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A Necessary Guide to On-Set Protocol

Welcome to your first day on a film set.

Perhaps you’ve gotten a new job as a production assistant. Perhaps you’re still in school and have been given an opportunity as an intern, or you’ve recently been asked to help out with a friend’s production. You probably have some questions.

I’m writing this because I’d like to try to answer some of those questions in advance, and because I have hope.

Hope that maybe the next time I ask someone to sweep up some glass that just broke, I won’t have to explain where to get a broom, how to use a dustpan and what to do with the glass once it’s in the dustpan.

Hope that the next time I’m having a time-sensitive conversation with another department head at the monitor, I won’t have to turn and repeat the entire conversation to someone who, rather than listening, was staring at their phone.

Hope that no one on a film set will ever again ask me where to get a ladder. (The answer is the Grip Department. The answer is always the Grip Department).

But Isn’t This Supposed to Be Fun?

This is the biggest challenge that newcomers face: a movie set can look like summer camp. There are cliques, gossip, casual clothing, planned activities and snacks. Many kinds of snacks.

But a movie set is not summer camp, a slumber party or a classroom. It is a workplace.

Here are things I have actually heard new hires say out loud:

“I don’t think that this is worth my time.”

“This isn’t teaching me anything.”

“I didn’t finish it because it didn’t seem important.”

The misunderstanding implicit in all these statements is that the priority of the day is your time, your enjoyment, your feelings, your creative fulfillment or your education. Instead, know this: Every day on a job in film is an opportunity to prove that you deserve to come back tomorrow, nothing else. Instead of asking yourself if you are having fun, ask yourself if you’ve done everything you can to help the film succeed. Instead of asking yourself if something is worth your time, think about why it might be important to others. If you make yourself valuable, you will begin to be valued.

The Metaphor of the Flashlight

Imagine that you are in a dark cave with a group of people, and all of you are running around in different directions. In a corner of the cave is a flashlight, which is spinning through the room.

Suddenly, the flashlight lands on a single person. Everyone stops. Until that person does his or her job, no one can move forward.

At some point during the shooting day, that flashlight will land on you. Everyone will be looking at you and waiting for you to do your job, or the production will stop moving. That flashlight can feel like a warm spotlight or it can feel like the high beams of a speeding car, fixing you in its headlights, determined to mow you down. It all depends on how well you understand your job and the jobs of others around you.

The Art of Proper Presentation

A film set is a uniquely judgmental place. Everyone is relying on each other, so everyone is constantly evaluating whom they can rely on. It’s not enough to do the job, or even to do the job right. You have to do it right and look like a pro while you’re doing it.

Throw Away Your Trash. A film set is a sacred place where creative people engage with one another and make art. Every bag of chips and empty coffee cup left behind is an act of disrespect to the art-making at hand. It is also a blemish on the film itself, as an errant water bottle, discovered too late, renders a great shot useless.

Keep It Tight. Your dress code should prepare you to walk into a CEO’s office or to climb a 14-foot ladder with a paintbrush in your hand. Do not dress like a pirate at a backyard barbecue; do not dress as if you wish to be discovered as onscreen talent. DO wear a belt and keep a complete set of relevant tools at the ready. DO NOT wear open-toed shoes.

Act Your Age. Do not lie down, do not have tickle fights, do not play with swivel chairs, and permanently set your cellphone on “silent.” If you are making other people aware of your presence by doing anything other than your job (laughing, playing a trailer on your phone, chewing loudly), you’re doing your job wrong.

Put Your Stuff Away. Each morning, identify the least obtrusive place to put your coat, your bag and your personal belongings, and then tuck them away in the least obtrusive part of that place. Never on set, never mixed in with equipment and never in another department’s workspace.

Put Your Gear Away. If you can condense your gear, do so. If you do nothing but organize and tighten up your department’s workspace all day, then that is a victory. Someday you’ll find yourself shooting in a 400-square-foot apartment with torrential rain outside and every department will try to cram their gear into the 100 square feet that isn’t being shot first. Practice for that day.

Be On Time. A late person is a person who can’t be trusted, as well as a person who is excluded from important conversations about the day ahead. All aspects of your pre-work routine, including but not limited to parking your car, eating a breakfast sandwich, getting a cup of coffee, putting your backpack away, reviewing the call sheet, checking in with your department, applying sunscreen or inserting foot warmers into your shoes — all of that must happen before your call time. As the saying goes: “If you aren’t 10 minutes early, you’re late.” And if you’re late, you’re fired.

Take Pride in the Details. Present your work in the way you want it to be viewed: with care. If you have been asked to gather information, compile it into a clear, properly formatted list. If you send photos, label them. Park vehicles carefully. Lay out physical options of props, wardrobe or production tools with pride. Spell check your texts. Create searchable subject headings for your emails (“Locations | Swimming Pool Options | Part 1 of 3,” versus “Fwd: some pics”). If you are delivering an object or a piece of paper, put it an envelope and label it. Save your receipts. Download your attachments.

Be All Business. Keep your private business private, and allow others to do the same. Don’t engage in on-set drama and avoid gossip, and you will win and hold the respect of others.

The Art of the Department

Within each crew, one department is always the “problem” department. Their delays are met with scorn, their problems are met with eye rolls, and they are routinely blamed for everything. A reputation as a bunch of screw-ups and goofballs is easy to earn and difficult to dispel. Your behavior contributes to this. You want to have the tightest department on set, something you can be proud of.

Learn — deeply, truly learn — what each department does and what they are responsible for.

The Art of Asking Questions

Of course, questions arise. But before you ask someone else a question, ask yourself:

Is this the right time? What may be your priority in a given moment may distract from a more important priority for the group. If they’re about to roll camera on a scene involving two explosions and a dog rescuing a baby from a dingo, it is not the right the time to ask the first a.d. what time you are breaking for lunch.

Is this the right person? In general, communicate with your equivalent in the other department, not their superior. “Where is the bathroom?” is an important question, but you should ask a locations assistant, not the locations manager. “What is the Wi-Fi password?” is also an important question, but you should ask a production assistant, not the producer.

Can I answer it myself? Obviously, there are many questions that simply don’t bear asking (chief among these: anything that you could find with a Google search).

The Three Kinds of Listening

  1. Not Listening: If there’s a conversation going on that concerns you and your department, be there, listening and interjecting when appropriate. If you can hear a conversation going on that doesn’t concern you, you are either eavesdropping or in the way. If the director is trying to have a talk with an actor and they walk into the room you’re standing by in, politely and subtly exit. The best thing you can do is give people space when they need it and be there when they need you.
  1. Active listening: Active listening occurs when you — individually or as part of a group — are being spoken to directly. You are focused, you are taking notes, you are asking informed questions when it is appropriate. The most challenging active listening takes place in group situations, where you may be on the periphery, such as production meetings, or a morning announcement. Rise to the challenge.
  1. Passive listening, or, Standing By. Standing By means that you are quietly, nimbly observing everything that is going on, waiting for the instant that you can competently step in and positively add to the situation. It means standing (never sitting) quietly someplace out of the way but within earshot of what’s happening, ideally in a position where your department head can signal to you with eye contact if necessary.

Standing By is not talking and joking with other crew members. Standing By is not eating candy at craft services, waiting to be called back to set. Standing By means not calling any attention to yourself.

When you know information about what is happening now and what is happening next without someone having to take time out to explain it to you, you are Standing By correctly.

Standing By is a state of hyper-aware preparedness. Think about the opening of Le Samouraï and the wide shot of Alain Delon’s hitman lying on his bed, with this accompanying Bushido quote: “There is no solitude greater than that of the samurai, unless it be that of the tiger in the jungle … perhaps.” You are that quiet tiger, ready to strike at any moment.

The Art of Following Through

Just as a film set is broken up into departments with specific responsibilities, departments are broken up into individuals with even more specific responsibilities. Your department head has a million things to be concerned with, and their mind must be clear for high-level strategizing and communication. You are there to eliminate their concerns.

When they give you a task, it should disappear completely from their brain because they know that you are completing it. When you complete a portion of a task and walk away before finishing it, you are, very violently — as if the task is an ice pick being thrust into their eye — jamming that concern back into the brain of your department head.

The Art of The Next Step

What comes next? What could I be preparing for now? How can I anticipate needs and satisfy them in advance? What is the next task in a process, and how can I ensure it goes smoothly? You have not completed this day unless you have completely prepared for the next one. If a change occurs, you must think through all the ways that it might affect the future. For example: “If I move this car here, it will be in the way for the next shot. I should not move this car here.” Many people can solve problems; The Art of the Next Step is about preventing them. Those who master The Art of the Next Step become department heads and superstars.

The Art of Common Sense

  • A production is designed to dominate the space around it, and it’s easy to get lost in the bubble. But you are still in the real world. Don’t run into traffic or leave gear in the street. Don’t leave things sitting on the sidewalk unattended.
  • Don’t assume that safety is everyone else’s priority or that everyone else has already thought through the details that you’re thinking through. If you’re the prop master and the passenger side of the picture vehicle doesn’t have a working seat belt, make sure everyone knows that before anybody starts driving.
  • Just as prior to a crash landing you’re instructed to put on your own oxygen mask before helping others, the best way to keep safe is to make sure you’re putting yourself in safe situations at all times.

What To Do If It’s Truly Not Fun

Sometimes, film shoots are awful. Directors lose control; producers are scoundrels; people have bad ideas and worse communication skills.

But it is a rookie mistake to think that this means it is not worth your best efforts. The production world is like a deck of cards, where everyone is reshuffled into different crews, over and over, a dozen times a year. Soon, that worthless director’s assistant may be in a position to tell her new boss not to hire you; five movies from now, that jerk of an electrician will stand in your way when you most need a favor. Don’t burn bridges.

The Art of Being A Hero

Every day, the set chooses a hero — the person who saves the shot, the person who is there in the clutch. Imagine a crowd of people chanting your name in unison, your colleagues showering you with praise for days, the actor who routinely snubs all human contact going out of their way to tell you that you’re the best they’ve ever worked with. If you master the art of work, that hero could be you.

You don’t plan to be a hero. You are just there at every moment, making things better. One of those moments will turn out to be a crucial situation, the moment where the metaphorical flashlight shines on you so bright that you think you might be blinded. And in that moment, you succeed. You succeed with grace, a positive attitude, even humor. That is when working on movies is fun.

Does being a hero mean being the center of attention? No. Being a hero means going above and beyond in each moment to help make the movie better. People who go above and beyond in each moment to be the center of attention, however, are usually regarded as disruptive irritants, if they are regarded at all. Or, we call them actors.

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(Source Article by Brandon Tonner-Connolly)


3 Places To Get Free Music

A film without music is like a man without a soul. The problem is for a student film, you often don’t have much of a budget to spend on hiring a composer or licencing music. Though those are the best options, you can sometimes get away with using free music. Just be prepared to sort though a lot of – let me say – less than quality music.

Today I want to highlight 3 of the best places I know of to get free music for your films:


  1. The YouTube Audio Library
    Youtube has thousands of free songs you can download and use. Just make sure to keep track which of the different licences the tracks are under. Each track has instructions on whether you are required to include an attribution or not.

  2. The Vimeo Music StoreThe Vimeo Music Store also has lots of free tracks available for download. Under “Price Range” in the search filter, select “free”.

  3. The Wistia Music LibraryWistia has recently been adding more music to their library. Currently they have two albums available for download.

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(Source Article by Andrew Bartlett)


Do I Need a Fancy Camera?

All right fine, I'm not really at war with gear. It is, after all, an essential part of the filmmaking process. Without a camera, microphone, and a way to edit it all together, there would be no conceivable way to make live action films. Simple as that.

However, in the past few years, our relationship with gear has become counterproductive, and that's putting it mildly. In essence, we find ourselves in a weird psychologically-crippling loop in which the gear we have is not good enough to produce anything meaningful, and the gear we're about to have will make us whole and put our creative woes to rest. But it never does. And the cycle continues.

So, with that in mind, here's Simon Cade to explain why he's been using a Canon T3i for the past few years, and why he absolutely won't be upgrading to a new camera any time in the near future:


In his blog post, he points out that plenty of other great videos has been shot on DSLRs. For example, Kendy Ty shoots mostly with a T2i, and has produced some impressive-looking work:


Simon says something in this video that really gives me pause: "I don't want the most exciting part of my week to be taking a product out of its box." That hits at the core of something that I, and probably countless other people, have struggled with constantly, and in far more aspects of life than just filmmaking.

The truth is that we lust after new gear because we like the way it makes us feel. It feels good to imagine ourselves creating great work. And more than that, it feels good to imagine that whatever self-imposed psychological barrier that is preventing us from creating work has been overcome through the simple act of purchasing something new. The only problem is that once new gear comes out of the box, you quickly realize that it's not the panacea you were hoping for. It, like the camera you already own, is still just one very small piece of the much larger puzzle which is filmmaking.

And I think that's the problem. The process of making a film can be incredibly overwhelming, especially with small crews and tiny budgets. So, when it comes time to actually make something, it's easy to make excuses like, "Oh I should wait until I have more professional gear." It's a defense mechanism against having to immerse ourselves in a process that is not only daunting and tedious, but which could very well turn out to be a waste of time if the product doesn't turn out like we imagine it in our heads.

From my experience, projects never turn out exactly as you hope they will. There are always obstacles — some technical, some monetary, and some psychological — that get in the way. The only answer is that you have to love the process of making a film. If you can learn to love the process (and it is something that you have to learn), it doesn't matter what gear you have because you're immersing yourself in something that is inherently enjoyable. When you love the process, gear becomes a side note. It still matters, but it's been taken off of the pedestal, and it becomes just another piece of the filmmaking puzzle. 

That, my friends, is how we defeat Gear Acquisition Syndrome once and for all.      

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(Source Article by Robert Hardy)


MWCFA - 2015 Promo

I had the pleasure of teaching at the 2015 Midwest Christian Filmmakers Academy!

This year we worked with the students to produce a practice promo (view here) and later in the week they  worked with us in the production of a promo video for a real client.

We are pleased to present the official project for 2015 "Memories."


Woodlawn - IN THEATERS


Flipping The Traditional Documentary Model on Its Ear

By Lydia Hurlbut

Shane and I first met Patrick Moreau at Sundance two years ago when they were both speaking there. There was an immediate connection, the kind where you feel like you have known this person forever when you just met. We both realized his talent as a storyteller and independent filmmaker.

Patrick and the entire Stillmotion team have an amazing project that we would like to share with you. We were so moved by the story of #standwithme, that we wanted to dive into the details of this incredible story.


Stillmotion is a studio that started in weddings and is now taking on the world with a documentary about child slavery. Stillmotion’s approach to this film has been to create their own path and push the genre of documentary filmmaking. Deciding against Kickstarter and other popular crowd-sourced funding options, the film was largely funded by Stillmotion through their commercial work. With a production budget of $250,000, the Stillmotion team chose this route to remain focused on the film and tied both emotionally and financially to their belief in the impact it could have when released. Their hope with #standwithme was to blur the lines of traditional documentary storytelling. That meant how the story was told, how it transitions, how it looks, and how it sounds.

The Story

Vivienne Harr is a 9-year-old girl who saw an arresting photograph of two enslaved children in Nepal and decided to take a stand. She set up her lemonade stand for 365 days in a row, asking customers to “pay what’s in your heart,” sending proceeds to organizations that liberate and rehabilitate slaves all over the world.


Patrick directed this project and took the time to share every detail from initial funding through shooting.


“We got into this film with the idea we could donate our time to a worthwhile cause and help them make a bigger impact. We heard this story of a 9-year-old selling lemonade to fight child slavery and wanted to go down and learn more. It was always going to be a 5 min piece… but when we met them, we knew it had to be so much more. The challenge was that she was making a stand every day – the story was happening now. We thought about Kickstarter but David, our Executive Producer, felt strongly that we should remain focused on the film. As those who have tried crowd funding know, it certainly needs a lot of time and support and our focus needing to be on telling this story.”

“We ultimately decided to dive in and started by tuning the project ourselves. As the scope grew, we formed a corporation for the film and sold stock, or equity, in the film to help fund our remaining production expenses. This was a way to get the support we needed while still shouldering as much of the funding as we could and remaining focused on the film itself.”

Key Tools

“As we approached the film, there were several tools that really helped us push the boundaries of what you’d expect to see in a documentary. Of course, a great tool doesn’t make a strong story, but a strong story that is well told, with the right tools, can be even more effective at impacting the viewer.”

“As a studio, we wouldn’t have been drawn to making a film that was entirely on slavery. Let’s face it, there are tons of dark issues that need addressing, but we wanted a unique angle into the story that would attract a lot of people to see the film, and therefore have a greater chance to really create change. Vivienne was that window. She was the sparkle into the dark, dark world of slavery. Therefore, our approach was to stay in the light – keep the film feeling bright, inspirational, and empowering with a lot of energy.”

Freefly Movi

“Our film’s main character is a 9-year-old. While that means much of what we would be doing would be unpredictable, it also meant we should be ready for lots of action. The Movi would let us get smooth motion, but more than a Steadicam. It would let us quickly and easily get low to the ground (she is 9 after all). It also let us be unpredictable and follow her tricks and turns. More than just following Vivienne, the Movi could be paired with a lot of moving vehicles on our international trips to create a much larger, epic feeling. While in Namibia, we put the Movi in the front of a chopper with open sides and got sweeping scenics that would be much more costly to reproduce in a high budget feature. While one might expect to see a handheld tracking shot of somebody in a documentary, we were able to use a perfectly smooth camera taking flight over the Kalahari is a big, epic, way to open a scene, all for a $1,000 helicopter rental and a Movi Rig.”


Canon C100

“Whenever you take on a project of this significance for your studio (this was our first feature length doc done entirely by our studio) the choice of camera is always a big one. We can be tempted to go Red, bigger, badder – but what serves the story? We knew we had to be quick; we had to be able to travel; and we had to be able to shoot very strong visuals with a small crew. The C100 gave us the ability to pack a 24-70, a couple of cheap 32gb SD cards, and a monopod and get very strong event coverage as we travelled internationally. Shooting in Wide DR, we got great latitude in the image (awesome for bright desert shooting), but we also had built in ND filters to control the light, and great monitoring options like waveforms, peaking, and zebras – all which helped us make sure we were capturing the best image possible. With the higher compression of the C100, these guides were huge in getting it right in camera. Adding on the top handle and running audio into camera let us do some interviews with crews as small as 1 or 2. In Nepal, one of the interviews had to be DP’d, directed, produced, lit, and shot by one person. While we had a volunteer stand in as the interviewer for a proper eye line, the C100 let us handle so many duties quickly and get a strong image. The Red can make great images, but it also takes a while to start up and we would be hard pressed to think it could handle the beating we gave our gear, or the pace of our production.”

Canon 1DC

“While the C100 was by far our main cam, we also wanted something that was even smaller for tight spaces and something that could handle the roughest of weather as we travelled. The 1DC was an amazing compliment to shoot high quality production/BTS stills, as well as shooting for the film in up to 4K. As we shot Viv’s lemonade getting bottled, the 1DC was our go to camera, allowing us to get it literally inside the machines as they were running and spinning out bottles of lemonade. As we go back and review the finished film, the bottling scene has some of the strongest visuals. A large part of that is the strong image (wide range, shallow DOF, and low light) all in camera that could go where others couldn’t. When paired with the Movi, we had a lightweight option that we could lift for extend periods. At one point, we had to follow Lisa, the photographer that took the image that started all of this, as she hiked into the Kalahari on a photography trek. It was a 30 min walk out, shoot, then walk back – in the middle of the desert. Remember, we have no AC, no crew . This was one person with whatever they can carry. Being able to put the Movi in majestic mode (it responds to your movements based on tablet settings instead of using a second operator on a remote) and having it light enough let us work without support for extended periods and got some of the strongest shots you now see in the trailer.”


Westcott Icelight and Scrim Jim

“Lighting for a doc is always a battle of time and crew. While we’d love days to draw a lighting plot, scout, and setup lights, a doc often comes with all of that compressed into a matter of hours or minutes. We had interviews of some main characters that needed to be sourced and lit (with a crew of 2) in less than 30 minutes – and needed to match those that had a crew of 5 and hours of prep. Using small and quick lighting tools like the Scrim Jim and Ice Light let us make the most of some difficult terrain and harsh outdoor conditions. For several interviews in Nepal, having a crew of only 2, we chose to do interviews outdoors outside of magic hour. This fit best into the production schedule and gave us a lot of context in our interview – we couldn’t travel to Nepal and shoot in an area that didn’t feel like we were there.”

Stand With Me

“On the other hand, the Ice Light is a battery powered daylight balanced LED light that offers a nice soft light. While too dim to light large areas, it is a great helper light for treks into the middle of nowhere. While shooting the Bushmen of Namibia, who live in the Kalahari Desert, we were fortunate to spend an evening with them and experience their medicine dance. Lit by only a fire in the middle of nowhere, we could use the power of the C100 to get great low light images. It was easy for the people to fall into nothing with no power or buildings around. Using the ice light and some 12 CTO, we could get a light place in a tree 15’ away to give us a nice edge light and some separation.”

The Kessler Stealth Slider

“We knew going into this that we were telling a story that would be strong in history. We would want to cover the story of how Vivienne’s story started – something documented daily on Twitter and Instagram with images – as well as the history of how Fair Trade USA started. One of our main characters is a photographer with an incredible body of work, and we’d need to show her images in setting up the story of how ‘the image’ that started it all was taken. We knew we couldn’t try and push how documentaries look and feel while having photos that pan and zoom in post. It was too digital and artificial feeling. Instead, we put the images in real and relevant environments and shot them with a motion control slider. This meant our cuts from one image to another would cut perfectly, and we could get very smooth and repeatable slow shots. When it came to shooting Vivienne’s bottles in stores, we went to dozens of stores and again relied on the motion control to get slow, smooth, and repeatable motion across locations. We shot wide, medium, tight in many locations – all at the exact same speed and direction. In the end, we quickly cut through dozens of shots of the bottles across the dozens of stores, and it all flows so well because of the consistency between shots. Add in some sound design in post (kids playing and laughing over Viv’s photo) for a strong emotional depth and compelling visuals of what could have easily just been a photo zoomed in post.”

At its core, #standwithme is a social invitation for people to stand against slavery and invite others to join in doing so. Stillmotion’s hope for this trailer is not that you’ll go out to see this film because it looks like a good movie. Their hope is that 30 million human beings is something you can’t turn away from, and that this trailer will leave you wanting to know more about the issue and how we can all do our part to truly put an end to this suffering.

The #standwithme Premiere Tour will be hitting the road in February, taking the film to 30 cities in the US & Canada. But there’s another tour we think you guys will be even more excited about…

Storytelling With Heart

The Storytelling With Heart Filmmaking Workshop!

The Storytelling With Heart Tour is a one-day filmmaking workshop all about how to use your talent and passion as a filmmaker to tell the stories you REALLY want to tell, and tell them powerfully. The workshop will take place on the day following the #standwithme premiere in each city.

In addition to a live Q&A from #standwithme’s directors Patrick Moreau and Grant Peelle at each premiere, there will also be an educational workshop held the following day in each city, known as the Storytelling With Heart Tour. The workshop tour welcomes anyone who is interested in independent filmmaking and telling meaningful stories, and will be an opportunity to get hands-on instruction and insight from the Stillmotion team on their filmmaking process. Each workshop will run from 9 am-5 pm, on the day following the premiere of #standwithme.

Visit for more information on Stillmotion’s education program and to purchase tickets to the workshop. Use the discount code hurlbut10 to get 10% off of your registration fee. (Code expires December 31, 2013.)

Our friends at Stillmotion put a lot on the line to make #standwithme, but there was never really any question as to why they kept going. They believed in the story, plain and simple.

If enough people are made aware of just how much power they have to stop slavery, even though something as simple as a shift in shopping habits, a global commitment can be made, and together we can make a vital mark. We are proud to be inviting you to stand with us.

Stand With Me

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(Article Source)


Polycarp - Review

Article by Melinda Ledman //

It’s always refreshing to see a film that’s thin on dialogue, but dense with meaning. Polycarp took home the top prizes at the recent Christian Worldview Film Festival, which is no surprise given its frank treatment of first century persecution. A creeping concern among Christians today, persecution of the church in America is a fast-growing fear and slow-but-steady threat. So how can we find hope? 

Polycarp is based on the life of an early church father who studied under the apostle John. A missionary turned scribe in his old age, Polycarp was the anchor of the Christian community in Smyrna. As persecution from Rome encroached on their freedoms, Polycarp and other Christians in Smyrna had to decide whether they would pursue their work in the safety of another town or stand and fight in their local community. Polycarp’s story is viewed through the eyes of a slave girl who immediately receives her freedom after being purchased. 

Three things stood out to me about this film. First, I was intrigued by the dialogue of the Polycarp character. More often than not, he quoted Bible passages as though they were ordinary speech. He didn’t use a preachy, heavy handed, “Jesus said…” style, but simply spoke sacred words in the most natural contexts. This idea wasn’t too far-fetched since his sole occupation was copying the words of the apostles, ie. what would become the New Testament. These God-breathed ideas and phrases would have made their home in his subconscious after numerous transcripts, and he could have spoken them as naturally as you or I would talk about the weather. It intrigued me how Scripture gets into the soul today, even though our culture is now so far removed from “oral tradition.” Like Polycarp, those who memorize scripture often find the Holy Spirit opening doors of conversation with others, and sacred words come naturally in the right context. 

Second, the film challenges us to be brave and true. After watching the movie, my daughter asked me a pointed question: “Would you deny God in order to keep our family safe?” What a loaded question!! Prior to watching this film, I might have said yes. I’ll be honest. When I’ve imagined a world of religious persecution (like what would I have done if I was a Jew in World War II), it always seemed more reasonable to lie to corrupt authorities in order to continue the work of Christ underground. It seemed to me that surviving to preach another day made more sense than needless martyrdom. But this film made me think much harder about that scenario. It raised questions about the internal and external ramifications of denying God, even falsely denying him. I began to consider the bigger picture of “life,” which brings me to the third point…

Polycarp reminds us that as Christians, we are part of something much larger than this temporal life. While most Christian movies today focus on the life we live right now, surviving the challenges and pitfalls of a frustrating existence on Earth, Polycarp reaches beyond the immediate. For one, it shows us that we are part of a much larger, historical story, one that reaches throughout the centuries. Many came before us and fought for the Gospel, and we too will play out our roles in the grand scale of God’s story with humanity. Second (and this is where my answer to the kids came in), our “lives” extend far beyond our time on this planet. We can’t make decisions based on the immediate ramifications of our choices. We have to look into the far, far future. What do our enemies threaten us with, death? Death is to be immediately in the presence of God. Torture? Even those who are being persecuted across the world today endure suffering with a supernatural kind of peace. The apostles of the Bible faced it with joy, singing, and even witnessing. If I am to be honest, I have only ever heard that God gives his people uncanny courage and peace when persecution comes. So, when the power-driven Quadratus fumes his greatest boast, “I wield the power of the gods in this place!” his greatest weakness is exposed. He does not understand God’s protection, provision, end-game or even the nature of the universe. And Quadratus’ threats weigh false on an eternal scale.

Perhaps that’s the vehicle of hope in this film. With today’s increasing religious restriction and a spreading dread of persecution, Polycarp argues the opposite of weakness and fear. It raises up pillars of Biblical truth instead. Quoting from the Bible, Polycarp describes how he deals with his own fear, “Perfect love casts out fear.” When he looks honestly at the God who loved and saved him in his sinful state, the God who walks with him every moment, and the God who will be waiting for him even if he should die, fear is an empty lie. Somehow we emerge from the film with a greater trust in God as our sovereign, protector, and trustworthy advocate. We emerge with gratitude for what Christ did for us, and a sense of belonging in God’s eternal story. We emerge with the courage to resist our own weakness and expose fear for the lie that it is.

Polycarp is available on DVD.
For more information about the film, visit or stop by their church screening page.


The Definitive Guide to Interviewing People For Video Production

I recently wrote a post on The Best Way to Interview people. Today I want to go all out, and write an inclusive guide. I am doing this for a few reasons; Interviews are the backbone of any promotional or documentary style video. The importance of getting amazing sound is crucial.

Let’s face it. Most promotional videos are really bad.

There are a lot of promotional videos out there on company websites that I just can’t make it through. How can I devote 90 seconds of my time to learn more about “Smith Marketing” if I instantly hear a robotic drone of, “We can solve all of your advertising problems.” Within the FIRST SECOND of the video?

No thanks.

Think about your favorite movie. Mine is “The Departed”.

Why do you like it?

One common reason among everyone is that you get lost in the movie’s world. You forget about that last Tweet you sent, or a email you received that morning. You are now apart of the storytelling cinema world. Everything goes out the window and your emotional go for a roller coaster ride as you embark on the journey with the protagonist.

This suspension of disbelief MUST apply to your promotional video in today’s world or you will be left behind. Viewers now have the option to watch your video. The days of the loud repetitive used car salesmen commercial are gone (and I couldn’t be happier).

Today we are going to take a look at how to level up your interview game.

Start with the Emotion First

Before you even show up to the location you need to have an idea of what kind of emotion you want the audience to feel.

Recently, I was meeting with a client who wanted a video for their company. They have a lot of ambition and hopes for their video which made me excited. I explained to them that the most important part of video was allowing the audience becoming apart of their world for 2 minutes.

I showed them this “graph” of the emotional ride we could take the viewers on to share their message.

It’s important that the planning for your video starts way before you show up on location. Just because you don’t know what the people you are interviewing are going to say doesn’t mean you can’t prepare.

Ask any seasoned veteran in video production and they will all say great production comes from great pre-production.

Preparing for the Interview

Before I go to the shoot I go over in my head what my intentions are for the interview. If you focus on the outcome you want you will be much more likely to achieve your desired results.

What is the intention of the interview? — Why are you interviewing this particular person? Are they going to be the main sound in your video? Do you need a specific sound byte to link a section together in your video?

Guideline Questions — I like to have some general questions written down to get the interview started. Depending on how the person is responding and how the interview is going, I will break off from the questions and follow the natural flow of the conversation. It’s a good sign if you are diverging from the questions because the interview has just turned into a natural conversation.


Remember, the conversation doesn’t need to be linear. You can skip over parts and go back and forth. Editing exists for a reason. As long as you follow a natural flow with the conversation you will be fine.

What is the tone of the video overall? What state of mind do you need to help the interview subject getting into? Are you going for a serious dramatic piece, a funny light tone? You are the director in the interview so you control the flow.

Before You Hit Record

When you arrive at the location take the time to scout out the area. Hopefully you were able to scout before the actual day of the shoot, but we aren’t always given that luxury. Have someone familiar with the location show you around to the different rooms and options for shooting locations.

In each room, pay attention to the acoustics, and the action going on. Here are some things I am cautious of:

Acoustics of the room — How does the room sound? Does it have a lot of echo? Is there a buzz from the air conditioning? Music playing? See how much of this you have control over. Generally you can get someone to turn off the air conditioning for a few minutes, and they can certainly turn the music off.


If I know the location is known for being noisy I will ask will if we have control of the sound in the area, and for how long. This is important because you don’t want a change in audio during the interview. Plus you want to keep the momentum going once you get started.

Action in the room — Are other people going to be walking in and out? The more control you have in the location, the better your sound will be.

Comfort Level — Does the person have a comfortable chair to sit in? A bottle of water? These things are all important because you want to keep the interview moving at a natural pace.

Conducting the interview

The number one factor that separates an experienced video production company from amateur is how you conduct the interview. More than likely the person you are interviewing is NOT an actor. Expecting someone to give you a well spoken line from a script when they have NEVER done that in their life before is crazy. They won’t be able to recite certain lines in a natural tone. It will sound forced and contrived. Avoid having the subject read off a script at all costs. This will completely ruin your video. Remember the suspension of disbelief?


There is a way on how to get someone to say what you want specifically. More on that later.

A lot of times the people you are interviewing have never been on camera before. They will most likely be nervous and not used to having bright lights shining in their face.

Take a few minutes to help them get comfortable. As your camera operator is getting set up begin talking with the interviewee in a way that would relax them. Ask them what they did this weekend, or what their favorite part about their job is. The key here is to comfort them as well as build rapport. If they drop hints at something that could trigger a certain emotional state, use that later.

Example: During the warm up if someone mentions they spent some time with the family this weekend and had a good time, see if that’s something they will talk more about. During the interview you could ask, “Earlier you mentioned you like spending time with your family. How has this impacted how your run your business?”

As the interview progresses pay attention to their body language and tone. If they aren’t connecting to the questions you are asking, try moving in a different direction.

If someone is really getting into a topic, and you feel like you are getting good sound out of them, guide them with a few questions. A lot of times you can replay what they just said to show them what part you liked, and then ask a follow up question to get another answer out of them.

Interviewee: I just really love showing up each day. I really struggled showing up each day at my previous job, the connection and community just wasn’t there.”

Me: “I hear you on that. A lot of people share that same struggle with having a job they don’t like. What has this transition between going from a job you don’t like, to one that is very fulfilling done for you?”

The difference in tones

There is a difference in tone between conversational tone, reading tone, and live interview tone. If you are having a conversation with the person before they know you are interviewing you will get one tone, once everyone says “camera’s rolling” their tone will shift. Usually it goes from casual to a more deliberate annunciated tone. This is natural human reaction. Most people want to perform well in high pressure situations so their concentration shifts.


Don’t ask your important questions first. Save those for when the interviewee has gotten comfortable.

Changes in tone throughout the interview can actually cause problems if you are trying to cut up sound bytes from the beginning and end. To fix this, you can re-ask questions at the end in a slightly different way.

Example: If the interviewee has drifted off towards the end and lost their tone I will say:

Me: At the beginning of this interview you mentioned your passion for building bikes is what drove you to start this business. After being in business for 5 years what do you think has been the biggest factor in staying successful?”

This will spark the beginning of the interview feeling where she / he was passionately talking about their love for bikes. Energy will rise again and their tone will be closer to how it was at the start.

In all reality, some people just won’t be good on camera either. Plan for this. Don’t rely on just one person to be on camera if they are too nervous to even say their name. I’ve only come across 1 or 2 people who seem like they are having a nervous breakdown, but we were still able to get at least 1 sound byte out of them.

Getting people to read off a script.

I know I have mentioned how much I am against this. However there are certain times where you can make it sound natural.

Usually deeper into the interview when the person is comfortable, they might say a really good line, but stutter over it. Quickly jump in and say, “can you say that one more time?” And the conversation tone won’t change much. The key is catching them right in the act. Immediately step in and have them restate the line. Going back later won’t work.

If you are shooting in a location where the scenery can’t be beat, but there is a loud generator running or cars driving by you might have to re-record the audio in a separate location. This is usually for shorter sound bytes where you just want them to say one or two quick sentences.

The best way to do this is by moving them to a quiet room and get them to practice the lines again a few times. The trick here is to just be running the audio while they are practicing. They will be more relaxed without knowing the audio is recording. You will hear a tone shift in their voice between a practice session and a live record session.

Becoming good at interviews takes time. Learning how to read body language and engage with people past surface level is a skill. That means everyone is capable of doing this and making great video.

Remember, good production starts with good preproduction.

I would love to know your thoughts on this post.
Leave a comment below or Tweet me @creativedoes.
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The War Room - Theaters Aug. 28

Watch the teaser trailer for the new movie from the Kendrick Brothers (Fireproof & Courageous), WAR ROOM, which will be in theaters August 28.


Beyond the Mask: Behind the Scenes

Here is a sneak peek of a “behind the scenes” featurette about the visual effects in Beyond the Mask. This video is a small taste of the bonus features that will be available exclusively on the Beyond the Mask DVD…coming September 8th!