The Empty Tomb: Bringing the Symbol to Life with the First Prototype

cropped-logo.jpgPreviously – The Empty Tomb: Putting the Symbol Out Into the World

After proving there was real merit to the Empty Tomb symbol and that people were genuinely interested in seeing it on some type of accessory, my thoughts went immediately to who in the world I could call upon to help me make my germ of an idea into something real.

Thankfully, I’m Mormon. That means I know a guy for just about everything. Need work done on your car? I know a guy. Your house? I know a guy. What about a lawyer or a handyman or a foot doctor? I know a guy. A cop? I know a few. Mormons are everywhere and we’re all connected to each other with not very many steps in between. Basically, every Mormon is Kevin Bacon.

I didn’t even have to go outside of my own circle at to find the perfect partner for the Empty Tomb project. Jeff Kennington at Kennington Jewelers sold my wife and I our wedding rings. My Mother-in-Law is one of his most frequent customers. He’s also my uncle.

Jeff reminds me of my dad probably more than anyone else I know. Hopefully, he takes that as a compliment because my father was not only one of the better people I’ve known, he also had no small part in inspiring the Empty Tomb symbol in the first place.

Dad died as a victim of an armed robbery in 1996 after claiming for years that he would die before seeing his sons grow up. I was 19 at the time, and my youngest of three brothers was 10. Dad was 47. H is final years were full of pain and struggle as he had suffered no small amount of physical complications from another armed robbery eight years prior.

If you watched the above videos you heard my dad say it boldly: “I’m not afraid to die.” He really wasn’t. He talked all the time about what a grand adventure death would be and how much at peace he was with the idea–to him, fact–that he was not long for this world. He was a believer in the resurrection. He looked forward to living again and his body being restored to perfect order. It was his understanding of the gifts Christ had given him that got him through some pretty tough days and gave him a courage I still envy. Dad taught me more about the Living Christ through his powerful, matter-of-fact faith than any other book, teacher, or person I’ve known.

Jeff was a good sport about my email inquiry. He didn’t even tell me straight off like he should have about how he gets a million of these proposals from people who have the “next big idea” in jewelry that will make him millions. Instead, he looked at the design, considered the social media response and read the reactions, and ultimately concluded that I just might have something.

“There are no guarantees,” he said. “But this probably has the best shot of anything I’ve ever seen.”

Jeff and I working on the initial 3D model of the pendant.

Jeff and I working on the initial 3D model of the pendant.

Jeff, who I like to refer to as “Master Craftsman,” is real DIY jeweler.Kennington Jewelers specializes in high end and custom jewelry and Jeff has all the tools and equipment he needs to make just about anything he or anyone else can imagine. Immediately, we both wanted to make the symbol real. We wanted a pendant, in our hands.

Using the computer at the back of his store, Jeff immediately went to work on a 3D model using CAD to bring my flat design out of the 2D realm.

And, specifically, to my wife.

My wife, Erin, the first person to wear the Empty Tomb symbol (and owner of the first prototype!)

My wife, Erin, the first person to wear the Empty Tomb symbol (and owner of the first prototype!)

The road from designing the pendant to reality was a bit longer than I might be making it seem. Once the design was finessed in the computer (Jeff was extremely patient with my requests to take off 1/8 of a millimeter here and add 1/10th of a millimeter there), Jeff made a wax mold, cast it in white gold, polished it, added a chain, and probably did a whole bunch of other stuff I’m forgetting or just plain don’t know about. Because Jeff is the real brains of this operation.

Jeff, working hard on the first prototype.

Jeff, working hard on the first prototype.

Close up of the first pendant prototype.

Close up of the first pendant prototype.

In the end, we ended up with something that very, very closely resembled my initial drawings. We opted for putting two o-rings on either side of the pendant because of concerns over the inherently uneven weight distribution across the symbol. The thinking was that splitting the chain and attaching it at the o-rings would balance it out for the wearer.

But, as it turned out, we didn’t need to be all that worried about imbalance. There was a much, much simpler solution…

Next: The Second Prototype.

What Violet, my youngest daughter, does while waiting for Mommy and Daddy to finish working with Uncle Jeff.

What Violet, my youngest daughter, does while waiting for Mommy and Daddy to finish working with Uncle Jeff.

What’s it Like Going to a Hollywood Movie Premiere?

It was probably sometime between noticing Kathie Lee Gifford was sitting right behind me and the woman in front of me with a tray of chicken and waffles was offering to get me anything I wanted that my wife, Erin, turned to me and said:

“Whose life is this?”

I looked around the room at the afterparty–at the DJ rocking it way too loud, at the black ties and the short skirts dotting the reserved table areas and the free bar, at the pretentious Evian water in front of me (I’m not clear on how or why a bottle of water could earn the label “pretentious,” but I do know it fits). I looked at all of us–at me and Erin and Travis and Amber and Chris and Rich and Steve and Tyler and all of us from, of all the dusty places on the Earth, Fresno–who came down to LA to celebrate a movie we made. There was just one answer to the question.

Whose life is this? This is our life now.

IMG_1467

* * *

The fanciest of evenings started out, as it so often does not, in a McDonald’s parking lot… Click here to read the rest on Tremendum.com!

The Gallows Black Carpet Event

Here’s one indicator you’ve done something right in life: you attend a Red (in this case, Black) Carpet Event with celebrities and actors and actresses all over the place and the prettiest woman in the room is your wife.

Erin, in her dress and shoes.

Erin, in her dress and shoes.

Weirdly, we were nervous going into the event. I joined up with Tremendum Pictures earlier this year and although I’ve since met all sorts of people from all the highest walks of life, there was something intimidating about going into this thing–what with its jeweled purses, camera flashes, and fanfare and so forth. So much fanfare. Every news crew in town was there.

What to wear was a huge concern. It really shouldn’t have been. We saw people in everything from baseball caps to full-blown suits to pantsuits to floor-length gowns. But, as I said, Erin was the prettiest. She walked past the assembled crowd of fans waiting in line to see the movie with a full-on strut.

This being Fresno, it was 107 degrees out. This being a weird time in weather history, it was incredibly humid. Pretty sure I both ate too much popcorn and lost 3 pounds in sweat.

The Gallows is a movie I joined at the end of its four year creation process. My official credit on the film is “Assistant Set Decorator.” If you see the movie when it comes out on July 10th (and you should if you like awesome and fun in combination), pay special attention to the very last scene. You’ll see some of my handiwork and furniture.

This is an indie movie. We all pitched in whatever way we could, doing all sorts of things and contributing our time, talents, and vanity mirrors. The past few weeks we’ve all been going to local theaters to spread the word and sign posters. (Well, Writer-Directors Chris Lofing and Travis Cluff have been signing posters. Tell someone they could get their poster signed by the Assistant Set Decorator and watch them run.)

In one particularly hilarious, spontaneous moment, as we were exiting the theater a week or so ago after a 2 hour signing, Travis yelled out to me, “HEY, HAVE YOU HEARD ABOUT THIS MOVIE, THE GALLOWS?”

I was halfway across the parking lot. Travis was passing the line of people waiting to get in. They just stared with equal parts curiosity and confusion. I yelled back, “NO! WHAT’S THAT?”

“IT’S THIS GREAT NEW HORROR MOVIE MADE IN FRESNO COMING OUT JULY 10TH!”

“JULY 10TH YOU SAY?”

“YEAH! MADE IN FRESNO!”

“IN FRESNO? REALLY?”

“YEAH!”

“NO SH#*!”

Only, I didn’t say “NO SH#*!” That’s what Chris, who was standing next to Travis, heard me say. For some reason. What I really said was “NO WAY!” I’ve never said “NO SH#*!” in my life. But Chris’s version is funnier.

Despite this guerrilla approach to getting the word out, The Gallows is certainly not being distributed like an indie movie. It’s coming out with the full support of Warner Bros. Marketing and it shows.

It feels like the buzz is hitting the right pitch and certainly the people who have now seen it have been blown away by it. If you like scary movies, you can’t miss this one. It delivers the goods in a big, big way.

Chris Lofing, Erin, Me, Travis Cluff

Chris Lofing, Erin, Me, Travis Cluff

My second favorite thing about the Black Carpet Event (Erin’s outfit was clearly the first) was seeing my friends Chris  and Travis take a victory lap. They have sacrificed everything they have and more to make this movie. The success they’re about to have is well-deserved. They’re good, gracious guys who are always, always quick to recognize the contributions of others and how blessed they are.

The pre-screening mingling was a contest of foot space. I can’t even imagine what all the regular patrons of Maya Cinemas were thinking as they dodged fancy shoes and shuffled through to Inside Out and Ted 2. Local Morning Show hosts were there, the Mayor of Fresno was there, all the press, all the investors in the film, the producers out of Hollywood, everyone was there.

What’s funny is how lost everyone can look at an event like this. Besides the actors and Chris and Travis, no one really has a purpose besides watching the movie.* So, you stand and you talk and try to look like you belong. You do belong, of course–you’re on the list–but to be approved for admittance without purpose is an uneasy kind of belonging. At least for me. I like to have things to do.

*Or taking pictures. No one asks you to take pictures at an event like this–there were plenty of people around who were being paid to do it–but you do it anyway both because you want the memento and because it’s something to do.  

Erin and Megan, just before the show started.

Erin and Megan, just before the show started.

Erin and I settled into our seats alongside our friends Nate (who also works with Tremendum) and Megan, and our new friend, Brandon Jones, the film’s sound designer. Brandon’s a great guy and a great talent who, as you’ll discover once you see the movie, was absolutely integral to the movie’s success. The only music in the entire film plays over the end credits, so it was really up to Brandon to design a soundscape that would carry you all the way through the thing without making you once question why there aren’t any strings or guitars telling you how to feel. This is absolutely, perfectly what happens. Nice work, Brandon.

Quick story about Brandon: he just so happens to be tall and good-looking. After the film, he was mobbed by a large group of screaming women who demanded he take a picture with them. The funniest thing about this was that Ryan Shoos, one of the leads of the film, was standing nearby. Completely ignored. Ryan was a good sport about it and even went up to Erin and told her, excitedly, “that’s Brandon Jones over there!”

The movie went over like gangbusters with the audience. Lots of hiding faces behind hands and gripping the seats. Erin, surprisingly, did great with it. She watched it all with eyes open and managed to have a great time despite the film not being her usual bag. I was worried she’d be more like Megan and want to throw up. Seriously, Megan was so out-of-her-mind scared I’m pretty sure she thinks we made a radio show.

The credits were everyone’s favorite part. The movie was made entirely in Fresno by Fresnans and it was just so, so satisfying to clap and applaud for the people who were right there in the room with you. I’ve applauded after a film before, but it’s never been for the benefit of the people who made it. They’re never there. I just enjoy the explosion of joy that can follow a good movie and I like joining celebrations. This was different. This was more like a play. When we applauded, the actors and producers and casting person and, yes, the Assistant Set Decorators got to actually feel the love. Erin and Megan and Nate and I reserved our biggest cheers for Travis’s wife, Amber. Outside of Chris and Travis, I can’t think of anyone else more directly responsible for making The Gallows possible.

The stars of The Gallows with Erin and Megan. From L-R. Reese Mishler, Cassidy Gifford, Megan, Erin, Pfeifer Brown

The stars of The Gallows with Erin and Megan. From L-R. Reese Mishler, Cassidy Gifford, Megan, Erin, Pfeifer Brown

The actors were mobbed afterwards. With the exception of Cassidy Gifford, daughter of Kathie Lee and Frank, the spotlight is not something they’ve really had before. Not on this level, certainly. You can already tell they’re pros, but also gracious and sincere in their acceptance of praise. I had a particularly good time catching up with Reese, who is the audience surrogate in the movie and gets his lines cut off hilariously in the editing over and over again. Not that my opinion is anything he should care about, but I assured him it worked for the movie and the character.

Back Row L-R: Tyler Smith, Megan Healy, Erin, Me, Nate Healy. Front Row L-R: Richie Mirelez, Ryan Shoos, Chris Lofing, Travis Cluff

Back Row L-R: Tyler Smith, Megan Healy, Erin, Me, Nate Healy. Front Row L-R: Richie Mirelez, Ryan Shoos, Chris Lofing, Travis Cluff

The cameras came back out as everyone made the rounds once again for photos. As a special treat, the actual gallows made for the film was reconstructed in the theater lobby. Surrounded by barriers, no one had dared approach it all night. Sensing a great photo op, Chris and Travis just busted down the barriers and started calling people up in all sorts of combinations for pictures with them and the cast and the producers. Like I said, gracious.

By the time the afterparty hit, we were ready to eat. The food was good, but the real treat was the venue. Erin and I are both graduates of Fresno State and one of the more irksome things about our time there was the construction and establishment of the Smittcamp Alumni House, a beautiful, mansion-like building made exclusively for elite scholars, rich university donors, and visiting dignitaries. Or whatever. I never really knew what the Smittcamp Alumni House was for, but I did know that it robbed us students of a whole bunch of parking spaces. Because space. I was never allowed into the building until this very, quite spectacular night.

So, Smittcamp Alumni House, you had my ire. But guess WHAT? You… you’re a pretty nice building. Thanks for hosting us.

Erin and I left the party a little early, at 10:45pm. She had been complimented by Cassidy and several other people on her shoes throughout the night, but beauty comes at a price and I like a wife with feet. Once we’d cleared the threshold of the Smittcamp House, the shoes were off and Erin lost about a foot of height.

Erin was truly in her element the entire night. Not only was it the prettiest she’d felt in a very long time, but it was the first time since losing our jobs last year that she felt like we were part of something professional. You don’t know how much you need to feel part of the world until they kick you out of it.

This movie is a big deal, but more importantly Tremendum is a big deal. Even though we’re only a few hours away from Los Angeles, Fresno is very much its own thing. Hollywood does come here on occasion, but it’s usually to make fun of us. (I’m looking at you, makers of the indie film “Fresno.”) The support we’ve gotten from the community on this is incredible and will allow us to both stick around and do so much more in the future. I’m grateful to be in the middle of all of it. I predict big things.

The Empty Tomb: Putting the Symbol Out Into the World

Previously – The Empty Tomb: “Why Can’t There Be a Symbol of the Living Christ?”

I had created what I thought was a simple, elegant symbol to represent the Empty Tomb of the living and resurrected Christ. Two circles, side-by-side, one of them open and one closed. The closed circle is the stone that was rolled away on the third day after Christ’s crucifixion. The open circle is the empty tomb where His body could not be found because He lived again.

FirstEmptyTombSketchPretty straightforward symbol. Pretty simple.

But maybe it was too simple.

I showed the symbol to my wife, Erin. I told her what it meant. She looked at it, considered it, and said “Huh.”

She didn’t know what to make of it. It seemed unique, but also familiar. I’m certainly not the first person to put two circles together. But, in my gut, I kind of felt like I onto something.

And then I sat on the design for three years.

* * *

In late August of last year I lost the job I’d held for 12 years. 24 hours earlier, Erin had lost hers. It was a devastating blow not only to our personal sense of identity (we’re productive members of society, dang it), but also to our financial, emotional, and spiritual stability. We got low. And then we tried to pick ourselves back up again. That set us on a long, unexpected road.

In April of this year Erin and I went to Italy. We’d purchased the tickets a couple of weeks before we lost our jobs and decided to go mostly because it was already paid for, but also because a trip to Italy would never again be so cheap as we’d be staying with friends the entire time.

On Easter Sunday, April 5th, 2015, I was in the Italian apartment of our friends Pete and Lisa, sitting and listening to lessons on Christ and his sacrifice, when the symbol of the Empty Tomb popped into my head once again. This time, I couldn’t shake it. I felt inspired to get it down on paper and just put it out there and see if anybody else thought there was something special about it.

Having no paper, I used my iPad instead:

April 5th Empty Tomb Drawing

I posted the drawing on Facebook and Instagram for everyone to see and judge. The response was immediate and overwhelming. There was something about the symbol that spoke to people on a deeper level than I even anticipated. They got the depth of what the symbol says immediately, almost without explanation. It seemed to do for them what it did for me: express an aspect of their faith in Christ and that no other symbol quite could.

People even started seeing meanings in the symbol I didn’t even realize were there.

They saw the tomb and were pleased by the design, but those who looked closer saw an implied infinity symbol. Several people even assumed it was an intentional part of the design. “Infinity” is a wholly appropriate idea to get from the Empty Tomb symbol. The tomb was empty because Christ became the “firstfruits of them that slept.” (1 Corinthians 15:20) He became a resurrected being. Resurrection is everlasting. Eternal.

I think all truly great art tends to do this. Great art gathers meaning unto itself the author or artist may not have been aware of nor intended. That “gathering of meaning” serves as, if nothing else, an affirmation of the original inspiration behind the creation of the art.

I didn’t even have to say it. Within just a few short minutes someone popped up and said they’d like to see the symbol on a pendant or a ring. They could see it on jewelry. Thankfully, I’d brought my laptop with me to Italy. Inspired, I opened Adobe Illustrator and made this that same afternoon:

Poster

While the eventual first pendant we’d create with the design would look a bit different from this, the idea of what this symbol could be–and even its logo–was born.

Once again, Facebook and Instagram went nuts. Several people wanted to place their orders right away. Some of my Protestant and Catholic friends messaged me privately to ask if the symbol could only be worn by Mormons. A Buddhist friend of my Mother-in-Law even inquired if she could get one. She just liked the look of it. Even my atheist and agnostic friends complimented the design.

It honestly hadn’t even occurred to me until that very moment that anyone outside of my faith would be remotely interested in the symbol as a meaningful thing or as a piece of jewelry at all. I gladly responded in the affirmative. It’s not a Mormon symbol. It’s a symbol for all Christians. It’s a symbol for Christ.

The symbol of the Empty Tomb seems to strike just the right balance between clarity of meaning and subtlety. It’s that balance–that sweet spot–that makes the symbol effective and attractive. People want to express their faith, but most people don’t want to hit anyone over the head with it.

I hope it’s not crass to say this, but it’s nevertheless true: based on the responses I got through social media that day, the thought occurred to me that there might actually be a way to make money again. I don’t need to be a rich man (we all know what Christ had to say about the difficulties that attend that lifestyle), but I do need to make some money to feed and clothe my family. I couldn’t help but be preemptively grateful for the gift of the symbol and the enthusiasm of so many.

Of course, I had no idea how to make jewelry out of this thing, nor distribute it. I needed a partner.

Next: Partnering with Kennington Jewelers and making the first pendant.

The Empty Tomb: “Why Can’t There be a Symbol of the Living Christ?”

I have a new project I’m throwing myself into concurrently with everything else going on. Since this is very much related to my unemployment and everything else going on in my life, I decided I had best start writing about it. This is the first in a short series of blogs on this project, one that means a great deal to me. It’s gonna get a little religious up in here, but for you process junkies I recommend sticking around. This is a fascinating world I’ve stepped into.

IChristLookingUpt’s not that I think the cross as a symbol is bad, it’s that it never really spoke to me.

As a Mormon, I was raised without it. No crosses on the churches, none in the home I grew up in, and if I ever saw a piece of jewelry with the cross it was usually on the person of someone well outside my usual circle.

As I got older and my circle expanded and I met my wife who was raised with the cross as the primary symbol of her faith, I came to appreciate its power as a symbol. It’s so elegantly simple and brings to mind instantly Christ’s suffering and sacrifice. Good things for any Christian remember on a daily basis.

I love what the cross represents, but I couldn’t help but wonder:

Why can’t there be a symbol of the Living Christ?

The sacrifice Christ made as Savior is important and that importantance can never be overstated. It is because of Him that forgiveness and change is actually within our reach and that’s a beautiful, world-changing thing.

But the miracle–the fulfillment of all that Christ promised–occurred on the third day after his death. The stone was rolled away, the tomb left empty. Mormons, Protestants, Catholics, and every kind of Christian in between believe in a resurrected Christ–a Living Christ who will one day come again and reveal Himself to the world. But there’s no symbol for that.

Why can’t there be a symbol of the Living Christ?

I, of course, did not grow up without symbols entirely. The Angel with the trumpet on top of Mormon Temples is instantly recognizable. The symbol for “CTR”, in all its configurations, appears frequently in Mormon culture on everything from jewelry to t-shirts to cross stitches on walls, serving those who know its meaning as a reminder to always “Choose the Right.” But neither of those symbols reflects specifically a belief in Christ.

crosscroppedIt was as I was reflecting on all of this that my graphic design training kicked in. Part of the beauty and efficacy of the cross is that not only is it a potently designed symbol, it also is representative of a real world object. It’s almost coincidental in its construction as a symbol and all the more powerful for it. You have to respect and admire the cross, on a variety of levels.

So, if there could be a symbol with similar meaning and potency (yet significant in its differences) as the cross, it would have to be equally as elegant and simple and almost coincidental in its construction. It would have to draw on an easily recognized iconography that already exists that could be readily recognized and understood.

And it was as I was thinking about all of this that I drew this:

FirstEmptyTombSketch

Next: Surprising reactions to the design and its hidden meaning.

My Wife is Doing the Coolest Thing Ever

I’ve mentioned before that my wife’s path out of unemployment will be through schooling. At the same time I decided to sign up with Tremendum Pictures (The Gallows–out July 10th in the U.S.!), she decided to go back to school to get a Master’s in Communication. She’s a phenomenal on-camera talent and public speaker, so this is a move that makes a lot of sense for her.

Erin at her old job.

Erin at her old job.

What followed after the decision to actually do this thing was a lot of applying and essaying and petitioning for letters of recommendation and and and. They make you work and work hard and work harder just to sign up for the potential to get a Master’s Degree.

All the work paid off. Not only was Erin accepted into the program, she also got hired as a Teacher’s Assistant. She’ll be teaching two classes in the Fall and will make enough money to not only pay for tuition but also have a little left over.

Let it be recognized lest we be found ungrateful: this is a HUGE blessing.

I can’t say I’m surprised in the least about any of this. Erin is an impressive force in front of a group of people, bring professionalism and pathos to even the most benign of stories and topics. I’ve seen her command a room for over an hour and leave her listeners wanting still more. She will, in the vernacular of people I don’t know at all, crush it. Only she doubts this, as any of us would were we to return to school after a decade away from it.

That’s the strangest part of all of this, I think. Erin and I attended college together, locally, at Fresno State. Now, she’s headed back there and for the next two years our lives will be wrapped up once again in that campus. I’ve been back a couple of times to speak as a guest in the Art Department, but what she’s about to do is on a whole other level. I don’t know that I could do it.

It’s a given I adore her. But, man, do I ever admire her as well.

Erin’s plan always was to go back to school. For the longest time she saw herself getting a teaching credential and becoming a 2nd Grade Teacher. Somewhere between having a child with special needs and getting in front of the camera at our previous place of employment, she abandoned that idea. It just didn’t fit who she was anymore. She had become an advocate in the community for children with difficulties and their families, and saw herself gravitating more and more towards adult interactions and the good she could do there. She found out she enjoyed that more than anything. But there’s not really any money in advocacy and, besides, it didn’t really appeal to her as a full-time job. She enjoys being a volunteer too much.

Then, an entrepreneur friend of ours, Brandon Lee, asked Erin to help him be better on camera. I hadn’t seen her that excited about a project in a long, long time. Over the course of a few sessions and a lot of embarrassing homework assignments (I know some of them involved animal sounds), she turned Brandon from someone who knew there was something not quite right about his camera presence to someone who seduced the lens with confidence.

If anyone can teach about communication and ace a Master’s, it’s Erin. She’s unbearably excited about it, but also, in a really healthy way, she’s a little bit scared of it. This shift in purpose takes some getting used to. It’s not what she saw for herself and making a leap like this is a bit nerve-wracking.

It’s a feeling we’re both getting increasingly used to.

A drawing I did for Erin for Mother's Day this year. Usually, I do a cartoon drawing of our family, so this was a bit of a different project.

A drawing I did for Erin for Mother’s Day this year. Usually, I do a cartoon drawing of our family, so this was a bit of a different project.

* * *

As for me… I’ll have to come back at you later for a full update. The brief update follows:

I’m taking a three-pronged approach to the future:

1. I’m running a Patreon campaign for the online comic I’ve been running since 2006 (hit the link at very least for the fun video I put together).

2. I’ve designed a symbol I’m putting on jewelry that, from all indications, has huge potential.

3. I’m working on a HUGE project with Tremendum right now that I can’t talk too much about quite yet.

More later.