Ever wondered who is behind the camera when you watch a QuakerSpeak video? We convinced director Jon Watts to switch places with the Friends Journal editors and answer some questions about his approach to the project.
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I want people to be drawn to a Quaker meeting because they’re drawn to the truth. So that’s what we try and demonstrate with QuakerSpeak videos, they’re not all about how a Quaker meeting is perfect for everybody and you should come into worship on Sunday morning because it’s just the greatest.
One of the first videos that we published about meeting for worship was how challenging it is to sit in meeting for worship on Sunday morning, and how you face your demons. It’s like this isn’t for everybody, this isn’t going to be an easy journey. But it’s going to be real, and it’s going to pull down some of the curtains that are keeping us from being real with each other.
Behind the Scenes of QuakerSpeak
My name is Jon Watts. I direct the QuakerSpeak project here at Friends Journal in Philadelphia. QuakerSpeak is a weekly video project. We release videos every Thursday.
What was the origin of the project?
Before I started QuakerSpeak, I was watching a lot of different YouTubers and seeing what they were doing with their creativity. A lot of YouTubers just speak directly into the camera, and they either say their thoughts or they’re sort of doing a stand-up comedy routine. And watching YouTubers do their thing and having it be so entertaining and so easy to connect to and so concise and succinct, I really said to myself, “Why aren’t there Quakers in the world doing this? There should be a YouTube channel, where Quakers basically vlog their ideas about Quakerism and their spiritual journeys.” And then I realized that Quakers are too humble to do that. Most Quakers are not going to flip open their laptop, and think that the world really wants to hear what they think about spirituality. So it takes someone like me calling them up and saying, “I really want to hear what you have to say, and I know that my audience really wants to hear what you have to say.” And so in some ways, QuakerSpeak is the Quaker vlog that never happened.
Where did the title “QuakerSpeak” come from?
The term Quaker speak is a word that Quakers often use to say insidery language or jargon, something that only Quakers would understand. We kind of wanted to play with that term a little bit, by calling this project QuakerSpeak. Often, our videos are discovered by people who have never heard of Quakerism before. So in our version of Quaker speak, we try and avoid jargon. We try and avoid insider language that’s going to lose a newcomer. But we still do want to go deep with it, so we’re kind of trying to redefine this term “QuakerSpeak.” How do Quakers speak? We speak authentically, we speak from a grounded place, we listen deeply and we speak from our heart.
Is QuakerSpeak an outreach project?
When Quakers took so strongly to the printing press in the seventeenth century, it wasn’t to build a religion. They weren’t trying to fill up their churches or to keep their churches open. They were publishers of truth. They were trying to talk about what’s real. They were trying to talk to people’s real spiritual conditions. And they were trying to tear down everything around them in the world, whether it was theology or government, or just conceptually things that were keeping us from telling the truth to each other and from being authentically connected with God.
So we can talk about Quaker outreach. We can talk about getting more people into our meetings. But Quakerism is more than that: it’s more than keeping our meeting houses going, it’s more than meeting once a week on Sunday. It’s about being publishers of truth. And my hope is that QuakerSpeak—in whatever corner of the Internet it lives in—is at least real.
Is conducting interviews a spiritual practice for you?
I kind of think of QuakerSpeak interviews as an opportunity for ministry, and Quakers have always believed in supporting people in their ministry. When someone is trying to talk from the heart or trying to be a vessel for the Spirit, they need somebody praying for them. And so I take on that role when I’m interviewing someone, of sort of being their elder in that moment. I’m trying to ground the space, I’m trying to empty myself, I’m trying to really pray for them, and I want this person to give the best possible answer that they can. I don’t know what that’s going to be, I don’t know what that looks like or sounds like. I can’t guess at the content of that, but I want it to be grounded in the Spirit. I want them to feel really good about the answer that they gave.
How do you cut down lengthy interviews to just be 4 minutes long?
The way that I edit the QuakerSpeak interviews is kind of interesting, because I don’t always agree with the things that my interviewee said during the interview.
Because of the broad diversity of Quakerism, just in North America alone, you can’t make any real generalizations about Quakers that all Quakers are going to agree with. But you can start a conversation. And so for my editing process, I pick the moments that seemed most faithful, most passionate, most clear-headed, concise and bold.
How do you balance deadlines with faithfulness?
We release a video on QuakerSpeak every Thursday. What’s really fun about that, is that I’m often unclear about what it is that we should publish or if it’s edited well, or if it’s the right thing. But the joy of working for Quakers, is that I get to sit back and pray with that. That’s sort of part of the job here, is saying “What am I supposed to do here?” But mostly what I find is that things miraculously come together. I think that I have the wrong edit, or the person isn’t quite saying it in the right way. But I show it to the rest of the staff here at Friends Journal, and we take this one piece and move it over here and we cut this other piece out, and we change the intro. And bam, its ministry. Whereas before, it was just a jumble of thoughts. And that’s been sort of the continuing magic of this job is that when it does go out, I almost always feel like this was faithful, this was well put together.
How can viewers support the project?
The people who share QuakerSpeak videos on Facebook and who forward them to their friends, are really the reason that we’re getting close to a million views on the channel. And we really appreciate everyone who supports us in that way, and everyone who donates to the projects. We wouldn’t be where we are without our viewers and our donors, so thank you.
The views expressed in this video are of the speakers and do not necessarily reflect the views of Friends Journal or its collaborators.