| Steps Toward a Quaker Media Practice
Part 3: Prouction And Postproduction
by Pamela Calvert
This article is the third installment of four based on the author's thesis presentedProduction
at the Pacific School Of Religion.
"Stand up in a calm and quiet frame of mind, as free as possible from either a fear or care how thee shall come off; but follow thy guide in all circumspection and humility, beginning, going on, and concluding in thy gift."
Samuel Bownas, 1767 
The time you have invested in preparation for ministry and the discernment of your leading will inevitably determine the nature of your production. Your commitment to remaining true to the Light Within, and your relationships to your meeting, to your subject, and to your cast and crew will be set before the first frame is shot. Every subsequent decision will be a logical outgrowth of what has gone before. Once you are in the maelstrom of production, you will be under acute pressure to cut corners, to make snap decisions, to take the path of least resistance or ride roughshod over obstacles. How you will respond to that pressure, how you set your priorities, should be your central concern.
In supporting your leading through offering their work, your production cast and crew de facto become part of a covenant community, and this should be reflected in the daily life of the shoot. "Friends preach their experience that Christ has come among them already, and that therefore the Kingdom of God is a present fact and all Christians are called to live as Kingdom people now, in the present moment." While good order is necessary on the set, decisions should be made with true pastoral care for those who will be directly affected; prayerful waiting is never "wasted time" if there is no clear way forward. If the greater number of production principals are Friends, then worshipful unity should govern all decision-making. Friends are advised to exercise careful stewardship of the vast resources consumed in production- financial, material, and human. Every choice, from lighting to craft service to trash disposal, should be made with an eye to simplicity. If you are working on someone else's production, many of these decisions may not be your prerogative, but you will still find ample opportunities to exercise ministry and witness.
Just as a meeting clerk must set aside her own willful opinions and listen carefully in discerning a "sense of the meeting," so must a minister listen to the community in producing a work of media. Each person carries a piece of the Truth; their voices combine in communion to create the "gathered meeting" that will be the finished production. If you come to a shoot with your mind already made up, all you will hear is your own voice echoing back to you. Your role is to be a tender, faithful presence, asking "what canst thou say" of each person you record, seeking the voice of God speaking through creation. "[George] Stoney claims he knew almost right from the beginning of his filmmaking career that other people could have made a better film than he except they didn't have the same ability to listen. He paid attention, and if someone was uncomfortable, he changed things. If a farmer didn't want to be filmed barefoot, even if his feet were never going to be in the shot, Stoney waited until the man put on his shoes."
Led by the
Spirit, Friends will inevitably find themselves drawn to document
"the ocean of darkness and death" as well as "the ocean
of light and love."
Finding oneself in conditions of acute poverty, suffering and hostility
will bring the minister face to face with challenges shared by all
committed filmmakers. Cultural critic Susan Sontag observes:
of the "horror" of realizing "how plausible it has become, in
situations where the photographer has the choice between a photograph
and a life, to choose the photograph."
A Friends minister must be prepared to be faced with the same choice
in many settings. "Choosing the photograph" is neither inevitable,
universal, nor necessarily advisable. With as sure a force as that
which moves one to rise to speak in ministry, one may be moved to
put down the camera and choose the life. Ministers are not called
to be dispassionate, "objective" recording machines. Shooting in
Harlan County, Kentucky, during a bloody mining strike, Barbara
The view, expressed even by career documentarians, that media making can be most important as a vehicle for interactions and change, is also shared by Julia Reichert and James Klein: "I don't think we identify ourselves as filmmakers who have political ideas. We are political people, political activists who are trying to use film in a way that will make changes in society. We have a lot of respect for the film medium, for our craft ... but the most important thing is doing work that helps bring about change." All the more, then, Friends ministers will not be a "filmmakers who have religious ideas," but faith-led people, using film in a way that will witness to the Kingdom, already here among us. If any given film "never comes out of it," it is of infinitely less import than the life lived in faithfulness to the Truth.Post-Production
"Here it is one must not think thy own thoughts, nor speak thy own words, which indeed is the silence of the holy cross, but be sequestered from all the confused imaginations,
that are apt to throng and press upon the mind."
A mass of unedited footage can at first seem rather like the jumble of thoughts as one centers down into worship. Visual and sound elements can be manipulated in an infinite number of ways, to an infinite number of ends. It can often take time for a clear and unified "message" to emerge. The minister will take great care to discern that message in an attitude of prayerful humility. Is it your voice, or God's, that will speak? If you decide you must use voiceover narration-known in the field as the "voice of God," which ought to be a warning in itself-whose voice will you choose to carry that weight, and how will you balance that authority with those who speak from direct experience? The world has seen a plenitude of media speaking with univocal, ego-based truth-claims. In prophetic media, as in life, the Voice of God speaks through community.
Who is your
audience? You will already know this from your discernment in pre-production.
As you edit the work, greet "that of God" in them, seeking to bring
them to their Inward Teachers, in a process that Paul Lacey identifies
as "leading in and drawing out... working with what is inherently
there and giving it nourishment."
Friends have always believed that the simple Truth stands on its
own, needing "no firecrackers or cannon"
; as Bauman notes:
You must respect your audience in order to greet that of God in them. Whether you intend for your work to be seen by the occupant of the White House or migrant farm workers, you must abjure self-righteous lecturing, paternalistic condescension, "talking down" to your audience in any way. Do not batter them with data and "sensory overload," but build in time for quiet reflection. Address your viewers in the same spirit of joy and truth with which you have undertaken this leading, calling upon them to respond as children of God. Leave the activist impulse aside and trust in the Truth of the story. "The political statement is weighed in the balance of human motivation and has its effect; the prophetic word can move mountains."
Spirit-led media will be the bearer of light, no matter how dark the conditions depicted. Media work that only fixates on the darkness leaves the viewer deadened and powerless, suffering from "compassion fatigue." To bring light into the darkness requires neither a pedantic and prescriptive approach, nor putting a theologically facile "happy face" on conditions of suffering and violence. It requires only that you reveal the measure of Truth you have found, leading the viewer into an understanding of how the social order may always be brought nearer to gospel order. David Sutherland's documentary The Farmer's Wife was the first media depiction of the two-decades-long farm crisis that did not climax with the auction of the family farm; Kirsten Tretbar's film Zenith shows a tiny Kansas community finding redemption and unity in the midst of economic ruin through the performance of the Great Plains Passion Play. Both films show the absolute devastation of rural America, but both are suffused with light. When The Farmer's Wife aired on PBS in 1998, more than 50,000 viewers were moved to write letters and emails, witnessing to the multitude of ways they had been transformed.
As you continue in the discernment process of finding the "voice" of your work, remember to involve your multiple communities of accountability, particularly the people whose lives are reflected on screen, as well as the representatives of your intended audience. You have absolutely no license to put a subject in danger in the interest of serving a "greater good," and it is the subject's prerogative to decide what constitutes "danger." Securing a signed release at the time of shooting is legal protection for you, not pastoral care for your subjects. Hold invitational rough-cut and fine-cut screenings, listen to the reflections of the participants, allow them to "own" your work. In commercial media, this practice is debased into "focus groups" which pander to the lowest common denominator of audience response. In documentary and journalism, many think relinquishing absolute power over the edit threatens the "objectivity" or "authorial voice" of the producer/director. For Friends, it is simply submitting your leading to the discernment of your community. It is not "your" work or "your" voice which you need to protect; that which is speaking through the work will only become more evident if you seek clearness with your elders and overseers.
When a Friend
is moved by the Spirit to offer vocal ministry in worship, the message
may speak in unpredictable ways to another person. You cannot know,
finally, all the ways people may be moved by your work. Producer
Tom Weidlinger has called this "stepping out into unmapped territory,
learning things you didn't know yesterday, and making statements
in word and deed that (however well considered) only become fully
real and existent once they are out, and said, and done."
Lloyd Lee Wilson, a recorded minister in North Carolina Yearly Meeting
(Conservative), offers this advice which Friends working in media
may freely apply to their own ministry:
Part 2: Discernment of Calling & Preproduction
Part 4: Distribution & Media Literacy For Friends
Calvert is an itinerant televangelist currently studying media
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