Academy Award winner Morgan Freeman explores the meaning of life, God, and many big questions in between in an effort to understand how religion has evolved and shaped society. A different divine subject is covered in each hour-long episode, titles of which include `Creation, The Devil Inside, Afterlife, Apocalypse, and Who Is God?’ To explore these topics, host and narrator Freeman visits nearly 20 cities in seven countries to see some of the world’s greatest religious sites, among them Jerusalem’s Wailing Wall, India’s Bodhi Tree, Mayan temples in Guatemala, and the pyramids of Egypt, and he immerses himself in religious experiences and rituals. “In some places I found answers, and others led to more questions. The constant through it all is that we’re all looking to be part of something bigger than us. If there’s one thing I’ve learned, it’s that we certainly are”, Freeman says.
Story of God | Season 3 Highlights
Produced by Revelations Entertainment
Co-produced by Evolve Studio (narrative sequences)
Yes, two production companies can have a harmonious relationship, while working toward a common goal.
Evolve partnered with Morgan Freeman’s company, Revelations Entertainment, to co-produce a wealth of premium re-creation content for the third season of National Geographic’s original series, The Story of God, which explores the great mysteries and encounters people have had throughout history with a Higher Power.
Through 20 production days that spanned 20 centuries, this was a collaboration in the truest sense.
First and foremost, it was our collective priority to deliver all the requires scenes on time and with the highest level of creative quality. But, of course, evolution is in our DNA. We wanted to go above and beyond to redefine the way re-creations look and feel in this series, to make Season 3 a bold step forward in the Story of God…
an epic undertaking
Authenticity was paramount when re-creating these historical scenes. We wanted to develop believable realities and characters with true dimension.
So we started by writing and developing specific backstories for the 83 cast roles that would be featured in these historical re-creations. Then we auditioned nearly every one of them.
For two weeks of prep, this was a massive amount of work. And not only were we casting for character, we were also casting for very specific ethnicities, ages, genders, and looks, which made this process incredibly time consuming.
Our art department had before it a task just as epic. The team built sets from scratch for 12 of the re-creation scenes, including a sprawling jungle, complete with dirt, rocks, moss, and so on. This team was also responsible for several hundred super-specific props, lots of which needed to be fashioned from scratch.
Wardrobe and costuming was no different. Hundreds of period-accurate pieces had to be sourced and sized for our talent. In the series, re-creations are integrated with historical drawings, paintings, and photos, so our props and stylings had to be functional, but also perfectly true to history, which once again meant creating them with primal means. For instance, our wardrobe stylist and costume designer hand-crafted several pairs of Roman sandals, working only with materials that were available circa 100 BC.
THIS SHOW WAS AN EVER EVOLVING ORGANISM.
into the wilderness
Each day of production brought a unique set of challenges.
With VFX resources maxed-out for forthcoming scenes, we needed a practical sprawl of real wasteland for our first shoot day – a re-creation of Jesus’ temptation in the wilderness. So we started in California, in the Mojave Desert. Being on-location for this scene gave it a great depth and scale, and also gave us the freedom to overshoot.
The challenge was filming all of the necessary story beats with limited time and in harsh conditions. Temperatures were near freezing. The winds were merciless. Sure, we were bundled up, but talent was wearing only robes and those handmade Roman sandals. Needless to say, takes had to be quick so our intrepid cast could keep warm.
SPANNING THE CENTURIES
Day 2 started in the 18th century, with an Indian jungle-hut interior. Then, we transitioned to a fully constructed jungle exterior, and shortly after that, a jungle/green screen hybrid, complete with a green-screen lion.
That was just before lunch.
After a quick bite, we reset for the 1st Century AD, for a burning human sacrifice scene, and finished the day off somewhere in the 1300’s, with a medieval castle and a monk visited by Satan.
Three completely different time periods in one day – each requiring its own production design and casting changes, in addition to a unique lighting and cinematography aesthetic, so nothing felt repetitive.
Our Own Backyard
After a trip to the desert and one of the most ambitious set-constructions we’ve ever taken on, our wildest on-location days were spent about 90 minutes outside Nashville.
We embarked to the middle of nowhere Tennessee, where the roads are dirt and cellphones are useless. These beautiful locations were challenging to find, let alone bring power and a production village to.
Accessible only by Polaris (our production four-wheelers), we filmed for two days at a remote location in the woods, and for each day, we had to haul out a. custom set build. The first was a cave found in the South of France, and the second a Native American village in the Canadian Rockies.
At least we got to sleep in our own beds those nights.
Adapting on the fly
This show is an ever-evolving organism.
Our partners at NatGeo were editing and writing new scripts as we were planning to shoot them. At the end of every long production day, we sat down at the computer for a few more hours to react to and implement all of the changes that came in while we were on set.
The plan was constantly changing, but we adapted. It definitely required some creative solves to shift our battle plans, as well as diligent eyes to maintain consistency across all the different locations and periods as elements were tweaked.
But, after all, it’s the Story of God. Who are we mere mortals to know what the future holds?
In THE END
We delivered some long-form, live-action material that we. are extremely proud of. And we did it on time and on. budget, all while tracking in the moment with the other content buckets and materials the series demanded.