When I was 20 years old, I dropped out of a university Mass Media and Film program in favor of a small time gig working as an assistant photographer for a local studio and more free days to spend at the beach in Santa Cruz. Though I never finished my degree, my love, or perhaps admiration of film making has never quite faded away. I had a small taste of producing a short film with a small group of friends in Singapore 15 years ago, but when my friend Paul Nethercott asked me to join his team to work on a full length feature film here in Japan, it was like an answer to an unspoken prayer.
Though production on the full length film, 2 Criminals, is still a ways away, we had the opportunity to practice film production on a small scale with a team of students from Huntington University in Indiana. The Huntington team, led by Professor Dawn Ford, came to Japan to shoot footage for a PBS pilot on Japanese culture. Over a two week schedule, the team shot footage about kimono, tea ceremony, wagashi (traditional Japanese sweets) and ikebana (flower arranging).
My schedule allowed me to be with the team on several of the location shoots. My job was to photograph the shoot from a behind-the-scenes perspective, capturing images that could be used to promote the project and simply create a record for the production crew that they could remember their experience from. To be honest, I wasn’t sure how much value my presence would provide as none of my images would ever be used in the actual final production.
As it turned out, it was an amazing experience for me. Though the scale of the production was small, it was still larger than any other production I have worked on. I got to see how the crew worked together and how much detail there is in even the simplest shots. As preparation for our 2 Criminals production, the experience was invaluable to me.
I got to become friends with the staff and students of the Huntington University crew as well. I was so impressed at how professional these students were on set, although some of them were still teenagers. They were disciplined at their work and rarely complained, even though they were working in a totally different culture and environment than what they were used to.
And best of all, I learned that photography, one of the few useful skills I brought to Japan, could be used in very positive ways. The nature of making film or video is that it is not an “instant gratification” kind of product. Producing a quality film can take weeks, even months. Photographs, on the other hand, can be produced in near real time. Posting my photographs on social media each night turned out to be a great motivator for the team and give the supporters of the project real time feedback on how the team was doing. Dawn kindly told me that she viewed my photographs at the end of each day to remind her of how much work her team had accomplished and how beautiful the finished video would eventually be.
I didn’t come to Japan to be a photographer. But in small ways, God is showing me that if I can offer my skills and experience to Him, He can use it for His glory. Next week, I’ll be accompanying my pastor and his son to Northern Thailand for a mission to help record a hill tribe’s effort to create a coffee growing business. My prayer is that the images can be used to help the tribe secure distribution partners in countries outside of Thailand.
Paul reminded me that being a good photographer isn’t just about taking pretty pictures. It’s about using those images to help tell a story. And stories speak to people’s hearts, move them to action, open their minds. Lord, let your story, the gospel story, be my story.
I love to tell the story of unseen things above,
Of Jesus and His glory, of Jesus and His love.
I love to tell the story, because I know ’tis true;
It satisfies my longings as nothing else can do.
I love to tell the story, ’twill be my theme in glory,
To tell the old, old story of Jesus and His love.