I hope this post finds everyone well. I wanted to give you a little heads up on what we’ve been up to here at Our Kind of Awesome.
168: The Race Begins
Last year, I had my first experience with Project 168. Here is the set-up: you, the producer, are given a verse from the Bible and a general theme to work with. Then, after being given that verse, you have about a week to do all your pre-production work (writing, casting, getting a location, composing the music, etc.) & a week (168 hours) for production and post-production work (filming, editing, and music recording). I had a last time participating in it last year (watch “I Owe Her One” to see how it turned out), so I thought it would be great to try it again.
This time around the themes was “Atonement” and the verse was Isaiah 59:20: ‘The Redeemer will come to Zion,to those in Jacob who repent of their sins,’ declares the Lord.”
I adored this verse from the get-go. On the way home from Burbank, where the verse was passed out, I ruminated over it while singing along to the Best of Paul Simon CD: Disc 2, Tracks 1, 16 & 17 (“Graceland,” “Outrageous,” & “Wartime Prayers“). When I got home, I collapsed into bed; and it was fortunate that I was off the next day, because I was quite ready to begin the 168 experience as soon as I woke up.
A Film is Born
There are certain advantages to being as small a team as we are here at Our Kind of Awesome. In this case, the benefit was that while other larger teams busiest themselves exchanging emails and negotiating deals with writers, I simply had to get out of bed and begin writing. And write I did! I have to say: I work very well under pressure, and even more so if I am given an idea of the product someone wants me to create. I had Bible verse and a day’s time to work with and I took full advantage of both of them. By the grace of God I had the rough draft ready for the project that affectionately came to be called, “Defenders of Zion.”
“Defenders of Zion” is a story about a father and his teenage son, Jacob. Jacob is addicted to video games, mostly to the 1st person shooter “Defenders of Zion,” and it is really putting a strain on their relationship. Frustrated by this, the father intervenes, forcing Jacob to pause the game long enough for them to have a decent conversation. This opens up a can of worms as it is revealed that Jacob is using his video games to hide the fact that he feels horrible inadequate compared to his all-star dad. The father’s heart softens and he offers to teach his son every trick up his sleeve in exchange for time with his son. The son accepts the deal, the two hang out, and the son, after repenting to his father for being so distant, walks away from the exchange feeling quite validated.
*End of Spoiler*
The story is not a complicated one but I feel it did great justice to the verse provided. Yes, I understand that in the verse, the Lord waits until Jacob repents to appear, but as Christians, we know that the story plays itself out a little differently. 1 John tells us that “we love because He (God) first loved us” (4:19) and again, “this is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins.” (4:10) I could not in good conscience preach a message that said, “get your act together and God will bless you” (though He does arrive with power in those who embrace Him). The world knows this message too well. Repentance is necessary, surely, but the good news is that we can ask forgiveness from God with full assurance that He will forgive us because He has been waiting patiently for us to return to Him and acknowledge Him as Lord. My hope is that this script conveys this essential Christian doctrine: that we are loved despite our wrongdoings & that God is eager and waiting for us to come back to Him.
Now that I had the script, I needed to bring it to life. My greatest desire was that Dakota Denton, who has lent his talent to many of our previous projects, would play Jacob and his dad, Rick, would play fill the role of the father. To me, having a father & son play a father & son made sense. So, I asked them if they would do join in the fun and they graciously agreed.
Next I had to get my crew. Zach is always my go-to guy where cinematography is concerned. He, like the faithful trooper that he is, agreed to film for us. After that came Lisha Symes, an amazing photographer who volunteered to take some still pictures of the filming process so we could have a memory of them and she could rack up some credits on her way to becoming an on-set photographer for larger productions. Lastly but absolutely never leastly, I begged my wife to be part of the process, keeping me sane and filling in here and there as needs arose. With my wife, my cast & my crew at my side, I was ready to get down to the nitty-gritty and make a movie.
Now, of course, if it is going to be an Our Kind of Awesome Project, it has got to have some cool, quirky stuff going on in the background to complete the experience. “Defenders of Zion” definitely had these things. Here are a few of my favorites:
Mr. Steadicam, brought to you by Lowe’s
This bad boy was pieced together for less than $30 thanks to step-by-step instructions from Indy Mogul & Zach King. For those not familiar with camera stabilization devices, they are extremely important to capturing good, solid footage. They are, however, often very expensive &, here at Our Kind of Awesome, we must, for now, pinch every penny that we can. A quick search of the Internet supplied us with this an quick & easy way for us to save both a buck & our movie.
Defenders of Zion: The Video Game
Because copyright infringement is not high on my to-do list and because buying the rights to major video games was neither in our price range nor in the interest of time, I went about creating my own video game. How you ask? Let me introduce you to the Unreal Development Kit. The software is free to download and is easy to use. Thanks to a good many helpful hints provided by YouTube, I managed to piece together a fun, playable level for Dakota & Rick to experience and Zach to film without fear of being sued.
I love playing with instruments! This time around we used: a guitar (alternatively tuned to DADGAD), which doubled as our bass; a set of bongos; an ocean drum; and a ukulele. Note: I have really have no clue how to play an ukulele, so it was by no small miracle that it made it into the song we used for our lighthearted montage scene 🙂
Lights, Camera, Action
With all the various components collected, we all met together on a Saturday afternoon to film the project.
My parents’ house, with its wide open spaces and multiple entrances to every room, was perfect for the scenes- kitchen and bedroom. Lisha was instrumental to getting the look of each of the rooms just right. I took special pleasure in thrashing the living room to give “Jacob” a proper place to play his games. [Don’t worry, we put everything back once we were done.]
I will have to say, I have to give extra special credit to Rick for this project. The rest of us were operating pretty much within out comfort zones for this project, but Rick has never acted before. Still, seizing the opportunity to hang out with his son and make a movie while he was at it, he stepped out in faith to deliver the lines he was called to deliver. He did a great job and, I have to say, I am very proud of his performance.
What started out as a few hour shot turned into much more than that (we may not be the most productive team, but we get the job done.) I believe we left around nine. When the final shot was completed, a great sigh of relief came over us and we all went home exhausted and satisfied (except for Zach, who started editing the project as soon as he returned to his Disney-themed lair.)
That’s a Wrap, People!
On Wednesday, the day before our deadline, Zach finished putting together the project. I must admit, I got a little teary-eyed when I saw the movie in its entirety. I may have even watched it a couple times over.
I am so blessed to be able to watch these films start from scratch and turn into something amazing. God willing, I will get to do so at least a few more times before God takes me home. 🙂
Thanks to my faithful cast & crew, my lovely wife & family, 168 and its staff and prayer partners, and, of course, Christ Almighty, I think we made our best film yet!
Stay tuned for production photos & announcements on showtimes.
Love you all!