The Making of A Brave Hope
By Joel Hughes
The movie A Brave Hope took a year-and-a-half to create. I initially envisioned making make a 5-10-minute movie about Rebekah’s life, faith, and journey with cancer. I wanted to capture her unique spirit and character, to show the world that an ordinary person, if he or she looks to God, can rise above even the most tragic circumstances. I wanted to help hurting and struggling people know that there is always hope, no matter what.
The vision I had at the time was to make something simple for Facebook. That’s about it. My dad had recently just died from cancer. He left me a small inheritance and I wanted to do something with it to honor him, honor Rebekah, and give hope to the world.
I initially got the idea for a little movie from the church that we were attending at the time. It’s a very large church here in So Cal, and many Sunday mornings, before service, they would play a 1-2-minute testimony movie up on the two big screens. Each little movie would highlight the life of a person in the church: who they were before Christ and then how Jesus and the church had changed his or her life. They were so well done, that I thought, Rebekah’s story needs to be told like that.
Eventually, I got in contact with one of the film makers, who, by the time we eventually met up, no longer worked for the church. He was working for L’Oréal cosmetics, filming commercials. His name is Benjamin Ironside Koppin, a graduate from Biola Film School. Ben is a very talented film writer and director. He has also produced and filmed several independent feature films and documentaries.
When I first spoke with Ben on the phone, we hit it off, and he loved the idea of doing a short movie telling Rebekah’s story. At that time, it was nothing more than just an idea.
I spoke with Ben several more times on the phone and then Rebekah, me, Ben, and his wife met for lunch to talk about it further. As we continued to talk about the project, my vision for a movie began to expand. I thought, we can easily make this 30-45 minutes long. But Rebekah’s story is so strong and compelling, that I realized that we can and should do a feature film documentary.
We began filming in our house. Ben came over and set up all his equipment. Rebekah sat for almost two hours while Ben interviewed her. This was her first time on camera and that interview was very raw, emotional, and powerful. We were all in tears at least half the time. We all felt like we were on to something very special.
Rebekah’s story is so intertwined with her family in Oregon, that I kept thinking how awesome it would be if we could all fly there and do some filming. I knew it would be outside my budget, but I also thought, if we are going to do a full-length movie, let’s do it right. So Rebekah, me, Ben and his wife (and their little baby, Zeke) all flew to Ashland, Oregon.
We filmed in Oregon for three days and it was amazing. We filmed not only in Rebekah’s mom’s house, but all over the little town and parks of Ashland.
It was also around this time that Rebekah and I started thinking about and planning out our books. I found an awesome book cover designer, Steve Plummer. Steve and I collaborated on ideas for the movie and book covers. There was a lot of emails back and forth discussing ideas and fine-tuning the overall brand and look.
The movie still did not have a title (nor did the books). We wrestled with probably 10 different titles and subtitles. Day and night, I was always thinking about the movie and books. I was always reading and studying about how in the world all this works! When I wrote down “A Brave Hope”, I knew I had it. It summarizes Rebekah and her journey perfectly.
The cover art is all done by Steve Plummer. I took a ton of pictures of Rebekah at the beach (Newport, CA) and in the mountains (Big Bear, CA). I told Steve the look and feel—the emotions—I wanted the cover to capture, and he did his magic creating dramatic cover art.
Making a movie takes way longer and takes way more work (and money) than I had initially thought. There were many other things that I was working on in between filming. I was working back and forth with Steve Plummer on the cover art and text. I contacted Bethel Music and negotiated licensing rights to use the song, “You Make Me Brave” by Amanda Cook. Editing was a long process. Ben would send us rough cuts of what he had done, and it took us hours to go through every second trying to find points to cut or places to add something. This is an example of one of the pages I sent back to Ben.
One thing that we all agreed on from the beginning, was that while Rebekah’s Christian faith is central to her life and hope, we did not want to make another cheesy Christian movie with a fake happy ending. I did not want this movie to feel like a gospel tract. We wanted to capture real life as it is, raw, honest, painful, and yet equally glorious. The movie has an open-ended ending. Life continues now, and we were not going to try to force a happy ending. Life, often, does not always have a happy ending. The point, though, is that you can find happiness and contentment amid suffering and disappointment.
Ben, Rebekah, and I were always working on the movie’s story, the theme, the audience, and the focus. Her story is amazing but getting it squeezed down to a coherent one-hour story is no easy feat! The first two-hour interview Rebekah did was strong, but we realized that some important elements were left out or were too long or not enough.
We scheduled a follow up interview at our house and Rebekah did another hour’s worth of interview. After that, we met at Ben’s home studio for more interviews with Rebekah and me. During the shoot at Ben’s studio, we also got a lot of creative “B-roll” footage. B-roll footage is alternate footage that is intercut over the interview to show flashbacks and simultaneous action.
At that point, we had about 10-15 hours’ worth of filming! But there was something else that I wanted in the movie. When Ben and I first began talking about the project, he emailed me a short documentary about the movie, The Revenant, staring Leonardo DiCaprio. I watched it at work one day and I was taken in by the sweeping aerial shots done by a drone. I thought, I want to do that!
Ben had gone to film school with another up-and-coming film maker named Andrew Rurik. Andrew was an expert at filming with drones and licensed by the FAA to fly anywhere. I thought it would look very cool to get Rebekah on a cliff overlooking the ocean while the drone flew all around her. We also had some more ideas for creative B-roll. So we scheduled another two days of filming.
We first shot Rebekah and me at Dana Point Harbor, the place where we had our first date. We then drove to Crystal Cove State Park in Newport Beach. It was there that we did the beautiful, sweeping drone shots of Rebekah.
The next day, Sunday, Ben came back to our house for some B-roll footage. We spent the whole day shooting various things that would help give context to the interview footage.
More to come...