Let's Just Do It

Fr. John Wykes, O.M.V.

Noted film director Stanley Kubrick was once asked what advice he would give to budding filmmakers. His answer was simple: get a camera, film, some friends, and start shooting.

I studied film and video in college, making some of my own small productions with my friends. When I entered the Oblates of the Virgin Mary in 1989, I found a new home with this congregation that counted among its apostolates the use of social communications (mass media) to spread the truth.

As I went through the first stages of priestly formation, many suggested that I should use my talents to make a promotional video for our congregation. The talk was very tentative, however – money and good equipment were not quickly forthcoming.

I finally told my superior that unless I just grabbed a camcorder and started shooting then it would never get done. We all talked about maybe one day getting to know someone in New York or maybe me going back to school for three or four years after ordination to study production or maybe…maybe…maybe.

I knew this project would never get done unless I did it. So I ended up taking a cheap video camera someone brought at the department store in 1987, found two tripods (both broken), a small microphone, and bought clamp lamps from the local hardware store for lighting. I made an hour-long documentary that showed OMV life in our various parishes/centers/shrines around the country that most people said was “professional.” In all humility, some professionals were impressed by my use of lighting and wondered how I accomplished my “amazing lighting effects.”

These days I use a more professional set-up, including two digital camcorders, professional lighting, and a non-linear video editing (computerized editing) platform. I have made documentaries, a lecture series of important spiritual topics, and even Vacation Bible School videos for our parish in Alton, Illinois. Through these many years, I have never forgotten the first lesson of production: a film or video will never get made until someone makes it.

In general, I have found in the world of Catholic media that there are two schools of thought. One is to say that the world of the media is controlled by big corporations, and we need to invest all our time, money, and energy into projects that will penetrate their markets and really make a difference. This school of thought says that millions of dollars need to be raised in order to turn out professional products – otherwise you are not reaching the masses and not making a difference.

The other school of thought uses the well-known commercial slogan, “Just do it!” This other school of thought holds that to struggle to penetrate an industry that doesn’t want us anyway is a waste of time. It is better to take so-called “prosumer” equipment so widely-available nowadays (digital camcorders, video editing computers, etc…) and just go ahead and start producing quality content, selling them in places like parishes, retreat centers, and religious bookstores. The products won’t have the look of a multi-million dollar production but they will look professional (if the director knows about camera composition, lighting, and editing). They would be of acceptable professional quality and would reach many people right away.

I have chosen this second path. Had I chosen the first, I never would have made all the videos I have produced over the years. Instead I would have spent all my time figuring out how to “infiltrate” New York or Hollywood. I think Peter Jackson (director of “Lord of the Rings” and “King Kong”) has made an incredible statement by making all of his films in New Zealand – a radical departure from the norm in terms of what is expected by “Hollywood” (remember, all of the “Lord of the Rings” films are foreign films!)

New York and Hollywood cannot be infiltrated by people like me. So I will simply continue to ignore them and continue to produce professional content and get DVDs directly to the people who want them. Our OMV videotapes and DVDs sell very well at our shrines and parishes.

We live in a new era. Thanks to the digital revolution, the rules have changed. “Broadcast quality” video is in the hands of the hobbyist as well as the professional. This is one of the reasons why the professional world is pushing for HD (high-definition) video. In a world where small budgets can produce impressive results, they need to change the rules again in order to survive.

With the cost of production plummeting all the time, the Church has a great opportunity to produce high-quality content. All we need are a few people who are willing to pick up a camera and “just do it.”

Copyright 2005 Fr. John Wykes, O.M.V.