Origins: Why Start with a Feature?
We always begin with the following disclaimer: It is impossible for you to know less about filmmaking than what we knew when we began the Salted Christmas journey. This series of articles is not designed to teach anyone in the industry anything. The series is simply intended to share with our friends some of what we’ve learned about the art, the skill, and the business of filmmaking.
One of the questions we get from time to time relates to that fact that with Salted Christmas, we are first time filmmakers. Normally, when beginning a new endeavor, starting small recommends itself as a prudent approach. Of course, we see the point. Why start with a feature film? Why not start with a 5 minute experiment and work our way up to a 30 minute short film and finally, once the skill somewhat approximates the passion, attack the leviathan feature film? Great question. The answer must arrive in first person from our founder, Don McChesney.
“In November of 2014, I was walking around, minding my own business, and a powerful wave of desire to make a movie washed over me. After a brief moment in the sun, enjoying the idea and thinking how fun it would be, I felt the clouds of crazy begin to gather. I realized very quickly that I knew nothing of filmmaking, already had a full time job to which I felt called by God, and would struggle greatly to find the resources (whatever they might be) to undertake such a project. So very quickly I felt completely nuts and wanted the aforementioned desire to fade away lickety-split. But it wouldn’t. I did what I always do anyway: I talked to God about it.”
“Not doubting my call to Equip Education, I petitioned the Lord to remove the thorn in my brain. I prayed this prayer for a week or two but the desire kept growing and even began to consume me. I couldn’t think of anything else. I should pause, here, to note the way I work with and relate to God. Generally, I pray about things and ask for guidance, but I never hear an audible voice either inside or outside my head (a good thing, some might say) in response to my petitions. So I’m never perfectly sure if something I want to do is from me or from God. But when I think God is making suggestions (I find Him to be very polite, although quite persistent) I disambiguate by taking steps in the direction I believe He wants me to go, one foot in front of the other, carefully and cautiously, eyes and ears open. At each step, I’m trying to see if I sense Him clearing the path or rather blocking it up.”
The desire and the feeling of crazy continued to build in tandem and after two weeks I changed the prayer. Instead of ‘take this away’, I prayed, ‘Lord, if this is you, you have to give me a film to make. I don’t have money to buy somebody’s book or life story, I’ve been given no screenplay, and I have neither ideas nor the ability to write my own.’ At this point, I didn’t even know know that all I needed was a story to tell.
A few days into my new prayer, under a cascade of ideas, I opened the laptop to write. 40 pages of screenplay poured out. Until the moment I sat down, I had never attempted to write a screenplay nor had I ever seen one. I had no idea how to format the thing. But I had the essential structure (and a considerable portion of the dialogue) for Salted Christmas. Having never seen a screenplay other than the one I’d just written, I thought, “Maybe this is all wrong! There are probably formatting rules and procedures adhered to by the movie industry. I bet I could figure those out.” And that began a learning process still underway.”
“So why start with a feature? ‘What, then, shall we say in response to these things? If God is for us,who can be against us?’ and ‘Do not despise these small beginnings, for the Lord rejoices to see the work begin, to see the plumb line in Zerubbabel’s hand.'”