Set Junkie

One of the many wonderful things about my job is the fact that I get to work with several hundred very passionate, talented people. There are so many wonderful folks at In Touch, so many wonderful stories, that we decided to make it a running special feature called “The Faces of In Touch.” Gary Longenecker, our Director of Photography, was the first person to grace the pages of our magazine, and it was my honor to interview and write about him. 

“Ah ha!”

Gary Longenecker stands triumphantly in the doorway, a battered rake in his hands and a mischievous glint in his blue eyes. Everything had been set—the subject in place, video and audio crews ready to record—but Longenecker hesitated. To him, there was something wrong with the look of the scene.

When you’re working on location, anything and everything can happen. Sunlight that shone perfectly through a window one minute can spoil a shot the next. That’s where creativity comes in—something Longenecker, In Touch Ministries’ Director of Photography, has in ample supply. He straps the rake to a hodgepodge of grip equipment, adjusts the angle, and the light filters through it, creating a pleasing shadow on what had previously been a blank wall.

And with that, it’s time to roll camera.

*****

If you’d like to read the rest of the article, pop on over to In Touch Ministries’ website. And don’t forget to leave a comment!

They Way They Do the Things They Do

Whether it comes in the form of film, television, graphic novels, short stories, or even epic poetry, I just can’t get enough of stories. Seriously, a well-executed yarn is to me what a bowl of crunchy kibble is to a hungry dog. Feed it to me, and I’ll hang around on your back porch forever.

But what exactly makes a story great? An engaging plot is a must of course—one that is believable, perfectly paced, and airtight. Also, the right scene has to be set through the use of accurate costuming, stage dressing, and dialogue. If I’m going to watch a film about the Civil War, I want to be able to imagine the feel of the canon’s boom rattle in my chest, and a film set in the English countryside better come with the aroma of a garden and some well-placed whithers and wheresoevers if you know what I’m sayin’.

However, I can sometimes forgive a lack of verisimilitude if the characters are engaging enough on their own, and their are actors out there who have compelled me to love whatever entertainment vehicle they’re currently driving despite my lack of overall interest or possible outright disgust. Envision Michael C. Hall on the hit show Dexter. The thought of a serial killer with a penchant for knives, sheet plastic, and screwdrivers makes my skin crawl, but he somehow makes the show’s title character…likeable. Heck, I found myself rooting for him not to get caught once they found his dumping ground in the ocean and wondered what kind of person that made me.

So, I sat down and thought about ten shows I watch and my favorite characters on each, and I discovered that those stand-out thespians all had something in common. They so fully inhabit their roles that they’ve created little tics for their alter egos, Lilliputian idiosyncrasies that might go unnoticed by ninety-five percent of the viewing audience but are as essential to the show as many of the larger moving pieces.

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Boyd Crowder (Walter Goggins)—The hillbilly antihero of Justified has a style all his own. He’s as country as can be, but his dialogue is riddled with esoteric vocabulary, biblical allusions, and luscious sarcasm. A great example of how people from my neck of the woods play “country dumb,” Goggins delivers the lines with a perfect cadence and subtle style that draws me in. Sometimes, I’ll rewind just to hear him deliver a line again. However, the weird quirk he’s developed for Boyd is a penchant for keeping his hands in his pockets. Sitting, standing, walking–it doesn’t matter. Boyd’s hands are always firmly lodged at the waist of his well-fitted jackets. I suppose, on a show where most people come in armed for bear, that keeping one’s hands in one’s pockets is a sign of bravado. Also, not using his hands makes viewers look at his face, which is expressive in its understated style. Whatever the reason, it’s alluring, and I adore him.

Image from smartladieslovestuff.com
Image from smartladieslovestuff.com

Niles Crane (David Hyde Pierce)—This is my nod to the shows of yesteryear. If you missed out on Frasier, do yourself a favor and find it somewhere in syndication or watch it on Netflix, Hulu, or one of the other umpteenth thousand avenues through which cable television is now readily available. Both brothers had his share of quirks, but Niles was Frasier magnified to the forty-seventh power. In fact, at once point in the show when he was in the midst of OCD compulsion–washing his hands, measuring the cinnamon sprinkled on his latte, and wiping his seat with a handkerchief–Frasier looks at his brother and says, “Compared to you, I’m a Teamster.” One of Niles’ greatest tics was his tendency to pass out whenever he saw blood–especially his own. Watch the clip and see the comedic genius of David Hyde Pierce on display.

Abby Sciuto (Pauley Perette) and Leroy Jethro Gibbs (Mark Harmon)—There are some crazy forums on the Internet that bemoan the fact that Gibbs and Abby from NCIS haven’t yet “hooked up,” which is both disgusting and utterly ignorant. Anyone with half a brain would know that Abby fills the role of daughter for Gibbs–the little, trusting girl he never got to raise. He dotes on her more than any other character on the show–bringing her Caff POW!, bragging on her work, and trusting her with his secrets. One of the many rituals they have is the kiss for a job well done. It doesn’t happen every episode, but more often than not, when she discovers some piece of vital information that gives Gibbs the facts he needs to go find and maim a bad guy, she’s rewarded with a quick smack on the cheek. It’s one of those moments of intimacy (and I’m not using that term sexually) for poor, widowed Gibbs that makes him less icy and foreboding. Always a sweet treat for me on Tuesday nights.

Image from slashfanatic22.livejournal.com

Joan Holloway-Harris (Christina Hendricks)—My husband chose to join me in watching Mad Men each week because of “Red,” the luscious femme fatale of the office secretary set. Joan, unlike the other girls who fall victim to their emotions or make stupid decisions and fall apart like cheap tissue paper, makes savvy choices. When chaos erupts around her (in the case of the man who had his foot om nommed by the lawn mower in season three) or in her own personal life (when her doctor-to-be hubby turns out to be a lemon of a lifetime investment), Joan is ready with a quippy line, which is often delivered with her left hip upthrust at a jaunty angle. Whenever she stands still, she shows off her curves by standing at nine or three instead of six o’clock, and it works to her advantage. Points to Ms. Hendricks for knowing how to rock her figure.

Image from writerangrywritersmash.blogspot.com/

John Bates (Brendan Coyle)Downton Abbey, and the adorable Mr. Bates, are recent obsessions of mine. Points to PBS for actually managing to snag a show that makes me want to donate to their efforts for another reason besides a free tote bag. (Though I am rather partial to the siren call of free tote bags, let me tell you.) It’s an amazing show. If you haven’t heard about it yet, you must be new to this planet because it’s only been the hottest thing around since the second season started this year. It’s left both the Brits and their bumpkin cousins over here in the States panting for more. Mr. Bates has a great many character traits I enjoy, but the best of them all is the half-upturned lip of amusement he uses with certain characters on the show (most notably his love interest, Anna Smith). That and the bowler just make me want to melt into a puddle on the floor.

Image from chrissywelsh.com

Olivia Dunham (Anna Torv)—I know I said I admired Walter Goggins because he could steal a scene without using his hands, but the exact opposite is true of Anna Torv on Fringe. In every scene she’s in (whether as Olivia or Fauxlivia), she’s interviewing suspects or victims or talking to another member of Fringe Division–her hands flying like Tippi Hedren’s in her PTSD flashback in The Birds. More often than not, she spins them in a circle one another, fingers splayed in an intricate display of digits, and ends with them either spread apart in jazz hands formation or gripped together demurely like a penitent nun. I couldn’t find a still or video clip to show exactly what I means, but one episode is enough to see Ms. Torv takes her own tendency and makes it purely her character’s.

Walter White (Bryan Cranston)—Oh, my word. I never thought I’d be as into Breaking Bad as I am now, but with this last season finale and the amazing assassination of Gus, I’m all in! (Seriously, death by wheelchair bomb. It was like the creme brulee of death scenes. So epic). His transformation from sanguine spirited scientist to meth manufacturing maniac has been an interesting (and sometimes heartbreaking) one to watch, and one thing that has marked the moment of change as consistently as a sore knee foretells the coming rain is something I call “the furrowed eyebrow scowl of fury” on the face of one Walter White. Really, Bryan Cranston has taken Walter from sissy to savage more than once, and it’s totally convincing. There’s something so flat in his delivery of his lines and the look on his face that make me more than a little terrified of him. He should have won an Emmy at least twice for his work on this show, and he would have done so, too, if it hadn’t been for that pesky boy in grey, Don Draper.

Sheldon Cooper (Jim Parsons)—As Templeton the Rat once said, “A fair is a veritable smorgasbord, orgasboard, dorgasboard after the crowds have ceased.” If characters were like special events, Jim Parson’s work as Sheldon Cooper on The Big Bang Theory would make him one funnel cake short of the county fair. Seriously, I’ve never seen a character with so many odd and quirky personality traits! I honestly don’t know how he keeps them all straight when he shoots a scene, but somehow, he does. Of them all, the gasping laugh is my favorite by far. Half gasp, half laugh—all sarcasm— it’s as much a part of the show as Howard’s vociferous, disembodied mother. Check out the video below and indulge in a moment of hilarity that only Sheldon’s laugh can provide. Bazinga!!

Rick Castle (Nathan Fillion)—Whether it’s horsing around with the guys, flirting with Beckett, or indulging in some true father/daughter time with Alexis, the central character in Castle always manages to find a way to have a good time. The overall impish attitude of Nathan Fillion is a wonder to behold. Whenever a murder happens in a way that could be something out of a story, he has a geek out moment of epic proportion, often using lines like, “This is SO TOTALLY cool!” Remember, he’s a professional fiction writer on the show, but he doesn’t describe his girlish glee using cleverly constructed sentences or high level diction. Instead, he reverts to the language of an eight-year-old because, in that moment, that’s exactly what he is. It’s like watching a pre-teen take over a man’s body. The puckish side comes out on some episodes more than others, but it’s one thing that makes Castle a fun watch on Monday nights.

Image from http://xfinity.comcast.net

Dwight Hendricks (Jason Lee)—When I first saw Jason Lee on Memphis Beat, I had trouble believing it was the same guy who starred in My Name Is Earl. Rather than his hair sitting atop his head like Heatmiser’s in The Year Without a Santa Claus, the stylists chose to slick it back and give him a set of wicked sideburns that would make the King proud. Loose flannel shirts and floppy work shoes have been replaced by well-cut jeans, shirts that are tucked in, and a suit jacket. With those and a few other changes, a man I saw as a goofy, goodhearted hero suddenly becomes a blues singing hunk. Seriously! He’s also amazingly good at lip syncing  because I didn’t know until I did a little research that he wasn’t actually performing the closing song of each episode. However, it’s the fact that he croons with his eyes closed that makes me like him. He throws himself into the faux performance, one hand raised like Elvis and the other cradling the old school microphone in front of him, and belts out gospels, blues, and rock and roll hits in one smoky Memphis bar or another. Whether it’s a ballad or a cause to boogie, Jason Lee’s performing with his eyes squeezed shut, lost in his own little world (which is where I’m guessing he came up with the name Pilot Inspektor Riesgraf-Lee for his poor son).

Image from 2.bp.blogspot.com

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So there you have it, ten characters on television whose weirdness makes me go wild. I’d love to hear about the characters you all like and why. Share your thoughts in the comments section below!!!

Thoughts That Outnumber the Sand

I have been having serious Kiefer Sutherland withdrawals ever since 24 ended, so I was excited to learn that he was starring in a new show in 2012. The pilot for this show, Touch, aired last week, and two more episodes have been scheduled for this season. I thought this introduction to the series was fairly engaging; it started in medias res with a brief narration from the gifted youngster, Jake,  who sees all then skips to the airport where the cell phone that ties the secondary and tertiary characters together is first located by Martin Bohm (played by Sutherland).

A Chambered Nautilus. Image from seasky.com

The opening voice over is actually quite interesting. In it, Jake explains the precise ratio of the universe (1:1.68) and the subtle laws of behavior and patterns that govern all things from seashells to humankind. Only a few people, he claims, can see the patterns and can intervene in such a way to make sure the people whose lives need to “touch” can do so.

I found myself intrigued because the child’s observation is half correct. The universe does have a system of rules that keep it operating harmoniously. There are indeed patterns and rules, and each and every one of them points to divine engineering, a master Craftsman. Scientists have many names for this amazing power, but I simply call Him almighty God. Where the show takes a wrong turn is when it states the child can see and understand all things through numbers. It is true that some gifted people can see portions of the grand design in that way, but no human is capable of discerning all the intricacies of the universe.

The “Eye of God Nebula.” Image from Geekologie.com

Fox, the network airing this show, describes Touch as, “A drama that blends science and spirituality to explore the hidden connections which bind together all of humanity.” Ah, “spirituality”–that catchy word used by those who are willing to admit that there is a power in the cosmos greater than they are but who refuse to recognize Him as God for some reason. “I’m spiritual” must be easier on the ears than “I’m religious” for some. After all, there is some Eastern flavor to the former, an aura of enlightenment that places one on a higher plane of existence. And isn’t that what most people are searching for—a way to set themselves apart while simultaneously defining the world from their perspective?

Why is that somehow preferable to recognizing that one has a Maker, One through whom all things were created? I suppose recognizing God means subordinating yourself to His ultimate authority, and many people balk at the idea that their lives are not their own to live as they see fit.

Many people enjoy the concept of the “red thread” mentioned in this show, the one that, according to a Chinese proverb (note the Eastern influence), binds all people together. However, this is only true when it involves wonderful things like the path the cell phone takes in the pilot episode. They refuse to recognize it when that pattern compels them to do something they are unwilling to do or give up something to which they’ve become partial. Then words like “logic” and “fate” come into play instead.

The other interesting scene takes place between Bohm and a man named Arthur Teller (played by Danny Glover). The clip I transcribed below is available through Hulu/IMDB. Click the link if you would like to see the scene or watch the full episode.

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Arthur Teller: The universe is made up of precise ratios and patterns….all around us. You and I, we don’t see them, but, if we could, life would be magical beyond our wildest dreams. A quantum entanglement of cause and effect where everything and everyone reflects on each other. Every action, every breath, every conscious thought…connected. Imagine the unspeakable beauty of the universe he sees! No wonder he doesn’t talk.

Martin Bohm: My son sees all that?

Teller: Mr. Bohm, your son sees everything. The past, the present, the future–he sees how it’s all connected.

Bohm: You’re telling me my son can predict the future?

Teller: No. I’m telling you, it’s a road map, and your job now, your purpose, is to follow it for him. It’s your fate, Mr. Bohm. It’s your destiny.

***

Image from smileosmile.com

What he’s speaking of is the omnipotence, omnipresence, and omniscience of God, and it would be amazing to be able to view the world as He does. What’s exciting is that, one day, we will. For those who have accepted Jesus Christ as Savior, an eternity of seeing this beauty awaits. Our heavenly Father sees and understands these patterns because He created them! It is He who controls it all–everything from the orbit of planets to the breath that you and I draw each and every second, often unconsciously.

Image from geniusbeauty.com

He knew each and every one of us before we were even formed in our mothers’ wombs, and He desires that each and every one of us be reconciled to Him. Jesus Christ died for every single human being on this planet, but He would have done the same thing had it only saved me. Or you.

Yes, any one person would have been worth the cost of Calvary to Him. The extent of that love is so unfathomable that my heart aches when I dwell on it. You and I matter that much to the God who created a universe we have yet to fully fathom. Why would anyone want to live without Him? Isn’t a God who is willing to do that worth serving, worth laying one’s life down for? He certainly is to me.

Image from ptialaska.com

What the creators of this show fail to understand is that every one of us actually can see the patterns, the intricacies of our beautiful world. His handiwork is all around us from the glory and perfect harmony of a coral reef to the amazingly intricate structure of weather patterns. Even our bodies are absolute marvels of creation, yet we take them for granted and refuse to see the hand of God in them!

The sun, moon, and stars. The changing of seasons. Flowers of every shape and color. The symphony of birds’ songs. The scent and flavor of an orange. All of these wonderful experiences are ways in which you and I can perceive and commune with God. There is no need for mathematical analysis or cold abstraction with our heavenly Father, for He has made Himself more than apparent to us if we will only take the time to look.

This truth is what David praised in Psalm 139:

13 For You formed my inward parts;
You wove me in my mother’s womb.
14 I will give thanks to You, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made;
Wonderful are Your works,
And my soul knows it very well.
15 My frame was not hidden from You,
When I was made in secret,
And skillfully wrought in the depths of the earth;
16 Your eyes have seen my unformed substance;
And in Your book were all written
The days that were ordained for me,
When as yet there was not one of them.

17 How precious also are Your thoughts to me, O God!
How vast is the sum of them!
18 If I should count them, they would outnumber the sand.
When I awake, I am still with You.

That is the God who has already touched my life and yours, and He alone is our purpose.