August 30-September 8, saw four media ministries, eight uniquely skilled crew from five countries and four continents; a professional Moroccan production team; the acclaimed Biblical film sets of Ouarzazate, along with 165 local actors and extras who eagerly and skillfully play the roles of Biblical characters, come together to pull off a highly successful production on the book of Daniel.
The crew with skills in filmmaking, photography, media technologies, directing and producing, converged on the small Moroccan film-city of Ouarzazate that flanks the Sahara Desert in North West Africa. This city has become a leading location for filmmakers from around the world wanting to make Biblical and historical films and tourists coming to see where a favorite film was shot.
This is the second production by a Seventh-day Adventist team in Ouarzazate. In 2013, the General Conference’s Corporate Prayer series was shot for the Revival and Reformation Initiative. This year’s project saw Adventist Review Ministries partnering with three other Adventist media ministries: Little Light Studios, from the USA, The Incredible Journey, from Australia, and SIDmedia from South Africa to film and photograph key aspects of the life of Daniel and make this media available for sale to Christian producers, media ministries, pastors, teachers and evangelists.
The Daniel-focus was chosen for its significance to the Adventist message as well as the many relevant lessons to be drawn from Daniel’s life. “A character that is confronted with adverse circumstances on many levels; diet, politics, and devotion, is a character the world needs to see and know,” says Keith Detwieler, producer at Little Light Studios. “While Daniel portrays a great man living in a sinful world, in the background, we learn of an even greater God.”
Scotty Mayer is a producer who left Hollywood to produce evangelistic content instead. Mayer says, “It was an absolute joy to work on a project highlighting a story so monumental for many having grown up in the Adventist faith.” Since starting Little Light Studios in 2007 Mayer has recognized the constant need for high quality pictures and video clips to illustrate the Bible by media savvy churches, evangelists and teachers. “Many don’t have access to this kind of material and we’d like to change that.”
Gary Kent, director of The Incredible Journey Media Ministry in Australia, says, “We live in the digital age. Our challenge is to communicate God’s message in an appealing and relevant way. Re-enacting, filming and photographing the book of Daniel is a way to bring this important story to life.” Kent has been a television and media evangelist for most of his life. Robyn Kent works closely with her husband. She says that “this is a dream come true for creative minds and the only limit is your imagination.”
Henry Stober, a well-known German nature photographer and filmmaker in the Adventist Church, now a resident with his wife in Sweden, describes his experience on the shoot as remarkable: “Day after day God was with us¾with the weather, the light, the characters and how they performed, the crew behind the scenes. We could see God’s leading.” Sony (Germany) furnished Stober with the latest Sony A9 camera and lenses in exchange for some of his photos to use for marketing purposes. The camera shoots up to an amazing 20 frames per second.
The short five days of shooting required a meticulously pre-planned production, allowing for video, stills and 360 video. Daryl Gungadoo of AR Media Labs brought his extensive experience in 360-degree video and virtual reality (VR) to the team. “In 360, you can't hide anything from the shot, and you can't ‘fake’ lighting but I embrace this as an asset,” says Gungadoo. “A few scenes lent themselves well to shooting in 360, such as Nebuchadnezzar’s subjects bowing to the golden image (Daniel 2) and the Babylonians attacking Jerusalem and taking people captive (Daniel 3). “With the VR camera in the middle of the action, the viewer will feel part of the plot,” says Gungadoo. “This technology facilitates ‘curiosity education’ concepts to bring the Daniel story alive.”
SIDmedia, the media studio of the Southern Africa-Indian Ocean Division, contributed by making the skills of Ian Kitney, their lead animator, available to the project. Kitney describes the story of Daniel as “probably the most computer graphic-intensive story in the Bible.” With lions in the lion’s den, dreams about exotic creatures and magnificent statues, doing this particular story will stretch many skill sets.
The youngest member of the team, Robbie Fatt, was the man behind the camera. He insisted on the Panasonic Varicam LT, a camera generally used for very high-end film production. “Overall, we achieved some very unique and interesting images. Shooting digitally for a period piece certainly added to a new flavor of cinematic imaging,” says Fatt. He was very impressed with the camera’s sensor that created a creamy, yet sharp, image¾a look that is very unique for a high-end re-enactment.
Little Light Studios offers a resource at VideoMission.com with a variety of authentic cinematic Biblical footage that anyone can afford. “It’s a platform where creatives can sell their work or purchase high quality media. We are constantly adding new scenes and have partnered with others around the world to keep fulfilling this need,” says Mayer. Sign up for the newsletter and be notified when new scenes are added or become engaged in future productions.
Highlights of the event varied but most team members mentioned their interactions with the local Moroccan crew and cast, and the strong friendships that were built during a short period of time. One of the actors who showed a genuine interest in our beliefs, wasimpressed by our behaviour throughout the production. He observed that, as Adventists, we may have combined the best elements of the three monotheistic religions (Christianity, Muslim and Judaism): "You observe Shabbat like the Jews, adhere to Harram/Hallal food principles like the Muslims and believe in Jesus like the Christians,” he observed.
A special moment at the final scene reminds us that God’s purposes often exceed our own. Calling it “a wrap!” cast and crew gathered together for prayer. Putting our arms around one another, Gary Kent offered a prayer of thanks in English. Then the local assistant director, a Muslim, asked if he could pray too in Arabic. For a moment we all stood there, from different backgrounds, but at one, before the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, and the great prophet Daniel.
Andre Brink is involved in ARtv International Development.