When planning “Sounds of The Cross” we set out to create scenes that depicted the events leading up to Jesus’ death and resurrection. We needed shots that felt realistic, without having to plan something at the scale (and price) of a Hollywood-style recreation. All along, we had planned for the sound design to really carry the project, and to let the visuals simply act as support.
What this led us to was a simplified “found-footage” style (think Cloverfield, Chronicle, etc), in the sense that the camera is not necessarily filming the action - rather, it just happened to be left somewhere, recording whatever happened in front of it. This way, we didn’t even need to hire actors - all the hands and feet you see in the video are Igniter Media crew. I’d like to take a minute to explain how we accomplished a few of our shots.
Oh, I lied. One of the hands in the video is not from the Igniter Media crew. We hired Will Frary, of The Grapevine Blacksmith Shop to create our Roman nails. He had big, weathered hands that were perfect for the shot - so we just had him throw the nails on the ground and pick them up, only a few minutes after he had finished making them.
Here is a short video documenting the process Will took to create the nails:
Ok back to behind the scenes.
The scene that gets asked about most is the earthquake scene. To achieve our shaking ground, we piled a bunch of rocks and dirt onto a 4x8 sheet of plywood that was placed unsteadily atop a few large rocks. Next we set the camera up right next to it, used a bed sheet to block the sunlight (because it was supposed to be a dark sky), and had one person bang and accelerate their fists on the edge of the sheet. Voila! Earthquake!
The last shot in the film, where the rock is rolled away from the tomb was quite simple as well. The rocks in the shot were only about 15 inches across, and we placed two of them next to each other, aiming the camera almost directly into the 6pm sun so that light would streak across the tomb floor and wall. Rolling the rock very slowly forward, while shooting in slow motion, helped to give the rock a weighty feel.
My personal favorite was the shot of Golgotha in the distance, with the three crosses on top of it. Since we weren’t about to build 3 full-size crosses, we instead used a technique called “Forced Perspective”.
As Wikipedia states: “Forced Perspective is a technique that employs optical illusion to make an object appear farther away, closer, larger or smaller than it actually is.” This is exactly what we did with the crosses. Our team went out and purchased 3 crucifixes that were about 8 inches long. Then when we were out shooting, we found a pile of rocks, added some dirt, and placed the crosses in the dirt on top. We pulled up any plants that were growing on the mound, so that we didn’t have “gigantic” blades of grass, and then we put the camera very low, so that anything on the horizon would not throw off the illusion we were trying to create. Any tree, shrub, or even hill in the distance could ruin the perspective. Finally, to hide the fact that the crosses weren’t real, we backlit them with the sun so that they would be silhouetted, and then focused on a rock in the foreground so that the lack of realistic detail of the crucifix’s wouldn’t be apparent.
Originally we had planned for this scene to be where the soldiers are casting lots for Jesus’ garments, which is why there is a cloth in the foreground later on in the following video. In the editing room we decided this was too busy, so we began the cloth was removed. Finally, we did a sky replacement with a stormy-clouds shot that we got a few days later.
As soon as Phil walks behind the mound, it becomes apparent what size the crosses actually are. Giant Phil!
All of this, as well as a little creativity with tiki torches, spray-painted chains, fake blood, and many different linens from the local fabric store made for one of the most interesting and fun shoots I’ve ever been a part of. I also think an entire blog post could probably be written about pre-production and prop design. We are blessed with some talented and hard working people here at RT/Igniter. It was a large team effort going out and finding the necessary elements that would be filmed, as well as the creation of things like the THE KING OF THE JEWS sign. That, combined with many hours of foley/sound design, and meeting a Messianic Jewish Rabbi to record Aramaic voices for us, it certainly made for a project that took us on a journey.
It was an honor to try to recreate this event, and while we feel that we will never be able to fully do it justice, we are very happy with the way it turned out.