Faith-based concert film ’Lamb of God’ centers around hope
Performance shot in the Utah Film Studios
Composer, director and writer Rob Gardner considers the story of Jesus Christ’s resurrection one filled with hope.
“It’s an Easter story, and it is commonly called ‘The Greatest Story Ever Told,’” he said citing the title of George Stevens’ 1965 biblial epic starring Max Von Sydow and Charlton Heston. “Even those outside the faith know there is so much drama, relationships, love, hope and caring. And hope to me is the most important thing in our life. I wanted to tell the story that emphasized hope.”
Gardner’s new project, “Lamb of God: The Concert Film,” a partnership with Excel Entertainment, captures an in-studio performance of an oratorio he wrote in 2010 that tells of Christ’s last week on earth as seen through the eyes of his followers, Peter, John, Thomas, Martha of Bethany, Mary Magdalene, and his mother, Mary.
The movie, which was filmed at Utah Film Studios in Quinn’s Junction in February, has risen to the top of the United States’ Faith Film charts, and hit No. 7 on IMBD’s Box Office Mojo charts.
Performers include vocalists Casey Elliott of the Billboard Magazine-topping, Utah-based vocal trio Gentri, Broadway actors Tyler Hardwick (Thomas), Katherine Thomas (Martha) and Oyoyo Bonner, while musicians include concertmaster Monte Belknap, a regular performer with the Park City Beethoven Festival, and cellist Nicole Pinnell.
“Some of them were friends of friends, and some I knew about, but never saw perform live,” said Gardner, who is known for his work on T.C. Christensen’s 2015 faith drama “The Cokeville Miracle.” “Some like Tyler and Katherine are New York actors who, because of COVID-19, aren’t performing in Broadway shows.”
Gardner composed the oratorio with the goal of taking an 80-piece orchestra, a full choir and soloists on the road to perform concert halls around the world.
While he did that, Gardner tossed around the idea of turning the work into a feature film.
“We decided to put that concept aside, because there were so many live performances that were scheduled, and we wanted to support them,” he said.
But the more he thought about making a film, the more the idea made sense.
“While there is nothing like being in a room full of people sharing an experience, live performances are limited to geographical areas,” Gardner said. “So, I felt there had to be some way for people to enjoy performance at their own convenience, and with a movie in theaters or streaming online there is a potential to reach a larger audience.”
When Gardner finally decided to make a film of “Lamb of God,” he thought about filming narrative reenactments with actors and sets.
“We actually brought in a production designer to see if we could build sets and shoot it somewhere that would hint at Jerusalem,” he said. “We did shoot some scenes for the trailer to show people that this was about the Resurrection, but the truth is we totally forgot about that, because the performances we shot by the singers and musicians were so compelling even if they were just standing behind the microphone. We didn’t want to cut away from them to some random actor.”
Gardner’s vision during the shoot was to place the viewer in the middle of the orchestra.
“As a composer and music producer, I’m super lucky to be in a recording studio or on a stage with amazing musicians, but audiences don’t have that opportunity,” he said. “So we this movie gives them that chance. We can put them at the feet of the cellist or right in the face of a singer. That way the audience can see the emotion on these artists’ faces.”
In casting the film, Gardner also didn’t just want to hire vocalists who sounded the same as the singers who performed the original oratorio.
“We wanted to cast a wide net and get new voices who would bring a new perspective to the work,” he said.
In addition, Gardner had to reorchestrate the work to accommodate a smaller symphony.
“When we first performed the work 10 years ago, we had an 80-piece orchestra,” he said. “With this project, we had 20 musicians and a small choir. So the goal was to keep the spirit of the work, and make it different enough so people who know it will discover new things.”
Gardner chose to shoot the performance at Utah Film Studios after contacting concert halls and other performance venues.
“They weren’t renting because of the pandemic,” he said. “We went back to look at the Utah Film Studios, and it felt so good. The people who run it were so accommodating.”
Because Utah Film Studios features three sound stages, Gardner and his crew could socially distance the musicians and singers, and maintain a clean and sanitary environment.
“I was worried because of COVID, but we all worked hard to make the set the safest place they could be in,” he said. “It also worked because the bare stage would mimic where we were in the world, and the lack of scenery would draw the focus to the performances. It was a risk, but from the minute we lit it and started performing, it worked out well.”
The idea for the concert film came together Jan. 1, and the shooting ran an average of 10 hours a day from Feb. 3-5.
“We hit the ground running,” Gardner said.
For information, visit lambofgodmovie.com and robgardner.com.
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