Joe Stapp gave me the pleasure of cutting the first trailer for RoP 2: Men Do Hard Things. It’s been a great experience going through the footage they shot in the desert of Nevada, from talented guys like Geno DiMaria, Jon McCallum, and Frank Cheslock. They did a fantastic job capturing the story of a boy becoming a man.
This era is the most well-documented in history. With so many free and convenient means of publishing available, even the most obscure, bizarre, and weak voices have no trouble at least being recorded. It’d be a historian’s dream: access to every heartbeat of a civilization.
But oh, the poor historians who will attempt making sense of it all in a hundred years. How will they know what was important to a culture, when it had millions of worthless bits of data spreading throughout it everyday?
A parent can’t simply enjoy a child’s piano recital; he must also take video of it or pictures. A person won’t simply go out on an adventure or retreat to a quiet place for thinking; he will also share it via social networking. We’re consumers. Instead of doing something because it is good and right and beautiful, we engineer something because we have this faint tracing in our mind of those things which, a few generations back, used to be commonplace (but profound) happenings. Everything’s so very plastic-y nowadays. Actually, to my mind — plastic is a very good example of what I speak of. Things used to be made out of quality materials because that was the best thing to do. Now, in an effort to chase after maximum profit, we make imitations from cheap plastic. And plastic cannot truly replace something built of quality and principle; and so it is in life as well. Manufactured memories — are they truly memories at all?
What’s the reason for this manufacturing epidemic?
Waving Our Own Flags
We’ve abused the potentially useful powers of media and social networking because we all want to wave our own flags — and for as many people as possible to “like,” “RT,” or “+1″ them. We could create meaningful connections, but instead we vie for attention.
As a result, we’ve lost the ability to give and experience both simple and profound moments by seeking to manufacture them. By trying to be heard by the masses, we’ve sacrificed truth, aesthetics, authenticity, and deep relationship on the altars of the popularity gods. By immersing ourselves in the ocean of voices, we’ve isolated ourselves from reality.
There are three attitudes we can take towards the dilemma of media use and abuse surrounding us:
1) Run With It: it’s available to use and not going away. Might as well participate in and consume it rather than be left out to dry — besides, it’s fun, lets you have a voice, and can connect you to hundreds of people.
This is the worst option of the three, and the attitude of the majority.
2) Withdraw or Greatly Limit Participation; there are too many voices already, most of them irrelevant and worthless.
This response is appropriate for some people — many more than actually take this approach. (This has been my attitude sometimes — plus the feeling that since someone else will say it if I don’t, anyway, I might as well crawl into a hole and die unnoticed.)
3) Participate Intentionally. Because of the sea of voices, limit those you pay attention to so connections and relationships remain meaningful. When participating in the culture, focus on contributing things that really matter.
This is the best option for most, but only a small number of people hold this attitude in its pure form.
Instead of waffling between the first two attitudes (easy to do), how more impactful could it be to have a balanced and purposeful attitude toward the modernities that surround us? Certainly that balance would be difficult, but not impossible.
Ultimately, eternity is in mind. Is your voice going to matter in the end? Will you stand before God having nothing to show but a life of self-promotion? Or will your life be well-spent, consumed with bringing a little it of His Kingdom to this world, a little bit of light in the darkness, a small voice of worth in a deafening roar of vanity?
The apostles often engaged culture in the places they were: the Jews in the Synagogues; Greeks in their forums; common people in the streets; travelers on the road. (Ironically, modern popular Christianity has flipped this by trying to bring unbelievers into the Church.) They went to people where they were — but didn’t try to be everywhere at once, reach a certain quantity of people (though they cared about all), or gain followings of adoring fans. They brought light, healing, and truth to their audiences, and received no popularity in return. Instead, the masses taunted, tortured, and killed them.
Our attitude should be the same. Our culture has many meeting places, both real and digital. Not all of us are to embrace going to people in every place, but in the places we do go, we must bring ideas that matter. We need to serve, help, impact — not focusing on the quantity of people we touch, but on the quality of interactions with those in our circles. For some, that means reaching millions. For most, it means reaching only a few.
And that’s okay.
Don’t add your voice to the screaming, flag-waving crowds. Every person in that crowd is waving his own flag and screaming louder than you are. To leave a legacy and deeply impact people, you must do good work that matters and give it to people who care. And to have the time, energy, and mental clarity for this, you must limit the voices in your life to those which are meaningful and deep.
Let’s pull our eyes away from the masses — but not shun them — and focus on the things that really matter, the stuff life’s made of.
A person can have sight, yet be practically blind.
Vision extends beyond sight. It’s not daydreaming. It’s not an emotional hallucination. Vision is the ability to see beyond: to have a grasp on the future through a command of the present.
Let’s unpack that definition and take a look at some ways vision can be built in your life.
“Command of the Present”
I don’t mean “control.” Sure, there are plenty of things you can control right now. But there are a whole lot more things outside your realm of personal control. To contrast, take government, for example. You can’t control what decisions our nation’s leaders make — but you can control the principles you invest in the lives of others around you, and that can lead to better government from the bottom up. You may not be able to stop human trafficking by sheer will-power, but you can choose to protect the vulnerable from it.
So by “command,” I’m talking more about discipline. You might call them “habits,” or “self control.” It’s mastery over self. The person who masters his Self is free from slavery to self, and is able to better direct the choices he makes. The choices you make in this moment affect those you make in the next, leading to either the fulfillment or failure of your vision.
On self-mastery’s flip side is being mastered by God, rightful King over the physical universe. Much of the time He works powerfully without (or in spite of) our help. But in His sovereignty, He gave freedom. Will we give prominence to His voice, or ours?
He’s the One Who said, “Without divine vision, people are unrestrained.” (literal reading of Proverbs 29:18a) It’s easy to see two aspects of vision from this verse: first, it needs to come from God, and second, the opposite of having it is being without discipline or mastery (restraint).
Part of commanding the present is choosing to allow what will and won’t have importance and influence in your life. It’s the process of eliminating distractions: saying “yes” to relationships and ideas and actions that matter, and saying “no” to those which pull you off course even a tiny bit.
“Grasp on the Future”
Is it really possible to have a grip on the future? It’s a valid question.
You can touch the future simply by living, consuming, and leaving a couple children to continue the human race. This is floating.
You can mar the future by pursuing self, being consumed with evil purposes, and seeking to leave a scar on the world. This is infamy.
You can grasp the future by standing for principle, creating, and leaving a legacy through affecting the mindset with which your children live life. This is vision.
Your great-great-uncle who nobody remembers touched the future.
Hitler marred it.
William Booth grasped it.
To walk through life with a Spirit-led vision is to truly grasp the future in a way that says, “This is a principle I stand on; I will live by it so that my ancestors may also stand on it.” It’s being a gatekeeper for future generations.
If you choose to follow Jesus Christ in the radically different way of Life in the Spirit — really live it, in truth and power — how will that change the people you touch, the legacy you leave?
If you have the chance to prevent one child from being enslaved, who knows what might happen?
If you buckle down and discipline yourself to be serious about thinking deep thoughts, then let them change your path, who will your grandchildren know you as?
“Ability to See Beyond”
It’s really easy to get caught up in what you can see right now. There are a million voices clamoring for your attention, as many ways you can amuse yourself, and myriads more you can worry yourself with. Most of those voices don’t matter. The majority of amusements are distractions from real life. And worrying about the future cripples you from being able to do anything about it.
Having the ability to see beyond means that, even while living Now, you’ve got a destination in mind. You’ve chosen your course and go purposefully in that direction.
One example my dad always used was that of plowing fields. Early on in his hobby farming, he learned that as long as he focused on plowing straight lines by watching where his tractor was, the lines were never straight. But when he chose a point at the end of the field and drove towards it, more times than not the line would be straight.
Translated to character, if your goal is to have humility, it never works to try being humble. That’s focusing on the here, the now, the obvious, the supposedly easy. To have humility, you have to learn to esteem others as more important than the all-consuming Me. That’s hard, and requires thinking ahead and self-discipline.
Vision is knowing where you need to be — having an end in mind — and intentionally going for it.
A deep, far-reaching, mature vision isn’t crafted in a week. My vision is still under construction, but it gets clearer as the years go on.
Here are some ways a vision can be developed:
By developing the skill of thinking, you’ll discover a whole world outside your Self. Stop to consider the commonplace. Examine the world views around you. Renew your mind in the Spirit of Holiness. Take time to consider the actions and paths you’re taking as a person.
Walking in the Spirit
If you’re not walking in the Spirit of God, you can still have vision — but it’s not going to extend into the ultimate future: eternity. The goal of a relationship with God isn’t to further your own vision, but that’ll be a natural result of walking with Him. God’s will isn’t found hidden in a fog you have to stumble around in. By spending more time understanding the depths of His eternal will, you’ll better understand how to respond to it with choices to spread His Kingdom.
Part of mastering yourself is being mastered by God.
“We do not win our strength and stability by mastering ideas, but by being mastered by them — held in their grasp…” – Charles Henry Parkhurst
That mastery by someone or something else helps shape your vision. If you understand that God has made life sacred, you’ll have a stronger vision to see an end come to ideas like abortion and depopulation.
Skills and Interests
God has equipped each of us with particular skills and interests. Many of these you gained through associations and environments growing up, but for most you can choose to invest time and effort. Sometimes God moves people to do something completely opposite of their natural bent, but often He uses people as He’s called them.
Similarly to thinking, a study of the world around you yields analogies and insights to help you gain or focus vision in life. Study of the Word of God brings clarity to your worldview. Study of people’s behavior helps you understand how we work. To examine details of things takes time, effort, and often much self-discipline.
For some people, picking up a skill comes naturally at first. But it’s often harder to stick with something. I’m that kind of person; if I can’t naturally do something well after a while, I tend to discourage myself from continuing to try. It’s helpful to find mentors or other ways of learning: books, classes, people who can answer questions.
Vision is inherently risky. I can’t see the future, so why try to grasp it through mastery over the way I choose to live? Plus, having vision to stick to may (and probably will) mean missing out on personal comfort or gain. Small risks are stepping stones to large risks. If you overcome the fear of small risks, you’re prepared to overcome large risks — and make lasting change.
Focusing Your Vision
All of the above ways can fit together to focus your vision; the way you think about and interact with the world will affect your actions. It’s been said that if we say we believe something, but it doesn’t change how we live, we don’t really believe it.
It’s easy to lose focus on what’s important, letting your attention be sidetracked to what’s flashy and excitingly unimportant in the world. Honestly, I’d rather sit around on computer games all day than have a meaningful, risky, and (probably) uncomfortable life. That’s why I don’t allow myself to play them.
When I lose my vision is when I am most prone to discouragement, paralyzation, rotten attitudes, and sin. Both my wife and I know this too well. In a way, I perish a little. And when God renews vision, it’s a fresh breath of life.
Vision is far too important to pass up. It’s scary, absolutely, and that’s why we don’t see much of it in our culture and times today. That’s also why we don’t see many modern day Wilberforces, Muellers, Nees, Alywards, Pauls…
“We shall have all eternity in which to celebrate our victories, but we have only one swift hour before the sunset in which to win them.” – Robert Moffat
“The trouble with people, nine out of ten of them, is that they stand on insulators and watch the play of lightning through drawn shutters, and never stand out and let the electric storm play in their own bosoms.” – Charles Henry Parkhurst
Fellow disciples: let’s become a body with vision again. I need it as much as you do.
New short film! The Block One Studios and Stembridge Mill logos are together for the first time in quite a while! (To watch bigger, follow the link after the video embed)
A boy wants to write a letter to his dad, but can’t figure out what to say…
While in South Carolina after Thanksgiving last month, Geno DiMaria and I decided to make a short film. Here’s how it happened.
Monday was Dominic’s day off from the Apple Store, so he and Geno and I headed to downtown Charleston to walk around. We went to a little coffee shop called Kudu and brainstormed together on a couple short films. The first of these ideas was about a boy who couldn’t find words to write in a letter, so he draws a picture instead. Our inspiration? Geno’s brother John has been really getting into drawing lately (he’s got an eye for it, too).
The next day, we shot. It took probably 3 or 4 hours total (I think), and was a really fun collaborative effort between us. He had been wanting to use some lights he’d gotten a while back, experimenting with using colored tissue paper in lieu of gels. My 750W Lowel Tota was our sun outside the window. We swapped off slider work, holding tripods steady, ideas for shots. It really was a journey of creativity, too — we didn’t have a written script per se, but knew how we wanted the story to begin, progress, and end. Similarly, post-production was fairly collaborative — even though I did the editing, Geno and I kept a flurry of emails going as I uploaded rough cuts and he gave feedback on them.
And that’s how it happened. Hope you enjoy!
In May of 2011, I was part of a team of men who went to Mare Rouge, Haiti on a mission trip. We were there to work at a school for orphaned boys, doing construction projects, discipleship, and to be an encouragement to our Haitian brothers in Christ. This video is the story of our experience.
There’s so much I wish I had done differently or paid more attention to while capturing the footage during our mission trip. But I do believe it’s good that the story of Human Care School for Orphan Boys in Haiti is finally being told.
To learn more about what Heart of the Bride is doing in Haiti, check out their website.
*GASP* What did I just say???
Okay, quick disclaimer: I like HD. There’s nothing like being able to watch a video in high quality filling the whole 24 inches of my iMac screen. And the color definition… Yep, I’m looking forward to the day when I can afford to switch from Standard Definition to High Def (Red, anyone?).
However, I don’t hate SD. HD can be so overrated, in my opinion — there’s nothing magical about it at all. An HD camera + bad camera operator + bad editor + bad color grading = bad 1920×1080 video. The only difference between that and SD is 1,728,000 effective square pixels. And that’s only from a technical standpoint.
HD doesn’t automatically make weak acting or story stronger. My desire is to learn how to tell a great story (which includes knowing how to operate a camera well, edit well, grade color well) with whatever equipment I have. Not that technical aspects aren’t important, of course.
But this is why I think HD can be way overrated: storytelling should be more of a priority than the technical equipment with which it’s being told.
Let’s face it — the reality is, the good guys don’t always win (though we who are Christians know that ultimately, the good guys do win). Such as it is, the stories we write won’t always have happy endings (at least, not in the timeframe of the story itself). But before we can charge into writing that tear-jerking ending, it’s always a good thing to keep in mind that there’s a right and a wrong way to do it.
I don’t consider myself to be an expert writer. However, I can think of two great examples that can be examined in order to see how to treat this kind of resolution. Let’s examine Zulu Dawn versus Valkyrie.
Zulu Dawn tells the story of the British invasion of Zululand. The Zulus win in the end.
Valkyrie tells the story of the last Hitler assassination attempt, led by Oberst Claus von Stauffenburg. If you’ve studied history, you already know that the bad guys won — Hitler was never assassinated.
There’s a huge difference between these two films, even though they both have the same kind of resolution. Zulu Dawn was a flop, while Valkyrie was a box-office success. Why?
It’s a fact that audiences want good guys to win. No matter how much “art” is put out by modernists who think bad needs to triumph for a story to be creative, the vast majority of audiences want good to win. When evil triumphs and gets away with it, it’s going against the grain of the way people’s minds work.
Zulu Dawn isn’t a movie I recommend seeing. There’s a reason audiences didn’t like it! In the story, there were two sides: the British, and the Zulus. The plot, of course, was that the British were invading. The problem, however, is that there were mixed messages in the story. The British were sometimes portrayed as the good guys, and at other times as oppressive imperialists. The Zulus were sometimes portrayed as the objects of that oppressive imperialism, and at other times as brutal savages.
In other words, there was never a clearly defined “good guy.” Audiences ended up not liking either side. The British: they are shown as a civilized camp; then mercilessly killing Zulu scouts; then triumphantly setting up in Zululand; then making stupid mistakes; then courageously standing against the massive Zulu forces; then being brutally slaughtered by them; and finally at the end of the film, bravely saving the Union Jack from being captured by Zulus. The Zulus: they’re shown as primitive savages; then as being oppressed by invaders; then mercilessly slaughtering the defeated British without preference, wounded and unwounded alike.
The film leaves the viewer with a bad taste in his mouth, confused, depressed. It’s a sad movie, but in a stomach-wrenching kind of way. Yes, it’s what actually happened, but perhaps this historical event might have been better not being made into a movie.
Valkyrie, on the other hand, clearly defines the good guys and bad guys. World War Two’s Nazi regime is widely known — we didn’t have to be told that they’re the bad guys. von Stauffenburg is quickly set up as the good guy and hero, he having strong feelings against the evil that the Nazis are working — even though he’s one of their own.
From the beginning of the film, the audience knows he’s going to lose. However, the storytelling makes viewers sit on the edge of their seats, fully identifying with the German resistance, hoping that somehow the story will turn out different than how they know it will actually end.
I’ve watched Valkyrie twice, yet the suspense never goes away. The viewer feels the excitement of every assassination plot, the disappointment when the first two fail, the adrenaline of the resistance movement when Operation Walküre is put into place after the bombing of Hitler’s planning session. And when Berlin begins to fall back out of the grasp of von Stauffenburg and his conspirators, the helplessness is felt. The resistance movements are the heros to the very end, literally to their deaths.
Every hero dies in Valkyrie. Unlike Zulu Dawn, however, the viewer comes away with a sense of respect for them, an appreciation of their sacrifice even through the failure.
The lesson that can be learned from these films is:
• Good and evil needs to be clearly defined.
• Heros must be able to be identified with and likable, though flawed.
• When bad guys win, an audience needs to know that the good guys were still the ones who were right, beyond a shadow of a doubt.
Lately when we’ve watched a movie, I’ve been paying particular attention to story structure. This is probably due to my focusing on screenwriting and how to construct a great story, which I’ve found to be quite fascinating. It’s something that, through learning and practicing, I feel like I’m getting a bit better at it, though I still have a long road of learning ahead of me…. I still need years and decades of learning and experience!
We watched the well-known film Mr. Smith Goes to Washington last Friday night, so I decided that I would chart the Story Structure on a Paradigm. I’ve already done this with a couple of films (the Toy Story movies, to be exact), but only within the context of three acts. There’s a whole lot more to the Three-Act Story Structure than I had thought about three or four months ago. Hence, I used Syd Field’s Paradigm method of structure, which goes into the smaller details of the three-act structure.
Mr. Smith Goes to Washington: the Story Structure
The setup: Congressman dies and a new one is needed; inklings of the sinister “Machine,” Jefferson Smith’s introduction and character development as a normal U.S. citizen who loves his country and fellow citizens.
Plot Point I: Jeff Smith reveals his desire to build a boy’s camp in his state.
Dramatic Context (first half of Act II): Smith starts his Senate job, begins working.
Pinch I: Run in with the press, discussion about Truth.
Midpoint: Smith proposes his bill (for the building of the camp) in the senate.
Dramatic Context (second half of Act II): The Machine (political corruption vs. truth)
Pinch II: Paine’s pushing Smith to compromise truth, attacks Smith’s character.
Plot Point II: Smith is accused of corruption, deceit, etc., by Paine and the Machine.
Dramatic Context: The last battle for truth
Resolution: Paine confesses to corruption, Smith wins the victory.
So that, in a nutshell, is the story structure of the film. What do you think? I might be wrong about my identification of some of the elements (I’m not totally sure about the two Pinches in Act II…); feel free to discuss this in the comment section below!
As far as some of the other elements of the story goes:
Protagonists: Jeff Smith, Clarissa Saunders
Antagonists: The Machine, the Press, Senator Paine
Jeff Smith stands strong in his principles, Senator Paine finally changes in the last five minutes, Clarissa Saunders changes from helping the Machine in the first half (up until the midpoint of Act II) to helping Smith in the last half, some of the Press changes, the Machine never changes (it remains corrupt and evil).
The MacGuffin: Smith’s Senate Bill
Pretty interesting stuff, isn’t it?
The other night whilst my dear mother was enjoying some sort of “Snowman Party,” us guys (Dad, Tyler, an I) were at home (boys night in!). I was elated that a couple XLR cables had arrived that day, and after doing a test with my shotgun mic (which, before this, I had been unable to use due to my lack of a cable) which went extremely well, Tyler suggested that we do a “Toy Story” marathon. That means watching Toy Story and Toy Story 2 back to back.
Though I wasn’t particularly excited at the chance to sit in front of a TV for four hours doing practically nothing, I did. But just before we started, I had an idea.
So I got my trusty pad of paper and a pen, and sat poised and ready to write as the first movie began.
Instead of a wasted four hours, it was perhaps a little beneficial, as I was learning about story structure by taking notes (and watching camera moves… BTW, did you ever notice that there’s absolutely no depth-of-field in the first movie, except for where there’s a matte painting behind the 3D animation?) on it.
I thought that I would share my findings with you. So here they are:
— Inciting Event — “Bank Robbery” introduces the setting, main toys (characters), Andy, Andy’s room.
— Introduction of Settings
Toy Story 2
NOTE: It’s kinda hard to tell whether or not this movie is in a standard 3-act story structure, or a 5-act. The conflict is different from that which is in the first movie, and there are several “false fronts” that lead into the actual plot. For the sake of simplicity and not exploding or imploding my own brain, I’ve organized this into the 3-act story structure.
Inciting incident (supposed)– Buzz in space, actually a video game
Setup for plot:
Inciting event (actual) — Woody is stolen (leads into the actual plot)
And now for a few thoughts on the McGuffins from each movie. If you don’t know what a McGuffin is, read about it here.
Toy Story’s McGuffin
What’s the first movie’s McGuffin? I believe that it’s RC. Yep, the little remote control car. Why?
1) RC is used to enter the main plot in Act II with Woody’s conspiracy
2) RC brings everyone back together again at the resolution (well, except for Mr. Potato Head, who ends up being spread all over the floor of the moving truck by RC)
Toy Story 2’s McGuffin
Woody. He’s the second movie’s McGuffin, at least, that’s what I think. Perhaps I’m wrong (the video game element could be it, but I tend to think of this element as a secondary McGuffin that simply helps the plot along a bit).
But think about it: Woody is what’s stolen (and thus brings in the plot), he’s the one who is crucial to the Roundup Gang (without him, they go back into storage), and he’s crucial to the Andy’s Room toys as well (in their rescue operation, which is the main plot).
Woody brings all the characters together (except for the second Buzz and Zurg; I tend to think that the video game element is a whole different side-story), tears them apart (not literally; only in that the Rounup Gang’s hopes and dreams are torn between Woody’s desire for Andy, and to keep the Gang together), and finally brings the movie to it’s climactic resolution (he rescues Jessie).
So those are my thoughts on the movies. What do you think?
I’ll also say that, for some reason (perhaps it being simply because it’s been so long since I’ve watched them, or perhaps because the Lord opened my eyes to it), there seemed to be a hint of mockery going on at Christianity. It was extremely subtle (and perhaps I’m wrong, don’t take my word for it), but I could see it there. Maybe I’m wrong. I’d have to watch it again and specifically take notes for that (I can’t remember exactly what the elements where at the moment)… So I’ll just leave it at that.
So anyways, I feel like I learned a little bit from charting the story structure!