Keep it simple

The goal for this short film was to illustrate the story of the Bible in a concise, emotional way, and to help people to see God as a loving father who always takes us back. If you simplify the bible to three parts, it's Eden/bliss - separation/sin - reunion/salvation. Perfection, pollution, everything made perfect again.

I wanted to do it with no dialogue or text because I think that the simpler a story is, the easier it is to understand. I also liked the creative challenge of not being able to explain anything. We made it to show in church, so people picked up on the theme pretty quickly, but I still think it was more powerful because it was so simple. 

I had a loose idea of the shots I wanted to get, but what we ended up with was better than I could have hoped for. The first day that we were going to shoot it there was a thunderstorm that had come through, so it would have been muggy and muddy. The day we ended up filming on was hot, but beautiful visually. 

I chose this forest trail near my house because I liked the symbolism that it offered, the way that it got dark once you got into it. I would sometimes go running through these woods and it always feels a little majestic to emerge out on the other side, so I'd had that idea in my pocket for a while.

Rough start

I'd only had my Freefly Movi M5 for a few months at this point, so I was still learning how to use it and what kinds of shots/angles it does best. We started out shooting outside of the forest near the parking lot for the unity/all-is-as-it-should-be shots that start the story, but even as I was shooting I knew those shots weren't any good. Indeed I didn't use any of those shots in the film. I had to use discipline not to freak out and get discouraged, because I have learned that shooting is still a process for me. Luckily when we moved on into the woods things started to come together. 

One thing I didn't plan for was how bad the bugs would be once we got in the woods--in fact, they began to swarm all three of us about 20 feet before we even stepped into the trail entrance. Don ran back to his car and got some bug spray, which actually helped a lot. During the running through the woods scenes he would run ahead of us and spray the trail to try and clear the way for Ella and I, which was really sweet and surprisingly effective.

We shot the "heading into the woods" shots and then I began to shoot the running shots with Ella. 

Mix it up, turn it around

A couple minutes into shooting Ella's running scenes I realized that I had only gotten shots from behind her, and that not only would that be visually monotonous, but you couldn't see her frightened expressions that way. I got in front and tried to run backwards and made it about eight steps when I realized that she could run a lot faster forward than I could backwards. I turned the Movi so it was facing behind me and I ran forward, and that worked pretty well. That was an example of a shot where the external monitor (I use a SmallHD AC7).

We ended up shooting out of sequence, which I always thought was so weird when I'd hear about Hollywood movies doing it. But in this case we were on our way back to the entrance of the woods when we came upon a fork in the path. I thought that it would make a nice turning point for the story, and it was about as clear a visual metaphor for decision-making as you can find! It still feels funny to me to watch it because I know where that fork actually is, but to people who don't know that forest it all feels like one continual journey through the woods.  

Light at the end

I shot a few more bits handheld for her indecision moments, and then I was pretty tired and I could tell they were wearing out also. But when we walked back out through the entrance to the forest we found this amazing, golden hour light shining through this pretty little clearing. Don is very kind-hearted and flexible, and knowing those traits about him made me feel comfortable to keep asking for additional shots and takes. So I explained how special the light and setting was, and they happily agreed to do a few more shots. 

The Movi was powered down and I would need the stand to set it back up--it has to hang in order for you to balance it, and I had balanced at the car and then left the stand by the car. So I ran as fast as I could back to the car and grabbed the stand, mindful of how quickly golden hour light can change. As I set up Don and Ella started to hold hands and spin in circles, laughing and giggling together. It was so perfect. I yelled "Keep doing that!" and did a few passes with the Movi, and as I watched the shot unfold on my monitor I thought, "This is exactly the kind of footage I had in my mind when I bought this thing!".

After that I took the camera off the Movi and put an 85mm f/1.8 on, and got a few handheld shots. I then took some portraits of them just for them to have as a thank you for doing the shoot with me. 

Song and dance

I knew I wanted music that would match the development of the story, and I didn't have any partial pieces lying around to start with, so I did something I hadn't done before...I played a rough cut of the video in FCPX and recorded piano parts live while watching the footage. As I watched Don and Ella twirling each other a delicate, spacey melody came out immediately. I liked that it seemed delicate because that represented both the preciousness of a fleeting moment between father and daughter, and the fragility of Adam and Eve's sinless state with God. 

I also knew that I wanted to bookend the story with the same piece of melody, to mirror the unity-separation-reunion storyline, so that made it easy to decide how the piece would conclude. 

The open gate

Aside from some difficulties with color grading that come with shooting video on a Nikon (low bit-rate and a codec that falls apart when you push it too much), in the end I was really happy with how everything turned out. It seemed to strike a chord with people, and I was grateful for the opportunity to present the story in such a pure way. I suppose one could argue that it's missing a Christ figure, but the open gates at the end of the forest path had to be opened by someone, right? :)