(This is a guest post from April Holladay,
Co-writer and Director of our Easter element, The Road: Simon Peter)
As stated in the previous entry, The Road: Simon Peter is a concept we used three years ago for Easter, The Road: The Walk to Emmaus. It was originally taken from a long form ad for Johnnie Walker Whiskey featuring Robert Carlyle (Once Upon a Time) and yes; you read that correctly, a long form commercial about whiskey which is absolutely brilliant
Creatively and honestly, intellectually, it is important to search all forms of creative content… ALL content for that matter. As creative’s we cannot be isolated and as artists, we all must be thieves. We take; we re-shape, re-form, re-purpose and improve ideas and concepts making them our own. From news stories, movies, TV, commercials, Internet…all of it is necessary to spark original thought and concept. Although this would appear a paradox, it is as old as Homer crafting the Iliad and the Odyssey.
For Easter 2016 we decided to steal from ourselves. The Johnnie Walker ad was far in the rearview mirror, but The Road: The Walk to Emmaus was something we had always wanted to re-craft. We had learned hard lessons on that shoot but definitely had the vision to create a unique and different brand of storytelling or at the very least create a trilogy.
Interesting how in three years you forget the battles of a project. When everything is done…sound, music, lighting and the finished project has hit the mark, elicited great conversation and people are excited, you tend to forget… the heat, the wind, the battle to keep dust of the camera, props from blowing over, timing, time, sound from a moving vehicle, 5 min and 36 seconds of memorization, the one continuous shot which means if anyone messes up at ANY point you begin at the very beginning (not always a great place to start…Sound of Music reference), batteries in golf carts dying, trucks getting stuck in the mud, shooting on BLM land, carrying a gun “just in case” a bobcat crosses your path, the hours of prop preparation, hours of rehearsal, script adjustments and a team of volunteers and staff who are willing to go above and beyond to make something that transcends us. To illuminate a story.
Some of our lessons we learned well, quite well. To tiptoe for a moment to the technical… The Road: Simon Peter, we shot in 4K, although we knew we would be unable to show it in 4K. We used this resolution for stabilization. It would be viewed compressed at 2K or 1K. And with the Dave Cowan magic edit stabilization skills and steady hands we got as close to shooting on tracks as humanly possible. We shot on an uneven desert landscape and a Steady Cam really didn’t do the trick on The Road: The Walk to Emmaus. You will see this as you compare both videos.
Before you do, let’s chat about the specifics of this project and process:
Originally, we landed on the idea of The Prodigal Son story. It would mirror the Emmaus story simply because it was just that, a complete story. As Shane, our Senior Pastor began to prepare his message and thoughts on Easter it became clear that The Prodigal story was not where Easter was going to land, it was landing at a “Comeback” moment. Peter’s story is a great story of a comeback and it relates heavily to most, if not all, people listening on Easter. Who doesn’t like a comeback story right? So we threw out the beginnings of the first script and began to concentrate on Peter. We outlined everything we knew about Peter. Pulled from scripture, commentary (secular and religious) and began to create the structure. At first we wrote to the character of Peter and how he was transformed, Version 1. As our scope became narrow, we focused on comeback, Version 2.
Thin skinned creative’s be warned…As a writer and a collaborator you have to be willing to let go of ideas you think are brilliant, they just may be too weighty or lengthy. You do not write in a vacuum, so having one or two trusted people who are intimately involved in the process is crucial. It doesn’t mean they are always right… you may have to fight and go twelve rounds but this is a critical part of the process. Be flexible but specific. As the Director and co-writer I had to know when to take off the writing cap and when to focus on execution. The questions you have to ask yourself…what is possible to execute and does it fit with the complete package of the service? As a writer you must…edit, edit, edit. In the real world we call this “killing your babies.” Because what is on the page really is your baby and you have to be willing to sacrifice it for the greater good. BTW, we shot Version 7.
Which came first, the Rooster or the Story? In this case it was a pretty good balance. We began initially with the story and added props along the way. Sometimes a prop will drive a segment. For example, we loved the idea of personifying a storm. Because of time, and trying to make a live water effect in the desert, we decided to put Ed in a T-shirt with the lettering #STORM as he holds an umbrella. It drove the point but it wasn’t the point. The story continued without pause. Once the props are decided the team goes to work to try and secure. We wanted a 14ft metal Rooster that lives at a ranch near by.
We tried and failed to rent it from the owners, we settled for Rocky the Rooster, fourteen inches high and perfect. You always have to work within your budget and weigh the possibility that the prop or set you want just may become the point as opposed to simply the dressing it’s supposed to be. We ordered from Amazon, borrowed props and had props made. We knew wind was going to be a factor so we tried to order or borrow pretty substantial items. Just know when you order online be prepared to re-craft to suit your purpose. Our assistants were making mud pies in the desert to hold things up! We were happy with most of the props. In retrospect we should have changed the stands for the globe, the rocks and the net…next time.
To make The Road: Simon Peter effective we needed another location that was somewhat remote and rugged. Our initial thought was the backside of The Valley of Fire.
Gorgeous, rugged, remote…too remote, too rugged. How would we ever be able to bring 15 people with trucks, trailers, golf carts, props, camera and sound to a location that was not easily accessible? We would have to hike in everything and there was no way the golf cart would make the long day in the dirt; we shoot and do sound from the back of a golf cart. Option two: we discovered a beautiful, remote, dirt road access around a BLM reservoir. A bit tricky, but much less tricky than our initial location. One hour from Las Vegas, we made two site visits before our shoot. We should have made three…with props and our narrator Lee Coate (@leecoate). Time and budget typically don’t allow for this, but next time we need to make the time. For The Road: Simon Peter shoot this is how we rehearsed…Lee and I walked the parking lot measuring out where props would probably go. We cleared ¾ of a mile and guesstimated the route. We walked the route at least six times on the first day of rehearsal. When he was fully memorized we walked it at least eight calling out props as we walked. On the day of the shoot we all arrived at the location by 6am, it was still dark. We burned at least 3 hours of daylight for rehearsal and set up. You do your best with what you have. Lee was ultra prepared and it was crucial to the success.
No shoot goes as planned. Let me repeat…no shoot goes as planned. There are always challenges and curve balls. Never be surprised but always be prepared. Time will kick your fanny. And if you are shooting outside, the elements are never your friend.
This type of video is extremely challenging for everyone involved. It is one continuous shot done without a teleprompter. So technically everything has to be on point. There is no “fix it in post” moment. And for Lee, the timing and the absolute memorization needed to be perfect. It wasn’t just about memorization or hitting his marks, he had to truly communicate the story and engage the audience for 5 minutes and 36 seconds. The props…important, but we should be able to take away the props and the story would be just as engaging.
Was The Road: The Walk to Emmaus and The Road: Simon Peter a creative risk? Absolutely. It was a personal risk for all of us as well. We had many discussions revolving around if we should do the concept again. Trust me, there were much easier ideas on the table. But where is the fun in that? We were as rehearsed, planned and ready as we could be and we still had 40 challenges hit us. But because we were prepared, we were flexible, nimble and could adjust.
Yes, we will go back to the desert again, the Sturm Und Drang (Storm and Drive), the adventure and challenges of this piece keep us coming back. We find different color, textures and story each time.
We encourage you…take a creative risk; you never know where The Road might lead you.
- Find ideas and creativity anywhere. Be a thief! But remember, kind thieves all credit their source…even it’s just to your team
- Look at past projects with fresh eyes… can you create a brand or a series based on a previous concept?
- Be creative entrepreneurs. Find different ways, “out of the box” ways to solve technical problems.
- Do not be afraid to shoot in the middle of nowhere from a crazy idea
- Be ultra prepared so you can be flexible and nimble