When I finished film school way back when, like any eager graduate, I had dreams of making it big, taking the film world by storm.
Turns out it wasn’t going to be so easy and rather than first stop being an Oscar acceptance speech, I found myself on the night shift dubbing thousands of hours of cartoons and kids programing at a children’s cable tv channel.
12 hour shifts through the night introduced me to an alternative world that is wide awake while the rest of the city is fast asleep.
I’ve often thought about this idea of the night shift and being awake while the world sleeps and always wanted to incorporate that aesthetic into a film.
The Psalmist writes:
I will bless the Lord who has given me counsel; My heart also instructs me in the night seasons. (Psalm 16:7 NKJV)
It’s in the night seasons of life that it can feel like you are all alone, no distractions, just you and the circumstances you face….in that time of testing, when the light is gone and it’s just you and your thoughts, you are confronted, sometimes uncomfortably, with what you really believe.
Now you’re stuck in a moment, And you can’t get out of it
U2 - All that you can’t leave behind
Like the song says, many people get stuck in a moment that they just can’t get out of and in this year’s Heart for the House film we wanted to explore the night seasons of life and examine how three very different individuals navigate their circumstance to ultimately find a place of redemption. As dark as the night can be, the hope we have is represented each day by a new dawn. The film follows our three subjects as they confront and try to overcome their individual night seasons.
We had already shot two of the stories a year earlier for other purposes, but when the nightshift idea crystallized it became clear that the stories of Ed from NYC and the street kids from Mumbai could work in this day/night context.
With two stories already in the can, we had to find a third story and I had a friend who worked nights and had come through the experience of losing a young child, an experience that is arguably one of the most painful and with the most potential to derail your life.
The death of a child is such a traumatic experience and one that we often don’t know how to talk about. I wanted to tell Andrew and Rebecca’s story as they have navigated the loss of their son Isaiah, incredibly well. There are many people that have had a similar experience, but we often just don’t know how to talk about it, because it’s hard and because it’s so painful…in the night season it’s vital to know that you are not alone.
The three stories each in their own way reflect and encapsulate what it means to have a heart for the house.
- Andrew finds strength in a storm from a church community of local believers.
- Arjun challenges our notions of contentment by having hope where by our standards there should be none.
- Ed while in a terminal downward life spiral finds ultimate redemption and purpose in the midst of a harsh city.
Their stories represent a small representation of the fruit of others past and present having a heart for the house of God….it becomes a virtuous circle…as one has received so shall we in turn give.
Once we had all the stories together it became obvious that there needed to be a fourth element to the film…a narrative element that guides and contextualises the stories into thoughts that are universally true and identifiable.
We settled on a narrator character who speaks directly to the audience. I wanted it to feel like a fireside chat with an older wiser person, someone sharing their wisdom of a life well lived. The script was written with Kylie Beach who did a fantastic job of translating my often vague notes into the tone and voice of the first person.
Filming for this project took around four weeks, but was broken up over about a year. The Mumbai and NYC stories were shot on the back end of two other trips and weren’t shot intentionally with this project in mind…they were just great stories in their own right that we wanted to capture….they eventually found their perfect fit in this film.
To illustrate the night season idea, with all it’s loneliness and solitude, we shot into the small hours of the morning for several days in Brisbane, Sydney, Mumbai and New York City. The shots were captured to specifically communicate the feeling of being alone and to act as a contrast to when the eventual dawn breaks.
Shooting at night was a challenge as the low light combined with the Canon 7D and 5D DSLR cameras we used make for very noisy pictures. The fastest lens we had was an f1.4 50mm so we shot with a wide open aperture and tried to keep the ISO to 320 and below….anything above 320 made the pictures unpleasantly noisy.
The other thing about shooting at 2am is that you look like you are up to no good, so the odd encounter with over zealous security guards was another hazard to diplomatically negotiate.
Editing took about 6 weeks using Final Cut Pro 7:
2 weeks in prepping the footage and making interview selections
2 weeks editorial cutting - structure, overlaying, revising edits
2 weeks for final polish - fine edits, colour grade, titles
Key to communicating the emotion of the film is the musical score. Once again Ryan Taubert weaved his magic to create a compelling soundscape that I think really draws you in, supports the story and glues the different elements into a single narrative.
Having music scored specifically to a film adds so much more than pre-existing tracks can do. Scoring music to rise and fall to support the narrative content adds a level of nuance that you may not necessarily be able to pick out, but you certainly notice it when it’s not there.
For me the real victory in film making, is when as an audience you don’t notice any one element in particular. Cinematography, editing, music, colour grading, and titles they all just work together in the background to draw you into the story and support the message of the film.
My goal in any film I make is to enlarge people’s view of God. To see Christ in the everyday and to remind us all that the Father is not out ‘there’ somewhere as some disengaged absentee, but is actively ‘in all and through all’, surrounding and permeating every fibre of the physical and spiritual realms….God is here, God is involved, God can be experienced.
The story arc of this film takes you from the sunset of life and into the night season of tragedy and circumstance. It’s in that night season that we are tested to the core. Emerging from darkness, the dawn finally breaks and with it the promise of renewal, a second, third, fourth chance and the challenge that despite our yesterdays…this is the day we have in front of us right now - it’s a gift - so what will we do with today?