A strange thing happened on our first day of principal photography for “None: The Story of the Mournful Songwriter.” The script called for a woman to interrupt the main character “None” (Aaron Paul Ballard) as he is trying to write a song. She urges him to open his frame shop early because of a framing emergency.
Because framing “emergencies” are hard to come by, we had concocted this idea that she wanted to frame a rock and roll poster for her boyfriend’s birthday party that night.
A long and equally strange series of events led me to send a Facebook message to director Michelle Steffes the night before and ask if she might be available to play that customer. She wrote back, “do you want me to act? Or to help you find someone?” I knew for certain I wanted her to play the customer, but I couldn’t explain why. So I didn’t. A great sport (and a good actress!) she said she would give us her day, but that she had one chore she had to take care of: a framing emergency. Imagine her surprise to be called to the set of a functioning frame shop.
Her boyfriend’s father had passed away that week and she had to get his photo framed for the memorial service. A strange coincidence. While I was trying to tell her what I wanted for the first scene, all I could think about was her boyfriend’s father.
Finally, I realized why: the hour of None is when monks go into their cells alone and their prayers include the petition for a “holy death.” That means they face the disappointments that accompany the “none” season of their lives, and ask God to sanctify their remaining years. I asked: will you let us frame this photo in the film? She called her boyfriend, and he said yes.
That found moment shifted the tone of the whole scene. When her character returned to pick up the frame job, she was invited to an impromptu Parson Red Heads concert that night, as a way of lightening what was sure to be a heavy evening. She asked what she owed for the framing job, and I told Aaron, “just tell her it’s on the house, and to ‘come back in happier times.’” So, Aaron said just that. And, in a case of life imitates art, he gave her the framing job he had done, and he choked up on every take (and so did I). Later that evening, when None sees Michelle at the concert, there is a brief but very genuine moment of connection between them. We did not film what we planned, we filmed what we were given.
I do not know Michelle’s boyfriend, but I spent quite a bit of time with his father’s photograph that day, filming it and framing it, and—for my part—praying for him and for the family. It was a very rich and mysterious connection. Just the sort of thing one should expect from this particular hour of prayer. We asked permission of Joey (through Michelle) to tell this story, and he agreed, adding: His name was David. Rest in peace.
By Director Lauralee Farrer
One recent morning, before the None shoot, an unexpected expense came up that was very disheartening. That afternoon, in an equally random, unexpected way, someone texted to say she had been praying for us, and thought: I could give some money. I could do that. And a figure came to her mind, so she thought, that’s good.
The expense was over three times the amount of the donation, but a strange thing happened: we were more encouraged by the gift than we were discouraged by the expense. It made me wonder if there is such a thing as kairos (grace) money as well as time.
The incredible timing of her gift gave us the feeling that God sees us and draws others to us who are called to pray or to give at just the right time—this is a mysterious lesson that is as inspiring as it is unpredictable. It gives you the assurance that you are not alone. That, as Goethe said, the cosmos will open to help when you need it.
Other amazing things have given us the same “illogical” but profound encouragement. For example, we were planning on shooting with two cameras, but we still hadn’t received all the equipment for the one Red Scarlet that we ordered and paid for back in October. Yet the day of our first shoot here in Los Angeles—the very day—another friend of the production received the Red Scarlet camera he also ordered back in November, and he rushed it over to us to use. To my mind, that’s two miracles: that the camera arrived within hours of our need for it, and that the new owner was as excited as we were that we should use it. The brand new camera for which he’s been waiting breathlessly since November—that’s the one that he dropped off for our use and thanked us for the privilege of doing so.
We are limping through the costs one inch at a time. That is stressful. But now and then, at just the times when we need it, an inspiring gift of confidence, generosity or other encouragement will come through. Like the day that a location turned sour and we lost an important venue, only to replace it immediately with something much better—Mario’s Añejo Duddery in Echo Park. We rewrote the scene to make use of his unique place, and we had a blast. He thanked us over and over for coming to his shop, took photographs with us, invited us back, helped move equipment, acted as an extra in the scene—even loaned Aaron Paul Ballard a shirt for a pickup scene that he later gave him as a memento.
Alongside these uneven ups and downs, slowly but surely, we’re shooting the project. We are 2/10ths of the way done. No one is quitting their day jobs or wrecking their marriages or losing their health, and the film is starting to get in the can (or the hard drive). That, too, is a mystery. It’s not easy. Tamara and I were just discussing yesterday how this work pushes us to our edges and forces us to face our weaknesses. But it’s good work. And good stories. And good filmmaking. And in the midst of the good stories and filmmaking, the generosity of friendship is the truly transformational power, through which we end this process different people than we began it.
Thank you, Patrick Duff for the photos, and for your remarkable friendship.
By Director Lauralee Farrer
If you’ve read Matt Webb’s blog on the Kinema Commonwealth, then you understand why I rankle a little at the name “extras.” I don’t need to buy the world a coke and teach it to sing harmony, but extras are human beings, not happy meals. I know that actors are used to the title “extra” and not offended by it, but I like what they are called in the world of opera: “supernumeraries.” The word simply means someone who is paid for a temporary contract, but I like hearing them called “supers” and I like that the word can be applied to actors, professors, police, ministers, judges, military personnel, writers or—if Wikipedia is to be believed—knights and ladies. Now we’re talking royalty.
Extras are the rarest kind of human being—people who will drive all the way from their homes to Echo Park late on a work night, stand in line for an hour just to be in the blur of a filmclip, and go inside to stand for two more hours while the band they’ve come to hear is annoyingly stopped and started and stopped again. In the case of our independent film, they didn’t do it for a paycheck, or to save $5 bucks at the door, but just because they are friends of the production, and because they enjoy one another’s company (and a free Parson Red Heads concert!). We are indebted to Emily Morton who organized our crowd on the night that we shot a vintage clothing shop turned temporary club, who cared for people, made sure they knew what was happening, and whose gift to the production in that form cannot be repaid. Our DP Abe Martinez overheard one of the extras laughing who came out to hear the Parson Red Heads in our PTH story of “None, the Story of the Mournful Songwriter.” Kerry Royce has a unique laugh that he recognized right away: “I used to hear her laugh listening to podcasts while we were in Africa,” he said, “it made me feel like home.”
That’s sort of what extras do—make a unique environment feel like home, and I cannot thank them enough for coming out that night. They give a scene authenticity, focus, attention. Tish Dragonette is the consummate extra. She has a great time while she is there, is patient, attentive, and interested. Not to mention beautiful. Kahle McCann too. He’s good at paying attention and helping to direct focus to what you are trying to create out of thin air, which is, of course, some approximation of real life (also beautiful). And Sarah Parker: unique, lovely, fun. When I listened tonight to Loren Roberts’s mix of the Parsons’s set, I could hear the voices of our friends cheering: full-throated, happy, believable, committed. The script calls for “the crowd goes wild” and for Evan to say, “thank you. Thank you.” When I heard exactly that happen, I got goosebumps, and I thought, that’s more than I hoped for. Something extra.