There are a handful of names that keep popping up in discussions of faith-based films. Jenn Gotzon is one. Rebekah Cook is another. I’ve been hearing about her for years and just recently had the pleasure of getting to know her via facebook. Rebekah Cook is an actress, coach, casting director, and script supervisor who has been serving the Christian film industry since 2009. Born overseas as a missionary kid, she moved back to the States to pursue screen acting, and has since worked on over a dozen feature films.
When did you first discover a love of acting?
I always enjoyed playacting as a kid. When I was about eight years old, my mom and older brother produced a home movie of a musical for a Christmas gift to extended family, and I played the lead role. That’s probably when I realized I loved acting. I kept doing plays and skits at church and such, but it wasn’t until much later that God planted the dream in me of acting for film.
How did you get involved in film acting?
While watching a Christian indie film, and one actress/character in particular, the desire was birthed in my heart to impact people by helping tell powerful stories of hope and faith and purpose. I was fifteen at the time.
I studied for several years on my own before setting foot on my first set, as an extra in a City On A Hill production, Not A Fan. But it was through apprenticing with Advent Film Group and getting hands on experience with what goes on behind the scenes that really gave me my jump-start in the industry–on both sides of the camera.
What faith-based films have you been a part of?
In chronological order of filming:
Alone Yet Not Alone
Treasure In Heaven
In His Steps (web series)
Beyond The Mask
Polycarp: Destroyer of Gods
In His Steps (movie)
Love Covers All
Breaking The Silence
The Bryan Lawrence Story
Which came first – cast member or crew member?
Technically, my crew credit came first. I was a casting assistant for Alone Yet Not Alone. Because I was interested in acting, I sent in my own video audition to the casting director, and got a callback. I was then cast in a featured speaking role in the film, but unfortunately that scene didn’t make it to the final edit. My first larger roles didn’t come until a couple years later, for Christmas Grace and In His Steps.
Which do you prefer – cast or crew?
I love acting! Bringing a character to life is definitely my passion. There are so many pros, but there is at least one con–you typically aren’t there for the duration of the shoot. With crew, I get to help with and witness the unfolding of the entire story, and there’s often a deeper team bonding with that.
Crew positions I’ve held include 1st assistant director (1), 2nd assistant director (2), casting director (2), casting assistant (1), extras casting/coordinator (2), production coordinator (1), script supervisor (9), on-set dresser (2), and 2nd assistant camera (1). I’ve been blessed on several sets to work as both cast and crew on the same project, when it’s a supporting role that allows that. So right now, I’m happy doing either and both!
How has working in casting made you a better actress?
Working in casting is the fastest way I know of to get a heartbeat on the current market for actors: the demand, the competition, the self-taping process, etc. And working as a reader is one of the best, most fun acting workouts I’ve ever had! Rarely in film do you get to play a role you don’t look like, but as a reader that’s not a problem, because you’re always off-camera.
Then there is the reviewing process. When you go through a few hundred video auditions in the space of mere weeks, and work with the director and producers to put faces to characters, you begin understanding the dynamics of why actors do or don’t get cast, and how casting shapes story.
I can always learn from the actors who are auditioning. What are they doing (or NOT doing) that is so effective? What is missing that makes a scene feel flat?There is a lesson in each audition, good and bad, and when I make the effort to find it and improve my own business approach and acting craft, it’s quite the education.
Finally, whenever I find myself on the other side, I can better imagine what the director/casting person might be thinking, and that helps some with nerves. I try to keep distractions to a minimum, present my best work and be truly me, then give them space to build the ensemble they need. Anymore, it’s difficult to take it personally if I’m not cast, because I sympathize with what the casting team is going through; I’ve been there.
What exactly does a script supervisor do?
That’s a common question, even from fellow crew members! One of the reasons this position has such mystery about it, is because how the job gets done can look a little different from person to person, and it’s a one person deal. The “duties” can be very basic, or can get overwhelmingly detailed. I’ve been doing it for about three years now, and I keep adding layers and customizing for each new production.
The basic responsibility is to keep track of continuity as the story moves from the page onto the screen. This translates to making sure everything that’s supposed to be seen or heard on screen, gets seen or heard on screen the way it’s needs to, and everything that’s not, to keep it out.
Film scenes are shot out of order due to locations and actor schedules, etc., so anything that affects achieving a smooth storyline in the editing room is in play. This includes lines, blocking, prop/set dressing elements, wardrobe, hair, make up, time passage, camera angles, eyelines, weather, sounds, lighting, and more. Obviously, there are crew departments that cover most all of these areas. The script/continuity supervisor’s job is to help coordinate so that everyone gets and stays on the same page for how their area contributes to the whole, and be the last line of defense for continuity.
So what are some tangibles? You’ll have the standard clip board and log sheets, to take down detailed notes for each take, a marked up script with different colors and custom shorthand symbols to help track what is needed for each scene and character, and usually a stopwatch to time each take and a camera of some sort to take photos of the set and the video monitor. You also get the crew call sheet and sides for that day, to stay abreast of the filming schedule.
The script supervisor sits right next to the director at video village (where the camera feed is set up), and also gets a feed from the sound mixer to better hear the actors deliver their lines. During a scene, another thing to watch for in the periphery is the director’s body language reacting to the performance. After a take, they discuss any notes or issues with the director, and with other crew as necessary. If the take was a “print” (a film term still used with digital media) to use in the edit, the take number is circled on the log sheet.
During set-up time for a shot, or even days before a scene, any extra time is spent making and organizing notes, running lines with an actor if they request it, or following up with a crew member to help prevent any continuity errors before they happen and become a “holding on ____!” problem. After wrap is called for the day, there is still the daily summary report to finish and final notes to make in the script. This can take anywhere from fifteen minutes to a few hours, depending on the day.
Before production starts, I like to get the locked script as soon as possible and begin making my own breakdowns, picking apart the pages and scenes in every way possible to digest the information as best I can. If no script revisions are made during this process, this can take as little as a week or two.
Once principal photography is over, all the notes get handed over to the editor. One of the scary things about this is that even if the script supervisor “caught” all the continuity errors and marked them down, it’s entirely possible that the editor or director will decide to use one of those takes anyway, and they may still end up in the final edit! That’s one of the reasons I try to exercise “preventive continuity medicine” instead of simply diagnosing the symptoms as they show up on set.
I like script supervision because I get to work closely with the director and the actors, as well as interact a lot with the majority of the crew and be a support for their roles. It satiates my detail-oriented side while keeping the big picture in mind. And it certainly doesn’t hurt my feelings to have a front-row seat for the action on the screen!
For a story I was super passionate about, I could see myself co-writing and directing someday. But for now, I really enjoy the different hats I already wear! I’m always open to learning something new, and love being a part of team telling a meaningful story that will touch someone’s life.
What do you find most fulfilling about being involved in films?
The most fulfilling thing ever is to see lives changed as they draw closer to God. When someone comes up to me and says they saw me in such-and-such a movie, and how God used it to speak into their life, that is an amazing, humbling feeling. When I’m able to portray characters dealing with real, relatable struggles, and point to hope, truth, and beauty in the midst of pain–that’s where my heart is.
Something I didn’t fully expect going into film was how deeply stretching, challenging, rewarding, and even sometimes painful, the experience of making a film could be. When I’m part of a faith-based production, I live life very closely with a group of fellow creative professionals, many of whom are Christians, and even if we all have different backgrounds, we truly become like a family. I love that!
A film set is like a can of condensed life. After a month, it can feel like you’ve been working together for a year. The emotional ups and downs are also heightened, and then you add in some sleep deprivation…. It’s a great way to discover areas in your character or habits that need to be addressed, with God’s help, and with the help of the “family” He has surrounded you with.
Each time I leave another set, I go away changed. Changed by the friendships I’ve made or deepened, changed by the story we’ve invested collective years of our lives to tell, changed by the way God revealed himself to me in new ways, and changed by the ongoing privilege of encouraging others around me in their journey.
A few years ago I was asked to give a talk about casting and acting, and quickly discovered that I loved to teach! Now I coach actors online via video-chat, as well as doing workshops at different events.
To learn more about an acting webinar I’m doing on October 29th, go to: http://webinars.mwcfa.org/acting-in-the-christian-film-industry/
For information about when I’ll be doing workshops at the Christian Worldview Film Guild & Festival in Texas next spring, visit: http://www.christianworldviewfilmfestival.com/rebekah-cook/
If you are interested in private online coaching, you can fill out an application here: http://www.actressrebekah.com/private-coaching.html
There are more pictures, trailers, and other fun info about films I’ve worked on at my website: www.actressrebekah.com
Finally, if you’d like to stay up date with what I’m up to in the biz, please feel free to connect with me on Facebook. On my actor page, https://www.facebook.com/actressrebekah, I share industry tips, casting calls, project updates, and links of interest. See you there!
As filmmakers it’s important to constantly be learning, growing, and developing our skills to take our movies to the next level. That’s why when Fred discovered the Illumination Experience Tour, he knew it was something he wanted to participate in. So this past weekend we headed to the windy city and he got to sit at the feet of a Hollywood cinematographer and see firsthand how Shane Hurlbut created the look of such movies as Crazy/Beautiful, Act of Valor, and Rat Pack. As part of the experience, entire movie sets were brought in and the participating filmmakers got to set up lights and run the cameras. Even better, after getting to play with the Hollywood equipment, they got to see how the same looks could be achieved using consumer and prosumer products. So many little tricks to transform simple shots into visions of beauty, bringing life to each screenplay.<p><a href=”http://vimeo.com/103187055″>Illumination Experience Trailer</a> from <a href=”http://vimeo.com/mzedu”>MZed</a> on <a href=”https://vimeo.com”>Vimeo</a>.</p>
While Fred was studying cinematography, I was hard at work on our next screenplay. Something about traveling always brings out my creative juices. Pretty much every project we’ve been involved in has been conceived during a road trip. This time was no exception. For the past year I’ve been tossing around ideas, not sure where God would lead us next, or if He even wanted us to do another movie. A few months ago, we concluded that yes, we were supposed to do another movie, and so I began working on a script. But this weekend was a major turning point. All these movie pieces I’ve been gathering for a number of years suddenly fit together into one major idea. I won’t give out any details just yet, but I will say it builds on everything else we’ve ever done and it’s distinctly us, a unique story that we can tell in a way that no one else can. Can’t wait to get it all down on paper and polish it and tweak it and get it ready to share with the world.
If you’re interested in taking your filmmaking skills to new levels. sign up for one of the remaining dates for the Illumination Experience Tour with Shane Hurlbut.
I’ve interviewed plenty of musical artists before, but The Allen Family is my first reality show interviewee. Their new tv show Home Sweet Bus premieres Tuesday, October 28 on TLC. Here’s a little sneak peek at what life is like for this Southern Gospel singing family of ten.
First, Josh, tell us a little about yourself and your role in The Allen Family.
My name is Josh Allen, and I’m the third of my parent’s eight children. For eighteen years my family, The Allen Family, has traveled around the world, first in evangelistic ministry, and now as a Southern Gospel Music group. Besides being a family of ten that travels full time, we are unique because we have lived in RV’s and tour buses with no stationary house anywhere else since we began our ministry. I am nineteen years old, and since we’ve been on the road for eighteen years, that makes me a founding member of the group! Haha! After living on a bus all these years, our family attracted the attention of a production company interested in how a family as large as ours could live on the road full time like we do.
Tell us about a typical day for your family.
Good question! I am just as curious about this as you are! I have absolutely no idea what a typical day for our family is like. Living on the road means our surroundings are always different, as well as our situations. In a year’s time we’ll travel 60,000 to 75,000 miles, so we could be anywhere doing anything, and are rarely in the same place twice in the same year. That’s typical!
What led to The Allen Family getting a TLC show?
We received an email from a production company in California looking for a family like ours to be in a show for a different television network. We sent the company a demo of our family singing and telling about who we were for the network’s consideration. After viewing what we had sent, this network decided we weren’t what they were looking for. However, the production company liked what they saw and decided to pitch our family to other networks. Ultimately, it was TLC that decided to develop the show about our family. They filmed a pilot episode earlier this year, and it will be premiering October 28.
What is it like filming a reality tv show?
It was definitely a different experience to be on camera all day. You are constantly thinking about what you are saying and watching how you react to certain situations. Even if you’re a “good” person who gets along with everybody, you can’t help but be in focus mode when everything you do is recorded!
How is reality tv different than what happens in reality?
There are many different types of reality tv shows. In some shows the cameras role 24 hours a day, capturing everything that goes on. In other reality shows everything is scripted, and things only appear real. Our show was not scripted, nor were we filmed 24/7. They would film us during the daytime hours as we did our “usual” pursuits, and every now and then they’d ask us to do something so the audience could see how we did that particular thing.
How has filming the show impacted your singing ministry?
We’ve received enormous support from our friends in the Southern Gospel Music industry, and of course, our fans are excited as well! Since the show has not aired yet, we are unsure of what to expect. We have been told that we will receive many more supporters, but we’ll also receive many haters. Our family very firmly believes in honoring Christ in all we do, so naturally the show could irritate a fair amount of people who don’t appreciate that.
What are your goals for the show?
Our main goal is to shine the light of Christ to the world while also showing them that family still works. We want to give broken families hope that they can rebuild on God’s word and create a family that can stand the test of time.
In 2005, I began writing a script (Gunfight At La Mesa), with the intention of taking a concept through every step of the filmmaking process as an exercise in producing a film. I co-wrote the script with my friend Chris Fickley, who directed the project. We broke down the script and took it through pre-production and production. Once the project was in the can, I went through the post-production phase, and edited the film myself. Finally, after completing the project, It was sold to LIONSGATE which then took us through delivery and distribution.
Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/walker.haynes.14 (Walker Haynes – Personal Profile)
Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/WalkerHaynesPage?ref=hl (Walker Haynes – Actor Profile)
Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/HamletsGhostTheMovie?ref=hl (Hamlet’s Ghost)
One of my favorite things about having a movie on the film festival circuit is getting introduced to so many wonderful new films. Christmas Grace has been in four of the same festivals as our movie The Good Book. It won “Best Cinematography” at GloryReelz Christian Film Festival and “Best 4 to 14″ at Pan Pacific Film Festival. Now on the heels of its nationwide release to stores, I got to interview Keith Perna to learn more about this charming Christmas movie.
Keith, thank you for taking the time to share with Faith Flix about your new release. So tell us, when did you first develop an interest in filmmaking?
When I was seventeen God started to get a hold of me and show me how far from Him I was. As I started having devotional time with the Lord and growing in my faith, I remember sincerely praying for God to show me what he wanted me to do for Him. It wasn’t long after that that I took a class in high school in which I discovered that I had a love and a talent for filmmaking. It took me a few more years before I was fully surrendered to doing Christian films but God eventually got me there.
What is your filmmaking background?
After high school I attended Specs Howard School of Broadcast Arts (it’s now School of Media Arts). I graduated from there with a diploma in Video Broadcasting. Within a couple years I started working on some film projects around the Metro Detroit area, mainly doing grip work. These were secular films, but I did learn a lot while on the films and had some witnessing opportunities on some of the sets. But God started tugging on my heart to pursue films that honor Him. I finally quit resisting God on that and answered that call in 2005 with the founding of Bright Horizon Pictures.
Where did you get the inspiration for Christmas Grace?
I’ve always loved Christmas movies! We have some favorites that we watch as a family just about every year which include It’s A wonderful Life and Allister Sims’ A Christmas Carol. You can certainly see influences from both of these films in the story of Christmas Grace. What got me writing it was I wrote it as a thirty five page stage play for my church to perform for Christmas. But it was a bit to elaborate for us to pull off, so I put it aside for a couple years. But along the way I thought it would make a great feature film with some extra work to the script. So I came back to it and started adapting it into a feature length screenplay.
What was the greatest challenge with making the movie?
There were many challenges! But the greatest I would say was pre-production in the early months of 2012. It was very stressful for me at that time, but God was working on me and helping me to learn to trust Him on a greater level. The issue for me was that the elements for the film were not coming together very quickly. I was trying to lock down locations for the film and wasn’t getting any call backs for a couple weeks. I also still didn’t have all the crew in place. But God had it all under control. I had to learn to do what I could do and leave the rest to God and not let it stress me out if it wasn’t happening as quickly as wanted it to. God demonstrated His control over the situation in that on one day, after a couple weeks, within a couple hours, just about all the locations I was trying to reach all called me back within that short time and I was able to start making progress on that.
What is your favorite scene in the movie?
I think my favorite scene is the final scene in the film. Without giving it away, I will just say it’s a very touching scene between two of the main characters, and it ties together God’s hand of providence in the lives of characters in the film.
Tell us about the response so far to the movie.
I am so amazed by the response so far to the film! From the awards it’s won, to the great reviews I’ve read on it, to people telling me how they’ve been inspired by it, to how sales have taken off for it. Just today 10/14/14 I saw that it cracked into the top 100 Drama DVD’s on Amazon. That’s just amazing considering this is a small production with little advertising happening for it. It’s all God’s blessing and answered prayer! I have no other good explanation for it.
What is your goal for the movie?
My goal is to see this film lead some people to Jesus Christ and/or see people grow in their relationship to Jesus. Those are the stories I really want to hear come from this film!
Do you have plans for any future movies?
I have another film I’m currently writing. I’m not ready to reveal much about it yet but it’s coming along well and I’m very excited about the potential it will have to impact people for the Lord!
Jeremy Marr Williams is a leading man who plays the role of Victor Clay in Redemption of the Commons. It’s a great movie about a young man who leaves his small time life in a South Carolina trailer park to “find” himself in L.A. Just like his character, Jeremy knows what it’s like to leave his hometown to seek his fortune in L.A. Fortunately for him, he met with better success than his character.
Jeremy, thank you for visiting with us today. I really enjoyed your performance in Redemption of the Commons. Tell us, when did you first discover a love for acting?
As a young boy I would always clown around with my football/baseball buddies telling stories about all sorts of crazy things happening. It kept things light but sometimes it got us in trouble when about ten to twenty people would gather around and things would get out of control. It was never a love or a thought about acting. It was just the guys getting together and having a good time. The first time I really pondered it as a career was on a flight to a wedding when I was 17. My dad, being a former business man and I were talking about occupations, future etc. when we somehow got on the topic of acting. He broke down the business steps needed to make it a reality, and I think from that point on a seed was planted.
What was your first acting role?
I moved to LA with nothing..no headshot, resume, agent, place to live, knew no-one… I had nothing and I loved it. I saw it as a long camping trip, a bi-product of conquest. I set goals to have a place to live in three days, head-shots in hand in ten days, and an agent/agent meetings within two weeks. I found a place on the corner of Crenshaw and Venice Blvd.(reference any rap songs from the 90’s), It wasn’t quite Malibu, but truth be told, I was comfortable considering the location. Ten days later I signed with three agencies. Three weeks after being in LA I booked a role on ESPN’s Monday Night Football with Hank Williams Jr singing “Are you Ready For Some Football”. My character was the NFL sheild. It (the shield) was painted to a T on my face. The camera was close up on the shield and then I opened my eyes to reveal that the shield was a person. It was great fun working with Hank. No one really wanted to talk to him. I guess I was ignorant to it all and just kicked it with him like we were sitting around a fire. Good guy!
How did you transition into film acting?
After being told too many times that I should get into acting, I finally decided that I’d give it a go. I went to a showcase with over 500 people and somehow won the top overall prize for a six week intensive scholarship to a film and TV school in Manhattan. I guess the journey had begun.
Wow! What an honor that must have been. And looks like you’re been busy ever since. So, what faith-based films have you been in?
I’ve been fortunate to have been lead in three faith based features thus far. The Glass Window aired on TV as an Easter Special for three years on various networks to 35% of the country(ABC/CBS/WB etc.) It really is a great movie. The cinematic value and storyline really project well and the crew was top notch. I hope that more people will become aware of this Dove Seal film as it truly is somewhat of an unknown film in the Christian community. However, when people see it for the first time they seem to always recommend it to others. It’s loaded with truth.
Most recently I worked on a film produced by Austin Ridge Bible Church out of Austin, Texas entitled Genesis. Again, an amazing crew and production. The beauty of making faith-based films is that you meet some of the salt of the earth. It’s a humbling honor to work with such God Driven people. I played the role of Jacob in the film, and I feel it was one of the better roles I’ve played. I’m not big on watching any dailies during production, so I haven’t seen the footage, however it felt good. Genesis is having its premiere at one of their two campuses in Austin this November and I’m looking forward to getting back together with some wonderful people who possess such great vision.
Tell us about your role in Redemption of the Commons.
Redemption of The Commons is the last of the faith-based films that I’ve worked on. Great story, Great Cast. Great crew. Great set. There was so much that went into making this project happen, and as an actor who really just comes in last minute, stays for four to six weeks and then is finished, you’re humbled by the months and years that various people have allocated out of there life to make a story a reality. It was certainly a joy and an experiecce I won’t soon forgot. And if I know KT like I think I know KT, it won’t be long until he’s on set again sometime soon, and I hope to collaborate with Windchime Pictures in some capacity in the months ahead.
My character is down and out, broke, a bit jaded, a bit lonely, downcast due to the lack of the successes he’d envisioned, and most importantly he’s searching to find his identity and place in this world. He attempts everything mortally possible to ‘make it’ in Los Angeles, but the fact of the matter is he’s not only broke, but he’s over 90k in debt, To Victor, he’s a failure. He went from wanting to keep up with the Joneses to hoping to keep gas in his van. He’s faced with returning to a land that he couldn’t wait to leave as a boy, and decides through a friend/father figure Pop that he should head back home to the trailer park in good ole’ South Carolina, Pops’ relationship gives Vic a new hope, a new vigor for life and instills within him the leadership skills that ultimately form his identity as a genuine man of God.
What would be your dream role?
I wouldn’t say I have a dream acting role. My focus truly is Matthew 6:33 with every moment, that I may somehow fulfill, each day. I’d rather live as a humanitarian, evangelist, one who lived truth and loved others and life than to chase a specific project/role etc. I see film in particular, and media in general, as a powerful tool which can lead people in the way of righteousness where they can fully garner and attain “True Life and Freedom”. There isn’t much on TV with genuine substance, thus blazing a trail to provide more products which have the consumers best interest, inspire & give hope is my passion. Whatever roles I might need to play within these principles are my ‘dream roles’.
What do you do when you’re not acting in films?
When not filming I stay very active. I enjoy heading out to the beach at sunrise with my Bible, a pen & paper and just ‘being’. Sometimes I’ll read two chapters, sometimes two verses. It’s not homework or a ‘have to’, its a ‘get-to’, and I’m truly there to be filled that I may become better than I was yesterday. Mornings are my fuel, I can’t be used if I don’t wake up daily and seek and be filled with that which is greater than myself. Nature is my sanctuary. The woods, swamps, lakes, mountains, and oceans provide sustenance for the belly as well as the soul. One of my favorite activities is going to nature in a place I’ve never explored, regardless of where I am on planet earth and getting a great run and full body workout in amongst the endless life and adventure that God Himself Created. I’m humbled as well as grateful for God’s mercies that I may run to Him daily. I like to get out with my dad and brother to the woods for some bow hunting or hit a trout stream in WV fishing. Coming from a large family there’s always a big time happening somewhere and with my all my nieces and nephews we’re sure to wear each other out one way or another. In the end, it’s all about how I can be used to bring Glory to God and the beautiful truth of His Son Jesus Christ.
Thank you again, Jeremy, and good luck on the upcoming release of Redemption of the Commons.
Congratulations to Jeremy Marr Williams on his “Best Actor” win at this weekend’s Churches Making Movies Film Festival for his role in Redemption of the Commons.
Jurgen Beck is a familiar name in the faith-based film world. Not only is he knowledgeable and talented in film music, but he’s also quick to share his wisdom with others in the industry. Here he gives a detailed look at all the work that goes into creating music for films.
What was the first musical instrument you learned to play? How old were you?
The first musical instrument was the recorder, and I think I was around 6 or 7 when I asked my mom if I could learn to play the instrument. Recorders don’t take much to produce a sound with, although it is hard to produce consistently pleasing sounding notes with it. Being able to produce melodies though with something other than my own voice was a marvelous experience. Also, it was my introduction to learning to play from music sheets. I was always fascinated with those little dots on the lines and being able to follow them, out of which melodies built? Let’s just say I was hooked.
What other musical instruments do you play?
After learning to play the recorder I joined a brass choir and learned to play the Flugelhorn. I was still relatively young and although the instrument is a bit larger than a regular trumpet, those teaching me felt that it was easier for me to get into, as it takes a little bit less lip control than a regular trumpet, or even a larger brass instrument. The Flugelhorn is taking the role of an alto instrument in the brass choir, so the notes are naturally sitting below the soprano (trumpet) and are easier to produce.
I also took an interest in the guitar, which I picked up and learned to play from reading how to place fingers on the fretboard in order to produce chords. Up to that point, single note instruments were a good introduction into reading and playing music, but being able to produce chords and a percussive rhythm at the same time was fascinating to me.
The guitar naturally led to getting into playing the bass. The first four strings on the guitar are the same on the bass guitar, although they sound much lower. So, that was a natural transition. With the bass came the introduction to rounding out the lower aspects of what makes up the music.
Since I had my own band, one of my closest friends in the band allowed me to come over and tinker around on his electric piano, a Rhodes to be precise, which had this great sounding quality that very much resonated with what I felt when writing the songs for our band. I think to this day he laughs about how he needed to show me proper fingering when playing chords on a piano or keyboard.
To round it out, I tinkered with playing the drums, again due to their availability in the band’s practice room.
When computers appeared as an option in music making in the 80’s and really took off in the 90’s, I naturally gravitated toward them, as they represented so many more options. Being able to write and produce music by myself was a dream come true. This way I could experiment and refine what I had written. If I then wanted to take it to the band, or invite live musicians into the recording sessions or live concerts, I had the choice of first working out arrangements and speed up the practices, or give very clear instructions, while at the same time allowing the musicians to contribute their talent to the music. The best of both worlds, really.
This expanded in the 90’s and early 2000 into using virtual instruments, which is using pre-recorded articulations from real instruments and playing them back on the computer. The possibilities now expanded into creating fairly realistic sounding orchestral music, which was a fantastic proposition to me and finally busted open the door into writing cinematic music. No longer was it necessary to hire an 80-piece orchestra in order to produce cinematic music.
While the sampling technology was fairly limited at the beginning, tremendous advances have been made to the degree that the casual listener will have a very hard time telling whether music they hear was recorded with a live orchestra or not. In fact, a very large number of TV shows these days feature a limited number of live musicians. There is a trend back to using live orchestra for those shows, but it is a testimony to how good virtual instruments have become.
For the typically smaller budget independent filmmaking world, the digital technology has brought tremendous opportunities to have film scores created that sound extremely real, if the score is handed to the right composer and music production team. There is a certain set of skills that are required, from the music writing, to the producing of the music, and finally mixing, all of which are able to produce stunning results for the filmmakers.
Tell us about your musical training.
I am primarily self-taught, although the basic musical training I received came when learning to play the Flugelhorn. What I didn’t receive in education through traditional ways such as college or music conservatory, I was determined to make up by reading and studying just about any music book out there, whether it was on harmony, counterpoint, music theory, orchestration, music production techniques, and so on. You should see my library! This process continues to this day, as it seems that there is still so much to learn about music, it literally takes a lifetime.
In addition to studying on my own, which included listening to and analyzing film scores, I signed up for a number of courses I could study on my own. Some were instructor led, others where self-study courses.
Then there was the realization that taking some private lessons from working composers would be a good idea. You can read so many books on your own, but having someone who is able to guide you and pass on tricks of the trade is tremendously helpful. I was blessed to study with some tremendously proliferate composers and orchestrators.
How did you get your start in composing for films?
All my life I have been involved in music, either playing it, recording it, or producing it for others. All along I had an affinity for film music, but never thought that I had the skills to write cinematically. After all, I was a songwriter and music producer, not a classically trained composer. Around 2009 I got burned out working on a new worship album I was trying to put together while at the same time working a full-time job. My wife suggested to put it aside and write some instrumental music that sounded like it could be used in a film. That was the end of my song-writing career and the beginning of what turned out to be the most satisfying musical journey I have embarked on.
The notion of writing for films was very attractive. However, before I would do a disservice to some poor director soul and create music that wasn’t really cutting it for a film, I needed to prove to myself that I could really write in a cinematic style. I decided that I would compose and produce an instrumental album in such a style, put it out there and then let people decide whether they wanted to take a chance on me scoring their films. That album took the better part of two years before I had the collection of songs together and incidentally is still blessing people, contrary to some obvious shortcomings it has in quality and execution. It is amazing what God can do with the comparatively little we bring to the table.
Once that album was out there, people seemed to take note. It wasn’t the best music ever written, compared to what is produced by much more talented composers out there. However, it seemed to resonate with folks enough to provide opportunities to contribute to their films.
What are some of the movies you’ve worked on?
I have had the privilege and honor to work on a number of feature films, short films, documentaries, trailers, PSA’s, commercials, and TV shows. Among the movies are films such as My Name Is Paul, Standing Firm, and The Penny. Music for documentaries is moving more into truly cinematic styles and require just as much work and effort as the narrative films. I recently finished Not Forgotten, which is a fantastic documentary on autism in Ukraine. Another great documentary is Rescued, which deals with adoption and why we should consider it as believers. Another one I will be starting on in a matter of weeks is Targeted, a look at the gun control controversy here in the US.
How has your work evolved over the years?
These days composers very seldom get around using computers. Whether it is composing, sketching, or producing the music for a film, computer software has become the central part of what we do every day. This includes what we call virtual instruments, which are recorded articulations real musicians play on their instruments and which are reproduced through individual notes played on the computer. The challenge for a composer is to learn how to use them effectively, so that what we compose and produce with the virtual instruments sounds as real as possible. It is almost like learning to play a real instrument, whereby one has to master the virtual instrument, which articulations to use, and how to coax the best performance out of them. Do this with not just one instrument, but every instrument in an orchestra and beyond, and a composer has their work cut out for them.
Budgets for movies are ever shrinking, which means we have to get more efficient at what we do, work fast, and make sure all the equipment we use is up to snuff. Since the music budgets are relatively small for faith-based films, a large amount of music is produced digitally, meaning that very few live musicians, if any, participate in the creation of the score.
A composer today has to be the one who is not only writing the music, but also has to be proficient with computer hardware, software, and the entire production process in order to create what we hear in movies.
When I first started experimenting with cinematic writing, the computer technology was still fairly limited. Subsequently, the music I created was often limited by what I was able to produce with the virtual instruments without running the risk that everything sounded synthetic and digitally produced. Over the years the capabilities of these libraries has increased tremendously and with it what we are able to create today. In other words, the music has become more elaborate, as the quality of the virtual instruments has vastly improved.
Of course, there is the use of live musicians and instruments, which is something that these days not many composers have the budgetary freedom to do. What we find today is that much of the music we create for films is a creative mixture of virtual instruments play on computers and live musicians.
What excites you most about film scoring?
Very good question and one that gets to the core of why I write music, whether it is for a film, or just instrumental music other than for a movie.
John Williams is credited with stating that “…there’s a very basic human, non-verbal aspect to our need to make music and use it as part of our human expression. It doesn’t have to do with body movements, it doesn’t have to do with articulation of a language, but with something spiritual.”
I love this quote, as it expresses the underlying aspect of what it is that affects us when listening or experiencing music. It is a spiritual phenomena. While I write and produce musical notes and sounds, what I really create with them is emotions. Another medium that does the same is film. You could watch a film without music and be very much affected by a well-acted, well-scripted, and well-produced performance without having music contribute anything else to it. Add to that the emotional dimension and capabilities of music, and you have a dynamite experience that is rarely achieved otherwise.
Tell us about your upcoming movies Love Covers All and Beyond the Mask.
Love Covers All is the second feature film by talented filmmaker Kyle Prohaska and also the second one we worked on together. Kyle has the ability to tell a story in a way that allows a composer to create music that truly becomes part of what unfolds on the screen. The music essentially ends up adding a side of the story that may not be immediately apparent, but in the grand scheme of the story becomes a vital part, almost like another actor. Kyle allows a lot of room for this to happen, which is a challenge, but also extremely rewarding.
There were several scenes in the movie where the music had to be very carefully constructed, never becoming a force on it’s own, but delicately contributing and propelling the story forward.
The scariest part of creating music for any movie is the heavy responsibility one carries of supporting the movie and not destroying it with the music. I think we all have watched movies where the music was so bad that it pulled you out of the story, even to the degree where it was not watchable. Various circumstances are often at fault when this happens, one of them being communication problems between the director and composer. I am very blessed to be able to work with directors who respect the hard work that goes into creating captivating music for a movie. The cherry on top is when you really hit it off with a director, which is one of the reasons why so many directors typically stick with a composer. I certainly enjoyed such a relationship with Kyle.
Beyond The Mask is one of those film scoring journeys that can scare you to death as a composer. You just can’t miss it, or you run the risk of minimizing the hard and long work so many talented people have contributed to it. This is true for any film. However, that heavy burden increases with the scope of a large production movie, and it never leaves you until the very end.
On the flip side though is the tremendous satisfaction that comes with a collaborative effort, which filmmaking really is. When the music really clicks with the scenes, there is an emotional high one experiences that is hard to describe. That is what drives many composers. A film like Beyond The Mask provides opportunities to let your skills really shine. It is also intimidating, sitting in front of a blank piece of music paper or screen and knowing that everyone is counting on you to produce that perfect piece of music.
As Beyond The Mask is an action-adventure-romantic drama that also spans several continents story wise, it is both a composer’s dream and nightmare simultaneously. The complexity level of the music goes way up, as do the expectations, of course.
How does scoring a period movie (Beyond the Mask) compare with a modern movie (Love Covers All)?
For one, unless there is a creative reason to go completely out of genre and style, a period movie needs to at least on some level convey to the viewer that they are watching a story unfold in that period. That means that we rarely watch a period film with modern music, even down to the various musical elements or instruments that produce the music.
On the flip-side, there is more leverage we have in a modern movie, depending on what we want to do creatively. For example, various “modern” movies include classical music, because either the music is coming from some source on the screen (think radio is playing, or a ball scene, etc.), or the director wants to convey something in a funny way and chooses to use music that is completely contrapuntal to the story or scene.
All the above means that special care and usually quite a bit more research goes into a period movie. We want to stay true in many ways to the time the story plays in. With a movie like Beyond The Mask we really don’t have any period recordings that document how the music sounded back then, so we can only go by what was documented on paper and figure out what that may have sounded like. For example, the movie plays in 1776 on three continents, each having their own flavor of music. So, in a way, the locations become characters of their own and need to be represented in the music.
Subsequently, research has gone into the instruments of the period, as well as styles that we may have heard back then, which then were incorporated into the score. Of course, creative license was used and since this is an action-adventure movie, you do hear instruments that fall outside of the period. It is not a Jane Austen movie, so creativity can be pushed, hopefully to the degree that everyone stays within the film and enjoys what they are seeing and hearing.
<p><a href="http://vimeo.com/65309822">My Name is Paul (MNIP) Teaser Trailer</a> from <a href="http://vimeo.com/user3824907">Trey Ore</a> on <a href="https://vimeo.com">Vimeo</a>.</p>
Filmmaking is a collaborative effort that requires a tremendous amount of dedication and energy from so many involved in it. I am thankful for the medium, as it seems to be the most satisfying creative effort that I can think of as a composer. I appreciate each and every opportunity I have to let that creativity flow freely, whether it is a feature film, a short film, documentary, or any other medium that uses music.
Those who wish to break into composing for film, I would encourage to study as much as they can from listening to existing soundtracks in the context of a film, as well as reading books and either taking online courses, or study with a mentor. In other words, you have to apply yourself and never give up studying. Film scoring programs for colleges or universities are of course an option. However, it is the actual writing for film that will bring the broadest education.
To the independent filmmakers on a tight budget, I encourage you to engage a composer early in your production, even at the scripting stage. If you have never worked with a professional composer, you are missing out on a grand adventure that has such potential of pushing your movie to the next level. It can be a scary proposition inviting someone to eventually put a take on your film musically that you may not necessarily have anticipated. It is in the collaborative creative effort that your movie gains what you may otherwise miss out on.
Finally, thank you to Faith Flix for your hard work and inviting me to chat what I am extremely passionate about!
Representation: The Max Steiner Agency, Los Angeles, CA – email@example.com
As soon as I started watching The War Within, I was immediately swept away by the majestic soundtrack. Even though I was just watching the movie on my laptop computer, the music gave it a theater feel. I was pleasantly surprised to discover that Van Lawson, the composer, is a relative newcomer to the world of film scoring. His films include The Board, The War Within, and Sound of the Spirit. I’m sure as filmmakers are exposed to his work, he will soon find himself swamped with projects.
Thank you Van for taking time to visit with Faith Flix. I’m a big fan of your work. Tell us, what is your musical background?
I grew up the son of a baptist minister and was involved with the music at church for about as long as I can remember. My dad bought me a guitar in 5th grade and I also started learning how to play the piano by ear. I sang in choirs throughout junior high and high school and didn’t realize that I was a lousy singer until I went to college as a vocal music major. In college I got interested in music theory and composition and focused on that. After college I joined a Christian rock band and got hooked on studio recording when we went to record a self-produced project. I’ve been producing music ever since.
What musical instruments do you play?
I play guitar, keyboards, bass, mandolin and can fake my way with a few others.
And your instrument of choice?
I’m most comfortable playing guitar or keys. I have 14 guitars – my wife and I have a deal – I won’t ask how many horses she and my daughters have – and she doesn’t ask how many guitars I have! But I think she has me beat…
How did you get involved in film scoring?
When I was a kid I remember turning the contrast and brightness knobs down on the TV so I could concentrate on the sound and music. I wondered how the music could make me feel the emotion of the scene. And about ten years ago Brett Varvel asked me – or maybe I asked him, but I agreed to do music for all of his student films for free just so I could learn how to do it.
What films have you worked on?
After Brett got out of college I did The Board and The War Within for Brett and I did a film for Guy Camara called The Sound Of The Spirit. I’ve done sound design and music for several trailers and that’s about it.
Tell us a little about the score for The War Within.
Brett had “epic” in mind when he first started talking to me about TWW. He would send me music that he loved or tell me to buy a certain movie or listen to a certain score. We are talking about huge scores that probably cost a couple million to pull off between big-name composers, orchestrators, studios and very large orchestra sessions. Anyway, I’d say, “yeah, we can pull it off with enough time and money.” Then I’d go talk to my production partner David Price and he’d say something like, “NO WAY, are you stupid?” Anyway, money got cut in half, time got cut in half – but we ended up using 22 string players and 7 brass players, a 12 voice choir, and the rest is synths, samples or loops. Nearly every piece was written so that it could be connected to any other piece so we could reuse parts and pieces to make other cues. We did a total of nine hours of string sessions, three hours of brass, three hours with the choir and about 10,000 hours of writing, prep and playing synths and samples or building loops. KIDDING! Not quite 10,000.
What is the greatest challenge with scoring a movie?
When I’m talking to Brett or Guy or whoever, about creating music or soundscapes for their film – I have great confidence in my abilities, but when I first get the raw film and I’m sitting in my workspace in front of a keyboard – I feel like Patrick from Spongebob Squarepants. The drool is dripping off my lower lip – I’m dumbfounded and terrified! But – once I get past that initial fear – I slowly go to work and start to feel like I might be able to pull it off. Really though – the sense of responsibility of working on someone’s film – and especially a Christian film – I guess I just don’t want to be the guy who made a potentially great film with a great message into an unbearable, unwatchable, indigestible block of Velveeta.
What do you do when you’re not composing music for a movie?
When I’m not composing music for films, I am either working at Aire Born Studios where I recently became a partner, or working on the family farm with my in-laws.
I’m looking forward to getting to know some people in the Christian film makers community. I’ve corresponded a little with Jurgen Beck – who seems to be a great person as well as a great composer. I also met the talented Nathan Ashton and his family – they, and any others I’ve communicated with recently all seem to have the same thing in mind — to step up the quality of Christian media. I want to be a part of that!
I loved Redemption of the Commons, and the story behind the movie is every bit as interesting as the movie itself. Utilizing his film degree and his experience working on Hollywood sets, KT Terry accomplishes the task of making a small town movie with a big budget feel.
When did you first develop an interest in filmmaking?
I think I’ve always had an interest in film ever since I was a young child. I can vividly remember sitting in front of my record player and listening to the movie soundtrack of The Good the Bad and the Ugly. I would listen to that music and just dream up movie scenes. I think ever since then, I’ve been compelled to be in the movie industry in some manner. However, I always wanted to be an actor – until I realized I wasn’t any good at acting. I guess you never know how life is going to turn out.
What impact did your L.A. experiences have on you as a filmmaker?
My time in LA was very pivotal in my pursuits of being in the entertainment industry. However, I don’t think it’s necessary for someone to live in Los Angeles or New York to make a film. We’ve seen lots of examples of people who have lived all around the world and have made great films. Nevertheless, I would say that being in LA gave me a great opportunity to be on movie sets, TV sets, work with actors, work with writers, work with directors and just get a great crash course on what it is like to be on a set. To be honest, those times on the set were actually very humbling. My first few gigs in LA were either being an extra on a movie set or being a production assistant on a television show. All of this happened right after I graduated with a master’s degree and there I was working as an extra and working as a production assistant. There wasn’t anything glamorous about it. However, it was a huge opportunity for me to be able to see firsthand what it’s like to be on a movie or television set. What I learned from those opportunities I took with me in making Redemption of the Commons. I also spent a lot of time just by myself in front of a computer hammering out scripts. That too is a humbling, and many times lonely, job. I say job, but I wasn’t getting paid. I would just work countless hours at my home office or in a coffee shop trying to punch out a script in hopes that someone would want to make it. The first script I wrote, entitled Masada, was optioned by a very popular writer in Hollywood so that gave me a little more drive to keep on writing.
What inspired you to write Redemption of the Commons?
The thing that inspired me to write Redemption of the Commons can be summarized by me just saying that I just felt called to do it. It seemed a little crazy to most people when I moved 2500 miles away from Los Angeles to a small town in South Carolina in order to become a pastor as well as write/direct a film. Nevertheless, I felt that this was what I was supposed to do – so I did it. I spent lots of hours, days, weeks, and months hammering out a script that I felt could be made on a small budget and in a small town – and ultimately we were able to get it done. I also feel like I can connect very well with the main character, Victor, in the movie. I feel like all of us at some point in our lives have gone through a time of failure. I think that’s why this film touches so many people is that they can all identify with Victor and his pursuit of chasing his dream.
What was the greatest challenge with being a pastor making a movie?
The greatest challenge with being a pastor and making a movie is trying to do both of those things well. Both of these callings take a great deal of time and with me being a bit of a perfectionist I feel like I want to do them very well. Nevertheless I never felt that these two callings were in conflict. I think being the one makes me better at doing the other. It also helps that I have a church family that is very supportive of me being a filmmaker.
How did you see the hand of God in helping you make the movie?
I definitely saw God’s hand throughout this whole production. From pre-production all the way to post-production he made ways where there were no ways to be made. I can remember vividly that we had three days left of shooting. I was exhausted and we were still in need of $20,000 for the film to be finished. I heard a knock at the door and I decided not to answer it – thinking that it was just the regular mail delivery. Then I heard a friend’s voice outside, opened the door and invited him inside. He went on to say that he felt that God was prodding him to contribute to the film. I was excited about that however I must be honest I thought that it was just going to be a check for 100 or 200 towards the film. Yet, I was in disbelief when he handed me a check for 20,000 – the exact amount that we needed to finish the film. There are countless other examples of this type of provision that can be found on our website (within the media guide).
How did you select your cast and crew?
When it came to our cast and crew we utilized online casting calls and had some very talented actors submit. With this being a micro budget film, I had to wear many hats. One of those hats was being the casting director. Yet, being the writer and director also allowed me a great understanding of the type of characters that I was looking for. It also helps that I spent a lot of time in Los Angeles doing some acting work so I had a good idea what the actors would need from me and what I would need from then. In the end I feel like we got the perfect cast who really brought the story to life.
Tell us about the process of preparing the trailer park set.
Constructing the trailer park was a huge task. Many people are surprised to discover that the trailer park where we filmed was actually a movie set that we constructed. We knew that we would need a secluded spot to shoot and so we decided to make one on our own. It was a grueling task of preparing the field moving in the trailers that we found on Craigslist as well as doing set decoration for all of the trailers. We had several people and family members who chipped in to help decorate all of the trailers. Everything that you see on the screen was either donated or picked up at a thrift shop in order to create the realism needed for the film.
What is your favorite scene in the movie?
Trying to determine which scene is my favorite is similar to trying to determine which of my children is my favorite. They all are important to me as I spent a great deal of time thinking through them as a writer as well as a director. However if push came to shove and I had to say which was my favorite part of the film, it would be the concluding montage. I love how all of the stories come together in a way that none of the characters would have expected. They come to a place where they see that God was in control and had a good plan for their lives. I also love the music that was done by Carol Strickland who wrote the song “Praying for Sunshine”. It seems like the most perfect song to have during the montage.
What are your goals for Redemption of the Commons?
Our goals for the film are to have the film shown in regional theaters in the Southeast, and it looks like we will have some success in doing that in early November. We’re also excited that the film will be released worldwide on DVD on November 20th of this year. The film will also be available for rent and for download on online sites like Google Play, Vudu, xbox, iTunes and Amazon. The plan is also to allow Redemption of the Commons to be a stepping stone for the next film that Windchime Pictures will produce. We are currently in development on our next project and hope to announce the shooting dates for that sometime next year.
We all say we want to change the world, but are we more in love with the idea of changing the world than actually doing what it takes to truly make a difference? Overrated by Eugene Cho is a very personal look at our society and where we fall short. Eugene exposes to us his own shortcomings and failures so that we might see how we, too, are guilty of falling short.
I was intrigued by the book’s concept as I spend a lot of my time saying I want to change the world, to truly make a difference. But this book changed my view of what that actually means. I was inspired by the Cho family’s sacrifices and commitment to planting a church and starting a new ministry. It made me uncomfortable, however, because I’m not sure if I have the same level of devotion. I loved the stories, though, of both his failures as well as other people’s misguided efforts. I’m afraid I’ve been guilty of some of the same mistakes in the past, but hopefully I won’t make the same mistakes again.
Overrated is focused on justice, but the principles apply just as well to filmmaking. His advice when trying to decide what we’re supposed to be doing is to pray, research, and act wisely. Rather than just rushing in and doing something because it feels like the right thing to do, we must take our time. First, we pray to make sure this is God calling us to do this and not just our selfish pride or ego. Next, we need to research so that we know what we’re doing. And if we do both of those, we won’t end up doing something that could cause more harm than good. I see so many filmmakers jumping in and making films without taking the time to do it right. It’s easy to assume that because we’re making a faith-based film, that it must be God’s will. But just because it sounds like a good idea does not mean it’s what God has planned. Or it may be the right idea, but not be the right time or approach. Then, what happens so often is that filmmakers fail to study screenwriting and filmmaking or do the proper research on the subject matter, location, wardrobe, or all the many other details of a well made movie. So we end up producing a second rate product that may have good potential and may even reach a few people. but it falls short of what could have been. When that happens, we can do as Eugene and his family did when they started their community coffee shop. They jumped in with good intentions but soon realized that they had rushed in without proper planning and as a result, the coffee shop was not thriving. So they stopped what they were doing, reevaluated, studied what it took to have a successful coffee shop, then tried again. As filmmakers we should constantly be evaluating, studying, and improving the way we approach filmmaking.
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