Phillip Burgess: Learning from Hollywood

  • Posted: Sunday, March 31, 2013 12:01 a.m.
Workers convert the front lawn of St. Luke’s Episcopal Church into a cemetery for the filming of the ‘Sleepy Hollow’ pilot.
Workers convert the front lawn of St. Luke’s Episcopal Church into a cemetery for the filming of the ‘Sleepy Hollow’ pilot.

As a child, my parents took me to Los Angeles on vacation. While there, we toured the back lots of various Hollywood Studios, took the stars homes tour, strolled the Walk of Fame, even visited the burial sites of famous movie stars. If you have never seen how movies and TV shows are actually made, the process is an enormous undertaking not only in talent and manpower, but also in the use of the imagination.

For you see, Hollywood goes to great lengths to make things look quite differently than they are in reality.


On one studio back lot you can stand in the middle of the street and in one view see the Empire State Building, the Golden Gate Bridge, The White House and the Las Vegas Strip.

Homes and building are merely three sided shells, and the great oceans of the world merely swimming pools.

Yes, Hollywood goes to great lengths to alter perceptions of reality... but in fact, so do we!

I have always thought it would be fun to work on a Hollywood set.

Arriving at my office recently, it indeed seemed that I did.

With the filming of the television pilot “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow,” the corner of Church and Council streets looked more like Hollywood/Vine.

Salisbury and St. Luke’s Church was chosen because of our historic aesthetic.

We had the “old” look that the film studio needed. Our cemeteries, houses, streetscapes all fit the bill perfectly.

So why then did the set designers build another cemetery in our church yard? We have great old cemeteries all over town. Why did they add additional antiques lamp posts and other “historic” touches to venues all over town?

Not that I mind, as I thought the new “Sleepy Hollow Cemetery” of the “North Church” is fascinating, but it does puzzle me somewhat. Is our reality not real enough?

Last week the members of St. Luke’s Parish had their pictures taken for the new church directory. Wearing my best suit, I dutifully sat up straight, posed and smiled for the camera.

In my opinion the resulting picture was excellent. I thought to myself, not bad for someone 49. As I went to purchase my chosen photo, the cameraman said, “We can remove some of those wrinkles here, correct that sag there, pull this here, push this there, etc.”

I thought to myself, not bad for someone 59. I left with one picture — the un-retouched free one.

In all honesty, we are all not unlike Hollywood.

Our bathrooms are all filled with various products designed to tighten, loosen, fade, conceal, tone, replenish, renew and color.

We often purchase cars, clothes and even homes that we cannot afford.

Our lives are consumed with success at any cost. It seems that failure, peeling paint, last year’s model car and grey hair simply will not suffice, and we go to great expense to alter perceptions of our present reality.

But if we continue to do this, are our lives really our own or have they become Hollywood sets? Why are we making all of these “improvements,” and for whom?

Scripture tells us that the God that knows the secrets of our hearts and that nothing is hidden from him.

Further, scripture also tells us that “where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.”

Hollywood has taught me a great deal about myself and about my faith. It showed me that I need to cultivate and grow those things that I treasure most — my family, my friends, my church and my relationship with God.

While perhaps not the most visible aspect of my life, they are indeed what are most lasting and important.

From now on, I am going to spend more time on my 49 year old interior and less time on the exterior.

And the best part is I don’t need fancy set designs, makeup, creams, ointments or even money.

Thank you Hollywood for coming to Salisbury. You have changed the script of my life.

“I’m ready for my close-up, Dear Lord.”

Dr. Phillip E. Burgess is director of music ministries at St. Luke’s Episcopal Church.

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