The Concept of Earthly Father Heavenly Father
This has been a short film concept near and dear to my heart for a very long time. I’m glad we were finally able to get it done.
The concept for the film surfaced as Mindy and I have been raising our three daughters, so this film is a very personal rendition of my experiences and observances as a father of three daughters – with a little boy on the way!
I have always been fascinated by the doctrinal parallels about God that are embedded in the experience of being an earthly father. There are patterns in those parallels that have inspired me and changed the way I look at the world. (As I write this, I am realizing that I must have a weird affinity for fatherhood, as one of my older short films was based on an amazing man named Bill Cook, in A Father Indeed.)
As I have discussed this concept multiple times over the past few years with Patrick Parker, he’d continually encourage me to just go out and get it done. It was always just one of those ideas that was floating around my head and would resurface every time I watched my daughters wake up, open the fridge – and just literally expect the fridge to be full.
During this time I was also studying some of the works of Hugh W. Nibley, one essay in particular entitled, “Work We Must, But The Lunch Is Free” began to shift the way I saw the constructs of this world. Watching my children simply trust in me and my wife that their needs would be met started to shift the questions I was asking in my own life. They went from “Why can’t I get more and better lunches?” to “Thank you Father in Heaven for the lunch thou has provided me, now what would you like me to be learning within the customized circumstances you have placed me in?” This was a huge paradigm shift for me, and was really the core principle I wanted this piece to have threaded throughout it. Sure there are multiple parental parallels found in the piece, but at the core was the idea that God teaches us in patterns, and noble Fatherhood reveals much about how God interacts with us here on earth.
I was initially going to execute this idea as a personal project and use my own children in it – since it was such a personal interpretation of my own myopic worldview. However, I thought it might have a larger audience and distribution, and hopefully a greater reach and effect if I did it as a Mormon Message. So, I wrote the idea and pitched the concept back in 2011 and I got it approved, but I never quite had the personal creative momentum behind it – THE FIRE, so to speak – because I didn’t want this piece to have to go through committees and have its bare essence get stripped out and diluted by other communal voices. Fortunately, that never occurred.
Mostly, I didn’t quite know what the piece needed to be in terms of a visual experience for viewers – I wanted to make it as universal and as non-denominational as possible, I just wanted it to be human, allowing the divine nature of it to feel organic and not forced. Being that I believe in the doctrines found in the parallels to be cosmic facts, I knew that if I kept it simple, the truth of the matter would surface naturally in the heart and mind of the viewer.
I never thought this short film would spark so much conversation on the internet. I know there are some passionate women and mothers out there that were saddened that we didn’t showcase the mother as much, but that was never our goal. So I thought I would partly address that here in this blog post.
First and foremost, this is a piece about Heavenly Father and his relationship with his children. That is what I wanted it to be about from the beginning, the idea that he is “far but close”. I simply wanted to showcase the relational parrallels I’ve experienced in raising three daughters. But on the flip side, and in the way of contradiction, this piece really isn’t about earthly Fatherhood as much as it is about about our condition, the human condition – the varying yet similar circumstances we all find ourselves in. The idea was to show the concept that these children do not think about the circumstances that surround them, they simply awake to explore, learn, and understand this new mortal experience with child like faith – regardless of their circumstances (food, home, no home, mud hut, fridge, ideal, not so ideal). The circumstances, the setting, the props, the stage has been set, not by them, but by a loving parent. The child’s job is to understand what the Father would have them learn within the confines of the defined circumstances and bounds He as set.
So many of us forget that however favorable or unfavorable our circumstances are, they are gifts from a loving God that provide a customized curriculum for each one of us. However, instead of growing from our “lot” many of us find ourselves looking for “bigger lots”, “better settings” or “better lunches”, as Hugh Nibley put it. I really see myself more as one of the children in this film than I do as the father, we are so infant in the eyes of heaven, if we would simply trust that God will provide if we do what he desires us to do, it would solve many of the human anxieties we experience. The Fatherhood parallel is an important part of the narrative, but identifying ourselves as one of the children I think is more relevant.
A big challenge with this piece was finding the right location, and of course the right family to film.
We originally thought we would shoot this in San Diego, Seattle, Portland, and the likes, and we actually had a myriad of families audition that were great, but alas, they just didn’t feel right. Then of course Tree of Life came out, and that was such a visual inspiration to Patrick and myself that we wanted to do something in a similar vein with this concept – we wanted to capture the trusting innocence of a child in the most organic, non-obtrusive way.
It is difficult when you are working on very limited budgets to decide between the location and the family, because the two had to go together for this short film, meaning, if we casted a real family and did not put them in their own home, we would loose the authenticity of their daily life interactions. So we knew it was going to be near impossible to find both the perfect family that also lived in the perfect home. But as always, our vision was limited, and the right mix was about to present itself to us.
So just a week or so before we settled on a family in Portland, and just before we were about to purchase tickets – feeling we had settled with compromise on a family, I had a colleague show me his family farm up in Idaho, just across the border from Utah. Two of his brother’s families lived there on a large piece of family property. The amazing thing was that there were two families, two homes, and an amazing treehouse (which was also symbolic) and we could essentially build our own family and mix and match rooms of the two homes. The great thing was that all the children were so comfortable with both locations and both sets of parents, that it didn’t matter how we matched them up.
Filming this short film was a complete joy.
Patrick and I always have in depth conversations about approach and style before any shoot, especially those we really care about (yes, there are some we don’t care as much about). Obviously, with a piece like this there are huge variables and environmental shifts you can’t control, but we essentially came up with some simple shooting rules that we followed to create some consistency as we both rolled:
Our Photography Rules
- Camera is always moving, either
- Handheld, panning
- Exception: Opening close up of Father’s eye opening.
- Light is all natural, no added light
- Shoot mostly wide to capture action
- i.e. kids running, playing,
- Shoot mostly tight to capture details
- i.e. hands, eyes, textures, faces
- Father is silhouetted, all or partially
- Use shallow depth of field, pleasingly
- Shoot mostly in the morning light and golden hour evening for best natural light.
I remember that when we first arrived at the farm it was like a visual playground for us and we just hit the ground running, shooting everything! This lasted throughout the next day until we hit a wall around noon – the temperature hit high 90’s and we were dying of heat. We soon realized that our over zealousness wasn’t really getting us anywhere because most all the shots we would film from 10 AM – 5 PM would never make the final cut, since the lighting was just too harsh. So after the first day and half we decided to limit our shooting to the mornings and evenings when the light was the most pleasing, then during the hot afternoons we focused on interior shots.
Editing was a monster, we had mountains of footage, and I still feel like we left some real goodies on the cutting room floor. Patrick had the job of sifting through the monstrosity of footage we had accumulated over the three and a half days. I remember seeing his eyes glazed over after finally getting a rough cut down. Cudos to Patrick for that.
I took over on the fine cut and probably went through 20-25 versions of the cut in Final Cut Pro 7. It was really hard to get the tone, feel, and pacing just right. I still feel like there is more to refine, but, oh well! So it goes, a film is never truly done.
Color correction was originally going to be done in Davinci Resolve, but since I was on a tight deadline, and I still had not gotten my feet totally wet in that program, I decided to use Apple Color for the quick workflow and my native brain speed in that application. The whole time I was grading I was wishing we had more latitude with the compressed DSLR footage, but for the most part it graded just fine – the Zeiss lenses handled the lens flares beautifully.
Oops on the YouTube Audio Mix
Here is an unlisted link version with the correct audio mix, I’m sure most people won’t tell a lick of difference, but I’m a bit OCD, so here you go. We unfortunately had a mix up with the final stem files, and for Jordan Wiberg’s sake, since he did such an amazing job with the sound design and mix, I wanted to put it up here as there are a few nuances that we missed since the YouTube version was inadvertently exported and uploaded using the STEM mix and not the mixed down file. We couldn’t replace the youtube video because it had already reached 10k worth of views, so we decided to leave it, as most people won’t even notice.
Listen to the Interview of Christopher S. Clark and Patrick H. Parker as they talk about the production of Earthly Father, Heavenly Father.
We’ve had a few requests from people to post the script to this, so I have done so below.
I remember Him.
I gaze upon them before I part.
They lie in their bed, unaware of me watching.
I leave, they sleep.
The small home I help provide is their world.
They play, they explore, learning to move, to feel, to see, to know, not once thinking how it all came to be.
Crayons, toys, books; it’s all for them.
The fridge opens, the pantry exposed, they expect food to be there.
Not a thought, not a doubt, just hunger.
Cereal, milk, yogurt, messy fingers, messy faces, all fed.
Tummies are full.
Now it’s nap time.
My wife likes nap time.
Once again, they lay in the comfort we provide.
All while I work,
I’m far, but close; always thinking of them.
My phone rings, I only hear breathing.
I smile; my wife’s phone is now missing.
I do it all for them.
I work, that they may grow.
They trust so deeply; how I yearn to do the same.
They see so little of how it all came to be, never questioning, only trusting.
I come home; two-second hugs.
Now I’m a horse.
We eat dinner, brush teeth.
Finally, it’s bed time.
Once again, they lay their heads on the pillows we provide.
I will be their protector. I will be their gentle friend.
I will be my wife’s faithful husband.
I am a father,
I am also a son.
And while I may not understand all that He does for me,
I do know that all that I am, and all that I have is because He’s a father to me.
I now stand, very aware,
of how it all came to be.
- Producer: Christopher S. Clark
- Writer: Christopher S. Clark
- Directed, Filmed and Edited by: Christopher S. Clark & Patrick H. Parker
- Voice: Jordan Wiberg
- Sound Design & Mix: Jordan Wiberg
- Colorist: Christopher S. Clark
- Composer: Rob Elliot
- Cameras: Canon Mark II 5D, Canon 60D, Tokina 11-16mm
- Lenses: Zeiss CP.2 Set
- Edited in Final Cut Pro
- Sound Design in Pro Tools
- Color done in Apple’s Color