The Filming of "The
Testament of One Fold and One Shepherd"
Shooting a Religious Epic. An Interview with Cinematographer
This article first appeared in
The 70mm Newsletter
Issue 63 - December 2000
of "The Testaments", note 65mm camera on crane in back ground. Image
courtesy T C Christensen.
events that occurred thousands of years ago is challenging. Add elements
considered metaphysical or supernatural and the difficulties mount. And when
those events are also viewed as sacred, the obstacles might be viewed as
insurmountable. But it was a challenge undertaken in Academy Award-winning
Writer/Director Kieth Merrill's latest project. "Testaments"
is a 66-minute, 70mm dramatic film produced by The Church of Jesus Christ of
Latter-day Saints for wide-screen projection in the Legacy Theater in Salt
Lake City, Utah.
the many difficulties such an ambitious project involves, a number are
distinctly visual and of special concern to the Director of Photography.
That role was filled on this project by T.C. Christensen, whose credits
include several feature films, over a hundred television commercials and 8
large format films, encompassing 5, 8 and 15 perf. (IMAX) productions.
director called for many scenes set in the Old World to be photographed on
stage, including day exteriors, so that the light could be closely
controlled and a mood created that would be difficult or impossible to
duplicate when dealing with the outdoors. According to T.C., the concern
then becomes creating those exteriors and "not having them look like a
cheap, hokey, poorly lighted interior." Our stages were not especially
large and at times we had several sets on them at once, so it was difficult
creating that single source look that you would have outside and not
creating a bunch of multiple shadows, which gives it away quickly that what
you're seeing is not an exterior but is actually an interior set."
Further in 70mm reading:
Cast and credits
"The Witness" in Super Panavision
Shown in an IMAX Cinema
“The Testaments: Of One Fold and One Shepherd“
This film depicts events from the life and ministry of Jesus Christ
as recorded in the New Testament and the Book of Mormon. The story
culminates with a portrayal of the resurrected Savior's visit to the
ancient Americas as seen through the eyes of a fictional family.
"The Testaments of One Fold and One Shepherd" is a compelling and
inspiring large-screen movie presentation depicting the events leading
up to Christ's appearance in the Americas, including scenes from His
ministry in the Holy Land.
way we attempted to solve the problem," according to Christensen,
"was to hang space lights around the set. Our units contained six
doubled-ended 1K bulbs in a cylindrical configuration with a silk material
draped around them. We used these to provide overall ambience. The bulbs
could be powered in three separate circuits, so we could burn two, four, or
six bulbs at once, depending on the level of light required. In some
situations, we removed a bulb so we could use the fixture with just a single
1K bulb. Then we would come in with a big unit and create one direction to
the light while being extremely careful to only let one shadow show on the
Holy Land exteriors were shot on location near Palm Springs, California. One
scene involved a tracking shot of Mary riding toward Bethlehem on a donkey.
The script called for her to look up toward sunbeams pouring through palm
trees and seeing the sunlight dance on her face. "We couldn't count on
the sun staying at the correct angle through the palms for long. It would
change with every take and we'd spend all our time chasing it." So the
shot was set up so that Mary was back lit by the sun, with an artificial sun
at a consistent angle created for the key light. "It was trial and
error to achieve the effect of light and shadow we wanted," he says.
"We tried a 12K HMI with a fresnel lens, mounted on a condor. We put
palm fronds and camouflage netting between the lamp and the actress, but the
shadows weren't sharp enough. So we replaced the HMI with a
four-by-four-foot mirror to reflect the sun itself. This gave us the right
quality of light," Christensen says, "the shadows created by the
nets and the fronds were sharper now but still didn't feel right." The
right look was finally achieved with the help of gaffer Dennis Peterson, who
rode along on the dolly dangling palm fronds in the light, moving them
slightly to add to the shifting shadows. The lens for the scene was a 60mm
at T/11; with the talent only 4 feet from the film plane - the stock,
This film is shown Monday through Saturday at 10:30 A.M., 12:00 noon,
1:30 P.M., 3:00 P.M., 4:30 P.M., 6:00 P.M., 7:30 P.M. in the North
Visitors' Center on Temple Square. Admission is free.
Distributed by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints
Previously, this movie was only shown at the Joseph Smith Memorial
Building on Temple Square. “This film depicts events from the life and
ministry of Jesus Christ as recorded in the New Testament and the Book
of Mormon. The story culminates with a portrayal of the resurrected
Savior’s visit to the ancient Americas as seen through the eyes of a
the stock for the show was by Kodak. 5246 and 5274 were utilized for
Daylight Interiors and exteriors. Kodak had just released the 800T
high-speed negative in 35mm, so Christensen tested it against 5279, hoping
for the greater depth of field the extra 2/3 stop would provide. "I had
done other large format shows where we pushed the '79 a stop. My tests
showed that other than a slight increase in grain, the 5289 was comparable
to 5279. So I opted to shoot some '89 but to also do some scenes with the
Knapp at Kodak was able to get 40 rolls of the new stock produced in 65mm
format in time for the shoot which was February of 1999. "I was a
little unsure of the '89 and mostly went with the '79 pushed one for our
night interiors. Now, that I've seen it printed and projected on the huge
screen, I wish I would have shot more of the 89 and less of the '79 pushed.
There is an almost imperceptible increase in grain and loss of sharpness
with the '89 over the normal processed 5279, but with 5279 pushed one stop,
the blacks were milkier," according to Christensen. "We shot a
whole sequence in a cave seemingly lit only with torches and we tried to be
sketchy with the light, so there was always lots of black in the frame. Even
by including a flaming torch in every shot to provide contrast and snap, and
only rating the '79 push one at ISO 800, (as opposed to Kodak's recommended
1000) the blacks are not as rich and deep as I would like them to be."
production was shot with two Arriflex 765's, with a Panavision HSHR on hand
for Steadicam and hand-held work. Merrill and Christensen often rely on
over-cranking for dramatic effect. In "Testaments" camera
speeds ranged as high as 100 frames per second.
of the footage for "Testaments" was exposed on location in Hawaii. Here, scenes taking place in the New World were filmed. Shooting in
Kauai presented its own set of challenges. "We were shooting mostly
daytime exteriors," Christensen says. "At that latitude, in the
month of April, the sun seems to rise from nowhere to the middle of the sky
instantly, then, at the end of the day drop immediately back into the ocean.
There's no magic hour, you're lucky if you get a magic minute. So we were
always fighting that harsh top light."
presented another kind of difficulty. They streamed across the sky with the
prevailing winds that are always flowing across Kauai. "Most times it
worked out great," Christensen says. "If I preferred a cloudy look
for a scene, we'd just wait a minute and a cloud would move in. If I wanted
sun, it wasn't usually much of a wait to get sun. It was kind of like having
a big movable silk in the sky. The problem was when a scene ran more than a
minute or two and we'd end up having to cut because of the light change.
were originally planning on quite a few digital or optical matte shots for
the film. As the budget got tighter, we started losing them. Kieth had a
great idea how to do some of the crucifixion scenes on stage, in camera. We
had the scenic artist paint a 15 x 30 ft. backdrop of stormy, gray clouds.
The drop was then stretched on a pipe frame and hung on 2 ropes from the
roof of the stage. While we filmed the Savior on the cross, the grips would
slowly move the drop through the frame as if the stormy clouds were passing
through. It worked perfectly. A great low tech / low budget solution to a
high tech need.
scenes were also called for in the script, including some featuring the
aforementioned cataclysm. "We shot this on the '79 stock, usually
pushed one stop," says Christensen. "We used HMIs with 1/4 CTO for
moonlight, and tungsten lamps with 1/4 CTO for firelight. Then we'd shoot
the color chart with a 1/4 blue, which would push all the color 1/4
warmer." This allowed us to keep a slightly deeper stop which in this
format is always needed since there is so little depth of field.
in all, Christensen is pleased with the look of the film. "Like
anything I shoot, there are things that will drive me crazy every time I see
the film. But this large format is, in many ways, very forgiving," says
Christensen. "When projected on a screen 60 feet wide, it's so
overwhelming and involving that you are swept away by the majesty of it all
and to most viewers, I hope my stupid mistakes fade into
insignificance." Our production designers, Richard Jameson and John
Ubel designed the largest set ever built on Kauai, it was 600 ft. long and
175 ft. wide. The amount of detail in our shots with this set in foreground
and the Kauai mountains in the background is incredible because of the huge
negative coupled with the great Production Design.
the nature of the events depicted and the characters involved, it should be
no surprise that there were tender and touching times. The most emotive, for
Christensen, occurred when the resurrected Jesus Christ walked among
believers. "We were shooting Steadicam close-ups of His hands as He
walked down the steps of a temple. One of the extras, a woman, reached out
and touched one of His hands, then impulsively leaned forward and, with
tears in her eyes, kissed the hand. "The tears were real,"
Christensen says, "and continued for several minutes after the scene
was cut as did the tears of many actors, extras and crew. It was a moment
that exemplified the privilege of working on a Bible oriented film that had
all the elements of good film making and the added bonus of a spirituality
pervading the set. It made working on the film a great experience.
goal of the film makers is that the accompanying 24-track soundtrack, and
the emotional power of "Testaments" will bring millions to
see it in the years ahead.
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