John Calvin: As told by Littles, Behind the Scenes

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What exactly does it take to put together an “As told by Littles” film? It takes a whole lot of researching, writing, revising, planning, recording, shooting, producing, and editing! What you watch on screen in less than 20 minutes takes a couple of hundred hours to produce. But when we hear from you and the gospel conversations you have with your families, it’s so worth the effort.

John Calvin movie poster

The process of making these short films begins long before the cameras start to roll. With John Calvin, we needed to learn more about his life. We were surprised by how much we knew about Martin Luther’s life before we set out to tell his story. (You can watch the movie we made about him here.) But we really didn’t know much about the ups and downs of Calvin’s own adventure. Our three favorite resources that were most helpful with our little movie were John Calvin’s A Little Book on the Christian Life, Dr. Steven Lawson’s The Expository Genius of John Calvin, and Dr. Robert Godfrey’s John Calvin: Pilgrim and Pastor.

Once we had a decent understanding about his life’s story arch, we began to outline the movie. This takes more time than you might realize since we’re trying to tell an entire life in just 15 minutes. Around the same time, we start to storyboard. This is a visual layout showing the action of the story. It’s almost like a comic strip. We like to make our storyboards big, so we made this one on the whiteboard in Troy’s office.

Each of our movies have been co-written with various friends. With so many things to coordinate on a movie production, it helps to find a creative person who help carry that load. So we gave our outline to our friend, Amanda, and she began to write. After a couple of writer/producer meetings, we soon had a script that was ready to film.

Next came one of our favorite parts of the process: casting! First, we had to find kid voices for our characters and then record them. All the kids we have casted have been so willing and fun to work with! We had to record all the voices before filming. During this process, the kids will say funny things, giggle, and even mispronounce words. This is all part of the creative process and helps make our films special.

Next, we found adult actors who are willing to learn their lines and mouth what the kids have said. It’s like lip-syncing to a music video in some ways. Once the kids’ voices are recorded, Troy edits the audio to match the script. We then share the clips with our actors so they can practice lip-syncing their lines.

Benedict Castle Teen Challenge
Benedict Castle

But before the camera rolled, there was still more pre-production to be done. Melissa combed through the script and picked out every costume, prop, and set that would be needed. Our friend, Emily, is an excellent costume maker and lent us her time to help costume the cast, which we really appreciated. If we didn’t already have a prop, Melissa went to thrift stores and antique shops around town to find them.

In the meantime, Troy arranged our film location with our friends at Benedict Castle and Southern California Teen Challenge. Construction on the Spanish style “Castle” began in 1922 and took nine years to finish! It was a beautiful backdrop for our film!

Only now could we say: Lights! Camera! Action! After scores of hours of pre-production work, we brought the cast and crew members together for a single day to shoot the main parts of the movie. We arrived at Benedict Castle in the wee hours of the morning and stayed well after dark. The Teen Challenge staff was extremely helpful and accommodating to us, which helped the day run smoothly. The process of filming is so much fun and we were so blessed to have so many of our family, friends, and church to make this film happen.

After the big filming day, Troy began to edit the film and syncing the kids voices to the adult actors. This can be a tedious task at times, but Troy has years of experience making films and enjoys the creative challenge of weaving the audio and video together. During post-production, Troy also worked with our music composer, Nathan, who wrote an amazing original score. (Nathan also wrote the music for our Luther and Katy Luther movies as well.)

John Calvin Cast
Troy and Melissa with some of the cast

During this time, Melissa began to promote the film with social media, church groups, and homeschool groups. Churches and individuals all around the world requested a link to watch the movie on its release day. Our friend, Mevin, who lives on an island in the Indian Ocean, helped us make our poster and social media graphics. We’re so thankful for his talented contribution to the team.

We released the film on Reformation Day. We premiered it at our church during our Reformation Night event. This is one of our favorite parts—being able to see reactions to our film from people who are with us, and from people who worked on the film alongside us.

That, in short, is what it took to make John Calvin: as told by Littles! Troy and Melissa enjoyed every minute of it—doing what they were created to do for the glory of God! We look forward to producing more films in the near future! SDG!

Click here to watch the award-winning film, John Calvin: as told by Littles!

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