Thursday, December 29, 2011

Friday, November 18, 2011

From "The Song" Playlist: Joe Pug - "Nation of Heat"


Another video via LaundroMatinee. Love this guy's voice. The question of "Who does he remind me of?" is quickly answered. In fact, you probably won't have time to even ask it. Lyrics like, "If I didn't own boots, I wouldn't need feet?" Harmonica holder? As they say, "Bad artists copy. Great artists steal." And, if you're going to steal, steal from the best.

Another great thing:  It's hard steal from a guy as generous as Joe Pug. He's apparently found quite a bit of success can be had in giving music away for free. Devoted fans spread the word and go to shows. So, if you think he's great...google is your friend.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

From "The Song" Playlist: Nicole Atkins - "My Baby Don't Lie"


I'm hoping to consistently feature artists that I've come to really enjoy while doing music and style research for "The Song." This video via LaundroMatinee features Nicole Atkins doing a stripped down version of "My Baby Don't Lie" from her classic/psychedelic rock-inspired album "Mondo Amore."

"The Song" - Screenwriter's iPod Playlist

I like to listen to music as I write. Not that that's rare or anything. But, for a music driven project like "The Song," it's particularly helpful. Through the writing process, I've developed a fluctuating iPod playlist. Some songs come and go as the story changes or as their novelty wears off and they no longer inspire the emotions and sensations that inspire. You know when you listen to a song so many times that you can't hear it anymore? Some songs have been on the list since I started. 

Anyway, below are snapshots of the playlist as it currently stands. Recommendations?

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Friday, November 11, 2011

The Life Project - Three Casts, One Story


As I've stated before, in order to reach as many people as possible, we decided to film the central piece of "The Life Project" with three different casts: African-American, Hispanic speaking Spanish, and Caucasian.

In the above video, the entire story plays out while featuring segments from all three casts.

To learn how you can help get "The Life Project" into thousands of crisis pregnancy centers, visit givethelifeproject.org

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

The Life Project

Last year, I had the privilege of directing and writing what will hopefully be the first of many episodes in "The Life Project." From Shane Sooter's blog:
I’m thrilled to premiere these films, each designed to quickly reach the hearts of women facing a crisis pregnancy. Responding to advice of our pregnancy center partners, we crafted three versions of the same story – one with a Caucasian cast, one with an African American cast, and one with a Hispanic cast speaking Spanish. On a creative level, its fascinating to see the many subtle variations created by the different casts. But I hope that nuances like that are lost on you as you watch the first time. I hope that you are drawn into the story, that you are moved, and that you are eager to share this tool with others. Enjoy.



Wednesday, November 2, 2011

"The Song" On Pinterest

A couple of months ago, my wife introduced me to pinterest.com. It's basically a virtual cork board. You create different boards, and if you like a photo on the internet, you can "pin" it to your collection. At this point, my pinterest account is entirely dedicated to "The Song."

So far, I have set up boards for all the characters, and one of the major locations. When working in collaboration, it's important to be able to get images out of your head so that others can understand and add to them, and make composites of them. That way, over time, all the creatives for the film begin to see the same characters...and, thus, the same film.

 Jed:


The story takes us from Jed’s early twenties, when he’s a gifted, charismatic, optimistic, and wise-beyond-his-years aspiring singer-songwriter, to his early thirties, when he’s famous, burnt out, and world-weary. Basically, imagine someone who could write the contemporary equivalent of Song of Solomon at age 23 and the write Ecclesiastes at 33.

As I stated earlier, "The Avett Brothers" accounted for a substantial chunk of my iPod playlist while I was writing "The Song." To me, Scott Avett (above) is very Jed. His music has incredible depth...and, on stage, he's a hurricane of barely, but brilliantly controlled chaos.

 Rose:


Jed’s sweetheart and later wife.  She’s the radiant, lovely, intelligent, and innocent girl next door (if you lived on a picturesque farm) that your mom and the Bible told you should marry.

Finding pictures for this character has been tough.  In fact, I'm not even thrilled with the one I posted above.  Seeing as Rose is not a musician, there's not a famous person who comes to mind when I try to picture her.  So, I don't really know what or who to "Google" when searching for a picture that captures her essence.

 Shelby:


This character on the other hand...well....I've found that my "villains" are often the most quick to mentally materialize for me.  Makes me want to do a film where the villain is the main character.

Shelby's the girl you wouldn’t take anywhere near your mom. One of Jed’s fellow musicians, she’s beautiful, brazen, and sultry. While the real Solomon was brought down by 700 wives and 300 concubines…well…Jed has Shelby.

I'm not in any way saying that Nicole Atkins (pictured above and whom I have never met) is personally like Shelby -just that she has a great look and style (fashion and music).  And, the audience response to her singing (at the 1:36 mark) in the below video is a striking testimony to her ability to captivate and enchant an audience...


Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Avett Awesomeness


Usually when writing scripts, I compile a fat iPod playlist for the sake of mood. This was especially necessary for "The Song." These guys accounted for about 70% of my list. Mostly because they. are. AWESOME.

You doubt? Then watch the video. Especially, the hoe-down at 4:25.

And...I'm going to see their show in Lexington Thursday Night.

"Story" Recap


This past week, I had the privilege of attending Robert McKee's "Story seminar." I think the above video gives you the best sample and explanation. I spent most of my weekend somewhere between the extremes of the "Adaptation" clip and the actual calm interview. Sorry if the langage offends, but it really does provide the best window into my weekend. For anyone interested in screenwriting, or filmmaking in general, I highly recommend his book, "Story." It was a tremendous help in writing "The Song," and is a good summary of his seminar.

Friday, October 21, 2011

We are Solomon


"Without Him, who can eat and find enjoyment?" - Ecclesiastes 2:25

Shane and I just finished the second day of the Robert McKee Story Seminar.  It's been very informative and helpful, and I look forward to going back and reading "The Song" after what I've learned here.

McKee is very brazen in his opinions on a wide variety of issues.  Today he semi-lamented that good stories in cinema seem to be more and more rare.  He says when he was a kid it was a couple a week, now it's a couple a year.  He basically attributed this to Western decedance (though, I'm sure some would dismiss his diagnosis as nostalgia).

He basically said Western life is too easy to produce good stories en masse.  Westerners don't work anymore...well, not real work.  He said studies show that only about two hours of actual work get done in an eight hour work day.  Technology, education, and affluence have given us a lot of leisure time, which has given us opportunities to reflect, which makes us realize how terribly unhappy we are.  And, a lot of our stories reflect that personal and pervasive unhappiness.

He went on to say that the spectre of death should be a sufficient motivator for us to get out of the chair and get something done...writing a good story, specifically and that writers know that life is really meaningless.

Wow.  It was almost...almost...like listening to a New York paraphrase of Ecclesiastes.

As I've told people that "The Song" leans very heavily on Ecclesiastes as source material, I've lost count of how many people have indicated that that is one of their favorite books, if not their very favorite book, in the Bible.  Despite the books timelessness, I suppose one could dismiss this as a trend, but enough people have said it to make me wonder if there's just "something in the air" in this age in which we live that makes that book really resonate.

I think part of it is that it provides a sobering and yet comforting alternative to the "too blessed to be stressed" facade that often permeates American Evangelicalism.  But, listening to McKee, it hit me...

The West, at many class levels, is full of Solomons -comparatively affluent, educated, leisure-lovers, who have easy access to comforts and experiences that the ancient king could not have foreseen, and who have time to sit and reflect and realize that they are utterly miserable and wonder why all their possessions, achievements, relationships (actual or digital), and experiences simply have not satisfied the deepest longings of their heart.

Story

Shane Sooter and I are attending Robert McKee's "Story" Seminar in New York.  I plan on blogging some reflections on it later, but Shane's got a head start.  Click here to read his thoughts.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

How "Evangelistic" Films Hinder Evangelism

I snapped this in (the formerly communist) Romania in 2008.  Originally meant to be functional rather than beautiful, it is now neither.  Christian artists, take note.

A friend and co-worker, Amy Whikehart, sent me a fantastic article on the conspicuous lack of meritorious literature from Evangelicals.  Here's a couple of dead-on insights:
"But if evangelism must be the primary purpose of everything we write, then a lot of God’s character will remain unreflected—which will, ironically, not help the cause of evangelism." 
"So it is not surprising that, with no such emphasis coming from its leaders, the popular Evangelical subculture seems even more addicted to pragmatism in its approach, as a brief trip through the 'Christian bookstore' will show.   Fiction can only be justified if it has an overt evangelistic purpose; works of visual art must have a Scripture verse tacked under them. 
"Perhaps when our theologians become concerned with the good of the thing made, some of our people will, too."

Amen.

Click here to read the full article.

C.S. Lewis was an atheist and a highly trained literary critic.  In his autobiography, he said that one of the things that began to turn his heart toward God was the fact that many of his favorite authors (such as George MacDonald) were Christians.  They didn't reach him by speaking Christian-ese, but by speaking his language in his accent.

Peter Hitchens, atheist-turned-Christian, and brother of current famous atheist, Christopher Hitchens, believes that art will  be a more effective means of reaching educated and hard-hearted cynics and skeptics than reasoned argument.  He says this based on his own experience.  His atheism began to erode after being unexpectedly confronted by a piece of renaissance art.

Roger Ebert is currently an atheist.  It's too difficult to imagine his heart being transformed by the current environment of Christian films.

Monday, October 17, 2011

Crafting "The Song"


The script for the feature portion of "The Song" is done. But, several months ago, the story was a series of scattered scribbles on whiteboards and notecards. Here's a glimpse of where were were in February. Looking back, it's interesting to see how the process changes things and which ideas make it in and which ones don't.  And, which ideas couldn't have been anticipated and simply materialize during the actual writing process.

Friday, October 14, 2011

Announcing City On A Hill's First Feature Film!




Inspired by the life and works of King Solomon, The Song tells the story of a young, aspiring singer-songwriter whose marriage and life suffer when the song he writes for his wife propels him to stardom.

From director, Shane Sooter:
 "Already more than a year in the making, I’m thrilled to go public with this monster of a project about one of the Bible’s most perplexing figures. Like our previous five projects, this will take the shape of a television miniseries, a small-group curriculum, and a church campaign resource. But on top of that, this project will stand as City on a Hill Productions' first feature film.  
As this will be the subject of many blog posts to come, I’ll resist the temptation to discuss the incredible opportunities and challenges that come with doing a giant, multifaceted, music-driven project like this. For now, I’ll leave you with this teaser: in the next couple of weeks, I’ll be sharing the details on our first nationwide casting search. Ready to audition? Can you sing, play an instrument, and act? Know someone who can? Get in on the action early…give me the scoop in the comments."

"Dig Down Deep" By Vandaveer



Here's a band I came across while engaging in the music research that the next City on a Hill project requires. My wife and I are going to go see these guys (or rather this guy and this girl) tonight. Very excited.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

William Lane Craig On Whether We Can Have Meaning Without God



In Ecclesiastes, the Teacher calls it "striving after wind." Craig calls it "rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic." They're both right on. Oh, and here's the highest rated skeptical take from the comments section:
I don't think you theists look at "meaning" the right way when you judge atheism for having no meaning. We are here. We are part of this whole thing. We have just as much meaning as the biggest star or black hole. Craig's grim description of the eventual fate of the universe as we know it is just the way it is. Running to theism because you don't like it proves nothing except your "subjective" need for a god.
So, according to ptango101, even if there is no God, we have as much meanings as the biggest star or black hole...both of which also have no meaning. Sleep tight.

Video comes via thepoachedegg.net via thegospelcoailtion.org via reasonablefaith.org

Childplace

Childplace from City on a Hill Productions.

Here's the latest ministry support film from City on a Hill Productions. Childplace is a residential treatment center for children right across the Ohio River in Jeffesonville, Indiana.

Can I just say, after living the vast majority of my life in Texas, how strange it is to be able to get to another State in fifteen minutes?

Monday, October 10, 2011

When In Rome...



The Christmas Experience - The Decree from City on a Hill Productions.

"In those days Caesar Augustus issued a decree that a census should be taken of the entire Roman world..." - Luke 2:1
Friday morning, City on a Hill Productions wrapped production on our next series, "The Christmas Experience." My involvement seemed rather minimal. I played a shepherd, which only required four nights of filming, and I did quite a bit of onset editing. Other than that, the whole process seemed to be a storm that was happening all around me. The above clip is a scene I edited in the production trailer.

By the way...how terrible would enduring a Roman Census be? "All right. Everyone stand still! We're going to count you! I! I-I! I-I-I! I-V! V! V-I! V-I-...! All right, I lost count! This will be much easier if you all get in groups of X!"

Shout out to Luke Staley.

Check Out Our Awesome Hamster Wheel


"What do people gain from all their labors
   at which they toil under the sun?
Generations come and generations go,
   but the earth remains forever.
The sun rises and the sun sets,
   and hurries back to where it rises.
The wind blows to the south
   and turns to the north;
round and round it goes,
   ever returning on its course.
All streams flow into the sea,
   yet the sea is never full.
To the place the streams come from,
   there they return again.
All things are wearisome,
   more than one can say." 

-Ecclesiastes 1:3-8

I hate routine. I guess Solomon did, too.

Before working at City on a Hill, I was a high school teacher, and there were so many times when I would get ready for work, or for bed, asking myself, "Didn't I just do this?" "Wasn't I just here?" It was like I was on a hamster wheel. Wake up, get dressed, drive to school, check email, first period, second period, third...drive home, eat...read my daughter a bed time story (usually the same one for weeks).

Nature reflects this monotony and contributes to it. We're on this cycle because Earth is too. It rotates every twenty four hours, so most people punch in and punch out accordingly. Under the sun, that is apart from a practical faith in God, this is often dull, meaningless drudgery.

NASA has constructed a satellite to orbit Mercury. Due to Mercury's close proximity to the sun, one side of the planet is always day, the other always night. As a result, the satellite has to routinely withstand a one thousand degree temperature swing. What a life-enabling blessing it is to have a planet that turns every twenty four hours! What conspicuous luck that our planet's tilt and orbit give us four seasons within 365 days. How fortunate that we have water...that evaporates into the air to form clouds...to dump the water back down...so that the water can run into the rivers...that run into the sea...that is never full...so that this life-giving cycle may repeat and repeat. How fortunate we are to have wind that blows, which aids our oceans currents, which churns marine nutrients, which facilitates the growth of algae, which produces most of our oxygen. And, how fortunate we are to have eyes and ears to see and hear it all!

Earth's routine is not a grind. It's a gift.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Something Has Me


"The more I have, the more I think I'm almost where I need to be....if only I could get a little more."
-The Avett Brothers
"Ill With Want"

"All things are wearisome, more than one can say. The eye never has enough of seeing, nor the ear its fill of hearing."

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

It's A Meaningless Life

"Where be your gibes now?  Your gambols?  Your songs?  Your flashes of merriment?...Now get you to my lady's chamber, and tell her, let her paint an inch thick, to this favour she must come; make her laugh at that."
-Hamlet to Yorick's skull
Act V, scene i

"The words of the Teacher, a son of David, king in Jerusalem: “'Meaningless! Meaningless!' says the Teacher. 'Utterly meaningless!  Everything is meaningless.'” 


The teacher here gets straight to the point: existence "under the sun," that is life from a purely secular perspective and apart from a practical faith in God, has absolutely no meaning or purpose.  Many with no practical faith in God don't deny this.  Because...well, they really can't.

 The atheist philosopher Bertrand Russell once wrote wrote:
"That man is the product of causes which had no prevision of the end they were achieving; that his origin, his growth, his hopes and fears, his loves and his beliefs, are but the outcome of accidental collocations of atoms; that no fire, no heroism, no intensity of thought and feeling, can preserve an individual life beyond the grave; that all the labors of the ages, all the devotion, all the inspiration, all the noonday brightness of human genius, are destined to extinction in the vast death of the solar system, and that the whole temple of man's achievement must inevitably be buried beneath the debris of a universe in ruins -- all these things, if not quite beyond dispute, are yet so nearly certain that no philosophy which rejects them can hope to stand. Only within the scaffolding of these truths, only on the firm foundation of unyielding despair, can the soul's salvation henceforth be safely built."
So, everything we attempt, no matter how lofty and well intentioned, or devious and sadistic, is indeed "striving after wind."  There will come a time when Adolph Hitler will be of no more significance than Martin Luther King; when no one will remember them because there will be no one and nothing capable of remembering anything; when both men may as well have never existed.

If there's no god, nothing really matters.  That's the inescapable conclusion.

Conspicuously, it seems few atheists have the...I guess, courage...to consistently live like this is true.   If the universe is meaningless and without purpose, then there's no meaning or purpose in convincing people this is the case.  So, why bother trolling the virtual world's various comments sections, guys?

I've heard atheists say that while atheism denies cosmic meaning, it affirms personal meaning. Well...as Hamlet so famously said: "I could be bound in a nutshell and call myself a king of infinite space." Any meaning that only has jurisdiction in the space between your ears and behind your eyeballs isn't really meaning.  It's escapism.

I refuse to live in unyielding despair.  I've decided to stake my soul's salvation on the well-founded hope and self-evident truth that the hand that painted the above picture, and the mind that conceived the story it depicts are not the "outcome of accidental collocations of atoms."  That man is indeed "a piece of work," "the beauty of the world, the paragon of animals," "a little lower than the angels," "fearfully and wonderfully made."


Monday, September 19, 2011

Eternity In My Heart

From an Avett Brothers poster designed by Brian Reed
"He has made everything beautiful in its time.  He has also set eternity in the human heart; yet no one can fathom what God has done from beginning to end."
- Ecclesiastes 3:11
City on a Hill Productions is soon to announce what, God-willing, will be our first feature film.  So, I decided I'd risk jinxing it and write a cryptic blog post about it.  Suffice it to say that, for the past few months, I have been immersing myself in Americana music and the book of "Ecclesiastes." I love both.

As you can easily see, I haven't blogged in quite some time. There's a particular reason, and it has been pretty painful. It will take me some time to figure out how to blog about it without sounding like someone who's boasting over fasting. It needs to be a matter of boasting in my weakness...and I was so weak...mentally, emotionally, and spiritually...for a long time. And, there are still ocasional aftershocks.

I suspect, but will reserve final judgment, that a professional incentive to live in "Ecclesiastes" during this time in my life was a God-given gift. It is so comforting to see Biblical writers asking the same questions that literally kept me awake so many nights. I mean, I literally asked myself "Ecclesiastes 3:21" before I read it. When we ask these questions, we are not necessarily treading the slippery slope into nihilistic darkness. We are walking on a trail blazed by those who, like Jacob, committed to struggle, strive, and wrestle with God until He finally agreed to bless them.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

The Life Project - Trailer


Here is a promo from my latest project with City on a Hill Productions. The video features footage from the film series and an interview, in which I explain why am so passionate about this project.