If you want to know what Travis Reed, founder of The Work of the People, is about, all you have to do is watch his films. If you do, a few things are immediately apparent. Films such as “Hands and Feet of Jesus,” “What Is Sacred,” and the series produced for the Prison Entrepreneurship Program represent Reed’s belief that faith should produce action. Films such as “The Worship Industry” and “Eight Dollar Hot Dog” express his awareness of the Church’s consumerist tendencies.
The Work of the People’s Visual Liturgy series—a collection of media resources that correspond to the Christian calendar—reflects Reed’s appreciation for faith that is both historical and communal, while many other films demonstrate his global awareness and compassion for the struggles of the Third World.
Visually, his style is gritty and somewhat unconventional in terms of worship media, and his camera work is often very active, as though probing for new perspective or indicative of a non-traditional point of view.
Travis (pictured left) was generous enough to share with us his thoughts on The Work of the People, church media, and the tension between faith, art, and business.
COLLIDE: Tell us a little bit about your background and how you got into producing media resources for churches.
Travis Reed: I met Jesus in my apartment through a U2 song in 1995, and a year later ended up creating weekly films at a church called Highway that was looking to incorporate video into their new "Gen X" service. A year or so later I founded Highway Video. At first the content was an extension of Highway Church’s weekly rhythms, but then content creation eventually became disconnected from the community for various reasons. Then I just created films from the "journey at large" for the Church—in truth, but still, as a "product."
Eventually, my family moved to Houston, TX, to journey with friends at a community called Ecclesia. Out of that, I left Highway Video and founded The Work of the People and began producing for the Church, but I also think from the Church—out of relationship.
COLLIDE: Having been involved with church media for a significant length of time, what are your thoughts on how the industry has changed and where it is likely headed?
Reed: The term “industry” in relation to worship has bothered me as long as I’ve “been in” it. I constantly wrestle with the tension of making art and sharing it as a resource for the Church and the necessary business model that should support this expression. I really don’t believe that either is inherently wrong, but rather I am cautious to not fall into what I believe to be the snare of profits replacing prophets.
I’ve seen the industry succumb in many ways to the consuming culture surrounding us, where we don’t make and market films for their prophetic voice and timing, but rather we attempt to piggyback the latest trend, or we simply think a certain film will sell well to churches. We’ve become so good at selling junk to Christians.
There is, and should be, tremendous tension here. I’m not trying to change the “industry;” I’m simply calling the saints to create art that bears the imago dei, that bears Christ’s transformative image, not only for the Church but the world she is in. I say this with a huge "industry” log in my own eye.
COLLIDE: You’ve traveled to a few exotic locations, most recently Liberia, to shoot films. What is the motivation behind that, and what have you taken away from those experiences?
Reed: All my travels have been extensions of different relationships. The Liberian trip specifically came out of my relationship with Living Water International, a group that brings safe drinking water to folks around the world, and Advent Conspiracy, a movement started by a few friends committed to restoring the scandal of the Christmas story. We went there to meet with folks we’d provided water wells for and to seek out villages still in need.
I learned Liberians don’t get too attached to their newborns early on because there’s a good chance they’ll die before they’re two years old, as they lack access to safe drinking water. I learned we need to stop going on mission trips and start going on friendship trips. Building buildings, painting walls, etc. is temporary; friendships are eternal. Liberia has been destroyed by civil war, and this guy gave me a bullet that had been melted down and made into a cross. That was a pretty powerful metaphor.
But mostly, I learned I don’t live the upside down life Jesus has invited us to live.
COLLIDE: The Work of the People’s Visual Liturgy series is a unique product offering. What drew you to the idea of combining traditional liturgy with new media?
Reed: "Product offering"—the tension continues. I didn’t grow up in church and hadn’t been exposed to the weekly rhythm of reading the Word in community until I landed at Ecclesia. When you experience the reading of Scripture in a non-religious way that connects our community’s story to the Church’s story and together to The Story, it’s a very provoking, inspiring, transforming, and mysterious thing. From that experience I started creating visual liturgy specifically inspired by and shaped by the events of the Church calendar and scriptural texts of the Revised Common Lectionary—from the written word to the moving word. At the heart of it, I really believe new media, as my friend Eileen Crowley likes to say, "has the potential to provide a portal toward the mystery of God."
COLLIDE: Chris Seay (pictured below with Liberian children) has made appearances in several TWOTP videos, and TWOTP was involved with his project, The Voice. How did you get involved with Chris and in what ways does he contribute to TWOTP?
Reed: Chris is my friend and brother, my pastor, and a co-conspirer, so everything is just an extension of that relationship. Also, he’s a brother who appreciates the sacredness of good music, movies, Mexican food, and margaritas.
COLLIDE: Are there any upcoming TWOTP projects you’re excited about and would like to share with us?
Reed: Well, I hope to dig into some more narrative efforts—comedy and more straightforward stuff. Mr. Seay and I are working on a feature-length documentary. I’ll be creating films and visual liturgy in relationship with a number of NGOs (non-governmental organizations) over the next year. And I’m excited also to be working with the church network La Red Del Camino to produce film resources for a project called To Be Told—various stories of the Kingdom from Latin America.
Find out more about The Work of the People at www.theworkofthepeople.com.