CTA'S Director of Programmes Crawford Telfer writes:
In the world of Television they say never work with animals or children. I'd like to change that to 'never work with donkeys or fishermen from Galilee'. Just why Jesus chose such is a mystery. However I can't say the same about working with ITV's 'The Bill' star Russell Boulter - a real pro right down to the 9th take. Russ, the fishermen and a recalcitrant donkey were all part of our experience in Israel last December when we were shooting our recently completed video called 'So who is this Jesus?'
The 55 minute video is in three parts and is a Biblically based presentation of the person of Christ. With other feature film type videos about Jesus already available and being widely used, why did we embark on this one? Well, we wanted to make a culturally appropriate non dramatic programme aimed at the 'man in the street' who has no idea who Jesus is except as a swear word. That's why we asked Russell Boulter to present it. In a down to earth, no nonsense style Russ simply takes us through the main elements of Jesus' life placing him in the context of Israel's early history. There's definitely no preaching or attempt to 'convert'. Instead part of the video has 5 people who explain what it's like to be a Christian. Among them are Ben Castle who talks about his dad's death from cancer, and a former gang leader, imprisoned for attempted murder. The video is part of the JC2000 millennium project for schools, and is also being distributed in the USA and Canada.
However the original concept behind it is for Churches and individual Christians to give or lend it to their non-Christian friends, work colleagues and people in the neighbourhood. In three parts, it can be, watched a part at a time, or all at one sitting. We hope the 'cringe' factor is low enough for it to be shown to a modern secular and somewhat cynical audience accustomed to watching high quality drama on their TVs every night.
But back to Israel. There's a lot of shooting goes on there, and it's not always with a Camera. During our initial planning trip, we were conscious of the tension that felt like a pressure cooker about to explode. And one day it did. We were making phone calls in our hotel in Jerusalem, and heard sirens wailing outside. Assuming it was an accident or a baby about to be born we ignored it. Forty five minutes later in the King David museum setting up a location, my mobile phone rang. It was my mother from Scotland anxious to know if we were okay. Breakfast TV in the UK had just reported a bomb going off half a mile away from us, killing two and injuring many. Then we remembered the sirens 45 minutes previously. Such is the miracle of modern communications.
Anyway, we continued with our planning trip and were able to set up everything we needed for the filming later, including 6 genuine fishermen from Galilee, a Jesus lookalike carpenter in Nazareth, and the inevitable donkey near Bethlehem. We even had a baby Jesus (but don't tell anyone because 'He' is a she). All the locations we needed fell into place with amazing ease.
On returning to the UK we grew worried about developments in Iraq, and it looked like we would not get back to Israel for the filming. However we went ahead and booked flights, and just before we were due to return with the crew and Russ, the FO announced it was 'safe' to go.
I've always been a terrible pessimist and so when we began shooting all I could think of was 'what if Russ gets ill, or the fishermen change their minds, or all the drama vignettes we planned go awry or if Saddam starts acting up again - or worse - if it starts raining as it is supposed to at this time of year?' Well, none of my fears materialised - in fact everything went like clockwork. That is apart from one or two occasions. That donkey could have been the death of (or serious injury to) our presenter. Try riding a donkey bareback down a steep rocky hill, and you too will end up sliding up its neck and almost strangling the poor animal - as Russ did ! Two attempts was enough - it was the only occasion we got a glimpse of his character on 'The Bill'. That's why in the video you see him on foot, leading the donkey towards Bethlehem with a sense of relief.
had three hours to film six Galilee fishermen, and Russ's opening and closing
bits to camera on a boat, on the lake - the most important parts of the
video. It's not a morning I want to repeat. Our Israeli translator couldn't
decipher my Scots accent, and I had to resort to playing charades to get
what was needed. Try doing that in a wee boat, tossing about in the waves
with a sound recordist about to be sea sick - and with fishermen who think
the whole thing is a great joke. I found a whole vocabulary of largely
unused words springing to mind. We also had to re-create the 'resurrection
breakfast' with Jesus and the fishermen eating grilled fish. For Russ (who
for this sequence put on a 'Jesus' costume and was filmed from behind)
the experience was deeply moving. Despite the pressure - it all went amazingly
well. And that really sums up our experience in Israel - it all went amazing
well. I think God had something to do with that!
Duration: 55 minutes
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