August 30 to September 8, 2018 saw four media ministries bring together eight uniquely skilled crew members from five countries and four continents; a professional Moroccan production team; the acclaimed biblical film backdrops of Ouarzazate; and 165 local actors and extras who eagerly and skillfully play the roles of biblical characters, to pull off a highly successful film 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 Northwest Africa.
This city has become a leading location for filmmakers from around the world wanting to make biblical and historical films, and tourists come to see where their favorite film was shot.
On the Life of Daniel
The current project is the second production by a Seventh-day Adventist team in Ouarzazate. In 2013, the Adventist world church’s corporate prayer series was shot for the church’s Revival and Reformation initiative. This year’s Daniel project saw Adventist Review Ministries partnering with three other Adventist media ministries — Little Light Studios, from the U.S.; The Incredible Journey, from Australia; and SIDmedia, from South Africa — to film and photograph key aspects of the life of Daniel, with the aim of making the resulting media available for sale to Christian producers, media ministries, pastors, teachers, and evangelists.
The story of Daniel was chosen for its significance to the Adventist message as well as the many relevant lessons to be drawn from the Old Testament prophet’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.”
The Bible Coming Alive
Scotty Mayer is a producer who left Hollywood to work on Christian evangelistic content. 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 ongoing need for high-quality pictures and video clips to illustrate the Bible for 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, seconded Mayer’s words. “We live in the digital age. Our challenge is to communicate God’s message appealingly and relevantly. Re-enacting, filming, and photographing the book of Daniel is a way to bring this important story to life,” he says.
Kent has been a television and media evangelist for most of his life. His wife, Robyn, works closely with him. She says, “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 who now lives in Sweden, describes his experience on the shoot as remarkable: “[I felt that] day after day God was with us ⎯ with the weather, the light, the characters and how they performed, the crew behind the scenes. We could see God’s leading,” he shares.
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 incredible 20 frames per second.
Five Days of Shooting
Having only five days of shooting required of the crew a meticulously pre-planned production, allowing for video, stills, and 360-degree video. Daryl Gungadoo of Adventist Review 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 3], and the Babylonians attacking Jerusalem and taking people captive [Daniel 1].
“With the VR camera in the middle of the action, the viewer will feel part of the plot,” Gungadoo says. “This technology facilitates ‘curiosity education’ concepts to bring the Daniel story alive.”
SIDmedia, the media studio of the Southern Africa-Indian Ocean Division of the Adventist Church, contributed by making the skills of their lead animator, Ian Kitney, available to the project. Kitney describes the story of Daniel as “probably the most computer graphic-intensive story in the Bible.” He believes that with lions in the lion’s den, dreams about exotic creatures, and magnificent statues, this particular story’s dramatization will stretch many skill sets.
The youngest member of the team, Robbie Fatt, was the man behind the video camera. He insisted on using the Panasonic Varicam LT, a camera generally used for very high-end film production. “Overall, we achieved some 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, image ⎯ a look that is unique for a high-end re-enactment.
Opportunity for Interaction
Among the highlights of the shoot, team members mentioned their interactions with the local Moroccan crew and cast and the strong friendships that were built during a short period. One of the actors who showed a genuine interest in our beliefs was impressed by crew members’ behavior throughout the production. He observed that, as Adventists, we may have combined the best elements of the three monotheistic religions, Christianity, Islam, and Judaism: “You observe Shabbat like the Jews, adhere to Halal 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!” the cast and crew gathered together for prayer. As we put our arms around each other, Gary Kent offered a prayer of thanks in English. Then the local assistant director, a Muslim, asked if he could pray in Arabic. For a moment we all stood together, from different backgrounds but at one before the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, and the great prophet Daniel.