It’s well known that Dordt College has one of the best Post-Production facilities in Iowa and beyond, but now we’re moving it to the next level.

Avid Media Composer. Most of the movies and TV shows you watch are cut on this system.

Let me tell you what we have, then I’ll let you in on where we’re going.

We edit on both Mac and PC, using a variety of platforms like DaVinci Resolve, Adobe Premiere Pro and Avid Media Composer. For decades, Avid has been at the top of the post-production heap, with probably 85% of almost everything you’ve ever watched, cut on an Avid system.

Avid is not easy to learn. The curve is steep. But there’s a reason why the vast majority of professional editors choose Avid.

We start our freshmen film making students out right away with Avid. I’ll be honest, it’s a bit scary. But as the semesters roll on, they get better and better at what they do.

We have about 20 Avids all networked together on a 64 terabyte media engine. That’s how the big Hollywood studios set up, and that’s what we did. It’s an awesome setup and we’re very fortunate to be so well equipped.

But now we’re taking another step.

In film, being certified in a program like Avid is sort of like having an advanced degree. It sets you apart and those who do the hiring really notice things like that.

There are only a select few places in the country that are certified by Avid to certify others! (Does that make sense?) The closest one to us is Minneapolis and Kansas City. There is not a single Avid Learning Partner in the entire state of Iowa.

We intend to be the first.

This summer I’ll be doing some intense training to get my own Avid user certification current, adding certification as an Instructor, and doing the necessary work to make Dordt College an ALP—Avid Learning Partner.

This means Dordt will be recognized globally as a place where people (including our own students) can come to get professional training in Avid post production, as well as do the testing for user certification. This is huge!

Working in the Digital Media Lab at Dordt College, one of the premier post-production facilities in the entire region.

Currently, our students learn Avid and are competent to get jobs when they graduate. Now, graduating with “ACU” (Avid Certified User) on their business card and/or resume, will be third-party verification that they are competent, trained and ready to roll.

At Dordt College, we’re all about a fantastic, holistic education from a Reformed perspective. That’s terribly important to us.

But we also recognize that in short order, students will walk across the platform in the BJ Haan auditorium and receive their diploma from President Hoekstra. Are they ready to enter the work force?

We want to make sure they are.

Professor Volkers discussing Avid techniques with the class.

We’re pretty excited that we recently won some weighty awards around here for a film we worked on. But it does raise the question, “why bother trying to win awards?”

I’ll get back to that in a minute, but first, let me give you some background.

A while ago, a team of us flew to Lesotho—a tiny country inside of South Africa—to make a film about shepherds who live at the

Filming the Shepherds of Lesotho

very top of the mountain peaks and herd sheep and goats for months at a time in conditions that are … let’s just say “primitive.”

Some of these shepherd boys are as young as 13. They leave home and for month after month, live in tiny mud and grass huts in frigid, mountain-top settings eating a thin gruel and some greens that are much like poison-ivy. Seriously, they eat that stuff.

Women won’t go near these encampments because the shepherds—Balisana, as they’re known in Lesotho—have quite the reputation for rape, aggressive behavior, stealing and all around nastiness. Oh, and these folks are almost unreached with the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

That’s where Africa Inland Mission (AIM) comes in. AIM sent a team of young, single men to live among the Balisana for two years with the goal of leading a handful to Christ, discipling them, and mobilizing the church in greater Lesotho to begin reaching the shepherd boys.

One of those AIM guys was Mark Eekhoff, a graduate of Dordt College, and that’s how we got into this project.

The two years were coming to a close and the team knew the church hadn’t caught the vision yet to reach their own up in the mountains. We went to help tell the story not for a North American audience, but for the Lesotho church audience.

What an experience!

The Kingdom of Lesotho is rugged. We packed the team and all our gear into a LandRover and covered the width and breath of that beautiful place. The result is a film called “Balisana: The Shepherds of Lesotho.”

Nathan Walter and Connor Neal wrapped in traditional Basotho blankets and wearing authentic Balisana wool hats.

Creating content worth consuming (something we talk about a lot here at Dordt) is reward in itself, so why bother entering projects like this in competitions? Is it a form of self-aggrandizement? Is it conceited? Lacking in humility to seek out recognition?

I entered “Balisana” in the Hermes Creative Awards (one category) and the Telly Awards (two categories). The film took a statuette in all three categories entered and those statuettes are now proudly on display in our trophy gallery near the Digital Media Lab.

It’s one thing to critique each other’s work, point out where it shines strong, where it’s weak, what we like and what we don’t. That helps us grow as filmmakers and storytellers. But submitting your work to an impartial, third-party panel of judges to see what they think? That’s a whole different story.

L to R: Mark Volkers, Ellen Ingriid Dengah, Connor Neal, Jessica Wunderink, Mark Eekhoff, Nathan Walter

So here’s a few reasons to enter (and you can probably come up with many more):

  1. Knowing ahead—before you are even finished shooting or editing—that you will submit your work to rigorous judging, is practically a guarantee that you’ll work a little harder to do the job right.
  2. Competing at a national/international level forces you as a director/producer/editor, to leave the parochial mentality behind and think bigger—globally. While your message and your audience might be localized, your perspective in making the film goes beyond that.
  3. Not winning (which happens) is disappointing, but a spur in the side to do better next time.
  4. Winning (which also happens!) is enormously encouraging for both the team that made the film, and for the client you made the film for. And believe me, having those awards on your shelf and on your website definitely helps drum up new business. People want to do work with award-winning filmmakers.
  5. The final one I’ll mention—and perhaps the most important in the context of Dordt College’s Digital Media department, is this: Those awards set our students’ resumes’ and reels apart from the competition. Launching a career with a Telly Award already on the CV is huge. Absolutely huge. That alone makes it worth the effort and expense of entering competitions.

    Connor and Mark hauling gear up the mountain.


So if you’re a high school student looking for a film program, keep these things in mind. Dordt students travel to places like Lesotho to make films. And Dordt students keep on winning awards.

Conducting an interview with a pastor in Roma, Lesotho.

Setting up the jib for a shot

One of many elephants photographed on the trip.

Shiny Objects in Las Vegas

April 25th, 2017

There’s a trade show in Las Vegas every April called NAB, the National Association of Broadcasters. That’s a rather boring title, so let me tell you what it really is.

L to R: Aaron Radtke, Lucas Simonson, Kaitlyn Frye, Ben Kuiper, Hayden Veurink, Rickey Nelson, Mark Volkers just before the main doors opened at NAB 2017

The NAB is one of the largest electronic shows on earth for all people involved in media. We’re talking radio, satellite, TV, web, Cinema, apps, etc.

You can also think of it this way: Pretty much every company from Australia to Zimbabwe that makes or sells or distributes anything to do with film and video is there. And it’s all hand’s-on. You can play with every camera Panasonic or Sony or Canon or Nikon makes. You can

set up lights, shoot greenscreen, edit on the latest, greatest software and ask questions of the engineers who wrote the code for it. You can see what is trending in tech, go to seminars to listen to great thinkers or just learn how to be a better cinematographer. The list goes on and on.


We go as a team every other year and here’s what happens when students experience NAB for the first time: By the end of the first day, they are numb!

There is so much to see, touch, learn and get excited about that you can’t possibly process it all. It’s just not possible.

But it is so much fun and so valuable. Students network, try out the latest, greatest 4k, 6k and 8k cameras, play with drones, test microphones and sound equipment, attend lectures and gain valuable shortcuts in post-production.

Enjoying some Korean BBQ on the Las Vegas Strip

In the evening, we hit the strip and have a nice meal together to help us unpack the day. One night we went to a Korean BBQ.  The next night was In N Out burgers.

One of our students put the NAB experience on his resume. A prospective employer noticed that and told him what a valuable thing that was to list. Most of his own employees, he said, hadn’t even been to NAB yet.

Practical education. Christian perspective.

A Hollywood editor discussing his post-production workflow for his latest project

An array of Canon’s to create the “Matrix Effect” for sporting events. Very interesting demos he

We traditionally talk about the three stages of film making:

  • Preproduction
  • Production
  • Post-Production

Here in Digital Media land at Dordt College, we add a fourth: Marketing.

What good is a good film if no one sees it?

So we take film festivals and competitions pretty seriously here and that’s paying off for two student films right now.

Defector is a 15-minute film that comes out of our “Short Film Production” class held each Fall. This class is limited to six students—each with a very defined roll. In the Fall, the film is produced. In the Spring, it is marketed.

Defector Group

Jason Miller, Sam Malan, Kyle Fosse, Jessica Lillo (Missing: Andrew Cameron)

Last weekend, Defector took home a Student Emmy Award from NATAS (National Academy of Television Arts and Science)—the same group that gives out Emmys. Next weekend, it competes for the top prize at the IMPA (Iowa Motion Picture Association) Awards right here in Iowa. It’s also been accepted into the Wild Rose Film Festival, the Los Angeles CineFest and more. What an exciting time for independent film makers! The production crew behind this award-winning film is made of up of:

  • Kyle Fosse-Director
  • Jessical Lillo-Producer
  • Andrew Cameron-Cinematography
  • Sam Malan-Cinematography
  • Jason Miller-Editor


Over a year ago, Nathan Walter of Norfolk, NE was given a huge pile of photos, video footage and documents and asked if he could/would make a documentary film out of it all. He turned it into a senior project and created 8,000 Miles with Dad, an epic documentary film (1 hour) about a Dad and Son who travel by motorcycle from Nebraska to Brazil to sprinkle the ashes of missionary grandparents in the Amazon where they work


8,000 Miles with Dad documentary film

ed for 40 years. Wow, what a story! 8,000 Miles has already had a couple theatrical screenings with sold-out shows and another one in the works. It’s competing this weekend for the same awards at the IMPA and we’re still waiting on word from other film festivals around the nation.


Film is meant to be seen by people—lots of people. Festivals and Competitions give exposure to the films we work hard on, and often result in much-deserved awards for our students. These awards and accolades carry weight on the resume and help our students stand out from the pack “out there” in the marketplace.



It’s Awards Season for filmmakers.

Starting in January with the big one-Sundance Film Festival—and moving to SXSW in March, film makers around the world are eagerly waiting to hear if their films have been accepted, nominated and win different categories.

A team of Dordt College student film makers is part of that group! Last semester, Kyle, Jessica, Sam, Andrew and Jason produced an original film called “Defector.” We entered it into several festivals and as of today, it’s been accepted into three already! “Defector” is a contender in the Los Angeles CineFest, the High Country Film Festival in the Blue Ridge Mountains, and perhaps most exciting is that “Defector” is in the running for the Crystal Pillar award with the National Academy of Television Arts and Sciences (Upper Midwest Chapter)—the same group that gives out the Emmys.

Last year, Dordt students took home the Crystal Pillar (known as the “student Emmy) for a music video called “Tyger & Lamb” and we have a chance to do it again this year!

Our Digital Media trophy case in the hallway in the Ribbens Academic Complex here at Dordt College is packed full of awards, laurel wreaths and trophies from films that have gained national and international recognition, and we’re excited that “Defector” is in the running for some more.

Making films in class is good and important, but doing it outside of class—then entering your work in recognized competitions or doing the work for paying clients—that’s where the critical learning takes place.

If you come to Dordt to study Digital Media, maybe you’ll be receive your first Laurel Wreaths, trophies and international recognition for your work. Coming to Dordt might be the best thing you could do to jumpstart your career in film making. (Want to see “Defector”? Sorry, while it’s in competition, we can’t post in on YouTube, etc. Festivals don’t like to entertain films that are already in circulation. We have to wait ’til all our awards and ceremonies are complete before we can post it.  You can watch the traDefectoriler here.)

Wade Vollink and Dan Woudenberg have embarked on a unique experiment in mixed media art.

Not content with standard narrative, these two upperclassmen want to push the boundaries of film and do things a little different. Using a green-screen-cube, four synchronized cameras and advanced movie magic, they want to attempt something unique.

So they got to work building a set. After a trip to the lumber yard they came back to the art department’s sculpture studio, one of Dordt’s stellar facilities, and started building a cube that is 8’x8′ and 8′ high. The only access is by ladder over the top.

While building and painting, Dan took this simple timelapse and keyed in some random artwork during the process. This is an unplanned video, but already gives a hint as to what these guys have in mind.

Stay tuned for updates.

8,000 Miles

December 1st, 2015

Jay, Dale, their Kawasakis and a volcano in Nicaragua.

One of the really fun classes upper class men get to take is “Production Practicum,” which is a fancy way to say, “Independent Study. ” It’s not a traditional go-to-class kind of class. It’s a semester where the student gets to focus on a passion project, and make it come to life.

Nathan W is wrapping up his Production Practicum and it’s a documentary film called “8,000 Miles With Dad.” Friends of his–a father/son duo named Dale and Jay–took an incredible motorcycle ride from Nebraska to Brazil so they could sprinkle the ashes of the parents/grandparents in a river in the Amazon Jungle where they had served as missionaries for 45 years. Along the way they had some remarkable adventures, close calls, and bonding experiences most dads and their sons could only dream about. Oh, did I mention that grandpa’s ashes are in a ziplock bag sewn into the lining of a backpack as they cross international borders?

They shot footage along the way, took pictures and journaled. They handed the entire pile to Nathan, and he’s digging gold from the mountain of media.

Traveling through El Salvador, just before a near-death experience.

One of many animated graphics Nathan is building to show progress on this incredible travel film.

If you love post-production–like Nathan does–than this is an editor’s dream. Like all editing, it’s a matter of finding those golden nuggets and discarding the unnecessary stuff. Then you string those great pieces together to form a story. To help it along, you create graphics, add text, maps, voiceover, score great music and create a compelling story that people will want to see.

Screen Shot 2015-12-01 at 8.38.14 PM

Most people think post production is the final stage, but it isn’t. Marketing is. And that’s where you might be able to join this story. Nathan, Dale and Jay are taking this film on the road for four screenings before Nathan starts the film festival circuit.


  • Dordt College, December 12 at 7:00 pm in SB1606,
  •  Movie theater in Norfolk NE (Hometown of Dale and Nathan) on Jan 23,
  • Movie theater in Lincoln NE on Jan 24.
  • Movie theater in Traverse City, MI (date TBD)

For updates, please like the Facebook page.

(For the techies among you: Nathan used Avid on a Mac to organize the mountains of media and edit the story. He used After Effects and Photoshop to create the graphics. )



Nathan took Dale and Jay to Illinois to film them as they relived some of their experiences on their 8,000 mile journey.

Finally, the very spot in the Amazon where the parents/grandparents served as missionaries for 45 years!

Screen Shot 2015-12-01 at 8.28.30 PM

How is that possible? Glad you asked!

In December, Digital Media students and Professor Volkers will make the long trek to South Africa to film the shepherds in the mountains of a little country called Lesotho. This altitudinous, very high and land-locked country puts us near the Top of Africa. It’s location way down in South Africa puts us near the Bottom of Africa.Lesotho 4

And there’s your answer.


Interesting thing about Lesotho is there’s a whole group of people who make their living as shepherds in the high, remote mountains. Many of them start out as boys, as young as 10. Shepherds in Lesotho are not well respected and areLesotho 1

often looked down upon. Their hard, rugged lifestyle means these boys have very little time for school, for learning manners, and for church. As such, they are an almost unreached group of young men.

AIM—Africa Inland Mission—is doing something about that and one of the people doing something is Dordt College graduate Mark Eekhof. Mark has been living with and roaming with the shepherd boys for over a year now and we have the privilege of helping Mark tell the story of these shepherds NOT to a US audience, but to the people of Lesotho.

Our hope is to have our media broadcast on Lesotho TV to help the Basotho people understand the plight of some of their own, take ownership and begin the outreach and discipleship that is so desperately needed.

If that’s not content worth consuming—or media that matters—I do not know what is.Lesotho 3

A Senior, a Junior and two Sophomores will be part of the team that roams the mountains, gets to know the shepherds, and works to tell their story.

Lesotho, entirely circled by South Africa, only has about 2 million people and the country is greatly underrated as a tourist destination. We’re going in December—which is summer there. One place we’ll go is Semonkong, the Place of Smoke. This little town on the Thaba Putsoa range, gets it’s name from the nearby Maletsunyane Falls (600 feet), which is the starting point for many great hiking and pony-trekking trails. We’ll spend New Year’s Eve in the Johannesburg area, and finish up our tour with a safari to see some game.

Lesotho 2

Gear for the Shoot:

  • Black Magic Cameras, including the brand new Ursa Mini 4.6k (assuming it arrives on time!)
  • Panasonic AF-100
  • Panasonic HVX
  • GoPro Cameras
  • MiniBurst lights
  • Manfroto Tripod with Pocket Jib
  • Senhuizer Mics


Miles Travelled: Almost 20,000

Dates: Dec 30-Jan 11

Why: To produce Content Worth Consuming



Filming on the Border

October 27th, 2015

We have a unique class here called “Short Film Production.” We limit it to a maximum of six students. Each person has a role, like, “director,” “cinematographer,” “editor,” “producer,” and so forth.
The idea is that in one semester, the team produces a film from an original script, then enters it into film festivals.DEFECTOR

2015-10-25 16.26.12
It’s a fantastic time, and a wonderful way to learn the different roles each person has to play while producing a narrative film.
This Fall, the crew is producing a film called “The Defector,” written by Dordt student, Kyle Fosse. Kyle is also serving as director of the film.
In this film, John, an American soldier during WWII, has–let’s say he has issues–on the front lines, and decides to go AWOL. He encounters a German in a similar situation.
The story is a revealing look into the minds of men who are sworn enemies, but who also discover a common humanity.
Principal shooting is almost done and the footage is gorgeous. The battle scenes are very real looking and the main actors are doing a great job. Shooting in the Fall, with the colored leaves and the crisp temperatures, is a joy as much of the shooting is going on in a thick forest–surrounded by recently-harvested fields–along the river that separates South Dakota and Iowa.
A bit more shooting remains, including a jump from WWII to the modern era, then Post production begins in earnest. You can follow the progress and watch the trailer at the Defector Facebook page.

Andrew on camera, Kyle directing.

Dan on the Movi (Ronin), Jessica with the boom mic, Sam on camera, Andrew on camera, and Jason acting and holding a mic.

Tebi as an American GI in WWII.

Josh plays “Ernst,” a WWII German soldier.

2015-10-25 16.29.02

Highlighting Student Work

June 30th, 2014

In some ways, art students and graphic design students have it easy. They can create a painting, a logo, a sculpture, a photograph, and mount it on the wall or set the piece in a corner for everyone to walk by and admire. But displaying student films; that’s another matter. Yes, we can put them on YouTube, Vimeo and personal websites, but in an academic setting like ours, how do we actually display student work?

One thing we’ve done is to create a display case in a high-traffic area on campus where we show off student awards (and there’s a growing collection of these beauties!) as well as have student films constantly looping on 7″ monitors inside the case. People stop by to admire the marquee, see the awards and watch a few minutes of one of the films. It’s been a great way to get work out there. But we only have three monitors looping at a time, so what about some of the other projects students are working on?

2014-06-30 13.13.56-2

The Digital Media marquee at Dordt College

We recently created a place specifically for that reason. It’s a website–outside the official environs of our College web pages–where we can post student work and give a bit more detail about some of things going on. As more and more projects are created, we’ll keep adding more and more content to the site. No, it’s not a wall you can walk by and look at each time you’re nearby, but we hope you’ll bookmark the page and check back regularly to see what students here are up to.

2014-06-19 12.15.05-2Well, it’s over already. Our first ever Media Camp. Seven brave high school students from around the country risked it all to be the first-ever participants in this camp and from their reactions, it was worth it!

As instructors, we had a blast with them. Tuesday was radio day. The students visited two different radio stations-KDCR and KSOU, worked on news stories, went out to do an interview, cut together stories and saw the inner-workings of a radio station.  They even made a commercial to promote DCMC! John Slegers, Jim Bolkema, Denny DeWaard and Sheena all did a great job of helping our future media professionals understand the world of radio broadcasting.

Wednesday was announcer day for play-by-play at sporting events. The team went down to Sioux Falls to watch a ball game with Dordt’s own Mike Byker who does much of the play-by-play for Defender sporting events. They spent time with professionals who do the announcin2014-06-19 11.52.34-2g live on the radio and learned more about that aspect of media.

Thursday was digital media day with Mark Volkers. Students had a frank discussion about the role faith plays in media creation and consumption, had a fantastic tour of KTIV in Sioux City, did some shooting (and a bit of acting), then went into post-production in Dordt’s professional media lab.

Evenings were full of activities including a round of “barnyard golf,” swimming  in the pool, restaurant visits, a BBQ and more. It was great having these young people with us for a week and who knows–it might just happen again next year!

2014-06-19 11.54.54-2

This is our third summer to work closely with Glynlyon publishing out of Phoenix, Arizona. Glynlyon develops curriculum for schools, homeschool families and more. They have lessons on how to be entrepreneurial in business, on medieval history, on geometry, algebra, science and, well, pretty much everything. Over the last two summers, a few students–working throughout the summer as paid interns for Prairie Grass Productions, produced a few videos to accompany those lessons. This summer, we’re ramping it up!

Five Digital Media majors are working full time–the entire summer–producing educational videos for Glynlyon. What an opportunity!

They get a lesson–let’s say it’s on Polygons–then they write a script, or, treatment for what the video could look like. Once their instructor and the contact in Arizona green lights the script, they’re off and running lining up interviews, finding actors, locations, costumes, creating animations, music, graphics and whatever else they need to create excellent work. Our goal is 15 of these videos over the summer. It’s a big job, but Courtney, Kaylie, Lance, Megan and Tanner are up for the challenge. In their first week, they already have a number of scripts greenlighted and one in production. Go team!

At Dordt, we have Discovery Days, the IDEAS camp for science and lots of other fantastic opportunities for young people to learn in the summer. And this summer–for the first time–we’re hosting the Dordt College Media Camp!

Before I get into that, here are the things you’ll want to know:

Dates: Monday June 16-Friday June 20, 2014

Check in: Monday from 6-7:30 pm.

Check out: Friday from 1-2 pm.

What happens between those times is where the fun takes place. This camp is for high school students who are interested in learning all kinds of things about media in all it’s many facets. As of today, plans are still somewhat fluid, but here’s  what it’s looking like:

Tuesday: Radio Broadcasting Day with time spent at a few different radio stations learning the ropes, going out to do live interviews preparing stories for on-air broadcast, then being part of that broadcast.

Wednesday: Sports Journalism/Play-by-Play. Hang out with a pro and learn what it takes to be part of this exciting and demanding career. By the end of the day, you’ll be ready to actually DO a play-by-play announcing gig with your fellow classmates.

Thursday: Digital Media/Film Making. Learn about the equipment, the hardware, the software, and what goes into making a media product–whether that’s a .30 ad for toothpaste, or a 2-hour feature-length film. You’ll practice your craft on the same equipment Peter Jackson used to create The Hobbit, Lord of the Rings, and King Kong.

Friday: Photojournalism: Hang out with an awesome photographer and learn how to get better pictures, no matter what you’re shooting.

Oh, and besides all that, there are field trips! Yup, field trips to shoot photography, go to a sports game and watch professional sports journalists at work, take in a tour of a TV news station and more.

It will be a full week with very little time to get bored. We’re starting small–limiting this group to under 10 students but we think this could grow and become something great!

Should We Go See “Noah”?

March 27th, 2014

A few weeks ago, my mind wandered as I was sitting in church. It does that sometimes. I went to Genesis and started reading the fascinating story of Noah and the flood. Even though I’ve read or heard the story a gazillion times in my half century of life, I realized something for the first time during that reading: That Noah’s grandpa, Methusalah, was 369 years old when Noah was born, and Noah was 600 years old when Grandpa Methusaleh died. Noah knew his grandpa for six centuries!

It’s not earth-shattering stuff, but it was something I had never thought of before.

Fast-forward a few weeks. I’m reading an article in a journal I subscribe to called “American Cinematographer.” The cover story is about the Noah movie with Russel Crowe and it was written by Iain Stasukevich. Iain interviews the main cinematographer about his techniques and lighting style and in the process of the interview, an interesting plot twist is revealed: “Noah plants a seed from Eden that was given to him by Methuselah, and the very next morning, water starts gushing out of the ground in front of Methuselah’s mountain, and trees start popping up.”

That’s it. The article goes back to lighting techniques, which I won’t bore you with. I reread that line a few times, then read it out loud to my wife. She was getting Sunday lunch ready so she gave a polite “uh-huh” and kept working, but I ran to get my Bible and found myself right back in Genesis 6. Of course, Scripture says nothing about magic seeds and trees popping up so I could only surmise that Darren Aronofsky, the director of the film, took a few liberties like this to make the film interesting and watchable.

And that’s the point. Film, as a medium of communication, is intensely visual. If the visuals aren’t interesting, no one watches it. Interesting visuals come from interesting story lines. The two must go together because without the interesting story line, there’s no story which means there’s no need for visuals. The Biblical account of Noah is a fabulous story and reveals to us what God wants to reveal to us as part of His holy word. But for a film, there’s not enough detail. To make a film, some creative license will have to be employed to stand up to the standards of film as a medium, verses words on the printed page. Film is not print and print is not film. Marshall McLuhan is famous for saying it: “The medium is the message.” The medium we choose to use for communication will have a lot to do with the way the message is constructed. To make a Noah film based exclusively on the words found in Scripture will ensure a film with large gaps in the story and in the character development because the medium used—film—will not support the story as expressed in the medium of printed words.

Which gets us to the main point: Should we go see “Noah”?

I haven’t seen the film yet so I can’t give a thumb’s up or not (it’s not out yet as I’m writing this.) But assuming that the film is well made and not full of heresy and gratuitous sex and foul language, then yes, I think we should support the film and enjoy the story. Why? Because for the last many decades, Christians have been brumming about how “they” never make “our” movies. But when “they” actually do try to make “our” movies, we complain and whine about how they missed the mark and didn’t get it exactly right according to scripture and took too many liberties, too much creative license.

When I was a kid, I read “The Lord of the Rings” and “The Hobbit” multiple times. I also read “Guide to Middle Earth” and other behind-the-scenes kind of books. I was a Middle Earth nerd. Before the three “Rings” movies came out, I read each novel to my kids and did all the voices. We timed it so the end of our reading came the same week as the opening of the film. We were in the theatre on opening night. We didn’t wear costumes because we’re not quite that nerdy but it’s close. I absolutely loved the movies because for all those years, the images in my mind of Frodo, Gandalf, Legolas et al were completely in my mind. For two glorious hours, I saw Peter Jackson’s vision of what Gandalf looked like and sounded like, what Middle Earth might have looked like. His Orcs are far grosser than my Orcs and frankly, his are better. But to make the story work in a different medium, Jackson had to take some artistic license and deviate from J.R. Tolkien’s carefully constructed story. Some things were left out completely. I was annoyed with that, but I was also thrilled with how the stories came to life in ways I never thought of. It was a beautiful experience for a Middle Earth nerd.

I also love Jesus. I love His holy word. I read it, study it, meditate on it. I see the stories in my mind. And I can’t wait to see what a gifted director does with a story I know and love. His vision of Noah will be different than mine. Parts of it may be much better than mine. The movie’s not even out yet, and I’ve already gone back to Scripture to see if indeed it is plausible that Methuselah could have handed some seeds down to Noah that came from a not-so-distant ancestor named Adam. Scripture says absolutely nothing about this but it’s a fun thing to think about and it made me ponder anew many things about this story. The director of Noah will probably get a bunch of things wrong as he moves a story from one medium to another, but the reality is that we complain so often that “they” aren’t telling “our” stories, so when “they” actually do go and spend tens of millions of dollars to do so, let’s not be the first ones to start complaining that “they” told “our” story and how dare they do that!

Let’s watch the film and judge it on its artistic qualities (film is an art form!); the quality of the story and the integrity with which it is told. Like “The Lord of the Rings,” it will not be perfect. But it will play in theatres around the world and it’s a Bible-based movie—exactly what we’ve been clamoring for for decades.

In the months to come, we’re going to see quite a few Biblical movies. Let’s be honest about something: The Hollywood machine isn’t making these because they’ve had a change of heart and want to see America get close to God. They want to make money and they realize this is a good way to do it. But is that so wrong? Personally, I’m really tired of zombies and vampires. That trend—thank goodness—seems to have reached its peak and is slowly declining. Right now, the trend is Biblical stories. Hallelujah! I’ll take Biblical epics over more zombie movies any day, even if they do take some creative license to help move the story to a different medium. Will these movies convert masses of people? I highly doubt it. But like me, it will expose people to stories they thought they knew and for many others, it might be the first time they actually want to open a Bible and see what it’s all about. Will it shift the conversation in the office and at the work site? I suspect it will … for a time. Then a new trend will surface and Hollywood will surf that wave til the money runs out.

So rather than complain that “they” don’t make “our” movies, and then complain when “they” do make “our” movies, let’s enjoy the good and reject the bad. As my friend says, “eat the fish … and spit out the bones.” Who knows, if these Biblical films make money, we may see a lot more of them in the days to come.

I’ll take Bible movies over Zombie movies any day.

Seeing it First Hand

November 28th, 2011

One thing we figured out rather quickly here in the Digital Media dept at Dordt College, is that location means less and less with each passing year. With access to high-speed internet, and access to good airports, we can compete with pretty much anyone! Many other production houses are discovering the same thing. One of them is VVI, Vision Video Interactive, based in Sioux Falls, South Dakota, just an hour from Dordt College.

VVI does everything from local car ads to national political spots and Monday Night Football spots. They have a team of very creative individuals who work together in a fun, creative space. For the last few years, VVI has carved time out of their schedule to let our students in to see what they are working on, to ask them questions, to give advice on the job hunt and to be a sounding board for pretty much whatever the students want to ask them. It’s a valuable time and a fun afternoon in Sioux Falls.

In the Spring Semester, our Communications Club–both Comm majors and DM majors–will once again head to Minneapolis/St.Paul for an overnight trip to visit public relations firms and production companies to see what’s happening there. And believe me, there’s a lot happening.

In today’s world of media production, location is less important than ever. It used to be that production companies pretty much had to be on one of the coasts. Today, the heartland is a major player!

Independent Studies

October 19th, 2011

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The great thing about working in media is the opportunity to travel, meet people … and run into people in the most unlikely of places. Like the time I was filming in a rainforest in British Columbia. I crossed a small, swinging bridge in the forest and set up my gear for a shot back across that bridge. As I’m looking through the viewfinder, a face looms into view that looks like my good friend, Quentin. By the time I looked up from the camera, there was Quentin asking, “What are you doing here?”

Perhaps even more surreal was my meeting with friend and former student, Pete Hessels, last week. I dropped my son off in the middle of a huge forest in Northern Michigan for an 8-day cadet camporee. We really are talking the middle of the nowhere. My son forgot a bag he needed so the next morning, we drove into the forest to drop it off. I got out of the car and hiked through the forest, looking for another human. In the distance I could hear a small generator. I moved toward it and came upon a large mobile-home type of thing that the cadet leaders had hauled into the forest for some reason. There were lights on inside and I saw motion. I stood near a window and inside I saw a young man and thought he looked a lot like Pete Hessels, but it couldn’t be because Pete lives near Toronto and was busy working.

When he looked up and saw me, it was instant recognition on both our parts. He from Toronto, me from N’W Iowa, meeting up in the forests of Northern Michigan. Pete was there as part of the production crew, producing 6 webisodes per day and uploading them via satellite uplink from that trailer.

As improbable as it sounds, I find this type of thing happens a lot in the media world. Because of the travel involved, and because of the very close relationships we build at Dordt College, it’s going to happen even more as ever more students graduate from the Digital Media Production major and start making their way in the world. In a few months, several of us will be shooting in the Yucatan Peninsula, Mexico. I happen to know that one of our Digital Media graduates is there and we’ll have a great reunion in Merida.

Meeting friends in the most unusual of places is such a treat. Maybe you’ll be part of the reunion after you launch your media career.

Promoting the County

September 13th, 2010

Dordt College is in the heart of Sioux County, in the Northwest corner of Iowa, not far from Sioux Falls, South Dakota.

As you may have heard, agriculture is big business here. Don’t be fooled. The gentle, rolling hills of corn and beans and the picturesque valleys full of cows by streams speak of a pastoral place where time might move more slowly than in New York City, but looks can be deceiving.

Sioux County is off the charts in what’s it doing with innovate agriculture. In fact, tourists come here from Ireland, Germany and other places to see what’s going on here. They hear about the 2 billion dollars generated in this county alone through agriculture. They hear about record beef, pork, and poultry production, cutting-edge genetic engineering and a high percentage of area farmers with bachelor’s degrees and more.

That’s why the Sioux County Chamber of Commerce approached us here at Prairie Grass Productions (Dordt College’s film/video production company) to help them produce a promotional piece highlighting some of the amazing things going on here in Sioux County.

Three Digital Media seniors—Aaron, Brett and Gary—are busy right now shooting Hi-Def footage to help the county tell that story.

Aaron, of Ohio, is acting as producer on this project. As producer, he’s responsible for the budget (yes, students often get paid for their work here), all the scheduling for all the shoots, being a liaison between the production crew (Brett and Gary/California and British Columbia) and the client (Sioux County Chamber) and keeping track of a million little details.

Gary and Brett are in charge of getting all that precious footage, coming up with some of the creative ideas that will make this product useful, and the post-production.

All three of these guys are doing this project for class credit. We call that an “Independent Study” and while right now it’s strongly encouraged that each Digital Media student do an independent study as part of their digital media major, it will be a requirement starting Fall 2011.

These three guys are busy travelling across this great county, getting interviews with high-tech farmers, shooting sheep shearing, ginormous dairy operations, genetic engineers and so forth. The end product will be shown to those tourists I mentioned, as well as get shown to Jr. high and high school kids growing up in this county who don’t have a clue about the amazing things going on right in their own backyard.

It’s just another way that Dordt’s Digital Media major stands out from the pack. We put our students to work on real-world projects with real-world clients so that at graduation, our grads go into the world with theory, head-knowledge, class-room experience in making films, AND a résumé that includes work they can be proud of.

We have other independent studies going on right now, but more on those later.

In case you’re interested, here are some stats on Sioux County:

-In 2009 there were over 1600 farms in Sioux County, over 28% of county’s 24,761 jobs.

-In 2009 the Av-market value of farm, buildings, and machinery was nearly 1.5 million – average sales = $673,764

-In 2007, the average age of a farmer was 51.4 years old

-In 2009, meat processing plants in Iowa produced nearly 3.5 million tons of red meat (beef, veal, pork and mutton)

-In 2009, total Ag receipts for Sioux County were over $2.1 billion (2,135,800,000) – 49.2% of all economic activity in the county for the year

-Sioux County farms cover over 478,000 acres – that’s 97% of the surface of Sioux County

Swine Information (farrowing, nursery, finishing, packing plant)

-In 2007, there were 486 pig farms

-In 2009, there were 1,094,268 hogs or pigs in Sioux County

– In 2009, almost 3 million hogs and pigs were sold

-In 2007, Sioux County is #1 state in pigs marketed

-In 2009, Iowa continued to rank #1 in hog inventory in the United States

-In 2009, Iowa made up 29% of the nations hogs. Iowa has 19.2 million head

Beef Information (cow/calf and feedlot)

-In 2007, there were 725 farms that had cow/calf inventory which totaled almost 330,000 cows

-In 2007, Sioux County had 220 beef farms which combined had almost 15,000 cows

-440,000 cows were sold in Sioux County in 2007

-Iowa had 3.85 million head of cattle/calves in January 2010 (just under 4 million)

-In 2007, Sioux County is #1 in Cattle on Feed

In 2007, almost 440,000 head of cattle were sold

Dairy Information (facilities, calf raising, heifer growing)

-In 2007, there were 70 dairy farms in Sioux County

-In 2007, approximately 22,000 head of dairy cows were in Sioux County (#1 in state)

-Iowa dairy farmers produced $4.38 billion pounds of milk during 2009 (change to gallons)

-In 2009, the average dairy cow in Iowa produced 20,367 pounds of milk a year (gallons)


-In 2007, Sioux County had 166 horse farms. All together, they had almost 900 horses

Poultry (laying house, processing, pullet growing houses)

-In 2007, Sioux County had 58 laying hen farms. They totalled 4,490,702 hens.

-In 2007, Sioux County was #4 in laying hens


-In 2007, Sioux County had 45 goat farms with a total of over 2,000 goats

-Of those goats, 150 were milk goats and the other 1,850 were meat and other goats


-In 2007, Sioux County had 96 sheep farms totalling 25,565 sheep

-In 2007, Sioux County was #1 in Iowa in sheep

-In 2009, sheep and lambs totalled 210,000 head in Iowa at the beginning of 210

-An estimated 170,000 lambs were born during 2009 in Iowa

-In 2007, 155,000 lbs of wool was produced in Sioux County – show a pile of wool/graphic

Crops (land operations, equipment, GPS used, manure applications)

-In 2009, Sioux County had 479,000 acres of farm land which is also 2% of state number – compare to a football or Wal-Mart, make accessible, 97% – from ISU sheet

-2009, the average farm in Sioux County was made up of 289 acres

-In 2009, the value of acre of land in Sioux County was $6,028. This is almost 1/3 higher than the state average value per acre of $4,371.

-In 2007, total crop receipts were $6 billion for Iowa

-In 2009, Sioux County was 4th in Iowa for corn production. Sioux, Plymouth, Woodbury and Crawford were four among the top 6 in Iowa – total number of counties (99)

-In 2009, Sioux County produced between 38 million and 61 million bushels of corn

-In 2009, Sioux County was once again 4th in Iowa for Soybean production. Once again Northwest Iowa had six of the top nine counties

-In 2009, Sioux County produced between 7.5 million and 12 million bushels of beans

-In 2009, Sioux County produced 84,500 bushels of oats and is ranked #11th in the state

-In 2009, Sioux County produced approximately 39,000 bushels of Alfalfa Hay and is ranked 30th in the state (top 3rd)

-Sioux County harvested 395,000 acres of corn for grain, soybeans, oats, and hay

Dordt, India and the World.

August 24th, 2010

We have our very own production company here at Dordt College: Prairie Grass Productions (PGP for short).

Sometime last winter, an organization in Grand Rapids, Michigan called “Mission India” contacted us here with an interesting proposition.

“We would like to hire Prairie Grass Productions to help us film 10 episodes across India, post them on a custom-built website and help us raise a quarter of a million dollars in the process.”

How could we say “no”?

In June, Dale Vande Griend, a digital media student here at Dordt College, and I went to India with Josh of Mission India, and Chris, our on-camera host out of Maryland. Once in Bombay (now known as Mumbai) we linked up with Jeremy, an Indian cameraman, Justin, our Indian on-camera host, and John, the guy who worked out all the logistics in India and kept things moving.

The next 12 days was a whirlwind of activity as we filmed in a couple slums in Bombay, then flew across India to Madras (now known as Chennai), drove south to Madurai, then up to Velore, back to Chennai, back to Bombay, and home.

What an adventure. Josh, our producer, scripted out 10 episodes in which Chris explored India, and explored what God is doing in India through Mission India. What we learned is that many are coming to Christ through this fantastic organization, and that there’s still about a billion or so Indians who need to hear this incredible news.

And that’s where we come in. That’s the power of media, isn’t it? To tell compelling stories, to engage interest, to help people explore things they might not otherwise explore, to create awareness, to generate a desire to pray; in short, to harness the incredible power of media for more than entertainment only.

Let me climb down off my soapbox and keep telling this story.

After a superb trip through India, it was back to Dordt’s world-class post-production facilities to start bringing this story together.

Post-production (the editing and putting together) is where the magic really happens. Three of Dordt’s digital media majors helped as assistant editors for several days by combing through all the footage, labeling it, organizing it, putting it into the proper bins in Avid, organizing our photos, helping us find sound effects, music, appropriate fonts and more.

Dale Vande Griend, Dan Kauten (both DM majors at Dordt) and I took on the job of lead editors and for the last six weeks—working 50-70 hours a week—marshaled all that footage into 10 sweet episodes and one killer teaser. And we got it done before deadline!

The amazing facilities at our disposal at Dordt College are what made all this possible. Our 20 Avids (Avid is the world’s leading film-editing software. “Avatar,” and almost every other film you’ve seen were cut on Avids) and our 16 terabytes (yes, you read that right … 16 terabytes) of media server made organization and collaboration a breeze.

We also spent a lot of time in After Effects creating animations and transitions that would NOT have been possible a few short years ago unless you had access to some very very pricey Hollywood style studios.

In short, Prairie Grass Productions—located in the heart of N’W Iowa—is in direct competition with the big boys on the coasts.

And here’s what’s so remarkable about this story.

Remember Josh, our producer out of Grand Rapids? He’s a Dordt Grad.

Clickrain, the company based in Sioux Falls, SD that made the slick and polished website to host all these videos, is run by Paul Ten Haken. He’s a Dordt Grad.

Prairie Grass Productions with me, the lead editors and the assistant editors: It’s 100% Dordt College.

This global venture of telling stories on the other side of the world has Dordt College stamped all over it.

I think that’s pretty amazing. So is the fact that just before going to India, Prairie Grass Productions (which means Dordt Students) shot among the Navajo in New Mexico … and among some poor communities in the Mississippi Delta … and in the slums in Kenya … and is in production right now helping the Sioux County Chamber of Commerce market itself to outsiders.

If you’re looking for a film/video production program to launch your career, you have choices. But frankly, I don’t know of any other program that gives you options like these.

These kinds of experiences are résumé builders like you can’t believe.

Working on these kinds of projects for real-world clients hones your skills, increases your marketability and boosts your confidence.

And we do it all from a Christian perspective.

Personally, I think we have the best program out there. Check around, then check out the Digital Media Production major at Dordt College. Who knows? You might be on the crew of the next big project.

Check out the trailer here and be sure to sign up so you can see each episode as it’s released.

Aaron Huisman, a Dordt grad now working in post-production in Los Angeles, just cut together this music video for The Ready Set. Great work Aaron!