Letting Go — A Parallel Lesson For Filmmaking And Faith

Making The Jeff Kirwan Testimonial Film Was a Reminder to ‘Love The Message’

I’ve worked on a lot of rewarding projects lately, but in December I worked on one that I think will stick with me for quite a while. It was both rewarding and growth experience. WARNING: I get a little self-revealing in this post — no inappropriate photos involved. 🙂

As a volunteer member of the Shawnee Alliance Church video team, I was asked to take lead on production of a video testimonial to be shown at our Christmas Eve service. Our interview subject was Jeff Kirwan, an older gentleman with a strong and deep relationship with Jesus Christ. I was excited about the project. As a crew, we had a good plan and we knew what we wanted to achieve.

In the end, we produced a beautiful video with a powerful message about Christ’s love and how Christ worked in Jeff’s life to transform his understanding of salvation and transformed his relationship with Christ and others. But, for me, as the editor, getting from the original interview and b-roll footage I shot to the final product was a difficult and tumultuous journey.

Failure Seems Imminent

After the interview shoot, when I got to the editing bay and reviewed our footage, I found that most of the interview content was repetitive and circular and it was very difficult to find a core message – or even several distinct messages. This is no slam on Jeff. Many people, including myself, have difficulty getting things out precisely the way they mean to when in front of a camera. When on-site, I and the other team members thought we had all our bases covered. (Eventually, we were proved correct, btw.) Additionally, much of the b-roll footage, which I filmed outdoors late in the day, was too dim to be of use and there was too little of it because of limited time between the interview and sundown.

RIGHT: Some of the original b-roll footage came out dim and grainy due to failing light and a time crunch. We were also working with different gear than originally planned for the b-roll. 

None of these issues were particularly unique to this type of project and I’d love to say that I took them in stride with a great attitude and whistled while I worked until the job was done. Alas, it isn’t so. And that’s why this project will be so memorable for it. It was a growing experience for me – both as a filmmaker and as a follower of Christ. 

I’m good at telling people’s stories. I’ve been doing it for more than 20 years, first as a journalist, then as a freelance writer, and now as a filmmaker. And I enjoy doing it. I enjoy helping people find the words and pictures to tell their stories and share them with others in a way that helps enrich people’s lives. 

But I couldn’t find Jeff’s story in that 40 minutes of interview footage. There were a couple of anecdotes and some good phrases, but in the way it all came out, there didn’t seem to be an underlying message or story. It was frustrating – really, really frustrating. Usually, when I get that frustrated during a project, it’s because the editing software just crashed or the special effects software won’t do what I think it should do. But this was different: this was about ME. This was something I couldn’t do. I thought it was about the interview, but it was really about me. 

The Voice Of Clarity

Somewhere in all that frustration, that little voice in my head got itself heard — you know the voice, or I hope you do. It said, “That’s not Jeff’s message you’re looking for. It’s MY message and it’s in there. Love it. Listen for it.”

I realized I was approaching it wrong. This was not a commercial project. This was not a showpiece for MY resume. This was a showpiece for Christ’s resume. I began approaching the project with a new perspective. I was no longer searching for the message but allowing the message to be revealed. Actually, it was the perfect mirror for what Jeff was saying, that he learned that he didn’t have to “do” anything to get into heaven because Christ already did it. He just needed to live as Christ guided him to.

And that’s pretty much how things went with the video. Instead of searching for pieces that went together or a particular order to put things in, I started removing things. I removed repetitive parts. I removed parts that seemed to NOT belong. The more I removed, the more a clear story emerged and the more succinct the message became. 
As the story became clear, so did the need to reshoot b-roll. Not only did we need more and better, but knowing where the story was going defined just what type of shots we needed for the b-roll. I scheduled the reshoot with Jeff, we got it done, and the film came out great. 

LEFT: With better more time and better light, capturing great b-roll for Jeff’s story went without a hitch.

Loving The Story

Jeff Kirwan’s testimony is a great reminder that God loves us all so much that He removed the barrier of us having to do anything other than belief on His Son in order to have eternal life. Likewise, this film project was a great reminder to me that the reason I love telling people’s stories, is not to show how good I am at, but because those stories have a great message that needs to be shared. Telling a great story comes from loving the story, not loving the work. 

Do you have a story to tell? I’d love to help you tell it. Give me a call and let’s talk: 419-905-0324.