I spent last week in Grand Rapids, Michigan, which I jokingly call “the Hollywood of the Midwest.” My publisher, based in that city, was filming a video series on my book that will release in November called Vanishing Grace: Whatever Happened to the Good News? (When people ask me what the new book is about, I give an answer like, “Why Christians are so unpopular and what, if anything, we should do about it.”)
Now back at my desk, I’m struck by the contrast between shooting a video and my normal life of staring at a computer screen all day. A few observations:
- There’s a lot of standing around in film production. On the first day, the crew worked four hours to get a film clip less than fifteen minutes long.
- Acting is surprisingly hard work. Hollywood stars may be overpaid, but if you’ve ever attempted it, you realize how hard it is to “perform” with the pressure of time and expense riding on your every word. The challenge is to seem natural in an equipment-crammed setting that is glaringly artificial.
- At least you’re not alone. Our low-budget production team employed eight to ten people to manage three cameras, lights, sound, sets, and a teleprompter, not to mention a director and producer. And weeks beforehand other crew members had worked to prepare five different set locations.
- Men ought to pause at least once a month and give thanks that society doesn’t expect us to wear makeup.
- Filming runs according to Murphy’s Law. If I flubbed a word, it was always the last word of a paragraph, making us back up and repeat the sequence. The same principle applies to bulbs that pop, fuses that blow, memory cards that fill, and camera batteries that give out—they always happen at the most inconvenient times. And woe to the “gofer” who drops a Coke can or sneezes during a take.
- The digital revolution saves muscles. Shoulder-mounted cameras that used to weigh fifty pounds have been replaced by sleek new models not much larger than a consumer SLR. Look for skinnier cameramen in the future.
What I like best about this whole unreal process is that it gets people to study books in a group. Four of my books have a “video curriculum,” and I regularly hear from readers who encounter the topics I write about in a church or home setting, with the opportunity to discuss, debate, and question my own conclusions with other people around them. It makes writing less of a monologue and more of a dialogue. So I guess I’ll keep putting on makeup and standing around for a few days when a new book comes out.