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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Israel #3: Dark and Rain

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Israel #3: Dark and Rain

One of the challenges that kept things interesting in Israel was filming in locations that we’d never seen. We didn’t know what we’d find, so we had to come ready for anything.

“Good news today!” I told the crew enthusiastically as we drove to our first shoot in Jerusalem. “We’re filming indoors, in a quiet museum! No wind, no rain. This will be easy!” What did I learn from the Wohl Museum? Never open my big mouth.

The Wohl Museum contains the actual ruins of several first-century houses. Carl and Aran explained that these homes belonged to priests in Jesus’ time, and that one house, which archeologists call “The Palatial Mansion,” might even have been the place where Jesus’ trial was held.

“This is neat,” Bill, the team production assistant told me, as we walked past a case of ancient stone vessels. He didn’t want me to miss out. It was Bill’s self-appointed mission, between tasks, to share a sense of the awe of our locations with the busy and distracted crew.

The priests in Jesus’ day were rich. The crumbling stone walls, arches, tables and jars were elegantly decorated with ornate mosaics or carved designs. The ruins were beautifully lit, with miniature spotlights to show their depth. Sometimes, a hole in one of the stone floors showed a tantalizing peak at a second level far below. Visitors viewed the homes from fenced, darkened walkways. It was a fantastic design for a museum. But not great for a film crew. The stone ruins looked lovely on camera, but Carl disappeared in the darkened aisles.

It was Jerry, my film professor, who saved the day all the way from Walla Walla. Before we left, he’d looked at our gear list and suggested that we add two color-changing, wand-shaped lights. The wands, which the crew immediately christened “light sabers,” were perfect for illuminating Carl to match the different-colored spotlights in the ruins. We got a few muscle cramps from holding up our “light sabers” all day, but the shots looked studio-polished.

Thanks to Jerry, the Wohl Museum wasn’t a disaster, but it took extra time, and we had to reschedule a few scenes for another day. Then, when we left the museum mid-afternoon, it started to rain again, and soon the sidewalks were flooded ankle-deep as it poured. Like it or not, we were done for the day, and we’d fallen even farther behind.

But somehow, it was OK. The night before, we’d told God that this whole trip was his, and for once, I didn’t try to take it back. Instead, I jumped out of the car with Aran, the pounding rain soaking us to the skin in seconds, as we waded through water and mud mid-calf-deep to explore a location. The site wasn’t usable. The storm had turned it into a lake. But it didn’t matter. We’ find another. In that moment, with the rain lashing down from above, the current in the flooded streets tearing at our feet, and with thunder and lightning roaring through the air, I felt electric, glowing, throbbing with irrational joy. I was in Jerusalem. It was a good day to be alive.

Love Always,

Rachel

 

Photo credit: At this link

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Israel #2: The Desert

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Israel #2: The Desert

Our first filming location was the arid Judean Desert. We filmed in waving grasslands, where Bedouins herded their goats. We stood on the edge of a rocky canyon. And we spent a day at the ruins of Qumran – the place where the Dead Sea Scrolls were written.

Later, we drove to a bowl-shaped valley of bright white sand that reflected the sun in all directions, as if we were inside a light fixture. On one side, though an opening in the valley wall, we could see rows and rows of gleaming, white sand dunes retreating into the distance. It was beautiful, and totally blinding in the noonday sun. When we filmed Carl, the host and producer there, one crew member had to hold a shade over his head, while two others stretched out a black cloth at his waist level to block the reflection from below. All that just so Carl could open his eyes!

At the Jericho road – the one in the parable of the good Samaritan, some Bedouins taught us to properly wrap the headscarves for our costumed characters. The Bedouin people are so impressive. Living in a place as hot and unforgiving as that desert has to take skill, and a lot of strength.

On our third and final day in the desert, a rainstorm rolled into the valley, which is very rare in April. We had to keep moving to keep the strong winds from ruining our audio. We were filming down in a canyon, sheltered from the high winds, when the rain finally hit. We had to run out of the canyon, both to save our cameras, and because Aran, the in-country producer on our crew, warned us that the rain could cause a flash flood. Later, we learned that there had really been a flash flood that night, and that nine people had been killed. Not for the last time, I was thankful for Aran’s incredible knowledge and wisdom. That man is a blessing from God.

We moved to the Dead Sea, to get away from the rain, but had to stop early because the storm wall was minutes away. We stashed our cameras in the car, and stood on the shore, watching as a visible storm cloud, shaped out of sand and radiating lightning, roared toward us across the Dead Sea like a shape-shifting monster. We stared in awe until it was almost on top of us, and then we jumped into the car, and watched as the air around us became a swirling maelstrom of silt, thunder, and lightning.

That night, we had planned to do night shots, but we couldn’t. There was too much rain. With the storm, and a few other setbacks, we were now far behind schedule. Too far. Worried, I sent a text message to Lynelle back in Walla Walla. We might not finish, please pray, I told her. Then I said a prayer of my own. “Maybe you don’t want us to finish this,” I told God. “And if you don’t, that’s OK. You see farther than we do. But if you do want us to finish, we’re going to need a miracle.” Looking back, I was thinking too small when I asked for just one miracle. But that didn’t matter. God never thinks small. And the ride was just getting started.

Love always,

-Rachel

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Israel Day One

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Israel Day One

Hi it's Rachel again - CR&W grad student just back from directing our project in Israel, and I've got a few stories to share. Above you'll see a photo of the temple mount - that's the walls of King Herod's temple from Jesus time, but filled to create a high mound where the Dome of the Rock sits today.

Legend has it that the holy of holies in the Jerusalem temple sends out ripples travelers can still feel today. You cross a ripple when you enter Israel – the whole country is a holy place. You pass another ripple at the walls of Jerusalem, and as you move closer and closer to the most holy place beneath the temple mount, you wade through more ripples into a more and more sacred space. That’s why, so the story goes, people feel different in Jerusalem than anywhere else in the world.

Jerusalem was certainly different from my home in Portland, Oregon. The air smelled tangy and fresh, like an open market. White stones in the streets were polished and shining from two thousand years of footsteps, and, when we stepped out of our taxi on day one, we heard the sweet song of a Muslim Imam, chanting the call to evening prayer. This was a new and wonderful place. But, most of all, I felt different. I felt alive, supercharged with excitement. I’d known for a long time that our filming project would be a challenge. Now I felt like God was saying “You’ve planned enough. Stop worrying and go do it.”

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. After a trip like that, I just want tell someone what happened. And, over the next few weeks, that someone is going to be you.

Love always,

-Rachel

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Introducing our MA in Cinema, Religion, & Worldview

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Introducing our MA in Cinema, Religion, & Worldview

Hi Everyone,

Rachel, the center's production coordinator here. I want to give you a little update on our MA program name change, and how it came to be. The Center for Media Ministry's flagship program is our Master's degree, which covers filmmaking, theology, and the cultural perspectives audiences bring with them when they watch a film. As a student in the program, I believe this is a great mixture of skills, and I've learned a lot already.

Our degree used to be known as as an MA in Media Ministry, to show that we taught both practical techniques, and deep thinking ideas. And for some people, that named worked great. But in the last few years, we've learned that the term "Media Ministry" means different things to different people. For some potential students, the Media Ministry name wasn't broad enough to cover all the things we taught, and it actually made them less interested in learning more about the program.

That's why, even though we are still The Center for Media Ministry, our central Masters degree has a brand new name: Cinema, Religion, & Worldview. We've picked this name, after talking to our students and other interested people. We found that this name gives a better idea of what we really teach. It's the same great content, but with a new name that, hopefully, will encourage even more people to check it out!

Send us a a note to learn more, we'd love to hear from you.

Love always,

-Rachel

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Come Before Winter Film Screening Overflows the Venue

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Come Before Winter Film Screening Overflows the Venue

On December 2nd, from 3-5 PM, The Center for Media Ministry screened Kevin Ekvall's Documentary Come Before Winter. Audience response was so enthusiastic that the movie overflowed out the Black Box Theater, and had to movie to the nearby Fine Arts Center. Nearly 300 attended the screening.

Director Ekvall, and Producer Gary Blount gave a Q&A afterwards, discussing why they chose to tell Dietrich Bonhoeffer's story, and how the film was made. Watch this blog, and our Facebook page, for information on our next screening!

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Directing Workshop With Richard Ramsey

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Directing Workshop With Richard Ramsey

The Center for Media Ministry's second Graduate intensive was this summer, and along with some excellent classes, our students enjoyed a film screening and directing workshop with Richard Ramsey.

Ramsey is artistic director of City on a Hill Studios, and recently directed a feature film: The Song. Students a community members alike enjoyed a screening of Ramsey's film, and the opportunity to ask him questions, though students got a second chance at lunch the next day.

Students also got to see Ramsey in class as he presented ideas for his next film project, and talked about how he worked his way into directing. The students also got to be Ramsey's crew as he directed a scene study that doubled as sneak preview for his next film. The upcoming project will be a historical drama on two underground church leaders in communist Romania: Richard and Sabina Wormbrand.

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Screening of Old Fashioned with Writer/Director Rik Swartzwelder

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Screening of Old Fashioned with Writer/Director Rik Swartzwelder

This Wednesday, February 22, the Center for Media was honored to receive Rik Swartzwelder, writer and director of the Christian romance film Old Fashioned.

After a screening of the film, in which the multi-talented Swartzwelder also played a leading roll, and an audience Q&A, students got to chat with the director, and ask him some deeper questions over lunch the next day.

Long-distance MA students were treated to a video interview featuring Swartzwelder and film Professor Jerry Hartman.

Swartzwelder shared about making his film, raising the funds, and lessons learned from experience.

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Bruce Marchiano on playing Jesus in the Matthew Films

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Bruce Marchiano on playing Jesus in the Matthew Films

This summer was the Center For Media Ministry's very first graduate intensive, and our special guest for the intensive was actor Bruce Marchiano who plays Jesus in the word-for-word Biblical epic The Gospel According to Matthew.

Marchiano shared some stories of his early work as an actor, and screened a recent film that he directed and starred in called Alison's Choice. Then, in a very special Friday night colloquium at the Walla Walla Village church, Marchiano told stories of his experiences filming The Gospel According to Matthew.

Marchiano said there was something unique about the project. It was, as he said " just eight guys in Morocco" but Marchiano believes their dedication to both the project and to Christ created something wonderful.

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