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Tacoma church’s film crew is small but its ideas - and output - are not

It sounded like a simple film shoot, but there were a lot of moving parts.

The volcano needed to be steaming, the fog machine was supposed to be shrouding the ships in mist and the little cannon needed to fire at just the right moment.

Adding to the complexity was the fact that the entire movie crew was splashing around in waders, up to their calves Saturday in a tidal pool just off the Fox Island bridge.

The extension cord connecting the fog machine to the portable generator kept getting perilously close to the water.

“We’re going to get this,” said the director, Jeff Holt, who on most days is the youth minister at Zion’s River church on Tacoma’s South 56th Street.

It was another day in the trenches for Holt and Harrison Webster, his director of photography and master set maker.

Using members of the Zion’s River youth group and various volunteers as crew members, the two have made 46 short animated videos together – films intended to connect kids in a tangential way with the teachings of Jesus and to instill in them a sense of right and wrong.

“There are two overwhelming principles,” Webster said during a pause in Saturday’s shooting. “One would be what you call religion. We’re trying to teach Jesus and his love.

“The second is morality. In a free society, like our founding fathers said, we need morality. Democracy needs people with morals in order for society to function.”

Heavy baggage for Saturday’s storyline, which was basically this: Good guys (Elvis the Pig and Mr. Wilson, an elephant) go for a sail and encounter pirates.

The pirates attack the good guys, but being good Christians, the good guys don’t fight back. The head pirate falls overboard and gets picked up by a whale who spits him out, safe and sound, on shore.

“Kids love these things,” Holt said. “We started doing it just for fun, but they just kept getting better and better.”

Webster is the real pro. He’s a Fox Island finish carpenter now, but he learned his videography chops in Hollywood. He started out working as a cameraman on low budget karate movies and was an assistant on the TV series “Dallas.”

Webster also brings considerable carpentry skills. For Saturday’s shoot he made two model ships, tiny and tall-masted, a miniature island complete with operating volcano and a wooden whale.

An added bonus of the film-making, Holt says, is that members of the youth group learn movie-making skills and how to work together as a team.

Rachael Schmit, 14, of Tacoma, is a case in point. She works one of the cameras and after many, many hours, she handles it like a pro.

On Saturday the base of her tripod was two feet underwater and her waders, which she made herself out of duct tape, leaked badly.

Might she want to go into movie-making as a career?

“Maybe,” she said. “Right now, though, it’s mostly just fun.”

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