From Grief to Gratitude: How Working in Film Changed My Perspective on Serving

During the worst week of my life, I listened to two songs on repeat. Queen’s Under Pressure and Iris by the Goo Goo Dolls permeated my eardrums on the Amtrak from Hanford to Fullerton Station. I felt the lull of the train’s engine as I sat out of view from the few passengers scattered throughout the car. I was a shell, empty and numb. From the perspective from any onlooker, I was upright and focused. On the inside, I was grieving. The sudden death of my friend had robbed me from joy. The nightmares and guilt that wracked my brain had caused me to exist in a zombie like state. Dead among the living, that’s how I felt. Suicide doesn’t just break your heart, it sends a hurricane into your life and lights you on fire. I was broken, angry, and had started to develop panic attacks. I felt like the world had forgotten about me as everything started to slow down. “Why doesn’t anyone care?” and other thoughts of self pity echoed in my mind. The first class of my organizational business master’s was finished and I had been unable to show up for the last day. It didn’t matter, because I had another calling on my heart. 

1.) It Started With a Song

Even though my loss had shaken my beliefs and perspectives on life, I decided my dreams would persevere. I found another master’s program through Regent University and began my journey into the world of film producing. I realized the cruel competition of self publishing. My poetry wasn’t selling and I wasn’t getting any chapbook deals. I needed a new plan and what better time for a dream reform? I decided I could translate all my writing to the screen. That spring, I wrote and produced my original song, Cards, to commemorate the wonderful person I’d lost. It wasn’t a song, but a poem put to melody, asking God to bring Heaven down to heal the pain of suffering. The chorus is actually a response to the bridge in Under Pressure:

Give me your cards, show me your heart, 

Let me hold it in my hands

Through the night, our shadows will find, 

That paper burns fine in the candlelight…

Soon after, a friend of mine and I filmed a simple, one shot music video to capture the emotion of the song. It was successful in the sense that I had produced something from start to finish. It received several hundred views on Facebook and Youtube. In Producing With Passion, author Dorothy Fadiman discusses her first producing experience. She breaks down her process, reminding the reader that the first investors, crew, and audience are friends and family. This is true, and my productions have continued to grow since then. I believe this is because of servitude. 

2.) Serving Over Suffering

“For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life as a ransom for many,” Mark 10:45. A pastor and music producer once asked me, “How do you plan to serve others with your music?” This caught me off guard and I struggled to piece together a coherent response. Writing and music have always been fiercely personal to me. As I developed my skills in screenwriting and film production, my perspective began to shift. My relationship with the Lord after the loss of my friend was stuck in neutral. I did not feel God’s presence during this time. It wasn’t because He chose not to pursue me, in fact, he pursues me even harder now. I had shut Him off completely. My radio channel changed, then ceased to function altogether. But still, God found me, placing me in situations where I could be in contact with other believers outside of church. I will go more into that later. For now, I want to talk about servitude. 

3.) Putting it to the Test

In the last blog, I mentioned that my first job gifted me with confidence. Producing allowed me to further explore my ability to serve. When someone asks me why I chose to do film, I usually answer something to the degree of, “because I can write and develop with a team of creatives to work towards a vision we can all be a part of.” At first, my motives were selfish (and to a degree, they still are), but once I saw how much a production team could make a difference, I decided to focus on serving those around me. My first narrative film, Erase Me, encompassed my feelings about my friend’s death. Just over two minutes in length, a team of Biola film students, myself, and my friend Alex, finished principal photography in about six hours. It was two actors, one scene, and snacks and pizza were on me. I provided a place where a team of students could practice and observe the process. But for this one, I feel it was more them who had served me. At the last minute, a wonderful crew pulled together and offered to provide equipment as well as film. I was blessed. To them, it was another set, to me it was everything. 

4.) Carrying the Team

My second narrative film, Tir Na Nog, inspired by the Celtic legend of the same name, went off without a hitch in the Summer of 2019. My new friend and fellow student, Victor, had begun to talk about co-producing a project for festivals. Immediately, I was on board. We shared scripts and discussed plans to get a crew involved before long. I was taking a screenwriting class with a very intense instructor and felt inspired to write a short film. It would be based on a feature concept I had just finished. After my eighth draft or so, I sent it to Victor. Soon, he emailed back, asking if he could show a director friend of his. Less than a few weeks later, Victor, director Joe, director of photography Zach, and myself, sat in a cafe in downtown L.A. to discuss production detail. We swiftly moved into casting and location scouting. I couldn’t believe it was happening. I had two experienced persons from the industry. Most importantly, they were humble and ready to make something for a stranger with a vision. I don’t know if they’re believers, but I know God brought them to me. 

During the next four Saturdays, I had to budget for food, lodging, and other expenses like makeup to accommodate production needs. Let me tell you, nothing is more humbling than producing your own project! My cast and crew were great, everyone was flexible and willing to work. They were incredibly patient with, driving from all over Southern California to bring my story to life (no pressure, right?)! My biggest concern was that everyone’s needs were met. There were several hot days and I had to make sure everyone had enough food and water. Serving is interesting, for when you begin to serve others, they will desire to serve you in return. Proverbs 11:25; “Whoever brings blessing will be enriched, and one who waters will himself be watered.”

With both my films, I feel whatever service I brought to the table for the sake of others, I received ten times over. Along with having the bulk of expenses and daily organization on my shoulders, I was so humbled by everyone’s grace. My crew and cast both asked, “what more can I do? How can I help?” at different times. They also jumped into roles outside of their own whenever they saw a need. Some actors and friends desired to come back to set to do behind the scenes photography. I think I feel even more overwhelmed by the love of friends, strangers, and industry professionals, as I look back on the near finished product. Building relationships in the film and art communities becomes effortless when you meet those with a similar attitude for serving. Much love to everyone who has made my dreams possible thus far. ❤

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You can also buy my 1st John “Take Mine” sweatshirt and tees here!

God bless you, reader 🙂

-Ashley C

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