Wednesday, March 31, 2010

The Journey—The Dream Dies Part 3

Often the journey is long and difficult and sometimes it’s hard to even hear from God. I’m sure, like me, you are often wondering where God is when nothing seems to be going right. Nobody said taking the old road would be easy.

Last summer, I lost the ministry I started back in 1987. To say the least, it was one of the most challenging aspects of my journey as a media missionary. How do I regroup and continue on with the mission? Where do the resources and equipment come from? What’s next? I decided to take some time and look for answers. I headed West to Glacier National Park in Montana. For me, finding God in nature has always been a good source of inspiration. Clearing your head and removing yourself from everyday activities is essential to hear from God.

I hiked over 220 miles. I wanted to hear from God. It’s taken me some time and perspective in understanding what God was trying to tell me. I know I was going through a grieving process. You don’t leave a ministry after 20 years without some impact on your identity and purpose. God was trying to help me recover from my loss. But more importantly he was giving me the inspiration to start writing a book. I didn’t realize it at the time, but the first chapters were starting to materialize. He wanted me to join him in his work. The book that I’ve written, A Media Culture, Crisis or Opportunity, is part of his plan. I just didn’t realize what was going on.

Part of the process of seeing where God is at work in the world and joining him in that effort requires us to allow our dream or vision to die. My vision was to build a media center for media missionaries. I wanted to create a program that would develop future media professionals as media missionaries and help them enter into the mainstream entertainment industry. We would provide all the necessary training and high-end equipment to accomplish these objectives. As far as I know, no training facility such as this exists anywhere.

Four years ago, I started a film program for high school students. It was very successful and rewarding, and I had hoped it would serve as a foundation to launch the media center. We had a number of volunteers and interns who were receiving film, television, and media training. I was hopeful for the future because so many positive things seemed to be occurring. Media was my passion, vision and dream. And nowhere was I better fulfilled than in teaching and training young people to be tomorrow’s media missionaries.

But was I putting my vision before God? I’m sure God was in this, and he wanted it to become a reality. I think at some point, we all have to decide what’s more important? Is it putting God first or putting first our ministry or vision. As difficult as this sounds, it is possible that our vision can become an idol or an obstacle to our spiritual growth. Are we willing to let it go and die so that God can accomplish his will in our lives? I’d reached a crisis of faith. Could I allow the media center and the television program to die so that I could find God’s perfect will on my journey as a media missionary?

When we join God in his work, I believe it’s at that time when God can give our vision and our passion back to us because we now have a proper ordering of things. It’s not our work or ministry or how we can help God out. He doesn’t need our help. He is the creator of the universe. I’m sure he is quite capable of taking care of things on his own. Our vision will come back when it becomes involved in what God is doing in the world. They become the same thing—our vision for ministry and God at work. If, on the other hand, it is not part of what God is doing then it should die. What I think God is saying to us is that if we have a dream or vision (and it may very well be part of what God is doing), we have to be willing to give it up or surrender it to God so that he can receive all the honor and praise that is intended only for him alone. That won’t happen if it is OUR vision and OUR dream. If we don’t do this, then our vision or dream becomes more about what we want to do than what God is doing, and we will have to fulfill that vision or dream in our own power and strength. God wants us in a place where we must depend on him.

So now my journey is about exploring what God is doing. In the process, if I align my life with what God wants to do, he may restore my vision of a media center. It will undoubtedly be different than my plan. Perhaps, I will be part of helping someone else to develop a media center elsewhere in the country. But whatever he does, it will be fine with me as long as I join him in his work. For now, he has me writing this book, and it may lead to the completion and the dream of a media center. How that happens is in God’s hands.

So I will continue on my journey and get the book ready for publishing. What comes next is up to God.

Monday, March 29, 2010

The Journey—The Old Road

Welcome to the journey! It’s amazing the older you get, the less you know about how God really works. I’ve been a Christian for 34 years and have been in ministry for over 30 years. I started a media ministry in 1987 and went into full-time ministry 12 years ago. When you think you have nothing new to learn, that’s when you are in real trouble.

God has me on a personal journey to discover his nature, character and personality. It’s time to re-evaluate everything. You would think that after being a Christian for as long as I have there would be nothing new to discover. But you would be wrong. As I go through this process, he wants me to talk about this journey and to be open, honest and transparent. I’m sure this is a journey we can all take. At some point in our lives we are all going to ask who is this God we serve and what is his plan.

Part of my journey is about writing a book, one which has been inspired by the Holy Spirit. The book will be called A Media Culture, Crisis or Opportunity and the Rise of the Media Missionary. In all my time as a Christian, I have never been more certain that I have heard from God concerning the truth that he has revealed to me through the process of writing this book. I look forward to sharing it with you in the weeks ahead.

I have no plan other than to see where God is at work and join him in that effort. So I ask God each day, what should I be writing about. As I went out on my daily run, he showed me that my passion and love for the open road is a metaphor and a guide for my journey to discover how God works in our lives. I have driven across the country over 20 times. Most people think I’m crazy. I have been on practically every remote or off-the-beaten-path highway you can imagine. I particularly have an interest in Old Route 66. It is the ultimate old highway. It has been called The Mother Road. Amazingly, much of it is still intact, but it is not easy to find or follow. It requires dedication and determination. In many ways it parallels our walk with God. You have to work at it in order to follow the path.

I’m convinced that God can be found out there on the old road. Don’t look for him on the interstate. Why do I like the old road? You never know what’s around the next corner. There’s always something new and different. I find it to be mysterious, magical and often a spiritual journey. Each curve offers a different view. Perhaps the next diner will be the ultimate dining experience. Or what new fascinating roadside attracting could be lurking around the next dip or corner? The open road offers a sense of adventure and excitement. Nothing is more thrilling than getting up early in the morning, checking your map, getting your first cup of coffee and hitting the pavement. As the sun comes up, there is a sense of uncertainty and excitement in the air. Who knows what the day will bring. There is no other experience quite like it.

Perhaps our journey with God should be just like this. So why do I think God is out there on the old road? In life we are always offered a choice. We have free will. If you want to, you can live your life on the interstate, or you can travel the back roads. It’s always our choice. The interstate offers a predictable experience. No matter where you are whether in Florida or Michigan all interstates are basically the same. It’s a very easy place to become complacent and indifferent. If you have been on one interstate, you’ve been on every interstate.

But the old highway is different. There is nothing predictable about it. Each road is different. It has its own course, direction and flow. You have to pay attention because the road has many curves, dips and corners. You cannot put God in a box on the old road. But on the interstate, we are convinced that God is predictable.

The interstate is also convenient. We know exactly when and where the next rest stop, town or interchange will be. It’s also fast and efficient. It allows us to make our plans and meet our goals and objectives. It give us a sense of control.

The old highway is anything but that. Here you have to slow down and take your time. This is always the key to see where God is at work. How do you see God when you’re moving at 70 or 75 miles per hours when you have your own plans and goals to meet? The old road offers no convenience. At any time you can be caught behind slow-moving traffic. Who knows? The next town could be 50 miles ahead with no rest stops.

The interstate is also comfortable. It has smooth pavement. If you have been on the back roads, especially Rt. 66, you know it’s anything but smooth. In fact, the pavement is broken and has been patched up. I think that’s a good representation of our lives as we grow in our faith. God wants us to continue to grow, and it only happens when we encounter life’s bumps and dips. Can you really encounter God on a smooth surface? Did God really call us to a life of convenience?

The old road also follows the contour of the land. It zigzags across the landscapes as if it’s always been there. It fits into the image of the land. The interstate is anything but that. We have recreated the landscape to fit into the needs of the interstate. We have removed mountains, hillsides and valleys and have created elevated bridges to remake the land to fit into our plans. It’s not hard to see God out on the old road where the road flows naturally around rivers, valleys and mountains. On the interstate, we can create God into an image we are comfortable with. On the old road, we have to fit into what God has done and is doing as we flow with the natural landscape of the road.

The interstate is also safe. It is a divided highway with wide lanes. It represents technology and the advancement of man. But you can have a false sense of safety because the interstate has a lot of traffic and people on it moving in the same direction. It becomes easier to convince yourself that this is the right way to go. Because driving the interstate requires little effort, it can also lull you to sleep and you are unaware of danger. The old road is anything but safe. It has oncoming traffic, blind curves and accessible side roads. The old road requires you to be alert and prepared for anything. When driving late at night on a desolate highway in the middle of nowhere with the next town miles ahead, it is just you and God. Is our journey with God supposed to be safe and without dangers? If everything is safe, why would we need God? Are we supposed to be on the edge depending on him to protect us? A journey on the old road requires trusting in God for our protection and provision.

The old highway is connected to the land, people and places that it visits and occupies. It’s a place that you can feel alive and feel the presence of God. You can meet real people with real stories. The interstate offers a disconnected experience. From your window it is as if you can view life without ever experiencing it.

And, finally, the interstate is about a destination—getting somewhere, fulfilling a goal or objective. But the old road is more about the journey. It’s about what you learn and experience along the way and about how you have grown in your faith. It allows you the opportunity to know God better. It’s easy to stay on the interstate. It requires no effort whatsoever. It allows you the opportunity to go with the flow. But if you are like me, you are ready to take the next exit off. Life starts at the off ramp. There is a different road out there—the road less traveled. It offers excitement and adventure. I’m sure if we want to find God, he is more likely to be there on the old road than he is on the interstate.

Trust me. It’s worth the time and the effort to find him out there on the old highway

Thursday, March 25, 2010

The Journey

If you have been reading my blog over the past few weeks, you know I write about media issues as they relate to faith and culture. Hopefully, you have found them interesting or helpful. But lately, God has been directing me to start writing about my personal journey as a media missionary.

As many of you may be aware, I founded Victory Videos Ministries in 1987. It later became UndergroundZone Ministries. What started as a public access television show would become The Zone. At its height, it aired on over 200 stations and 15 cable and satellite networks. God also called me to start training the next generation of media professionals as media missionaries. Over the past three years, we have offered film camps for high school students. For me, these camps were one of the most satisfying things I have ever done in ministry. To help young people realize their dreams is a very fulfilling achievement.

But, in life, things do change. Just as people, sometimes ministries also move on. UndergroundZone and I parted ways in July 2009. I was given rights to continue to broadcast The Zone and access to all of the curriculum I had established for the academy. So I made my plan to continue on with the work. I founded a new ministry called Flannelgraph Ministries. I wanted to revamp The Zone and make it the best program it could be. But, as you know, the costs of producing a television program are extremely high. Much of the support that I was counting on never materialized. The plan wasn’t working.

So I went back and made a new plan. An online site dedicated to the teaching and training of media missionaries. So we launched a new website called Unfortunately, creating a high-end website is also very expensive. Again, the resources never materialized to fulfill the dream. After a couple of months, I was realized this plan wasn’t working either. I’ve made many plans over 25 years in ministry and written countless business plans—you name it, 50 pages to 100 pages or goals and objectives.

So I had a new plan. Why not listen to what God is saying? Not that I’ve not tried that in the past. But when you have reached the point where your plan has failed, you really have to start listening. Some friends of mine convinced me to start writing a blog. I have to tell you. I hate writing. But I did it. After a few weeks, I actually started to enjoy it. And I was convinced that God was doing something. I had made a decision to seek where God is at work and to join him in whatever that was.

It became obvious that he wanted me to write a book. In fact, I’d been writing the book for several months and had not realized it. I knew it had to be from God because it was pouring out of me. Had I actually finally joined him in his work? I honestly was asking God questions about why the Body of Christ was not changing our world. Why are we being defined by the media culture? And finally, is there hope for the Body of Christ?

So over the past few weeks, I have been on a personal journey to write a book inspired and lead by the Holy Spirit. It is the last thing I would have ever considered doing. It’s funny how God works. My book will be called A Media Culture—Crisis or Opportunity and The Rise of the Media Missionary. I believe God has given me a plan that will make a profound difference in our culture if we, the Body of Christ, are willing to change our perspective and attitude toward the media.

So how will I get it published? This time I do not have a plan. I am going to count on God for his guidance and direction. Will I find a publisher, or will it be self published? Who will help me? I don’t have the answer to these questions, but I am convinced that God gave me this book, and he will provide the answers.

Can the book help launch Flannelgraph Ministries and I believe that will ultimately happen in time. The book is going to serve as a catalyst and provide a platform to speak out about the media culture and the role and purpose of media missionaries. God is moving in the entertainment industry. He wants us to join him in his work. This book will provide insight into how that can happen. I am thrilled to be on this journey. And I invite you to join me as I keep you informed on the progress and development of what God is doing.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Defining the Media Missionary

The media missionary is not concerned with genre, ratings, marketability, or the level of Christian content contained with any media or film project. Their work becomes an act of worship with no division between the sacred or secular. The media missionary approaches each project with no defined agenda other than to recognize God at work and their willingness to join him in that work.


A media missionary has a distinct calling from God to serve him in the area of media and entertainment. For the most part, it is a calling to reach a broader or comprehensive audience. Their purpose is to reflect God’s glory and truth in the media he or she creates. In order for a media missionary to complete or fulfill their calling, they must be willing to submit and be under the control of the Holy Spirit.

A Love for the Industry

Without a respect and love for the people that work in the entertainment industry, it is impossible to fulfill your calling as a media missionary. It is expected that a media missionary will live his or her life in such a way that will reflect God’s love and grace for those in the industry.

A Student of the Filmmaking Process

We have a responsibility to be proficient in all aspects of filmmaking and media making. Our work should excel in the areas of production values and artistic expression. There is no excuse for not being a student of the filmmaking process. A media missionary must study and learn the art of filmmaking and media making.

Redeem and Reform

A media missionary desires to redeem and reform the industry from within. In other words, we must go, work and function in the mainstream media and entertainment industry. It requires us to live out our faith on a daily basis. The only way that we can redeem or reform the industry must be through the power of God’s presence in our lives. If we approach our work in this manner, it becomes more than just a vocation or job, it becomes an act of worship to God.

Sees Hollywood as a Partner

A media missionary understands that Hollywood is not the enemy. We do not go to this industry to subvert it. Our agenda is not a Trojan Horse approach. We seek a partnership with Hollywood. God can help us to make films and media that speak of Jesus the least but that has him most in mind. This concept is the heart of a media missionary and the relationship that we seek with the media and entertainment industry. Adopting this approach will put us in a position to make media that is more Christian in nature than Christian films or media have been in content. We should never use media as a form of propaganda.

The Parables of Jesus

Media missionaries must be culturally relevant and learn to communicate to a broad audience. Our inspiration comes from the parables of Jesus. He taught us how to tell stories that were engaging, thought-provoking, honest and truthful. He used symbolism and metaphors to communicate complex truths in order to make them understandable. His stories always had a point and were never boring. As with Jesus’ stories, our stories need to be Biblically based containing truth that lead people to the Father.

Find Point of Entry

Filmmaking is not about giving all of the answers but offers a venue in which we can ask questions. The media missionary’s role is to find a point of entry where we can link some aspect of our culture back to the Gospel message. We have the opportunity to ask questions — Where is God when I hurt? Does he care about me? Is he still present? Why is nothing in my life working? These are often questions our film characters are asking if not externally as least internally. Often the audience will identify with these characters because they want the same answers to these questions.

We often spend too much time giving contrived answers and overlook what our audiences’ real questions are. What are their situations? Crisis pregnancy? Divorce? Sickness? Job loss? What circumstances and struggles are they facing? Poverty? Single parenthood? Addiction? Low self esteem? Situations and struggles provide the media missionary a point of entry to speak to a broader, more comprehensive audience.


Do you love your audience more than what you are saying to them? The media missionary must build trust with his or her audience. We build trust when we respect our audience. If they are willing to give us two hours of their time, it is our duty to create a product that is entertaining. The media missionary must put art first, not the message. We rely on God to reveal his truth through the art. We don’t have the power to change anybody’s mind unless the Holy Spirit is involved in the process.

Our responsibility as a media missionary is to get out of the way and allow God to do what he is going to do. It’s not our job to tell the audience what to think. All we are required is to develop a relationship with our audience. God will do the rest. Speaking with mercy, compassion, and kindness in our work will be more powerful than the words we use in our art. Media missionaries are motivated not by outrage but by outreach. Where in the past Christians have branded Hollywood in a negative light, our mission is to view Hollywood in a positive light so that we may enter into a discussion and dialogue.

Our mission is to restore the image of God. We are motivated to express truth in which our audience can respond on a deep, profound emotional level. We recognize that our current culture is motivated by postmodern philosophy. We must express art in such a way that they can experience truth in a relevant fashion that speaks to the heart.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Cinematic tips for low-budget part 2


You need your own unique voice. Does your film have a presence? Is there a constant tone or atmosphere that defines your movie? Or are you just serving meatloaf? Nothing wrong with meatloaf as long as you add some salt, pepper, and spices in order to create a unique flavor. Every filmmaker wants to stand out in the crowd. What makes the film, Fargo, unique? Why does it have style? Is it the dialogue? The location? Speech patterns? Cinematography? Whatever it is, you need to find it for your film. Make it your own.


Let’s face it. In the world of low-budget filmmaking, the audience will not be dazzled by your usage of special effects, chase screens, explosions, and action sequences. Your film must be about something. You project requires weight. In other words, you need substance.

Explore some issue that has never been presented on the screen. You may care about the issue, but will your audience? Does it make people care? Will it challenge your audience? Have you started a dialogue? Movies with substance are capable of moving their audience and impacting them emotionally. Is your theme important enough to be a movie?

Lighting and Contrast

How you handle the contrast between light and darkness will determine how much your film will express a cinematic presence. There is a good chance you will be shooting in a digital format. All video cameras, no matter how good they are, have problems with contrasting light sources, especially when you are shooting a scene with dark and light images present. Work around it as much as possible so you don’t get yourself into trouble. Try to shoot scenes with balanced lighting to avoid under- or over-saturated images.


I talked about this earlier in the low-budget filmmaking principles. But it is so important in order to achieve the cinematic experience. In fact, it is the holy grail of filmmaking. All screens are two-dimensional. The trick is to fool the audience into thinking there is a third dimension existing in a two-dimensional world. The ability to manipulate depth-of-field creates this illusion for the audience. Without a 3D pop, images feel flat and lifeless. If you are not thinking about depth-of-field while you are shooting your film, you are wasting your time.

Color Correction

No matter what the format, whether video or film, without color correction, there is no cinematic appeal. Real life looks uninteresting and boring. Color correction helps to create a mood and presence that does not exist in the real world. You can over saturate, under saturate or completely change the color scheme to convince your audience that you have created a unique and fascinating world in which your characters move through and exist in.

Christians and the World of Low-budget Filmmaking

So where does the Christian fit into this process? For years, most Christian filmmakers have been making low-budget features. But the problem is they have violated practically every low-budget principle and every element in the guerilla code. That’s why the films often look cheesy and one-dimensional. We need Christians who can embrace low-budget principles and create a new kind of film.

What if we stop making Christian films and decide to make redemptive films. What would they look like? Would they speak to a broader audience? By applying low-budget principles, we can use the same strategy that the independent film industry has been using for years. We now have the keys. All we have to do is present Biblical truth and tell stories that will engage our audience. Isn’t it time that filmmakers who have a passion for Christ make their entryway into Sundance or the Toronto Film Festival. The independent model could provide a better way to reach our audience than the big-budget studio system of Hollywood.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Cinematic Tips for Low-budget Filmmaking

The goal of every filmmaker is to create a cinematic experience. The big screen presents a challenging environment that must captivate the audience. How do low-budget filmmakers fill the screen with images and sounds to compete with mainstream Hollywood’s unlimited resources? Films become movies when the filmmaker can make them cinematic and appealing to a broad audience.

What makes a movie a movie is sound. Most filmmakers will fail because they do not understand the importance of sound. In production, it is not possible to capture sounds that the audience expects to hear on the big screen. Most filmmakers are visually driven and overlook the importance of sound. Your audience wants to hear footsteps and the sound of a door opening. Find a competent sound engineer who can help you in production to capture clean and usable sound. Have enough money in your budget for recreating sound effects, sound editing and sound mixing. Without them, you do not have a movie. They are essential in creating reality in your film.

A Vision

Have you ever watched a movie and felt that you are watching 3 or 4 different films? What kind of movie was the director trying to make? Was it supposed to be funny or dramatic? Why was the theme in the first act completely missing from the rest of the film? Why are the characters’ personalities changing for absolutely no reason? Films fail because they lack a unified vision. You as the filmmaker must understand what the movie is about and what type of movie you are making. If you don’t know, nobody else will. It’s your job to understand the script backwards and forwards. You have to know the characters as if you have known them for your entire life. What’s the point for each scene? What are the motives for each action of your characters? How does one scene connect with the next? Having a unified vision for your movie requires effort and commitment. Know what your characters want and why they want it. What do they want from whom? And what do they need from whom? The low-budget world offers filmmakers the best opportunity to have a single vision because most often it is the filmmaker’s personal journey and life experiences.


The big screen demands good acting. Your job is not necessarily to find great actors but to find actors who can play the characters in your script. The world of low-budget filmmaking is full of solid actors who have yet to be discovered. It’s great to have a named actor, but it is probably out of your price range. You can find competent actors just about anywhere in the country. Your local film commission is a good place to start. Another tip is to check local theaters as well as talent agencies.


Now that you’ve shot 120 minutes of footing, do you use it all? Not if you want your movie to be viewable. Good filmmakers will trust their editors to make decisions that will tighten the film and give it the proper pace to hold the interest of your audience. You may have to lose scenes that are your favorites because they do not work within the flow of your movie. Good editors know where to cut. A few frames here or there can make the difference between a solid movie and a disaster. This may be a cliché but editors often say that they helped save the movie. Sometimes filmmakers have to be willing to discover the movie in postproduction.


Transitions is the process through the use coverage shots that help to get you from one place to the next. Most filmmakers don’t think about this during production. Most scenes are shot out of sequence over the course of several weeks. It’s easy to get lost in the process. Without thinking about transitions or how the film flows from one scene to the next, you could be looking at a complete disaster. Movies require a change of time and a change of place. As a filmmaker you must make this seem fluid. If the audience doesn’t understand how the scenes tie together, you are in deep trouble.

How to get good at this is to watch a lot of critically-acclaimed movies to see how they handle transitions. There’s no reason in the low-budget filmmaking world that this should be a problem.


Films look cinematic when you move the camera. There’s just something about putting a camera on a dolly with tracks to shoot your scene. It looks big league. I realize the tendency in low-budget filmmaking is to go for handheld shots. Resist the temptation. At least put your camera on a tripod if you don’t have the time or money for dollies and crane shots.

Friday, March 5, 2010

Part 3 Guerilla Code

The Guerilla Code is low-budget filmmaking for film school in the real world. Know the following code.

Simple, Small-scale Stories

Remember, you are not making a blockbuster. But that doesn’t mean your stories have to be simple in plot, subtext, metaphors, or symbolism. Just pick a story that can be told with minimum effort.

Single Location

Find a story that can be told in three or less locations. And remember that 80% of your shoot should be centered around one single location. Each time you move from one location to another, you’re burning time and money.

Handful of Characters

Have no more than five characters in your story because you don’t have the money to pay for a large cast. Following the guerilla code is primarily a three-week, 18-day shoot. The less characters involved the easier the process.

A Plot with Twists and Turns

Most low-budget films are designed to keep you guessing Without multiple locations, special effects, car chases, and a host characters to keep things interesting, you have to rely on your story to drive your project. Without a great script, the independent filmmaker is dead on arrival. Your screenplay needs to feature plenty of twists and turns. Get the viewer to think the story is going one way and then take the story in a completely different direction. Then surprise them with an unexpected complication. You get the picture. It’s the double-cross, the triple-cross, etc. Remember the only thing you have going for you is your story.

A Strong Story

Not only should your story have twists and turns, but it also must be compelling. Is your story intriguing, mysterious, or dynamic? Does it deliver an emotional impact? Chances are you don’t have the money to show a lot of action on screen. You must create action through your characters by the emotion they are expressing.

Interesting and Quirky Characters

Characters in big-budget films often look generic and uninteresting. Hollywood actors don’t necessarily reflect what real people look like – too handsome, too attractive or too young. Most low-budget films are character pieces and character-driven. Your characters are your friends. Make them interesting. Who wants to be normal? There is nothing in life that can be described as average or normal. Make your characters unusual and quirky, just like real life. Never commit the crime that Hollywood is often guilty of—stereotyping people into neat categories. There is nothing more interesting than depicting so-called ordinary people in your film.

Unique Setting

You are going to shoot 80% of your project in one location, so find someplace unique. Yes, I know that it requires effort and research, but it will help you stand out from other media projects. What do you have in your home town that that nobody else has. Find something unusual. Have you ever seen it in a movie? This could be your location. Low-budget and guerilla filmmakers based in Los Angeles often use the Mohave Desert for their locations. It’s simple and accessible, but it also serves as a character in their films. There is something intriguing and mysterious about the desert. It’s also a cinematographer’s dream due to the texture and moods that the desert scenery creates. You may not live near a desert but chances are you have a unique location at your fingertips. Your goal is to discover it and build a story around it.

Keep Night Shots to a Minimum

Guerilla filmmaking works best with simple-shot setups. When you decide to shoot at night or use atmospherics such as wind, rain or fog, you are violating the guerilla code. You don’t have the time or money for the complexity these shots require. If it’s in your script, you may want to consider a rewrite. If you cannot find a way around it, keep it to only one occurrence in your project.

Use Natural Lighting

The golden rule is to use available lighting so find natural lighting sources. When you set up complex lighting elements, it will require a significant amount of time. Low-budget filmmaking works best when moving quickly from scene to scene. When you build your story around daylight shooting, it will save you time and money. If you are shooting indoors, use sunlight from windows and doorways.

Find a Niche

Build your story around a topic that is fresh and original. Maybe your character has an interest in building and flying model planes. Perhaps, there is an annual competition. This could make an interesting story. Find a niche—something that has never been on the screen before. Maybe your story is about a comic book writer who views the world as a comic book. So create a world in which his comic books becomes reality. As an independent filmmaker, you have to think differently and see the world in a different light than the big-budget filmmakers. Look for the unusual.

So where does the Christian fit into this process? For years, most Christian filmmakers have been making low-budget features. But the problem is they have violated practically every low-budget principle and every element in the guerilla code. That’s why the films often look cheesy and one-dimensional. We need Christians who can embrace low-budget principles and create a new kind of film.

What if we stop making Christian films and decide to make redemptive films. What would they look like? Would they speak to a broader audience? By applying low-budget principles, we can use the same strategy that the independent film industry has been using for years. We now have the keys. All we have to do is present Biblical truth and tell stories that will engage our audience. Isn’t it time that filmmakers who have a passion for Christ make their entryway into Sundance or the Toronto Film Festival. The independent model could provide a better way to reach our audience than the big-budget studio system of Hollywood.

Thursday, March 4, 2010


The Money You Have is the Money You Have

If you have $150,000, then it has to get you through the entire process from development, preproduction, production, postproduction, and, ultimately, to film festivals and possible distribution. Don’t expect to raise any more money than you already have because it never comes in. As a low-budget filmmaker, you have failed if you spend all of your money in production and cannot complete your film. The money you have is the money you have. That may require you to make some tough choices. But facing the truth will allow you the best opportunity to complete your project.

Build a Team

Build a team that reflects your view of filmmaking. Guerilla filmmaking is about moving fast. You need a mobile team that is accustomed to working long hours with a limited crew. Most low-budget filmmakers are more effective with a smaller crew because they can move faster. You may want to limit volunteers because they could very well slow you down. Finding crew members that buy into your philosophy of filmmaking is your best hope to execute your plan. Crew members that are used to working on big-budget projects may be more of a headache than a resource.

Also, you need to find people that have a reason to work on your film or project. Remember nobody is going to have the same passion or vision for your project as you do. Figure out what will motivate them to join your cast and crew? Most likely it will not be for financial reasons. For some crew members, it is an opportunity to move up. For example, a first assistant camera operator might be interested in accepting the position of Director of Photography because of the experience your project will offer. Make absolutely certain that they are competent and capable of moving up to the next level. Don’t compromise your project. Actors may be interested because it offers them a title role, which can be used in their demo reel.

Be Flexible

You do not have the luxury of blowing up or having a meltdown in front of the cast and crew. You set the tone on set. As an independent guerilla filmmaker, if you create an atmosphere of anxiety, stress and tension, more than likely your project will fail. You are the leader, and your cast and crew will look to you for the appropriate attitudes and behaviors expected during the entire production. And trust me. Something will go wrong during your production, and you will be tested. A positive attitude will go a long way in getting you to the finish line.

Stay on Schedule

Time is money and as an independent filmmaker you are short on both. If you fall behind schedule, it is unlikely you will be able to recover. The number one reason why productions fall behind schedule is because of too many takes. Actors will always push for more takes. You, as the filmmaker, must remain firm. Get two good takes and move on. Get your master shot, a couple of cut-aways and a couple of over-the-shoulder shots. Keep your coverage to a minimum. If you let your actors dictate the pace, you’re finished.

Know What Things Cost

If you are going to control the cost of your production, know what things cost. How much should you be paying for film stock or rental equipment? Do your research and ask around. Find out what others are paying and never pay the full retail price. Get a deal. Get the most value out of your dollar by negotiating the best possible price

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Low-budget and Guerilla Filmmaking

Low-budget filmmaking and Guerilla filmmaking are based on some basic principles and concepts. Follow the code and you increase your chances to successfully complete your project. Low-budget does not have to look like low budget. Although you may be forced to make some compromises, it is still possible that your project can look big budget without a big budget. The key is to understand where to put your resources.

Guerilla filmmaking requires speed, determination and the ability to execute a plan.

Artistic Decisions

Don’t do things that you cannot pull off successfully. In order for low-budget filmmaking to be successful, you must convince your audience that what you did is what you had in mind. In other words, it was an artistic decision over a monetary or financial decision. That’s why you have to pick the right story. Remember, you are not trying to produce a blockbuster. Christians often fail in filmmaking because they violate this first principle by trying to produce films that are too large in scope and size. You cannot create the end of the world on a low-budget and expect your audience to believe what they are seeing is real. Look for a story that fits the guerilla or low-budget model. That’s why Paranormal Activity, Open Water, and Blair Witch Project were successful.

Do the Basics

There is no excuse why you cannot perform the basics just as well as big budget films. That’s why you have to follow the rules and understand how they work. The 180 Rule, Line-eye match principle, coverage, and rules of third are all basic concepts you should be familiar with. There may be a time to break these rules but not now. Have a reason why you do what you do. There’s no justification for spending all day on a complicated camera move if it is not essential to the storyline or character development. You have just wasted your time. Doing the basics also requires an understanding of depth of field. What makes movies look cinematic is the ability to create a shallow depth of field that isolates your subject. Stay away from zooms and pans as much as possible. They will make your efforts seem amateurish.

Watch your Focus

The worst mistake that low-budget and guerilla filmmakers commit is soft focus. Nothing is more irritating than to look at your work and realize it is out of focus. It happens with the big boys with huge budgets, and it will happen to you if you don’t pay close attention. Never trust the viewfinder.

Make It Look Like Film

Chances are if you are a low-budget filmmaker, you will be shooting with a digital camera. Your goal is to make digital video look like film. Get the best camera possible, preferably a camera that you can shoot in 24P with interchangeable lenses. Film is a chemical process which creates grain and texture. It has a quality that can be described as a portrait or painting. The trick to digital video is to create a grainy appearance versus a realistic portrayal that tends to look like news coverage. The best place to spend your money is to get a competent Director of Photography who understands lighting and the camera you choose for your production. There are some places you can cut corners, but this is not one of them. Get the best camera you can afford and someone who knows how to maximize its capabilities.

Know Your Audience

Big-budget filmmakers know exactly who they are making their films for. They understand their genre as well as the rules they must apply within the genre. They know exactly what their audience expects or demands. That means you must apply the same rules and the same approach to your filmmaking. Who is your audience? Hopefully, you are not making the film just for you and your friends and hoping that the audience will like what you are doing. If you plan to stay in this business for any length of time, you need to decide who your audience is.

Get Organized

There is absolutely no excuse for not being organized. The truth is you cannot afford to be disorganized as a low-budget filmmaker. If you are working with a three-week shoot, you must have a plan because you do not have the money for extra shoot days. A plan means storyboards, shot lists, call sheets and production boards. Find a production manager who can develop production boards that will keep you on schedule.

Keep It Simple

Most low-budget projects fail because the filmmakers add too many layers of complexity. Simpler is better. That means limit locations, actors, set-ups, lighting, special effects, and complex shots. Most guerilla filmmakers use a run and gun approach. Get in. Get out. Fast. That may work in a public location such as a park or street, but as soon as you use a tripod, odds are you are going to need a shooting permit. Although it makes the process more complicated, you may not have any other choice. You can take your chances, but you may very well have your tape confiscated. Other things to consider are insurance, tax credits, and other more complex issues. Your best move is to get expert help on these matters. Remember your goal is to keep this process as simple as possible. Don’t be your own worst enemy.