BEHIND THE SCENES – EXALT21
“That is why artists, the more conscious they are of their “gift”, are led all the more to see themselves and the whole of creation with eyes able to contemplate and give thanks, and to raise to God a hymn of praise.” – Saint John Paul II, Letter to Artists
Discover what went on behind the scenes in this candid Q&A featuring the hearts & minds, hands & feet behind the Short Film & Dance Choreography – Jamie Raj, Nicole Weers and Francine Ho! These spunky women share their heartfelt thoughts on their call, inspiration, joys & struggles over the course of piecing together their respective segments and bringing them to life for EXALT21!
(Note: Stephanie Lee was also Dance I/C (along with Francine) for EXALT21 and will be featured in our next article so do keep a lookout for it!)
THE CALL | What’s the first thought that crossed your mind when you were asked to serve in EXALT21?
Jamie: OH NO… I’M NOT READY FOR THIS.. but I know that God is calling me to this! I can’t run for much longer and I low-key want to do this, but I’m just scared.
Francine: Definitely nervous and scared because I don’t feel confident AHHH! But also super excited to dance and to bring people to Jesus through movement!
INSPIRATION | What were the central themes that came up as you prayed for your segment?
Nicole: The overall theme we explored in the film was finding Hope amidst the Covid-19 pandemic through the person of Jesus Christ and through community. This pandemic has certainly not been easy for all of us as we were forced to adapt to new ways of living which separated us from the people we love. In the midst of this, Jesus reminds us that we are not alone and can always lean on Him! Just as Christ conquered death and rose from the dead, so too will our Lord be exalted and shine light into areas of darkness and heal any brokenness in our lives.
Francine: The song for the Sunday Dance was entitled “Lift Up Your Eyes”! When Steph and I prayed, the theme of Joy was birthed in our hearts to showcase this theme through the dance. As we invited the EXALT21 audience to dance the mass dance together, we hoped that they would also experience a foretaste of the freedom and joy that comes with leading our lives with Jesus through movement!
EXALT21 audience during the mass dance
EVOLUTION | How did these themes for your segments evolve over time?
Nicole: With this overarching theme of finding Hope in Jesus in the midst of the pandemic, we explored other sub-themes such as mental health and brokenness in families. These sub-themes emerged through the process of writing and were brought to life by our actors who worked tirelessly to make these struggles relatable. Through this process of creating and sharing our gifts, we were able to grow in greater conviction that Jesus truly is sovereign over it all!
Francine: When Steph chose the song “Lift Up Your Eyes”, it spoke out to her because she wanted to emulate the idea of exalting the Lord up high. When I heard it, I agreed that this was the perfect song for EXALT21 as the lyrics emphasized looking up to the Lord and giving Him all the glory. As I was choreographing this dance, the words of the song inspired me to not only focus on Joy but also think about what it meant to lift Jesus up and to exalt Him as our King!
JOY | When and how did you experience God’s love during this creative process?
Nicole: There was not one specific moment but I do recall instances where I experienced God’s love through this creative process. It really touched me as a director to hear the actors recounting their own personal experiences where they were able to empathise on a deeper level with their characters. I felt God’s love in these instances because of their vulnerability and openness in sharing their personal stories, and in tapping on them in this film to send this strong message of Hope and the Truth that God’s love is really meant for everyone!
Francine: A moment that I experienced God’s love in my work was when the dancers in my piece came together one day for a check-in. I asked them to share how their experience of dancing for the Lord had been. I was very moved to hear their own stories of how enjoyable and freeing the process had been for them and their belief in movement as a way to bring others to Christ. Jesus placed such faithful people in my path for me to work with and their faith stirred mine. I learnt to trust more in the Holy Spirit, knowing that if He moved in their lives, He would move in so many more at EXALT21.
STRUGGLES | Was there a moment of desolation and how did you overcome it?
Jamie: There were many moments of desolation :(( I think I questioned myself a lot and how well I was contributing to the EXALT21 film team. It is a gift I struggle to claim so I really had to rely a lot on God to reaffirm me and remind me of my purpose in this creativity. What helped was realising where these lies stemmed from, and overwriting these lies with the reminders from God that he set me apart for a reason which is to ultimately bring Glory to him and not myself. Hence I did not have to worry about what others thought about me, and instead I could focus on how God was moving in the audience’s hearts through our film.
Nicole: There were several moments where I questioned my own abilities and capacity to serve as a director. I remember how exhausted I would be going into meetings or rehearsals for EXALT21 on some days and I really had to call on the Lord to give me the strength to pull through. There were times where I felt like I lacked the ability to lead and direct on a scale that the Lord was calling me to and felt inadequate in my service. However, the Lord reminded me not to focus on these moments of desolation but to trust in the bigger purpose of moving hearts for Jesus in this film! It was really this bigger goal of seeing people gather as one Church to watch this that motivated me to continue!
Francine: I definitely struggled on the journey because I did not believe I could do it alone. I did not trust in the gifts that Jesus had given me and felt like I was not doing a good enough job. I recognized that this also stemmed from my desire to be perfect instead of striving for excellence for the Lord. I overcame this struggle by persisting in prayer and speaking to others. Jesus helped me to realize that I was being trapped by the lies of the evil one. He moved me to believe more in the movement of the Spirit in and through me and to trust in His love for me!
HAVING FUN | What are some of the funny moments that still makes you laugh?
Nicole: Oh man where do I begin HAHAHA I loved all the theatre warm-ups we did before practices where it was just pure chaos and people could let loose at the end of a work day! When filming on set everyone would have their own antics too – such as Zack’s awkward hands! Behind every good take in the film there were countless hilarious bloopers and illusions we had to resort to for it to all work :’)
(Zack is pictured on the right)
Francine: I was filming the dance practice then at the last pose, my sister, Maxine suddenly fell down and it was hilarious! Another funny moment was at the initial stages where there were certain steps of the dance where some of them struggled to coordinate so when they were learning, it was quite funny to see their lack of coordination. Overall, rehearsals were super fun because it was quite light-hearted and we shared many good laughs together!
“Lift Up Your Eyes” dance crew
HAVING FUN | Who was the bringer of Joy on set?
Jamie: Tough question… HAHA because we filmed 2 families separately, each had a different dynamic and their own quirks. For Zack’s family, Zack was definitely the goofy one that made us laugh with his awkward hands and being so tall, he always had to get into weird positions for us to film him. It’s quite hard to envision if you weren’t there in that moment to laugh at it. For Alicia’s family, it was surprising that Ben made us laugh here and there as he is usually so serious so when he jokes or fools around it’s particularly amusing!
Zack’s film family
Alicia’s film family
Nicole: All the actors are funny in their own way! And everyone in the production team such as Jamie and the producers made this whole experience really fun and joyful too. If I had to pick the funniest moment for me, it would be Esther’s one scene in the film that took place in the kitchen, where she kept calling Zack (her son) back to ask him to do things. I have watched that scene so many times but it still cracks me up hahaha I just really liked how Esther was able to portray that character so well!
FULLNESS OF LIFE | What were the most moving affirmations you have received?
Nicole: I guess the most moving affirmations were the ones who said that they could really relate to the characters and felt that the film conveyed a beautiful message! This meant a lot as we wanted the audience to recognise that Jesus is truly present and moving in all of our lives! Some of us went home to watch this film with our families and/or communities! I think the true beauty of the film is that people can return to it (until the end of the year) and share this message of Hope and Love in Jesus with others!
Francine: The dancers in my piece gave me a card which blessed me greatly! They affirmed me that this gift of dance God has blessed me with is not a coincidence and is one that I can use to worship and praise Him.
THANK YOUS | Who are you most thankful for in your EXALT21 journey?
Nicole: Jamie and I are thankful to Joel from the Office for the script and his guidance through this process, and the entire production team – Stacey, Eunice, Jimson, Amanda, Rachel and Beatrice who have worked so hard to make this film possible. We have also been immensely blessed with a talented group of actors who brought the script and our directorial vision to life! We would also like to express our thanks to Daniel Lopez for narrating and Nicholas and Kristen for letting us use their song in the film. Most of all, all glory and thanks to God for the gift of a wonderful production ensemble that has made this short film possible so that we may move many hearts for Jesus!
Francine: I want to thank my “Lift Up Your Eyes” dancers – Maxine, Sarah, Maximus, Gretel, Vallerie, Janet, Aaron, Lionel, Claudia and Zoe! For their hard work and efforts, their dedication to this project and most of all, for their desire for Jesus! It might look easy because the dance is just 3 minutes long but they consistently practiced for months and worked extremely hard during each rehearsal. I really cannot thank them enough for making this happen. I also want to thank Stephy! For being so helpful and supportive throughout the entire process, for guiding me and leading me in the process of choreographing and for helping me choreograph the mass dance. And for trusting me with this dance also and believing in my charism of creativity!
“Lift Up Your Eyes” dance crew: