'Smoke! Do we have smoke? Where's the smoke,' shouts director Chris Jones.
Four actors and 20 crew members pause as the artificial smoke, which was proving particularly resistant in the cold November wind, eventually tumbled its way down the garden path and the cameras rolled.
The sprawling £6m house in north London is the set for Meet the Nativity – an ambitious short film project designed to rival John Lewis, Sainsbury's and Marks and Spencer in the pre-Christmas build up.
But for writer Glen Scrivener, who has been behind a number of popular Christian videos including 2016's He Came Down, the aim is 'to get people to be interested in the actual Christmas message and not just buying toasters', he tells Christian Today.
'The idea is to resource Christians in their online world so that they can share not just cat videos online but maybe something with a little bit more meaning,' he says.
'We want to be digital missionaries into this space and I think the way to do that is not just to go over the heads of Christians and try to reach those beyond the faith. I think the way to do that is to resource Christians in their own online worlds so they have stuff they are not ashamed of to share.'
The scene we are watching, filmed outside the pool house of the vast mansion near Barnet, will become the crucial moment in the story of an awkward family forced to encounter the baby Jesus. Based on the apocryphal story of the shepherd who turns up empty-handed to the stable only to be given the greatest gift of all – Jesus – Scrivener's adaptation blends the 21<sup>st and the 1<sup>st century.
'We have had to raise a lot of money because making the 1st century nativity appear at the bottom of a north London garden doesn't come cheap,' he says. 'But we've got some great people behind it.'
The director, Jones was shortlisted for an Oscar for his work on Gone Fishing and the actors are all carefully selected professionals. This is not, as Scrivener puts it, a 'naff' Christian production. With heavyweight sponsors including The Gospel Coalition and other major companies backing the production on top of a crowdfunded total of £20,000, Scrivener's budget may be far off John Lewis' £7million, but it is not small-scale.
'I've got nothing against Christian drama in which there is an actor at the end who has his arms out in crucifix form and bows his head but I do want to produce stuff that stands up against the John Lewis commercials. I just think Christians so often think we are on the fringe of things and we have got to do things on a shoestring. We almost accept it's going to be tacky, it's going to be on the nose, it's going to be a little bit naff. I say why?
'The history of Western art is of Christians telling the Christian story. That has shaped the culture and we have been at the heart of things pumping out the story of Jesus. That has been what has moulded our culture. Too often today Christians in the creative arts feel we are on the fringes and we by definition have to do something naff because we are Christians.
'So I have got a real passion for doing stuff well that people are unashamed of.'
In this interpretation Will (Ant Joblin) plays the awkward boyfriend invited to his girlfriend Clare's (Emily Tucker) parents' for Christmas. Bumbling and comically clumsy, Will makes a fool of himself and has, like the mythical shepherd, nothing to offer. It is then that he wanders to the end of the garden and discovers the baby Jesus. The story goes on to describe how Clare, along with her difficult step-mother Ruth (Vanessa Bailey) and snobbish father Ken (Stuart Sessions) are all transformed by their own discovery of the nativity which, magically, is on their doorstep.
'I want to see it shared widely,' says Scrivener when asked what would be a success. 'We have had our Christmas films viewed over a million times across different platforms in the past so if we weren't getting that kind of traction this year I would feel disappointed. But there are absolutely no guarantees.
'Who knows? Could this spark a little conversation about this art form so John Lewis thinks, "Oh, there is a new kid on the block" and so we start to think we can tell the old story in these new ways? Maybe there is a conversation to be had in our culture about the old Christmas story being the best one – the original and the best.
'But hey, if it is shared by millions I will be happy. And if it resources Christians to be witnesses in the online space then it will have done its job.'
You can watch the first episode of Meet the Nativity below. The remaining three episodes will be aired on the next three Mondays leading up to Christmas.