I posted this video to Facebook just after the event, and eventually to my own blog as a way to describe the moment, which I recall as being very beautiful, and unexpected, and holy. I’ve added the piece to my Portfolio so that I might touch on my philosophy of filming what I think of as Religious Celebrations, which are a unique creature unto themselves.
Importance of a Shot List
One item firmly on my shot list is Holy Religious Celebration Ceremonies, and this sequence from outside of Saint Marks Cathedral fits right into that category. I don’t remember ever adding this item to my list; I simply found myself filming Sacred Religious Celebrations on many occasions in poor communities that were celebrating the arrival of safe drinking water systems. These people had serious reason to celebrate, and right at the heart of their celebrations were prayers of thanks to God.
I remember being in a field in rural Ethiopia, surrounded by several hundred people from the community, young and old, mostly sitting on the ground. We were all listening to a fellow who looked remarkably as I’d imagine Moses to look. He was standing, praying, holding a staff with a hand-carved cross on the top of it, chanting, in Amharic. The crowd, men, women, and children, all answering back in perfect unison. One or two word chants, back and forth, rhythmically, on and on. It was holy, and powerful and moving. The people were thanking God for safe drinking water for their children. It was during that ceremony that I made a mental note that Religious Celebration Ceremonies was officially on my shot list and to keep an eye out for them in the future.
Use the Technology at Hand
2016’s was our first Palm Sunday procession at Saint Mark’s, and we didn’t know what to expect. As usual, the creative reality blew away whatever those expectations were. I certainly wasn’t planning to film a professional corps, as well as a medieval parade, complete with banners and choir. When I realized that’s what we were in store for, my mental shot list started blinking and the camera came out, along with that old feeling of ‘how do I shoot this without getting in the way?’
It was only coincidence that I had a DSLR with me that morning. I was going to a video shoot directly after the church service, and didn’t want to leave my camera bag in the car unattended. I began to shoot the drumming and some crowd cover shots, really just getting my camera’s settings dialed in, when Reverend Thomason appeared on the steps of the Cathedral and addressed the gathering crowd. His remarks were brief, and directly afterward, the choir led off the Procession with flags, banners, songs, and a joyful noise.
I was in a good place to get some nice shots of the procession as it began; I shot some various angles, close-ups, medium-shots, and long-shots. Filming the procession reminded me of the ‘Walks for Water‘ in Chicago, New York, Seattle, and Washington DC that I filmed for Starbucks Ethos Water. This event had the same kind of interesting visuals of long lines of people stretched out over city streets carrying interesting items in their hands, making a lot of noise. I was editing this in my head as I shot it. It didn’t take me long to get what felt like ‘enough’ good material, after which, I put the camera away and rejoined the parade.
A few minutes later, I found myself at the doors to the Nave, with dozens of glowing faces coming my way, still waving banners and singing joyfully to God. I weighed getting out my Canon DSLR again, as the visuals were stunning, but I opted for the iPhone at that moment, for two reasons; time and size. The phone camera takes 3 seconds to go from pocket to recording, the Canon, more like a minute. But also, the phone camera felt like the appropriate size for that moment, in that tight space. If I hadn’t had the phone camera, I probably wouldn’t have shot the entryway footage, and the story would have been missing it’s ending.
Be True to the Story
And so, to the story. To me it is a deep honor to be invited into these holy moments as a documentarian, and I truly believe that they are delicate moments which must be treated with the most respect possible. I try my best to stay out of the way, and be as invisible as possible, while still staying present in the celebration moment. I try hard to not let the camera become a distraction to the event. And when editing – I try to tell the story as it really happened, keeping the sequence honest and true to the event of the day.