Rachel Scribner, 2019 graduate of the Walla Walla University cinema, religion, and worldview master’s program, has collaborated with Hope Channel and Carl Cosaert, dean of the WWU School of Theology, to create a television series about Jesus that is based on the gospel of Mark. Much of the series was filmed on location in Israel including Old Jerusalem, the Garden of Gethsemane, the Sea of Galilee, reconstructed villages in Nazareth, the Golan heights, and the ruins of Capernaum known as Chorizin.
“Reliving Mark: Discovering Jesus in Israel” is a six-part television program that premiered on Hope Channel on Feb. 28, 2021. [Watch the trailer.]
“Carl Cosaert had been taking groups to Israel on tour, and he wanted to share some of the same archeological sites and insights from the Bible with people who might not be able to travel to Israel,” said Scribner. “I hope that viewers can watch this series and learn more about what life was really like in Jesus’s day, and more about Jesus himself. I hope people can imagine the stories better after they see this program.”
In an interview, Scribner shared the following highlights about filming in Israel, working with an international production crew, and partnering with Cosaert on the series.
What was the inspiration for sharing Jesus and the biblical book of Mark in this way?
Carl Cosaert is the one who dreamed up this project. He’d been taking groups to Israel on tour and wanted to share the same archeological sites from the Bible with people who might not be able to travel to Israel. I was working for the WWU Center for Media Ministry at the time, and Carl approached us for ideas about bringing his tour to the screen.
The series is about Jesus. Carl chose the gospel of Mark to share insights from his research as he stood on the places where the stories actually happened. When we filmed the story of the paralytic being healed, for example, we visited houses from the first century period. Carl explained what the paralytic’s friends would have had to do in order to dig through the roof.
Who worked on this project?
There were five of us who traveled to Israel from the U.S. — Carl; Gary McLain, cinematographer; Oswaldo Villalobos, camera operator, audio recordist, and generous lender of camera equipment; Bill Thompson, production assistant; and me. In Israel, we were joined by Aran Yardini, our country producer, casting director, location supervisor, and all around lifesaver. Amir, the actor who played Jesus, traveled around with us since we needed him over and over again. Many local people acted in the production, most joining us for just one day. Back in the states, Lynelle Ellis, director of the Walla Walla University Center for Media Ministry, was in our corner supporting us however she could. The Hope Channel also partnered with us and will be doing all the editing and postproduction.
What was it like to film in Israel? Did you encounter any obstacles in bringing this story to life?
The filming process was exhilarating and challenging. We filmed in April and May  and had only three weeks for a production that should have taken at least six weeks. We didn’t sleep much, and we had to navigate flash floods, high winds, helicopters, a bicycle race that closed down the streets, and then the missile scare.
While filming in the Golan Heights, the crew woke up to explosions from missiles that were fired into that area. On the day that the bomb shelters opened up, our contact didn’t show up to open the gates to the site where we were filming. Aran called him, and he showed up, explaining that he didn’t call because he was sure we weren’t coming. Who films on a day when schools are closed, and everyone is instructed to open their bomb shelters? We didn’t think too much about it though. If a missile did come, it might as well find us doing what we came to do. We couldn’t finish if we skipped a day.
What was the collaborative process like for you and Dr. Cosaert?
Carl wanted to bring his tour to the screen, and he had some great ideas, but he needed help because he didn’t have any experience in film or video. It was exciting for me to direct my first TV series, and I believe it was helpful for Carl as well. As for how it went, Carl and I are both super high energy. We’d get going with an idea and just not quit. Sometimes I had to guide him on what is or isn’t possible to do with a camera, but he really knew in his mind what he wanted the show to be like. I like to think I just guided him to make that vision a reality. It was beautiful because we, the crew, were able to work together and make something polished, educational, and professional even though we all came from different backgrounds and had never worked together before. Carl and I really did manage to understand each other and get so much done in a short time.
What do you hope viewers take away from the series after they see it?
I hope that viewers who are looking for deeper insights about the Bible, especially Mark’s gospel, can watch this series and learn more about Jesus and what life was really like in his day. Carl’s research is deep and thoughtful. I hope viewers get transported to feel what I felt when I visited Israel. It’s a special feeling to know what those places, where Jesus walked, look like today. I hope people can imagine the stories better after they see this program.
The series premiered on Hope Channel on Feb. 28, 2021. It will also be available at relivingmark.com, along with free study guides for each episode, seven behind-the-scenes videos where Cosaert shares stories and bonus footage from the crew’s experience while filming in Israel, and a series of interviews with seminary professors about the Gospel of Mark. Watch the trailer.
Discover programs and degrees offered by the WWU Center for Media Ministry and learn about Cosaert’s Bible Lands Study Tours and about the WWU School of Theology.
— T. Brooke Sample is a Walla Walla University Relations student writer; this interview originally appeared on the Walla Walla University website on Feb. 15, 2021.