William Davage has been ready for his close-up
Last month I wrote about the writing of two books during the sustained period of lockdown. There was one other major preoccupation during that time: filming a video.
One of the fruits of the pandemic was the online liturgy that was some compensation for our enforced absence from communal worship, less by the state than by episcopal fiat, now acknowledged as being somewhat over-cautious. Much of the liturgy was creative and effective. Not all of it, of course. The Lambeth Palace kitchen communion was a decided low point. It could not, of course, replace nor replicate being in church, participating in the eucharistic action.
The clergy of Christ Church, Hampstead, Canon Paul Conrad, the Vicar, Fr Barry Orford and I, thought that a short teaching video for the parish website on the Seven Sacraments would be a useful project. Karol Danielewicz, a talented photographer and artist, had been on the point of setting up his own company which would also produce videos. The pandemic put that into enforced abeyance. Our project gave him an opportunity to make a film and us to do something useful and practical.
A script was prepared based on the sacramental teaching of the Book of Common Prayer: the two dominical sacraments of Baptism and the Holy Eucharist, and Confirmation, Anointing with Holy Oils, Confession, Marriage, Holy Orders. Some would be more easy to illustrate than others. Not least because filming would require adherence to the whirlwind of instructions and guidance relating to Covid-19.
Karol spent several long sessions in an empty church planning the shooting and filming aspects of the church and artefacts that would be used in the final version. Filming for the clergy, a new experience for all of us, came on a Saturday in autumn. My colleagues filmed their parts of the commentary and both proved to be first-take masters. They were able to talk to the viewer through the camera, and use the tele-prompter, with masterly insouciance. I was told not to address a public meeting, shades of Queen Victoria and Mr Gladstone, not to preach but to talk to the camera, or through the camera, to an individual. After several takes, I seemed eventually to pass muster.
It is odd and disconcerting how self-conscious you can become when doing something for a camera. The simplest of tasks seemed complicated. Even walking in file into church seemed odd. And we did it several times as we were filmed from several angles. Pouring water from a ewer into the font required concentration. Walking towards the camera to land on a spot without looking down or tripping up required a naturalness that had to be rehearsed.
Our cameraman-director-producer was patience personified. He had to do everything. He was his own sound recordist, scene-setter, movement coach, editor and as he set everything up, he cleared everything away.
The first filming was in autumn but at Christmas our producer acquired a state of the art camera and a new computer which was also an editing suite. Rather sheepishly, we were asked to perform again as the difference in quality between the carers would be obvious. The clergy reappeared during Lent to film their commentary again and to repeat some of the previous shooting. Now old-stagers, veterans of stage and screen, accomplished character players, we donned the motley and required fewer re-takes than previously.
The original intention was to illustrate the sacraments from pictures and artefacts in Christ Church. However the oil stocks were not very photogenic and, search as we might, we could find no image of the Holy Spirit in the church, no hovering dove to be seen. Fr Philip Corbett (late of this parish) came to our rescue and was rewarded with his thumb making a cameo appearance. The oil stocks and anointing were filmed there.
The laying-on of hands at confirmation needed a bishop we did not have. It seemed unreasonable to invite one for what would probably be less than a minute’s screen time. There are some who would have jumped at the chance. One of the churchwardens and his son played their parts to perfection.
Although this was a modest project and employed the human and inanimate resources that were to hand, the project took several months and the real creativity took place in the editing suite. During that extended, concentrated and intricate process, I saw something of how the disparate elements, were brought together. How what seemed odd at the time of filming and recording, began to make sense. How the director’s mind had been working from the beginning and how we fitted in to his conception. There were changes and a few extra takes as the work progressed. One of the most time-consuming tasks was finding and fitting music to the visual images.
None of the clergy had seen the final cut until after Mass on a Sunday in July when we met for post-Mass drinks and a private viewing of the completed film. It lasted fifteen minutes and at its conclusion we sat in silence for some time. As I turned to my colleagues, the were tears in their eyes. The Vicar said, simply, “It is beautiful”. And so it is. The premiere in the parish was after Mass at the beginning of September. It can be viewed on the church’s website: christchurchhampstead.co.uk.
Thurifer is away.