Nancy Myers has directed and produced Jesus: The Desire of Ages, a full-length film about the life of Christ, based on the book by Ellen G. White. The movie is now being screened in churches around the US. Myers talked to Spectrum about the genesis of the movie, and what it was like to film. Watch a five-minute preview.
Question: What made you want to film a movie about Jesus’ life? Why did you pick The Desire of Ages?
Answer: After producing the three-volume Great Controversy DVD set we felt that if we only presented Christ through prophecy we would not being doing justice to our viewers. We wanted to cut to the heart of Christianity and introduce people to the central theme and reality of prophecy — which is of course Jesus.
Question: How long did the filming take, and how big was your budget? Where did you film the movie?
Answer: The filming and post production took about 12 months from start to finish, which was really very quick when you consider it was a historical feature which meant costumes and sets had to be created. We shot all of the flashback sequences over a six-month period and then we had a six-day, “on location” camp shoot at Table Top Mountain in California.
We originally set aside a $25,000 budget, which we knew and understood was ultra-low, but it was all we had. Then that was combined dollar for dollar with assistance from our co-producer Vision Video/Gateways Films, giving us a total $50,000 budget.
Trying to produce a 60-minute feature film on $50,000 was incredibly difficult and if we didn’t have the ability to complete so much of the work ourselves it would have been impossible. As it was we did go over budget by $15,000, making the final budget $65,000.
The film was shot almost exclusively in Oroville, California, and the crucifixion scenes were shot on Table Top Mountain in Oroville. The crosses remain as a small tourist attraction right where they were planted.
Question: How big was your cast? How did you find your actors?
Answer: We recruited a cast and crew of over 100 people. I have to admit that casting was one of my greatest fears. When we decided to sign the co-production agreement with Vision Video I really had no idea where we would acquire our actors. I knew that they had to be professionals and how could we possibly afford to pay so many actors on our budget? I guess that was one of the most astounding miracles that took place in the making of The Desire of Ages Movie.
To begin, we went to my local newspaper and asked if they would write a feature article for us in the hopes that we might call on some local talent. They graciously consented and ran a feature for us, but only two actors responded to the call. That was really worrying to me!
I then went online to the various casting agencies and began posting casting calls. Again the response was very limited and disappointing — and really, why would actors set aside a week of their time, taking their own vacations from work and committing themselves to a production that barely offered enough money to cover their gas and expenses to get to and from the shoot?
But then God performed a miracle; word started getting out among the acting circles in San Francisco and Los Angeles that a movie about the crucifixion and ministry of Jesus Christ was being made and it spread like wildfire. Within a couple of weeks we had many of our actors traveling some seven hours just to audition! Before we knew it, actors were responding to the call from all over the US and even from as far as Ireland, England and Australia. Many of them came because they wanted to be a part of something bigger then themselves and they poured out everything they had to make our humble production the heart-stirring movie that it is now.
All of the actors sacrificed to be a part of the film. And because it was a historical film we wanted real beards and real hair, so that was a stipulation when casting. Almost all of the male actors were required to grow their beards and hair for over three months and that prevented quite a few of them from being cast in other roles and modeling jobs.
One actor, the “Good Thief”, was told by his boss that he looked like a “bum” and that if he didn’t get a haircut and shave he would be fired. Well, being the “good guy” that he was, he refused and he did indeed lose his job for the sake of The Desire of Ages movie. But that wasn’t all he sacrificed; while hanging on the cross he also dislocated his shoulder! I have to say that all of that personal sacrifice shone though on to the screen and he gave a commanding performance that is really very touching.
Question: What were the most difficult scenes to film?
Answer: The most difficult scenes in the movie were of course the crucifixion scenes. Most people don’t realize that even without the nails, hanging in that tortured position, tied to a wooden cross for hours on end is extremely painful, and as I said, it actually dislocated the “Good Thief’s” shoulder. Our Jesus actor suffered terribly for three full days in the green screen studio shoot that we filmed for the closing scenes of the movie. Much of the suffering that you see on the face of “Jesus” was very real. So as the director, that was the most difficult part of filming for me. Asking those dedicated actors to undergo very real agony while we shot the needed scenes was an incredibly difficult call for me to make and if it hadn’t had been for the actors themselves, who kept encouraging me that they could suffer through it, I would never have been able to ask for the sacrifice.
I can honestly say that filming The Desire of Ages movie was one of the most special times in my life, but it was also one of the hardest. With such a limited crew we were each juggling so many tasks that it was absolutely exhausting. For instance, even though I was directing right alongside my co-producer Desiree De Anda, who was the director of photography, I personally carried around a very large and heavy professional camera all day while shouting out direction and climbing up and down very steep terrain. Then after shooting was over for the day I returned to the studio to spend the entire night transferring the footage over to the computer and preparing the camera equipment for the next day’s shoot.
It was the most physically taxing time of my entire life. Six days without sleep and continual physical exertion was very demanding. And then on the last day of the shoot I came down with food poisoning! I was on the very real verge of collapse and didn’t see how I could get through the final and most important day of shooting: the crucifixion scenes. I sat by and watched helplessly as many of the cast and crew became demoralized, wondering if I was going to make it to the end of the shoot, and I knew that I had to rally quickly, but it seemed physically impossible. I had collapsed under a makeshift shelter and was breaking out in sweats when about five members of the crew came to me and told me they were going to lay hands on me and pray, which they did, with my consent. After they prayed I felt as terrible as I did before but I was impressed to stand up on my feet and declare that I was doing great and we were going to get to work and wrap the shoot! In reality I don’t know how I even made it to my feet but I did, and then God did the most amazing miracle: within ten minutes of standing back on my feet I was absolutely energized and was back in full force shouting out direction and bringing the production through to its climactic close.
Question: What did you enjoy most about working on the movie?
Answer: I enjoyed every single aspect of the production, but I think more than anything else I really enjoyed the team environment. There’s something extremely satisfying about working with over a hundred individuals from all walks of life to make something desperately beautiful. It’s kind of like conducting an orchestra and hearing the most incredible music pouring forth from all of the varying instruments. It really was a little piece of heaven to me, and by far the most rewarding experience of my artistic career.
Question: How is your film different than previous films about the life of Jesus? Do we need another film portraying the crucifixion?
Answer: When we decided to produce The Desire of Ages movie we really had to do some heart-searching. After all, why would we even attempt to tackle a subject as grand as the ministry and crucifixion of Christ on such a small budget when it had already been handled time and again on multimillion-dollar budgets?
The answer to that question was really very simple: we did it because God told us to. And while the film is very humble in comparison to other productions, we believe that very humility adds to the final result. The Desire of Ages movie is extremely moving. Almost every viewer is in tears by the movie’s close and has been spiritually touched in some way. The film is intrinsically different from any other “Jesus Movie” in that it is a very personal, intimate and emotional viewing experience rather than a cold historical record. Anyone who has watched the movie will understand what I’m saying.
Question: How do you feel your movie fits into the long genre of biblical movies, from The Greatest Story Ever Told with Charlton Hesston to Mel Gibson’s The Passion of the Christ to the latest Noah movie?
Answer: Again, I have to state that The Desire of Ages movie is very humble in its origins and so I really can’t compare it to any of the multimillion-dollar Hollywood productions you mention.
But there is one thing I believe our film has in abundance, and that is “heart and soul.” I also believe that the Holy Spirit attends those that watch the film in a very real and special way.
So while it doesn’t have Hollywood’s pizzazz I do believe that it carries God’s blessing whenever it is viewed and that it certainly leaves viewers feeling like they have been in the presence of God.
Question: Golden Eagle Films is your production company. What films have you worked on in the past?
Answer: Golden Eagle Films has produced six documentaries and three low-budget feature films, all of which are Christian based. Our greatest hope and dream is that one day God will provide funding to produce our “Dream Film,” a 2.5 to 3-hour feature film entitled The Visionary, covering the entire span of biblical history from Eden lost to Eden restored, based on The Conflict of the Ages Series.
The screenplay is almost finished, and we are simply waiting for the Red Sea to part so we can walk through! If there is anyone out there reading this article who would like to help The Visionary come to life, please email me at email@example.com.
Question: What are your distribution strategies, and how are you working to get your film seen?
Answer: The Desire of Ages is currently being distributed though Golden Eagle Films and Vision Video/Gateway films. The film may be purchased on eBay, Amazon, Christian bookstores, and ABC stores. For bulk discounts you can go straight to our Desire of Ages project site.
Over the months of March, April and May the film was screened in various theaters across the US, and over 100 Adventist churches screened the film to their congregations. To date we estimate that The Desire of Ages movie has been viewed by over 30,000 people.
Question: Is Jesus: The Desire of Ages aimed at Adventists? How did you decide on your target audience?
Answer: The Desire of Ages movie was produced for Adventists to use as an evangelistic tool for their friends and family, but it is by no means limited to Seventh-day Adventists. The film is universal in both its appeal and its reach.