Sunday, August 30, 2009

How Am I Feeling? Glad you asked...

I arrived home a few minutes before 5:00 a.m. yesterday morning knowing that Hitting the Nuts was in the can. I have two hard drives each containing 20-30 hours of raw footage that will become a 90 minute movie. I head back to work at VCC on Wednesday thanks to Dave forcing me to take an extra day off on Tuesday before returning. The hours until then will be the creative equivalent of a decompression chamber. I'd hate to get the bends.

The last three weeks clipped along faster than any other time in my life. Six day work weeks ranging from 12-18 hour working days morphed into one marathonic (yeah, just made that word up) adventure. The last thing I remember it was August 8th. Now it's nearly September.

People are asking how I feel. And I suppose that this post is in part an answer to that question.

I'd love to start with happy or excited, but I mainly feel tired. I've slept a lot over the last 36 hours and plan on more of the same in the days to come. The next feeling to register is relief. That may also seem a little odd. Perhaps it is a personality trait more than anything else, but I feel like four years of internal and external pressure has lifted. I feel somehow lighter and younger. The project is not completed, but now I know it will be. I hated having to answer for why it took so long to begin shooting to all those who would ask me over the years. It was a complicated story that I never enjoyed retelling.

Moving past exhaustion and relief I find a spirit of gratitude in my heart. I wrote in my previous post about the gratitude I have for my cast and crew, but there is also a huge feeling of gratitude directed toward God, my wife, friends, and church. I feel "lucky" if that is the right word, to have had their blessing to pursue this endeavor. Even if I never have the opportunity again, I have now done what lots of other people desperately want to do. I wrote, directed and produced a feature film. It is a blessing to be able to say that. I'm grateful for my own path and story that allows a pastor to make a mainstream comedy movie. I'm a man of complicated, some might say competing, desires and abilities. To see several realized at once is a great blessing.

Pressing even more inwardly, I realize that I feel a communion with God that I did not expect. Our film set, in my opinion, was a spiritual place. Heaven met earth time and time again. I heard the same speech from virtually everyone who came into town to make the movie. It went something like this: "I've never been on a set where people got along this well and supported each other and seemed to genuinely love each other. It was unlike anything else I have ever done." I heard that no less than ten times. Like I said earlier this month in this blog, this movie isn't a "Christian" movie. It's a regular old PG-13 American comedy. But when Kingdom people gather, heaven happens. It oozes even on those who have no words to describe it. The Kingdom came this month in Cincinnati.

I personally saw a glimpse of the afterlife on set. I don't want to freak anyone out by getting in too deeply here, but I had a faith breakthrough. For three weeks every time I turned around I saw the eyes of someone I loved. And I saw them loving one another. Because I was the one who pulled them together it was as if my personal story came to life in front of my eyes. It felt like eternity. So many friends from so many seasons of my life in one time and place. My wife and kids, my parents, Deb's family, my old friends Jim Nyberg and Jeremiah Smith from Las Vegas, improv playmates, friends from LA and Orange County and New York and Columbus and on and on...and all of them wrapped up in a blanket of the true community that I have been engrafted into over the last two years at VCC. Add in the countless faces I did not recognize a month ago who are now genuine friends and I nearly overdosed on love. It is impossible to explain with words. I only hope that each of you can find some excuse to get all of you friends in the same zip code for three weeks. It's life altering.

The entire process did leave me with a touch of sadness. So many people I love got on an airplane and left me. Who knows, really, if I will see them much more in this life. I have nearly dismissed the afterlife theologically speaking for the past decade. Not that I didn't believe in it, just that i didn't see the big deal. I have always felt like we Christians tend to overlook the present availability of heaven while focusing on the heaven to follow death. (I still think this is a big mistake on our part.) But this movie - an otherwise pointless poker comedy - taught me that the afterlife matters. I have tasted what it could be like and it is good. Relationship is eternal.

P.S. - if you are a distributor stumbling upon my blog, by "otherwise pointless poker comedy" I mean the funniest and most marketable indie comedy to be released in 2010. Call me.

Saturday, August 22, 2009


I must say "thank you" 1,000 times a day during the shoot. The last four days of the Hitting the Nuts shoot have been especially difficult. We found a great location for our poker scenes...the only problem was the lack of air conditioning. Despite our best efforts of bringing in AC units and fans, the temperature averaged 85 degrees during the shoot. To make matters worse we lost power for a while yesterday and had a few extra technical difficulties resulting in a 16-hour day. I had told everyone at the beginning to expect 12 hour days...12 hours is hard. 16 is brutal. Especially in the heat.

As I watched my cast and crew (my friends) sweat and work for my project yesterday I grew more and more grateful for them. Not just grateful that they would continue working, but deeply thankful for their dedication to me and the common goal. I kept walking from person to person thanking them. I didn't know what else to do. Many of them thanked me in return. It was an exercise in humility for me. What have I done to deserve such an amazing network of friends? Who am I to be served in this way?

Being a director and producer on a bigger project can easily go to your head. People are constantly doing nice things for me on set. Positional leadership is a rather odd thing. I don't like it much. It feels undeserved. I'm trying my best to lead everyone on the team as I would want to be lead. It's a massive task, but I think yesterday showed me some of the dividends.

We have one more full week of shooting. That sounds like a lot and not much at all. I will be very happy and sad when it is all over.

P.S. Listen to my NPR radio interview about Nuts by clicking here.

Saturday, August 15, 2009

Production Stills from HTN

Five of Five Hundred photos from the first four days of shooting...

Lots more photos on the official HTN fansite on facebook: Click Here.

Monday, August 10, 2009

CIncinnati Enquirer Article

John Johnston did a nice piece on HItting the Nuts for paper this morning to coincide with day one of the shoot. Check it out here.

First call is noon today in Sharonville.

Friday, August 07, 2009

It's not (all) about making a movie

This is it. I'm officially on vacation from The Vineyard and all about making Hitting the Nuts for the next 22 days or so. We start shooting Monday, but there's still a ton to do before then.

People have more or less been asking me why I am doing this. Why spend your summer vacation making a movie? There are lots of answers to that, but I figured I'd let you know some of the biggies:

1. Stories (and storytelling) matter. Ultimately telling stories change people in a myriad of ways. Not all stories that are told have to have a world changing agenda. Just the act of telling a story changes people. Stories make us think. I get to tell stories in many different ways - I'm a teacher and a writer. Making a movie is just anther way to tell a story. I think it may also be the most communal and collaborative form of storytelling in human history.

2. This movie is funny. A huge part of my background is rooted in improvisational comedy. I have blogged about this many times before. Improv gave me some hooks to hang onto at a time in my life when I was desperate for real joy. Improv taught me to play like a kid again...and now I get to make an improv movie and play with my friends for three weeks. In that respect this is my version of the Harley trip across the country or the golf vacation to St. Andrews or visiting every major league ballpark in three weeks. It's what I love to do...this is the dream vacation.

3. It is a matter of personal integrity. I wrote this script four years ago, stood up in a few investor meetings and told my early investors that I would make them a good movie. Many people both believed in me and believed me when I told them that. They expected a movie. It took a few years longer than I wanted, but now I get to deliver on those promises I made. I could have easily told them that it just didn't work out. Sometimes I wanted to give up. But that is not who I am. To be true to me, I had to finish this thing. And so there's that part.

4. It's a faith thing. This might be the hardest reason for some people to figure out. How does a mainstream PG-13ish poker-related comedy relate to my faith? It's not a Christian movie. It's just a movie movie. Well, that's exactly how it relates to my faith. One of the most frustrating things to me is when Christians only do "Christian" (read "nice, safe or ultra-moralistic") things. That attitude, in my opinion, is quite antithetical to the radical example of Jesus and his earliest followers. If we are really the ones holding the keys of redemption to the world we ought to be living in the real world - making real art, starting real businesses, working along side real people. We ought to find ways to create beauty (or comedy) as a witness to the Creator. If the economy turns south, we ought to find ways to provide real work for people in the real world. These should be the things that we are known for. I'm not against Christian themed movies. My next project after this one is more or less that. But I am also for Christians doing art and business that is simply good art and good business.

Those are the biggies...but there is one more unexpected side effect to all of this movie making madness. I didn't see it coming, but I would add it as #5:

5. Collaborating with others in the city. Most people in my life on a daily basis are part of VCC, my church. I have met more non-VCC people in the last two weeks in Cincinnati than in the entire two years I have lived here. Some of them are becoming friends. Just finding locations has allowed me to become friends with JC and Lynwood Battle. They have an amazingly progressive funeral home in Avondale called JC Battle and Sons. The stuff they do is amazing. They have a dream for their community to change and for people to see their business as a place to belong. Then there is Glenn from Phat Man's Dairy Bar on Route 4 near By-pass 4. He's a good guy who is gonna let us film there one day. Same with Bill over at the Athenian diner on Reading Road in Sharonville. He's so excited to open up his place. I could go on and on...I feel like I have the city covered now. If I am in Milford or Cleves or Western Hills or Hamilton I have friends I can drop in on. This whole project in some strange way is making me feel like a real Cincinnatian for the first time.

And I haven't talked about the amazing Amish family near Friendship, Indiana who opened up their home to us yesterday. They gave us fresh pie and coffee. They taught me how to drive the buggy. They taught my kids how to ride a pony. They listened to the plot of my ridiculous movie and laughed...then they offered their barn to shoot in and literally gave us the clothes off their back so that our actor kids can look like real Amish kids. I am simply not the kind of guy who is going to visit an Amish farm or an inner city funeral parlor unless I'm producing this movie. It's not (all) about making a movie. It is also about all the other...possibly along the way.

T-minus 58 hours until the first call of "action." With all that is about to go down I may be tweeting more than blogging over the next month. Follow me on twitter if you want to hear how it goes.

Tuesday, August 04, 2009

Monday, August 03, 2009

Don't kick the dog...and other lessons

Less that one week from principal photography on Hitting the Nuts. Rocking the Amish beard now. And returning about a bazillion emails an hour. Pre-production on a feature film is wonderfully chaotic. I'm one of those people who loves it when life comes at you so fast all you can do is react. I always thought that would be the best part of being President. It was my favorite part of The West Wing anyway.

That said, I hate it when I get stressed out with work and start to get frustrated or lose my temper with other people. (Usually those I love most - my wife, kids and dog...especially the dog. Not that I especially love the dog, but that I especially get angry with the dog. You probably knew what I meant though. I digress.) You'd think approaching my thirtieth year as a Jesus-follower I'd have that figured out by now. The reality is that when I get really busy and overwhelmed I start to change back into the immature guy I used to be. I hate that. My prayer is that I can excel as a project leader through this production while maintaining a gentle and calm spirit. That's the person I want to be...this will be a good test.

Beyond any stressors or character flaws, I'm having a blast. This is gonna be quite a ride...