I’m not even going to lie. The first few times back with a camera were rough. Part of it was just being rusty, but a lot of it was just how much the cameras had changed since just a few years earlier, when I had finally shipped my old camera off to the highest bidder on Ebay. It was like I had fallen asleep, then woke up and everything had changed overnight. Nothing on the new cameras worked or felt like I remembered it, and none of the controls were where they were supposed to be. It felt as foreign to me as going back to college algebra had a few years prior. Maybe this wasn’t going to be as easy as I thought.
Amber’s photography business gave me a lot of opportunities to practice my re-emergent cinematography and editing skills. Chasing her around with a camera, documenting her portrait photography sessions with high school seniors shook off the dust and rust pretty quickly. If you want to get good at directing and cinematography, you have to learn to compose shots and storylines on the fly, or you’ll never survive a real set. I suddenly remembered that this was exactly how I unknowingly prepared myself years ago for producing and directing my first few movies – years of just working it on the fly. Shooting run-n-gun documentary style with a moving target like my wife got me sharp. Fast.
I was still in school for the first 9 months of re-learning my craft, living my double life as a mild-mannered engineering student during the day, intense filmmaker by night. I would go to class and get my homework done as fast as I could so that I could sit and edit something I had shot. But not only did I not have a camera of my own any more, I didn’t even have editing capabilities any more. Coincidentally, I discovered that the campus book store sold the software package I needed to begin editing again. What’s even greater is that the whole software package only cost me $20, which was about my threshold of pain at that point. Being a poor college student still had its perks.
While the first few attempts at producing short promo films for Amber were relatively awkward for me, by the time spring of 2015 had rolled around, we were starting to see some real results for her business as a result of what I was shooting. Seemingly overnight, she started having drastically increased traffic on her website and social media accounts. “Wow,” I thought to myself, “this is actually working. I’m better at this now than I was when I quit!” I had also started to re-engage with some of my former clients, letting them know I was still around and getting a feel for whether there was any work to be had. It was time to make some decisions.
At the end of my spring 2015 semester, I had been straddling the fence between school and returning to full-time production for the better part of a year. Rather than return to my dead end summer job of driving deliveries, Amber and I decided that I was going to take the summer and push forward on all job fronts. At the end of it, I had to be working. Somewhere. Anywhere. I just couldn’t afford to keep the full-time student / part-time summer job scenario in play any more. It was early May. I had 3 months to make progress somewhere, because that’s when the financial situation would be critical. I started to pray like I had never prayed before.
“Did I just imagine all of this? Lord, please tell me that I haven’t made yet another terrible mistake. I know you have been with me through this season of change, and I know that I hear your voice guiding me back to this land I left in disgust so many years ago. I don’t know which way to go. I have to provide for my family. I want to work. Please.”
All through the summer I worked at rebuilding my skills and rebuilding my business plan, while at the same time furiously sending out my resume to anyone hiring mechanical engineers. I had managed to get my Associate’s degree done, figuring it was good for at least an entry-level job somewhere, but I just couldn’t make inroads at all. For months I prayed, and for months I kept myself working, taking any job I could get in production, just to re-imerse myself in it and rebuild my production network. But still, there was nothing steady. There were occasional gigs for a day or two, but I knew that’s not where I needed to be. You can’t support a family on sporadic freelance work like that. I knew what I needed to do. I needed to infuse new business into my production company and produce again, not be a camera operator for corporate sales meetings at the convention center. Producing is where the money is.
But, if there was a red light that could flash on the dashboard of life, mine had been blinking all summer, and was now steadily glowing red with audible alarms. As August rolled around, the money situation was becoming critical. I had to get some results from my efforts. We were down to 2 weeks before we basically would run out of money. I started facing the reality that this may not work out as I had planned.
I prayed aloud one morning, at my wits’ end. “I know you didn’t bring me this far to let me fall. I need to work. I want to work. Please, Lord.” If there’s anything I’ve learned the hard way through the years, it’s that you can’t ask the Lord to bless your efforts when you’re not making the effort. I worked as hard as I could to make something happen, but nothing was happening. I was starting to lose faith.
And just when I was starting to think the Lord had forgotten me, He showed up again.
At the end of Sunday school one morning, I was putting away the microphone when one of our class members, who happens to be a board member for a college campus ministry program, approached me. “Hey, do you still do videos?” Of course, my first reaction was suspicion, since I get more requests for free work than I can shake a stick at, and it never occured to me that the Lord would be actually answering my prayers.
“Yeah, why?” I braced myself for how to tell him “No, I can’t shoot a free project for you.”
“We got a grant for a fundraising video. I’m sure it’s not what you’re worth, but I wondered if you do that sort of thing?”
It took me until I got home that afternoon to actually make the connection that I had prayed for work, and that the Lord had sent me work. Paying work. Right on time. Of course, in my mind, it couldn’t be what it looked like. Why? Because it wasn’t the result of any of my efforts for the past 3 months of making calls, taking meetings, trying to re-establish my business. This job literally hit me from out of nowhere, because I was busy trying to convince the Lord to do things my way. “God, I’d like your blessing over here, please. Not there, right here. Do you see where I’m pointing?”
I’m not sure why He puts up with me. Seriously.
Then, it happened again. I no sooner had closed the deal to do that job when one of my best, former clients called: “We need 10 videos. Can you help us?”
I almost cried. I went and told Amber, then we both cried. I cried because I was grateful, but I also cried because I realized I had shown myself to have such little faith, always asking the Lord to show me the way, but always making my “backup plans”, just in case He didn’t bother showing up that day. What a weak man I am.
When the business started to gradually come back, it was 100% of the Lord. I have no doubt. Not only did He bless us with what we needed, it was exactly what we needed, exactly when we needed it. It was also just enough, but not more than we could handle. I held on tight as the Lord started moving us forward, and worked as hard as I could to do the best work I possibly could. I knew that I still had a long way to go to rebuild. I still didn’t own much of anything as far as equipment was concerned. No cameras. No lights. To take that leap, I was going to need another lesson in faith.
What I didn’t see at the time was how the Lord was preparing not only me, but also Amber, for what He had planned for us to do for Him. And although I had sworn off ever shooting a series or a feature film again, He had other plans.