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.


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."


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 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.