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.