168 Film News & Events

My Very First Film

First in a series: Hope for first-timers

By Steve Puffenberger on
My Very First Film

"My point in writing this is that every 168 producer has a first time... It will change your life and plant seeds with eternal significance."


Y’all probably don’t know how I got my start with 168.  It goes back to 2007. John David Ware is from my church in Columbus, Ohio, and they invited him to come home from California to put on a “mini-fest” one Sunday night. I heard the announcement and thought that would be interesting, so I went.

Flashback: The beginnings of my media career go back to high school in the late 1960s, where I managed the “AV Crew” and we showed 16mm movies for the classroom teachers and in the auditorium. When I graduated and went to Ohio State, I learned I could make money doing that, and so I was a projectionist throughout my college career, seeing “every bad educational film ever made,” and a few good ones too. When I graduated from college in 1973, there was an opening in their media production department, and I began making “multi-image” slide shows, with big screens, big sound, lots of Carousel projectors and computers for fundraising, training and education. After 6 years of that, God shook up my world and opened the door to become an independent producer, with the goal of having a successful commercial production business that would support ministry programming on the side. It became Advent Media, and we still focus on those markets with video, websites and presentation support.

But back to that night at the mini-fest,  As I watched the classics like Cinque Minuti, Curb your Evangelism and Day of Reckoning, I was overwhelmed with the sense that making these kinds of films was why God opened that door for me to be independent, so I resolved to help if our church formed a team to make a film. After all, I had just purchased a Sony Z1 HDV camera and upgraded to Adobe Premire Pro 2.0 on a Matrox Axio system. (Interestingly, while reading the sponsor ads in a program book, I had visions of my own ad in there.)

Because John had worked with others on church staff for the event, I expected an announcement all summer that someone on staff would start a team, but there was no announcement. Then the thought occurred, which I tried to resist, “Is it me, Lord?” So, with the sign-up deadline looming, after praying a lot with my prayer partners, I plunked down the money to enter and started networking at church to find a team for the 2008 season.

The Core Team

We started by recruiting a “core team,” myself as producer, then an assistant producer, director, writer and director of photography. It was then our core team’s task to find potential locations, cast and crew.  Pretty soon we had a team of real amateurs, my gear, and some lights and other stuff from church. Our writer had experience with books and plays but not a screenplay, and our DP was a still photographer.

Because we were nowhere near the 168 infrastructure in California, we were on our own to find talent, so we advertised on Craig’s List for actors, then we held open auditions which we videotaped just to have a talent pool to pick from. We then looked around for locations. We could use the church, but we had real estate friends looking to get permission for empty buildings and other places. We talked a church member who was a car dealer into loaning us a sports car. 

Practice

Before verse assignment, we decided it would be good to get the crew together and practice, so we wrote and produced a 5 minute short, just to get the workflow down, and especially to know how much time it would take to do post and render the output, so we would be done on time.  Our green crew learned a lot from doing that. The training materials that 168 had available were invaluable (and they’re even better now on the Competition Hub.) 

Verse Assignment and Preproduction

Then came Verse Assignment Night. We were gathered in a room at church, praying, and anticipating, and had a dedication ceremony to lift what would happen to the Lord. Finally the call came in and our verse was Romans 6:20, “when you were slaves to sin, you were free from the control of righteousness.” That threw us for a loop, because all our preconceived ideas went out the window. We had a really interesting Bible study as a group with the whole team that night, and our writer went home with all that information.

The next day he came back with the basic script for “Dash.” He keyed off the old saying that on a tombstone there is the year you were born and the year you died, and the dash in the middle represents your life. His story was the Faustian temptation of selling the soul to the devil for a chance at everything you ever wanted – becoming a “slave to sin.” Our writer had been in on the auditions, and we made him aware of our potential locations, so he could write around the assets we had. (We were glad to be in Ohio where we could film without permits.)

The next 9 days were busy, casting, costumes, securing the locations, planning the shots, getting the gear and making ready. Our first shoot was in the Fellowship Hall of our church in a black limbo setup with pipe & drape on the gym floor.

The Moment

We watched the seconds count down while we prayed as a team, but in those years, 8pm was our start time, so it was going to be a late night. We rolled tape on my Sony Z1, and right out of the box something went wrong. It took all night to shoot the 3 minute scene. We had a complicated aerial scene where I rode up on a Genie lift, at about midnight after most of the crew had gone home. It was grueling.

The next day we went to a vacant building the real estate agent found for us for exteriors, in a bitterly cold Ohio February. An actor was supposed to roar off in a sports car we. borrowed from a car dealer friend, but the young guy couldn't drive a stick. The dealer was our stunt driver and with a bit of editing we got the shot right.

That night we shot the church basement scene with about 20 extras, mostly friends from church. Herding cats comes to mind.

And last we shot in the lead actor’s house, as it was starting to snow for real (it was February).

Snowy Post

So, I started editing as the snow was coming down hard, and by the next day Columbus had 20-inches of snow, the largest one-day snowfall ever. The director tried to come help edit, but he got stuck and had to turn around.  We finally got it edited, printed to tape, and shipped off to California, but it was tight. (We didn't have Frame.IO or fast enough internet to share video back then.)

Comparing Dash with the other films on the docket for 2008, such as Stained or The Audition, it’s definitely amateurish, but it was a start. And you have to start somewhere. We were blessed that it screened on Saturday morning, and I later heard several complements from veteran filmmakers.

We were total amateurs at narrative filmmaking, yet we were able to witness God at work: we had wrestled with the Word of God and we had accomplished a task that was beyond us, a true miracle. 

The Point

My point in writing this is that every 168 producer has a first time of being in the speed film pressure cooker. Miracles happen. Challenges are overcome, and you have the unique encounter with the Word of God. If God is whispering “what if…” to you about starting a team, don’t miss it. It will change your life and plant seeds that will have eternal significance.

Watch Dash

 

Epilog:

In 2009, we produced our 2nd film with the same team, which didn’t get nominations either. In 2010, my camera op decided he wanted to lead the team, so I edited “Silent Offering”, which landed on the DVD. But in 2011, since I’ve been a documentarian for decades, I did a solo documentary, “The Main Thing,” which won both Best Doc and Evangelista, and in 2012, “Changed on the Inside,” filmed inside Marion Correctional Institution (a prison in Ohio), won Best Documentary again. After that John invited me to be on the 168 board, so now my 40+ year old commercial business, Advent Media, Inc., is helping to facilitate ministry programming on a larger scale than I ever imagined.

And yes, I have had an ad in the program book. Please pray for our business to thrive so we can continue supporting 168.

If you have a story to tell of your first film, please write it up to encourage other first-timers. We may make it a feature article.