The other night I beheaded a chicken. All, you understand, in the interests of art. And of course no animals were harmed in the process. The chicken was already dead and having enjoyed a full life of freedom and fertility is now immortalised on film.
Phyllis (the chicken) and I have a part in a feature film called Dalriata’s King being made in Scotland by Fellowship Film and due for release in Autumn 2016. It’s a brilliant story set in 9th century Scotland where good and evil forces battle across the land. Amongst the Celts, Picts and Druids a shadowy force is at work and children are being abducted but a rumour is circulating of a king who will rescue them from the darkness and hope begins to rise.
My character, Biddy, has a lot going on. Her daughter is abducted by tree demons, her husband bravely sets off to rescue her and she has her work cut out to persuade the local villagers to fight for the king. I can’t tell you much more – nobody likes a spoiler – so you’ll just have to go and see the movie when it’s released to find out what happens to Biddy and her village. Suffice to say that it’s great to be playing a character of depth and I feel very privileged to have been cast in the role.
And being part of a micro-budget production is causing me to think about the film industry and those who work in it. All of which has also given me pause to reflect on what it looks like when people work together to serve a common vision.
Being part of a cast and crew who are dedicated to telling a great story well with limited resources is one of the most rewarding parts of the actor’s life. Sure, there are plenty of people in the industry who want to achieve personal success and celebrity, and on film projects there can be a fair amount of rivalry and competitiveness but, like the majority of people working in the creative industries, most do it because they want use their talents to serve a bigger story.
On Dalriata’s King, everyone is trying to make the best movie they can, whether their job is to give a great performance in front of the camera, get the lighting and sound correct, create authentic-looking battle scars, look after the child actors well or make a temporary hut in a back garden feel like an authentic 9th century dwelling. The common goal is more important than the egos of the individuals concerned and, when everyone is allowed to play to their strengths, the result is magnificent.
Then there’s the camaraderie. People love watching those ‘behind the scenes’ documentaries that are often included in DVD extras. Partly it’s because the bloopers and mistakes are funny to watch, but I think it’s also because it gives us a glimpse into the feeling of family that develops amongst cast and crew. Working together on a project builds a level of trust and depth of relationship that is unusual in our self-absorbed world. That’s why it can feel like a bereavement when a theatrical project is over.
And finally, there’s the satisfaction of doing something well. So much of what passes for entertainment these days is cheap quality, and so much of life is rushed, so there’s something beautiful about taking the time to do something with skill and care. And, necessity being the mother of invention, there’s a lot of imagination being used to see the possibility beyond the reality. Everyone on the cast and crew is buying into a reality they cannot see, and is committed to helping the audience see it for themselves.
For me, it’s interesting to take these observations and apply them to different situations, either in other artistic contexts, or as missional disciples working together for a different kingdom of light. Many of the ‘given circumstances’ are the same – everyone comes to the project with a different set of skills and experience, rich community is created when everyone is focussed on a goal and the pursuit of excellence sparks the creativity and commitment of the group. All of this reminds me of what the church looks like on a good day.
Now, please don’t misunderstand me. I am not saying that church is just another expression of activity that we do. It’s not the same as making a film, playing in a sports team or going on a trip with friends. Church on a good day is the living, growing, dwelling-place of the Spirit of God (see Ephesians 2:19-22. In fact if you’ve got some time, read the whole book!). If you like, all the good characteristics of a committed film crew are reflections of something even better. Church on a good day is not an event or an experience but an envisioned, gifted, creative, loving body of people infused with the power of the Holy Spirit and focussed on the remarkable love of the Father made real in the death and resurrection of Jesus. When we understand that the same power that raised Jesus from the dead is at work amongst us we are free to accomplish more than we can ask or imagine.
I stumbled across a quote from film-acting legend Uta Hagen the other day:
Thoughts and feelings are suspended in a vacuum unless they instigate and feed the selected actions, and it is the characters’ actions which reveal the character in the play.
She was talking about the actor’s motivation to action on camera – expressing the view that there is no point in feeling an emotion unless it is then used to prompt the physical action of the performer. People understand what a character is thinking or feeling by what they observe them doing. And the job of the actor is to allow physical action to reveal the truth of the character’s inner life.
And again, I think the same applies to God’s people on mission. Thoughts, feelings and experience of God prompt us to action, and our character is revealed to the world by our actions towards it. So, from a place of worship, presence and intimacy with God we are prompted to care and love and build his kingdom. So, our experience of God is not suspended in a vacuum but lived out in our day to day interactions with those around us, hopefully without harm to chickens, and without quite as much mud being applied as on this particular film set!
You can follow the progress of Dalriata’s King on Facebook or by going direct to the website. I’ll also be posting some thoughts and tips on acting for camera at a later date.