Thursday, July 21, 2011

The LORD is gracious and compassionate...

I recently was assigned to work on a project for World Assembly, which is a conference for student ministry leaders, taking place July 26-August 3. It is sponsored by IFES - International Fellowship of Evangelical Students, the umbrella organization that InterVarsity is a part of, as are 150 other student movements from around the world. On the last day of this conference, Marilyn Stewart, who has been on staff with InterVarsity for over 50 (yes, FIFTY!) years, will be speaking on Psalm 145. She asked me to create a piece that each conference attendee (there will be over 600) could take home as a memento and reminder of all that God did and said during World Assembly.

This assignment was fun and yet quite challenging! For starters, how do you visualize ideas like "grace" or "righteousness"? And because there are people from all over the world who speak dozens of different languages, how do you do this without the use of a common language?

I ventured into this by starting at the passage itself. I spent many sittings just reading and rereading the passage, and letting God speak to me. I also gathered many of my teammates asking for their ideas and thoughts. I sketched a lot, and gathered images from online that I liked.

After all of this, I decided to try creating a painting that would capture at least some of this Psalm. I am not a painter and know very little about painting as an art form. I definitely felt out of my element on this project! However, as I spent nearly two days painting, it struck me at how privileged I was to be able to try out a new form of art as part of my job! When else does someone get to do that? I love my job!

front of postcard - painting
Here's the final product of the postcard design. The front shows the painting that I did. I purposely left a lot of blank space in the image to give room for people to write out in their own language whatever God was speaking to them. Psalm 145 is full of wonderful words, showing God's character and God's work among his people. There's a sense that all of our worship and praise is only a small echo of who God is and what he has done. I used rich yellows and oranges because those colors reminded me of the richness of God's love. There's a verse in the psalm that says "You open your hand and satisfy the desires of every living thing." - what a wonderful picture of God's provision, gentleness and care!

back of postcard with main verse in English, French & Spanish
The back of the card shows the theme verse (8 - "The LORD is gracious and compassionate; slow to anger and rich in love.") in the 3 languages that will be used at World Assembly.

Please pray that this conference will be an outpouring of God's love and compassion to IFES and its leaders. Pray for God's voice to be clear in inspiring student ministry workers to follow him in his work at universities around the world. Pray that Marilyn Stewart's talk on the last day would be full of truth and grace as participants head back to their mission fields.

Based on these designs I also worked on a video that will show during the talk while people are studying the passage and reflecting. When that's ready I will try to post it here for you to see. It features another one of the paintings I did. 

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Stepping out of my "Comfort Zone"

I'm proud to be able to show you the secret video project i've been working on for over 3 months. This was my first time co-writing, directing, and producing a video, and it was a great experience (albeit hard work and at times quite stressful)! The final product is below, followed by a behind the scenes video and some outtakes. Read on for some more on how this project came to be.

The Comfort Zone: Official Trailer - College sophomore Sophie Banks thought it was just another year on campus. But when her InterVarsity staff worker Jack gives her a challenging mission, it's a race against time, and herself, to break out of the Zone.

The Idea
People are always talking about breaking out of our 'comfort zones'. This is such a common phrase in our culture because we really value safety, comfort and security. But as Christians, Jesus often calls us to be exactly the opposite. Following him means taking up our cross - doing risky, dangerous and bold things. And hopefully, we do these things in faith and obedience, and because we value His will more than our own comfort.

We wanted this video to challenge people to do just that, but we also wanted to make people laugh! I realized over the past several months of creating our weekly infographics on Facebook that there is something really effective about using wit and humor to communicate ideas. Sometimes being a thoughtful communicator means showing that you don't take yourself too seriously, and that you can relate to an issue by laughing about it. So, we decided to create a parody movie trailer called "The Comfort Zone" (I must pause briefly to give credit to my teammate Glenn who came up with the original concept). There are several movies with similar titles (The Twilight Zone, The Dead Zone, Green Zone) and they all have a suspense or action feel to them. So we wrote a script that encompassed all the cliches you would find in these types of movie trailers, including dramatic narration, "the turning point", and lots of fast action sequences. Over the course of a few months many people on the communications team, producers, writers and designers, had input on this project. Perhaps due to my own naive determination as well as others' ambivalence, I became the project's spearhead and took the lead on seeing this thing come to completion, which proved to have many challenges!

One of the most difficult things about completing this project was that we are a team full of behind the scenes folk! None of us were up for the task for starring in this video because it required real acting! We had actually initially recruited a local UW Madison student majoring in theater to be our main character, but due to delays in production she became unavailable as finals and summer began. So where to find our Sophie Banks? And who could play our other characters with such short notice?

I actually thought of casting Katie Montei, a former and future communications team member, while I was lying awake at night, thinking about this project (not an unusual occurrence these past few months!) She turned out to be the perfect choice and jumped right into the process. She was so game to do anything we wanted (including straightening her lovely curly hair every time we filmed as well as running all over campus take after take in a leather jacket on a hot summer day.) Through the process I really enjoyed getting to know Katie and I'm excited to have her as a coworker soon.

Adam Jeske and Luke Jones ended up being perfect in their roles as well. Adam, while he has never actually been a campus staff for InterVarsity, really embodied the typical staff worker while also pulling off the humorous ironic seriousness that I wanted for his role. Luke, a former 2100 intern, drove all the way down to Madison from northern Wisconsin to shoot his part as the "agent." He was only available for about 2 hours, and he was perfect. His experience behind the camera came in handy as well. I'm so glad he got to be a part of the project.

Behind the Scenes - watch for an interview where I talk about the story and characters of "The Comfort Zone" and a few stories from others who were involved in the project.

The Production Process
Once we were ready to start filming, we came across a lot of obstacles. First of all, I was completely dependent on the production team to do all the shooting, since I have no experience behind the camera. There wasn't a lot of buy-in early on from our supervisors, so we had limited time and resources to work on it. David was initially working on this with me, but then he had other work and also family responsibilities that prevented him from being able to do the rest. Additionally, Katie's work schedule often conflicted with times that we were available to shoot. Elisa, one of the summer interns, stepped in for David half way through. She ended up being really great to work with. She even made an appearance in the video acting as 'the friend', and, more importantly, edited the entire video! (I must pause and give a huge thanks to all of Elisa's hard work and patience. This was no small task, especially working with someone like me who had no idea what I was doing!)

I learned a lot about filming during this project. The total runtime of the trailer was just over 2 minutes, and we shot probably 13 or 14 hours of footage altogether! It's amazing what kind of work it takes to set up a shot, making sure all the technology is working properly and that you get every possible angle that you might want to include in the final cut. Although we did go location scouting, as Elisa mentions in the behind the scenes video, there were many moments when we'd come up with new ideas on the spot. In that sense the process of creating the video was very organic and quite creative. There were things we couldn't plan for (like the limited time we'd have with Luke, and the audio recorder not working when we needed it.)

I have always enjoyed learning about filmmaking whenever I watch the interviews and behind the scenes clips on DVDs. And after this relatively small video project, I definitely have an even greater respect for all of the people that work on films. Not only directors and producers, but actors, crew members, writers, propmasters, editors, etc. It takes a lot of work to make something seem authentic on screen!

Outtakes - a few of the more 'uncomfortable' moments while filming...


Since I'm really a designer and not a video producer, what I was really excited about on "The Comfort Zone" was making movie posters to go along with the trailer. During the week of the 'premiere' I created 4 posters and posted one on our Facebook page almost every day leading up to the day that we finally showed it. I love how the movie posters turned out! I thinkthey were pretty effective in creating buzz about the video too.

Final Reflections
I have to admit, I thought I would be a lot happier after completing this project. I think with any experience that you're really invested in, whether it's a work project or some big event, after it's over there's this emotional letdown. In the days since we finished, I've actually felt quite vulnerable. I feel like I poured so much of my energy into something and at the end of the day I'm not even quite sure what really came of it. I've gotten a lot of positive response from people on the video, but I've also received a perceived ambivalence from some people whose opinions really mattered to me. I'm quite sure that the evil one would want me to feel doubtful that my work was actually helpful or good. But, I also think that I've learned more about what kind of affirmation is important to me in my work and hopefully in the future, I will be able to make that more clear with my colleagues and teammates.

At the end of the day, I am proud of this project, especially considering my lack of experience and our lack of time to complete it. It has also been another reminder of the work I'm called to. It's very rare to be able to truly know how I am making any impact on the kingdom of God. There are so many ways my work as a designer can be under the radar. But I know that I will continue to take risks, to step out of my 'comfort zone' and, by God's spirit, trust that He can do great things when I am faithful in serving him.