students will take the famous Christian Mission class from Paul Dybdahl, a favorite from our past cohort. They'll also have a graduate seminar with our beloved Program Director, Lynelle Ellis.

Graduating students will finish up their degrees with a class in the power of narrative story telling from theologian Dave Thomas, and an Editing and Post Production course with expert filmmaker Jerry Hartman.

Thanks for supporting our students!

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Three reasons why I joined the CR&W program

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Three reasons why I joined the CR&W program

Hi everyone, it's Rachel again. 

Lynelle Ellis, the program director, has asked me to to tell you why I signed up for a Master of Arts in Cinema, Religion, and Worldview. Several people have asked Lynelle if a traditional master’s degree is worth the time and money. And since I asked the exact same question before I signed up, she's hoping I'll share my story.

Should you join this MA program? I don't know. No degree is for everyone. But I do know that this was the right degree for me. I almost didn’t give it a chance, but I did, and I haven't regretted it yet.

Can you learn filmmaking from other routes besides traditional education? Yes, of course you can. Is a degree from Walla Walla University going to teach you everything there is about filmmaking? No, of course not. But here are three reasons why I believe this program is worthwhile:

1. Potential employers will view you as leadership material
 I worked in the media department of a larger corporation before I joined the CR&W program. And I wasn't treated well. My supervisor had a graduate degree, which is probably why he was given the leadership role. Unfortunately, he was low on leadership skills, and on low filmmaking skills besides.

An advanced degree doesn't change everything about you. It didn't make my supervisor into a leader. But if you feel called to lead, you may need a graduate degree to get that chance. I realized that, without a master's, employers wouldn't consider me for leadership positions. And even though I haven’t quite finished my degree, it has already opened doors for me.

2.  The expert teaching and mentoring will do wonders for your skills
I started this program with undergrad degrees in both religion and communication. Because of how closely those two degrees connect to the topics in the CR&W program, I expected to already know quite a bit of the material. But I was wrong.

This graduate degree is flexible enough to allow students to specialize, and deep enough to add to your knowledge, even if you're already a specialist. The small class sizes allowed teachers to assess what I knew, and then they challenged me to learn more. I've grown in this program, and so have my classmates. Even those whose starting skills, and end goals, may have been different from mine

Jerry Hartman, one of the excellent professors, has tailored several hands-on film assignments to my skill level, and rounded out my visual storytelling skills. I believe that the one-on-one mentoring I’ve gotten from my teachers has been as much worth the tuition as the in-class material.

3. You will meet industry professionals, and make connections with similar goals
Before taking this degree, I felt called to tell visual stories and create positive change, but I felt very alone in my goals. I wasn’t sure if there was a career path for me. But in the two years I’ve spent studying here, I’ve met classmates who care about the same things as I do, and I've already connected with many of them for work opportunities.

I’ve gotten loads of great career advice from my professors, who are experts in their fields, and some of the guest speakers have given me the exact advice I needed to help me discover the next step to my career. Because of the knowledge and connections I've gained in this program, I have plans, not just dreams. 

Could I have done everything on this list without a formal education? Probably yes, but it wouldn't have been easy. And I don’t think I could have done it for less money, or in less time than I spent on my my CR&W degree. 

Getting a master's degree is a big decision. And when the opportunity first landed in my inbox, I didn't give it serious thought. It sounded like a great idea, for someone else. Don't make the mistake I almost made. Take some to think and pray about your options. And if you think an MA in Cinema, Religion, and Worldview is right for you, then fill out an application. I'll be praying too.

Love always,

-Rachel

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Israel #13: Going Home

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Israel #13: Going Home

On our last day in Israel we woke up early to get one last shot by the Sea of Galilee. We balanced on the charcoal-colored boulders to film blue waves against green reeds. Then we packed up, and drove away from the bright colors of Galilee. Back to the Dead Sea, where we’d started.

As we got into the car, something glinted on the ground in front of me. A ten-shekel coin. I looked around, but no one was nearby, so I put it in my pocket. My new lucky charm.

We had one more scene to record at the Dead Sea – the one that had been interrupted by a storm weeks ago. It took a few tries, since the sun was so high, but we made it work. We found a stretch of beach where the sand was darker and didn’t reflect as much light into Carl’s eyes.

Aran explained that this sand was a different color for a reason. The area was full of unusual geological formations, and there were sinkholes right under the sand that would open up and swallow us if we put a foot in the wrong place. We all carefully followed Aran, single file, until he stopped.

“Is it safe to film here?” I asked, pointing to the flat spot where we were standing. We were about fifty feet from an open pit in the ground.

“It’s OK,” Aran said. “Just don’t stomp your feet.” We stepped as gently as we could until the scene was done.

During the Dead Sea scene, the light changed from sunny to cloudy every few minutes, and not far away, someone turned a power saw on and off at random intervals. It took a while to get a clean take. “This is our last one. We didn’t think it would be easy, did we?” I joked.

Finally, after far too long, we finished our scene at the Dead Sea – our last talking scene. Amazed that we’d come this far, I snapped a quick photo of the team, and we headed back to the van.

The plan was to grab one more B-roll shot of the markets in Jerusalem, and then maybe buy a souvenir, before driving to the airport. Aran warned that Jerusalem would be more crowded than usual. It was a national holiday, and the US embassy would be moving to Jerusalem the following day. We had all afternoon, though, to manage the delays. How hard could it be?

In Jericho, we stopped for a bathroom break. A Bedouin man and his well-trained camel were lounging in the parking lot. “I know this camel,” Carl said “It’s a very good camel.” He and Aran talked with the camel’s human, and he agreed to have the camel kiss me on the cheek while they took photos.

“Do you want to ride on the camel?” The Bedouin man asked.

“How much for the ride?” I didn’t have much Israeli money

“Just ten more shekels.” He grinned. Stunned, I reached into my pocket and pulled out the ten-shekel coin. It was almost too much. God had given us everything we’d asked for and more. We’d finished the project when we never thought we could. And now, he’d given me a camel ride, and the coin to pay for it, just for fun.

Then, we were in Jerusalem again. It was a very different place then it had been a few days ago. Many of the shops were closed and locked. It took some time to find a place where we could film. Then, as we headed back to the van, a horde of celebrating demonstrators flooded the streets.

 People of all ages were singing, dancing, and waving Israeli flags in a swirling mass of blue and white. A circle of boys held hands and shouted a Hebrew song at the tops of their voices. A group of younger girls danced in another circle, just down the street.

 More and more people rushed into the center of town, shouting, singing, and wearing flags like capes. Though I knew the political environment was tense, in that moment I was swept up in the sheer joy of the hundreds around me. There was so much energy everywhere. I felt like dancing too.

We had to get back to the van, though, and that would not be easy. The streets were clogged with people. We chose a side road that seemed less crowded, and made our break.

In one narrow place, the crowd was so thick that no one could move – we were jammed against each other like sardines. “All push together!” Some stranger shouted. I leaned on the unknown woman in front of me. Someone I didn’t know shoved my back, and together we popped out into the wider section of the street.

“They were so happy! I loved their excitement!” I gushed to Aran, as we piled back into the van.

“Yes, there is that level of it,” he said carefully. “But there are other levels too. There is more than you see.” I nodded. It was probably best that we were leaving that night. A lot could change the next day.

We bought ice cream bars at a convenience store, and drove to the airport. There was a quick blur of re-packing a suitcase, transferring new files, checking in, and rushing to our plane, just in time. Then, we were in the air, leaving the place where we’d made a lifetime of memories in the blink of an eye.

We shouldn’t have been able to finish our checklist. But we had. So many things had happened, our goodbyes had been so fast, and now the lights of Israel were disappearing below us.

I was in Israel for twenty-three days. Three million heartbeats. Forever. No time at all. Exactly as long as God needed to do something amazing.

And while I was there, I learned that God isn’t limited by what’s possible for me. I learned that the safest place on earth is the place where God wants me to be. And I learned a little bit more of what God made me to do.

Three million heartbeats put more in my heart than I will ever be able to say.

Love always,

-Rachel

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Israel #12: Cursed City 

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Israel #12: Cursed City 

In our filming near the sea of Galilee, we visited two of the ruined towns where Jesus spent most of his ministry. In Capernaum, we saw the ruins of the house where Jesus likely lived, and filmed the gorgeous white limestone synagogue. 

Next to all the grey stone buildings in Galilee, the light-colored synagogue gleamed in the sun like a palace - a little piece of Jerusalem. Aran explained that people in ancient communities put a lot of time and money into their synagogues. 

Underneath the stone floors of excavated synagogues, archeologists often find a smooth bed of coins, instead of the sand used in other buildings. The coins were invisible once the synagogue was finished, but it was another way to make the place of worship special.

Capernaum is right on the seashore, which was a good thing. The site is considered too sacred for anyone to talk on-camera inside, so we had to film Carl talking outside, and the sea made a perfect backdrop. 

We also made several trips to another place where Jesus often went. The ruined village of Korazim, or Chorazin, as it’s often spelled in the Bible. There are a handful of grey stone houses, and a lovely synagogue that have been excavated for tourists to visit, but Korazim was actually much larger. The green hillsides all around the tourist area are dotted with the stone tops of un-excavated houses. 

Once, Korazim was a city. Both it and Capernaum were built near a trade road, and saw plenty of traffic. There was a reason that Jesus frequented these cities as he taught and healed. But today, Korazim is just a empty shell.

A large sign in the center of the excavated town mentions this verse:

“Then Jesus began to denounce the towns in which most of his miracles had been performed, because they did not repent. ‘Woe to you, Chorazin! Woe to you, Bethsaida! For if the miracles that were performed in you had been performed in Tyre and Sidon, they would have repented long ago in sackcloth and ashes. But I tell you, it will be more bearable for Tyre and Sidon on the day of judgment than for you.’" 

Jesus cursed the town of Korazim, the sign explained, and it still stands empty today. In Jerusalem, Jesus said that the stones would cry out if the people kept silent. And in Korazim, now they do.

We got some beautiful shots in Korazim. The tall green grass was a bright contrast to the muted stone walls. As we worked, the day when the embassy moved to Jerusalem got closer, and we heard that tensions were still high in the Golan heights, but things were largely quiet in the valley.

When we finished filming in Korazim, we had only one day left on our trip. We planned to pick up a few shots at several different locations, including Jerusalem as we headed to the airport to fly home.

Our last day in Jerusalem was the day before the new embassy opened, and it was an exciting one.

Love always,

-Rachel

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Israel #11: Nighttime Explosions

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Israel #11: Nighttime Explosions

The night after our tense day in Katzrin, I slept like a rock. In the morning, several crew members asked me if I’d heard explosions. I hadn’t heard a thing. But later, Aran confirmed that Iran had fired 20 rockets into the Golan Heights during the night.

“The missiles were intercepted. No one was hurt,” Aran said Later, we learned that some of the crew had actually looked out their windows and seen the distant missiles exploding in mid-air as Israel intercepted them. And I’d slept through it all.

The next day, school was open again. “They are sending a message. It’s business as usual.” Aran said. So, we went about our business as usual. We drove to our next location – the ruined city of Gamla.

Gamla, stands on a tall hill that looks like a Camel’s hump. Jewish rebels built the city on a hill and defended it against the Romans. When Roman troops finally broke through the walls and swarmed the town, the Gamla residents choose death before capture, and jumped off the top of the mountain.

This location was a great example of the beauty of the Golan heights. It was green and lush, and covered with crumbling stone houses, almost like the countryside in Ireland. Among the houses was a ruined synagogue, one of many we filmed on our trip.

While at Gamla, we were reminded of the ongoing military situation by a distant hum of drones, and by a surprise when I turned on the microphones. At one point, my headphones filled with the sound of Morse Code, or some other transmission. I didn’t know what it meant, but I still wasn’t sure I should be listening. Then, abruptly, the noises stopped.

Gamla was a challenge to film because a road had been covered by a recent landslide, and we had to hike up, over, and down the adjacent hill in order to reach the famous mountain. Carl counted 1,300 steps. It was steep, and real work in the heat.

At the end of the day we were short on time. This park had a definite closing time, and we were late, so we tried to hurry back to the van The result was a group of red-faced and overheated people, gasping for air as we drove away. I wanted to chat with Carl about logistics as we drove, but instead I found I needed to lie down on the seat for a few moments until my vision cleared.

We had a few more hours of daylight left, so we visited Umm El Kanatir again, and filmed a few more scenes by some of the ruined houses there. Umm El Kanatir was exciting because we often heard jackals, screaming on the hillside, when sunset came.

This day, at Umm El Kanatir, we struggled to record clean audio because of military drones, and some sort of vehicle that was driving back and forth on a nearby ridge. We guessed it might be a military ground patrol.

As it got dark, the team headed back to the van, but I stayed behind to record the silence, since the military sounds had died down for a moment. I sat, perfectly still, as darkness fell around me. If I moved, I’d disrupt the audio and have to start over. The wild hills of the Golan Heights are beautiful at sunset, but after a minute or two, I started to think of the jackals, and wish I had sat with my back to a rock. The hair on my neck was prickling a little when I finished recording.

It was dark, we’d worked until the end, but we had finished our filming in the Golan Heights. And not a moment too soon. That same day, an advisory went out to US citizens requesting that they not travel in the Golan Heights area.

I couldn’t help but notice God’s timing once again. We would stay in the valley by the sea for the rest of our trip, but we had made it. Just in time.

Love always,

-Rachel

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Israel #10: The Paralytic

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Israel #10: The Paralytic

We had an early morning planned at the reconstructed village of Katzrin. At just after six, we were waiting in the parking lot, but we couldn’t get inside. The manager that Aran had asked to unlock the gates, wasn’t there. Aran quickly dialed the man’s number and had a brief conversation in Hebrew. He lowered the phone with a wry smile.

“He is coming now,” Aran said. “The schools are closed. The bomb shelters are open. He did not call us because he was sure we would not be here.”

In a few minutes, the manager arrived, and opened the gates. Gary, Oswaldo and I headed to the house where we’d be filming the healing of the paralytic.  

The house had a loft, and Oswaldo climbed up the ladder to shine a light down from above, since we wouldn’t be punching any real holes in the roof.

The extras arrived soon after, and Aran spirited them away to get costumes. In a quiet moment, Aran pulled me aside. “Some of the actors today are Orthodox Jews,” he told me.

“Will they be OK with the story?” I asked. We are filming a story about Jesus, which was definitely not a part of orthodox tradition.

“Yes, they want to do it,” Aran responded. “Some of them have traveled for hours on the bus from Jerusalem. Just,” he paused. “Try not to ask the orthodox actors to do anything that is a big part of the story. Let them stay in the back”

I bit my lip. “Sure.” We had gotten in all kinds of scrapes so far, but I really didn’t want to add insulting anyone’s religion to the list.

But Aran was right, as usual. The actors were incredibly excited to be there, and committed to telling the story, even though it was one they didn’t know. I decided to unfold the story as we went along.

“This man is a teacher,” I said, pointing to Amir in his Jesus robes, “You are listening to him speak, when suddenly something starts to fall on your heads, and you look up to see what happened.”

Aran translated for me, and we guided the crowd into position around Amir. It was a good icebreaker scene to start with. A young man in the loft threw straw and dirt onto everyone’s heads, and they practiced their shocked reactions.

With the group more relaxed, we moved into more serious territory. Amir helped me to lay out a dummy stretcher on the floor, and we laid a young actor on it. He did a excellent job of choosing a position for his paralyzed character and sticking with it.

Now came the heart of the story. “This Rabbi says to the man on the ground, ‘Your sins are forgiven.’” I told the actors. A young man in the front row frowned.

“That’s right,” I told the crowd. Do what he just did. You are all surprised and angry, because no one should say that to anyone.” We shot several scenes with the obliging crowd frowning angrily at the out-of-line statement.

Bomb shelters and danger were mostly forgotten as we focused on our scenes, but on break, an American-Israeli actor approached me. “Do you hear that,” she asked? A slight whine pricked at my ears. “That’s a drone.” Her forehead wrinkled slightly. “This is first time since I moved to Israel that I’ve really felt afraid.”

Soon break was over, and it was time for the next part of the story. Using Oswaldo’s light from the loft, we illuminated Jesus from above, as he bent over the paralyzed man. The effect was a lovely glow behind his head, almost a halo, and the actors crowded around to see it on the camera monitor.

“Now,” I told the young man on the mat, “Amir is going to tell you to ‘get up and walk.’” We talked though the process a little, but he didn’t much help. He was impressively convincing in his role.

As the young man rose to his feet, the crowd was unusually silent. I supposed that, after I’d instructed them to frown at Jesus’ comments, this might not have been what they expected to happen.

Standing there, in the middle of that crowd who hadn’t known how the story would end, I understood it a little better. Anyone can say “your sins are forgiven,” and no one believes it. But when a paralyzed man stood up and walked, people paid attention.

The actors had a wonderful time. In fact, we had a hard time convincing them to go home when the scenes were over. These stories hadn’t been from their religious tradition, but they had still poured all their energy into making the scenes beautiful. I was thankful for that.

“You’ll notice that everyone was calm today,” Aran said when we got home. “There could be missiles, or trouble, but people here have seen it before. They don’t panic.” It was true. Our large group of actors had come to help us, despite the unusual circumstances.

That night, I fell into bed so tired, that I was sure nothing was going to wake me up. And nothing did. The rest of the crew, however, had a bit more excitement.

Love always,

-Rachel

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Israel #9: The Golan Heights

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Israel #9: The Golan Heights

The next day we drove to the Golan Heights. The mountains above Galilee are so beautiful and green that the Israelis sing songs about them. Aran even taught me one, in Hebrew!

Our first stop was an impressive reconstructed synagogue at a place called Umm El Kanatir. Aran, who loves archeological details, explained the cutting-edge technology that had guided its rebuilding.

The excavators, he told us, had found an entire synagogue, collapsed after an earthquake long-ago. But no one had reused the rocks, so all the pieces were still on site. To learn what the building had looked like in its prime, they’d buried a microchip inside each rock that they unearthed.

When all the rocks were found, archeologists had used a computer program to digitally piece the rocks together, like a three-dimensional puzzle. Once they had a digital blueprint, they’d been able to reassembled the actual synagogue, and now we were standing inside it.

The final product was impressive. Rows of towering basalt pillars lined the walls, delicate carvings adorned window and door frames, and an elaborate arch, covered with ornate reliefs, marked the place where the Torah scroll would have been kept.

We filmed some beautiful shots inside the synagogue, and also noticed that the Umm El Kanatir grounds were covered with lush plants and dotted with ruined stone houses, a great filming location for us, if we needed an extra site later.

A rainstorm chased us out for part of the day, which was frustrating, but it was really a gift in disguise. Because we’d been rained out, we got permission to visit our location for the following day, and got ahead on some indoor scenes. And since the next day was a long one, those extra scenes kept us on schedule.

The location we visited was Katzrin, an ancient village with houses like the ones in Jesus’ time. One house was fully rebuilt, thankfully with a roof, and we filmed inside as the rain rushed past the windows.

We were glad to see what the house was like, because the next day’s reenactment scene had more actors than any other scene on our trip.

We were filming the healing of the paralytic, and we had invited fifteen people to ensure a properly crowded atmosphere. It was easier to plan now that we’d seen the house. So the rain was a good thing, even if we hadn’t been too grateful when we were sprinting to our car covering our cameras.

That night, as we got ready for our reenactment at Katzrin, Aran sat down at the dining room table. “There is something you should know,” he said.

Tensions were rising, since the US embassy was moving to Jerusalem on Sunday. The bombing threat was so high, now, that the government had closed down the schools, and instructed its citizens to open their bomb shelters.

I learned that bomb shelters are required by building code in Israel, so every house has one. Ruthie, the kind hostess at our guesthouse, told us her shelter was under the stairs, if we needed it.

We didn’t really talk about it much. Everyone was so focused on the filming that we just pushed everything else out of the way. “No time for fear now.” Said Amir. “We have work to do.” It was what we were all thinking. We could have stayed home, but bombs could find us at home, or at work. And we were finally on schedule – one skipped day of filming, and we’d never catch up in time.

I didn’t give much energy to worrying about bombs – it didn’t seem like it would do any good, and I was stretched to the limit with directing and a few other hats. But I spared one moment to take it all in and realized that, oddly, I wasn’t afraid at all.

I’m sure the adrenaline had something to do with that, but there was more. I had seen God do so many impossible things by then that there was no doubt left in my mind. I was supposed to be there, in Israel, on that day. Yes, it was dangerous, but an adventure always is. We were meant to be there. And this was an adventure that none of us would forget.

Love Always,

-Rachel

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Israel #8: Galilee

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Israel #8: Galilee

The drive from Jerusalem to Galilee was like stepping from a sepia photograph into a watercolor painting. Both Jerusalem and the Dead Sea had been shaded cream and gold, with white limestone structures on a background of desert sand.

But in Galilee, verdant reeds swayed by the deep blue water as swarms of white birds spiraled above the waves. And on the green hills, we could see ruined houses made of charcoal-colored basalt, the same stones that covered the seashores.

On our first morning, we filmed at Tabgha, an oasis by the Sea of Galilee, just as the sun came up. We filmed Carl reading his Bible by the sea, and Amir in his Jesus robes, standing on the rocks. We spent a relaxing day filming flowers and farmers in the fields, and we even climbed Mt. Arbel, a high cliff by the sea, for the view. It was an easy schedule, and we needed it, because the next day wouldn’t be easy at all.

Our second location in Galilee had the tightest shooting schedule of our entire trip. For weeks, even before we’d left we’d been scheduling, discussing, planning, and praying for our day in Nazareth.

Nazareth Village is a fascinating stop for tourists. It’s a reconstructed first-century town, with houses, a synagogue, animals, and costumed actors just as they would have been in Jesus’ time.

We were thrilled to have their lovely reconstructed facilities for several important reenactment scenes, but thanks to schedules, we only had one-day in this paradise to film two days-worth of scenes. And since the village had to close its gates in the evening, we couldn’t stay late to finish. It was double speed, or don’t do it.

The night before Nazareth, Gary and I discussed every shot we wanted to take, and wrote out the most efficient filming order. I ironed and laid out every costume we’d need, and Oswaldo and Gary planned their speed-work strategies for both cameras and the audio. Aran prepared to set-up and take down scenes at lightning speed, while coordinating rotating hordes of actors, and Amir got ready to perform a wide range of scenes back-to-back.

Could we do it? Unlikely, I thought. I’d warned Carl in advance that this was not a guaranteed, or even a plausible schedule, but that we’d all do our loyal best. This was the only day we could come, so we’d get through as many scenes as we could.

The ones we didn’t finish? Well, we’d try to fit them in another day, but without the lovely backdrop of the village. Before we left I prayed, not that we’d finish because that seemed like too much, but that God would get us through as many scenes as we were supposed to.

But God had other ideas. The next day, at the village, it rained miracles. Actors came early. Extra staff from the village volunteered to help us get ready. Even the donkey in the reenactment scenes was a well-behaved angel.

In a synchronized flash, we filmed Jesus and Caiaphas, the disciples and the donkey, the triumphal entry, the Last Supper, Mark as a boy, Mark writing his gospel, Jesus overturning a table, a man in a ritual bath, and an Essene copying the Torah. At the end of the day, the staff even offered to let us stay an extra half-hour, which was just the time we needed to finish.

As we stopped at a baklava shop to celebrate, I shook my head in amazement. If we hadn’t been near the end of our trip – with the crew at peak efficiency, if the Nazareth village staff hadn’t offered us extra help, if we hadn’t gotten the extra time; we wouldn't have made it. What we'd just done was a gift. A gift we’d never expected.

On the way home from what should have been our hardest day, the crew laughed and joked as we ate pastries in the back of the van. The hardest day was over. It would only get easier now. We had everything we’d asked for and more.

But in the Golan Heights, where we were going next, trouble was on its way.

Love always,

-Rachel

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Israel #7: Catching Up

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Israel #7: Catching Up

Gethsemane was Wednesday night. After that, we had just a few days left to finish in Jerusalem. Just to add to the challenge-level, we discovered that the streets would be blocked Thursday night Friday because of an international bike race on Friday. We laid our plans carefully – all the scenes with significant driving would have to be done on Thursday, so we could film the rest on foot. However, just to make things more complicated, Thursday afternoon, all the news helicopters started practicing their aerial photography flights. Recording audio was suddenly impossible, and we were leaving the city on Sabbath morning.

Resourceful Aran found an olive orchard far away from the racetrack in Ein Karem, which was supposedly the place where John the Baptist was born. Here, we filmed Carl talking among the Olive Trees and even though it wasn’t actually Gethsemane, it looked just as nice. Some of the Olive trees in Ein Karem were the oldest ones we saw on our trip, and had to be supported with stone walls built inside their giant hollow trunks. They looked incredibly cool on camera.

Friday morning, race day, dawned with eerie silence – most of the traffic was stopped in anticipation of the event. Gary, Oswaldo, and I hiked out to an open road to meet the others in the van, and we drove to Gethsemane for a few last early-morning scenes before the city woke up. We wanted these scenes to be shot in the shade, and so, as we filmed, we moved across the valley, the sunrise line chasing us after every shot. We finished our last scene in the nick of time by holding up a reflector to shade Carl from the first rays of approaching light as he finished.

After that, “just in time” became the theme of our day. We dodged helicopter noise, and an angry merchant who didn’t like our subject material, we walked miles and miles to find the right places and, over and over, we got what we needed just in time.

Finally, as our long final day in Jerusalem ended, we filmed our very last scene in the dark, holding up our light wands to illuminate the stone wall behind Carl as he shared the story of Jesus, in Jerusalem. Gary who'd kept track said we had walked ten miles in that one day, loaded with our equipment. Aran told us that, at least when it came to the second temple sites, we all had walked old Jerusalem so much that we could have given a tour. It felt like a special accomplishment to know the old city that well.

Somehow, with the help of many miracles, we’d finished our Jerusalem scenes. We were caught up at last, and starting fresh on our Sabbath trip to Galilee. Sabbath morning, after a much-needed full night of sleep, we crowded in to the car, beaming with excitement over what had just happened. We’d caught up – we were going to make it. Grabbing my phone I pointed it back over my shoulder at the van, crowded with the luggage and people and snapped my favorite photo from the trip. The entire crew with enormous smiles on our faces. Celebrating the moment. We were caught up, we were going to Galilee, we were ready for anything. And for us, the story was just getting started.

Love always,

-Rachel

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Israel #6: Gethsemane

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Israel #6: Gethsemane

As Jerusalem flew by, I kept thinking about our reenactment in Gethsemane. We wanted to film the famous moment when Jesus prayed under the olive trees, and I was ready to bite off my nails over it. In any situation, a well-known and emotionally-charged scene like that one would be a challenge. But this time, it was extra nerve-wracking because we’d been to Gethsemane, and it was a tough spot to film.

The trees were far apart, and partly hidden in high grass. The sun made bright spots between the trees, which meant we couldn’t film darker scenes until the evening. And the ground was covered in thorny plants that were painful for kneeling actors. I wasn’t sure where, or how, we’d film the famous scene, but I knew God could help. So, I started to pray. As we laid out the costumes, and puzzled over the schedule, we prayed. And our prayers were answered.

We arrived in Gethsemane with a finely-tuned plan. Oswaldo, our Gimbal operator, went with Carl to film some B-roll in the orchard. Meanwhile, Gary and I set out to find a place for the prayer scene. It wasn’t easy. We walked from one end of the valley to the other, climbed up the stone-walled terraces, and sized up every rock we could find, but nothing was quite right. Then, we found it. It wasn’t a rock at all. It was a tree; a perfect tree, with a giant knot at praying-hand height. There was even a bed of soft, thorn-free straw on the ground where Amir’s knees would rest. A few yellow flowers in the nearby grass formed a lovely frame to complete our image.

We set up the camera, and then, as if on cue, a haze of smoke from a nearby bonfire rose-up and mingled with the clouds to create a perfect screen for the harsh sunlight. The fog brought the dim light of evening an hour before we’d planned. Amir was ready in costume, and he did a beautiful, emotional job with the scene. I will always remember standing there in Gethsemane, looking at that beautiful shot through the bright yellow flowers, and knowing that our prayers had been answered. I knew, then, that the project would be fine. God was keeping an eye on it, and he’d send us what we needed. It was time to stop worrying and just enjoy the ride.

Love always,

-Rachel

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Israel #5 - Jerusalem Marathon

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Israel #5 - Jerusalem Marathon

After the day at the empty tomb, we steadily made up time. We started at the beautiful Garden of Gethsemane on the Mount of Olives. Audio was a challenge there, because Gethsemane, though it was perhaps a quiet place two thousand years ago, is now a city park in Jerusalem, and the sounds of semi-trucks and honking horns threatened to drown us out on a few occasions. But all was well. We found a quieter niche at the base of the mountain, and carried on.

After our first of many trips to Mt. Olives, we visited the temple mount. We had to film cautiously on top of the mount – no slates, and no spoken directions. Everything in the high-security area near the Dome of the Rock had to be low-key and respectful.

Then, at the Davidson Archeological Center, we stood on the massive stone steps that once led up to the temple, and touched the bricked-over arches of the triple gate. After we filmed several scenes with Carl on the ancient stairs, we costumed Amir, our Jesus actor, and filmed him walking up the steps to the temple. The nearby tourists were enormously excited to see a fully-costumed Jesus, and a real-live film crew, so they gathered around and took pictures with their phones as we filmed. When I called "cut," Amir struck a pose for the crowd. They applauded.

For the rest of our time in Jerusalem, people would stop us in the streets and say “Hey, we know you, you were with Jesus!” And, come to think of it, I can’t think of many things I’d rather hear.

Next we visited the famous Israel Museum, which has many of the Dead Sea Scrolls on display, and features a model of Jerusalem as it looked in Jesus’ time.

The museum miniature is the only place to see Golgotha today, since the Church of the Holy Sepulcher, an ornate ancient marvel in its own right, covers both Calvary hill, and the site of Jesus’ tomb.

Filming in the Church of the Holy Sepulcher was a fascinating political exercise. History shows that so many different religious sects wanted control of this sacred space, that the massive church was a battle field for centuries. Then, hoping to preserve the Church and find peace the various religious leaders agreed to share the church. Each nook and cranny inside this gilded house of worship is now run by an entirely different religion, and the filming rules changed for us every time we walked around a corner. It was exciting.

In the church, we made another of my favorite memories from our trip. We were filming the crosses, carved into the wall, many of which are thousands of years old, when a group of priests and nuns walked by. They climbed down a staircase into a tiny round basement room and gathered with their backs to the entrance. This was their moment of worship, not a performance for onlookers. Then, to our utter amazement, they started to sing like the angels themselves.

As they chanted their prayers in perfect harmony, their song wafted up from the basement cavern, into the enormous stone church, where it echoed and expanded into something magical. I had never heard anything as hauntingly beautiful.

"Gary, come record this," I pleaded. I stood, transfixed, next to his camera as the song flowed over us like mist.  Thanks to those lovely singers, we left that church with something sacred. A song of rare beauty, sung only for God.

 

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Israel #4: Miracle at the Tomb

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Israel #4: Miracle at the Tomb

At the very end of our rainy museum day, we were in trouble. The tombs where we’d planned to film the following day were muddy, and flooded. We were running out of ideas. A few silent prayers went up, as our wet clothes dripped onto the rented van’s carpeted floor. “There is one more place,” said the ever-resourceful Aran, “but it is 20 minutes outside of town. Do you want to go?” It was our last chance. We went.

The Biblical Gardens were a gift. They were beautifully landscaped, had low traffic, and sat on a hill, high above the flooding. And nestled in the heart of the garden, by a lovely cluster of olive trees, was an authentic, ancient tomb, with an actual rock-hewn entrance and a round stone to roll away. Just what we needed, and in the nick of time. Aran went to the office which was about to close, and quickly asked if we could film on the site in less than twelve hours. Incredibly, the owners agreed. And at 6 AM the next day, we were there.

The location was gorgeous, and historically accurate. There were actual bone boxes from Jesus’ time inside of the tomb, and the exterior was picture-perfect. But the empty tomb scene became one of my favorite memories for an entirely different reason: the people who joined our team for the day.

It was our first time working with actors outside of our long-term crew, and they were incredible. Three exuberant young women came to discover the tomb, and a lovely young man joined them to play the angel that their characters meet.

Working with a bigger crew was a new challenge, and time was extra tight that day, but these lovely people made it an adventure. When I gave them their costumes, they danced, posed, and took pictures. When we slated the shots, they laughed with excitement. When Aran and I shared the tale of the rabbi who rose from the dead, they played their parts happily, even though the story wasn’t familiar to them. “You don’t believe that this man is really an angel,” I told the three actresses. “You don’t believe this is really happening.”

“Do I believe I’m an angel?” the angel asked.

“ Yes,” I told him. “You know exactly where you came from.” He nodded seriously.

Everything we asked our actors to do, they did with double enthusiasm. They stayed an extra half hour, so we could finish, and when filming was done, they took selfies with us, and shook our hands. “We want to see the movie when it’s done!” they chorused.

“Can I read this story in Hebrew?” The angel asked.

“It was so wonderful working with you,” said one actress, as she gave me a hug goodbye.

I’m glad she had a wonderful time. I hope they all did. I hope we gave those four lovely people something to smile about, a new story, an adventure. But no matter how much they enjoyed the experience, we won’t even have begun to pay them back for what they gave to us. They were our miracle.

In the morning, we were tired, behind schedule, and starting to break down. But then, their enthusiasm, the light in their eyes, brought us back to life. It gave us the energy we needed to push on.

And that afternoon, we flew. We filmed burial caves on a hillside, in the famous Valley of Hinnom. We broke out our light wands inside a giant, underground tomb, creating fantastic lighting effects. We shot in an enormous cemetery that covers one whole side of the Mount of Olives. The rows and rows of white limestone graves seemed to cover everything in sight.

By evening, we’d finished our checklist, and taken a bite out of our backlog of work from other days. And back at the house, as I sat with Gary, the cinematographer, and watched the footage, we laughed with joy at our new friends’ exuberant and wonderful performances. That was the night when I started to believe we could finish, after all. We’d prayed for a miracle, and God had sent four, with skin on. And by now I’d learned enough to know there would be more.

Love always,

-Rachel

 

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