Murrieta Synagogue Acts as Backdrop For Book Trailer

Congregation B'nai Chaim offers locale for book about a Nazi SS officer who converts to Judaism.

Offering up his best German accent, Hemet actor Allen Purchis' voice boomed in the quiet solitude of Murrieta's Jewish synagogue.

Purchis, acting as a former Nazi SS officer, had one line to say: "I have a very dark confession to make."

The line was said over and over again, until it was perfected. The lighting had to be right and the synagogue's simple but treasured furnishings had to be manuevered in just the right postitions. Purchis was being filmed by the two-man crew, Witness Pictures, a local film production company.

The scene will be incorporated into a book trailer for the newly-released novel, "The Unforgotten Prayer," by Danny Rittman (2011).

The book depicts a former Nazi SS officer who goes into hiding in the United States. He is befriended by a young Jewish family, which has a huge impact on his outlook of their religious views and his own humanity. Eventually the former officer is forced to confront the demons in his past, and willingly reveals his crimes to the congregation, who forgive and accept him.

"This pivotal scene (was) lensed at the B'nai Chaim synagogue so that filmmakers can add a layer of authenticity to this powerful project," said Johanna Lack, spokeswoman for Congregation B'nai Chaim.

Witness Pictures, run by director/cinematographer Ignatius Fischer, is a small local production studio that specializes in feature filmmaking, commercials and book trailers. Friday's shoot at the Murrieta synagogue marked the beginning of the 25th book trailer produced by Fischer and co-producer and writer Brian Dillon, of Temecula.

Witness Pictures started filming book trailers about two years ago, and said they have projects lined up back to back. Fischer said the trailers often accompany online book advertisements, but are also submitted to production companies as a way to pitch books to movie executives. To prepare for trailers, Fischer said they are required to read the books first.

More scenes for "The Unforgotten Prayer" will be filmed in Winchester and in Hemet, where the crew will stage a Nazi scene.

"It will be one of our better trailers," Fischer said. "It's more dramatic and this one has a pretty good story."

is a liberal/conservative synagogue off Murrieta Hot Springs Road that serves southwestern Riverside County with a Hebrew school and full-time Rabbi, Barry Ulrych. The synagogue was paid a small fee in exchange for allowing the scene to be filmed there. It was a first for the congregation, Rabbi Ulrych said.

"It is an honor. It is good to see when synagogues become part of the fabric of a book theme, and it is also interesting to see how Jewish themes are utilized in the telling of stories. Certainly more books are coming out with the Holocaust as either the background or the primary storyline," Rabbi Ulrych said.

The filming took less than an hour before the crew was on its way to its next location. In addition to book trailers, Witness Pictures has produced two feature-length films, including "Lisl and the Lorlok," which won best feature and best actor at the Idyllwild Film Festival.

The production company has used Purchis in many of its trailers and films, creating cohesiveness. In order to prepare for the role, Purchis said he brushed up on his German accent beforehand, although he is used to transitioning into almost any type of accent.

"This one was not easy for me," he said.

But he was enthralled with the storyline.

"The more and more I am getting into this, the more interesting it sounds."

When complete, the trailer will be 90 seconds long. It can take several weeks to come up with the final product, once the sound is added in, according to Fischer. But all the locations seemed to be falling in place.

"They were really open to letting us film here," Fischer said, of the congregation.


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