Sight & Sound to make feature films; his first film, based on a Christmas carol, debuts in December [preview] | Entertainment

Sight & Sound Theaters, known for staging Bible stories, is now embarking on a new faith-based endeavor: feature films.

And, as company officials announced on Friday, Sight & Sound has already shot its first movie and plans to release it in December.

Katie Miller, director of marketing for Sight & Sound, said the theater company’s decision to make films was sparked by finding new ways to tell stories. She says Sight & Sound first thought of making films around 2018 or 2019, but only started filming in January 2021.

“It’s been a very long secret to keep,” Miller said.

Sight & Sound’s first film, “I Heard the Bells”, was based on a Christmas carol by poet Henry Wadsworth Longfellow titled “I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day”.

It focuses on Longfellow during the Civil War era, when he encounters tragedy after tragedy. His faith is restored by hearing the ringing of church bells, which remind him that God is alive and present.

(Watch the preview below. The story continues after the preview.)

It will debut in December at select theaters, including Penn Cinema in Lititz. Miller said Sight & Sound is still working on theatrical release details, and more local screenings may be announced in the future. Following the cinema run, the film will be available on Sight & Sound TV, the cinema’s streaming service.

Sight & Sound’s venture into film will not interrupt the theater’s normal production schedule or its stage show routines, Miller said.

“We’re really excited to be able to take our storytelling beyond the biblical characters,” Miller said. “It’s been a mainstay for who we are. While it’s a small step forward, we’re excited to venture into new stories of inspiration and faith.”

The magic of cinema

“I Heard the Bells” was a collaborative effort between Sight & Sound staff and other contractors, CEO Matt Neff said.

Those who frequent Sight & Sound might also see a few familiar faces.

Steve Atherholt, who plays Longfellow, is the Director of Musical Theater Studies at Lancaster Bible College and has performed in Sight & Sound productions for over 12 years. Longfellow’s wife, Fanny, is played by Rachel Day Hughes, who is perhaps best known locally for playing Mary in Sight & Sound’s production of “Jesus.” The Longfellows’ son is played by Jonathan Blair, one of two actors cast in the lead role in “Jesus.”

Make/Films, a Lancaster-based video production company, was one of Sight & Sound’s main partners for the film. They handled much of the filming and contracts, Neff said.

It took more than 200 people to make the first Sight & Sound movie, Neff said.

Scenes from “I Heard the Bells” were filmed across Gettysburg and Lancaster County, with Moonstone Manor in Elizabethtown, Landis Valley and Strasburg Rail Road serving as built-in filming locations in the county. Filming took place between January 2021 and April 2022, Neff said.

Sight & Sound has also purchased more land south of its theater, which Neff intends to use as filming space. They used the land for a few different scenes and built a church there so they could film inside. Sight & Sound has also renovated a barn on its property with the intention of using it as a filming space.

Neff declined to say how much the plot will cost or how much the film will cost to make, as he does not yet know the magnitude of the cost.

“We know it’s an investment,” Neff said. “If it pays off, that would be great. We’re not going to expect that, or even rely on that.”

In the future, Sight & Sound intends to hire more employees to help with filmmaking. Since the company is still new to film production, Neff says he and his team aren’t yet sure what positions or how many employees they’re looking to hire.

The goal of that first movie was just to learn as much as possible, Neff said. Sight & Sound is already planning its next film production, although details have yet to be released.

“There are incredibly hopeful stories, where we see God intervene again and again, that appear in history,” Neff said. “And these stories are worth telling again. We believe these are stories that will resonate with everyone.”

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