Actor Charlton Heston discussed many things in a documentary on the making of the 1956 film The Ten Commandments.
One striking story revealed the frustration that producer and director Cecil B. DeMille faced while trying to coordinate all the action and cameras for its major scenes. Assistant directors likened his role to that of a field commander moving armies across the battlefield. So stressful was the 5-year undertaking that DeMille suffered a massive heart attack while filming on location in Egypt. Fortunately, he survived to finish the movie.
Heston explained the filming of the climatic “exodus scene.” First, tens of thousands of extras were trucked in to be ready for the epic scene the next morning. These extras consisted of whole Egyptian families with their flocks and herds. Finally, as the sun was rising, everyone (50–60 thousand people according to Heston) was finally assembled—including four Technicolor cameramen. One of these cameramen prepared to take a length shot, one a cross shot, another a close up shot, and a fourth prepared to take a “from-above-shot” high atop a nearby ridge. Each camera held 1,000 feet of film to make the most of this unrepeatable event. Suddenly, from his director’s chair, DeMille gave the order for the cameras to roll and the scene to begin. Finally, the mass of people and their animals marched out of the city into the desert. All of them following Moses, played by Heston.
When the ordeal was finally over, an exhausted DeMille was anxious to find out how well his cameramen had done. Using his PA system, he called to the close up cameraman, “How was that Fred?”
“Mr. DeMille, I’m sorry but I only shot about 50-100 feet of film before a camel fell directly in front of the camera and wouldn’t get out of the way.”
“That’s too bad.” Then DeMille turned to the cross shot cameraman and shouted, “What about you, Tom?”
“Mr. DeMille, this is the first time this has ever happened in my life, but my assistant didn’t set the lens. I didn’t take any film at all.”
With a sigh, DeMille groaned, “That is too bad.” Then he hollered to his above-shot cameraman, “You, up there, what about you?”
To which the distant cameraman hollered back, “I’m ready whenever you are, C.B.!”
After the entire orchestration of thousands of people, animals, and machines, Cecil B. DeMille had only a few feet of film to show for his labors. The entire scene had to be re-shot.
If you’ve ever had to redo a monumental task because of some glitch or failure, remember, you’re not alone. Others have suffered the same disappointment and frustration. DeMille was one. Yet he persevered and finished his epic motion picture and since its opening season, The Ten Commandments has earned over $1 billion and is presently ranked as one of the five most popular films ever.
Starting over was not easy for DeMille, but it was worth it. And if we are faced with the same misfortune, we need to keep the finished product in view—as well as the impact of our work. And once our task is finally complete, that terrible setback will seem so minor. So don’t let anything derail you from accomplishing your task.
Even the Scriptures tell us of our need for endurance—and for focusing on the finish line—when we suffer setbacks on our spiritual journey. “For you have need of endurance, so that when you have done the will of God, you may receive what was promised” (Heb. 10:36) and “since we have so great a cloud of witnesses surrounding us, let us also lay aside every encumbrance and the sin which so easily entangles us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of faith, who for the joy set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God” (Heb. 12:1-3).
Everlasting God, whose help and strength is inexhaustible, please inspire me and renew my strength when I am plagued by failure and setbacks. Help me to look beyond my disappointment to the joys of victory ahead. Amen.