Burning Heart presents a Lauralee Farrer production

Posts tagged “Marcia Whitehead

Unorthodox and Personal

by Lauralee Farrer

The team behind Praying the Hours often comments that by the time we finish all of our shoots we will run like a well-oiled machine. Until then, we learn the lesson of courage required by any art form: keep going. More time, SO MUCH MORE TIME, is spent on logistics, planning, organizing, preparing, reorganizing, paying and strategizing than on storytelling. The periodic despair over not being able to give the material the creative attention it demands washes over me almost daily now. These are the “first- world” challenges that escalate during the days leading up to a shoot.

The story of Compline (shot in Indiana and portrayed by Marcia Whitehead) is being cut by Greg King. None (shot in Echo Park and portrayed by Aaron Paul Ballard) is being sync’d and will be cut in May by Pat Duff. “Terce: The Story of the Single Mother” is our current project, portrayed by Elizabeth Montgomery. Today we spent half a day in our primary location talking about lights, production design, shot lists, cast members, and babies.

We talked about babies because the DP for this hour, Martina Nagel, has a baby son who was there with us while we worked. Our lead actor, Elizabeth Montgomery, has an even younger baby girl who will be, in some ways, the off-screen subject of our narrative. While we were working, a text from cast member Tony Hale came saying he was at the hospital with Beth Castle who gave birth today—two months early—to a baby boy. Our minds continually drifted over to the image of her and her husband Greg, keeping vigil by the neonatal intensive care unit.

The story of Terce has many layers, but two of them touch on the birth of a vulnerable little one and the ways in which Terce never really grew out of that archetypal vulnerability. So again, the art we were planning mimicked the lives we were living. We need each other. That’s the reality that our character Terce must learn to embrace: the difficulty of asking for help and the poison of thinking that she (or anyone else) can survive without it.

At the Ashland Independent Film Festival last weekend, producer Tamara McMahon, writer Jonathan Foster and I were privileged to watch our film Not That Funny in front of an audience for the first time. We met Seattle writer/director and media personality Warren Etheredge (of The Warren Report). Today, in an e-mail exchange about Praying the Hours, he wrote, “I am always amazed/saddened, that more filmmakers don’t attempt spiritual material like this. Kudos to you for pursuing such an unorthodox project with such obvious personal resonance. It is that level of passion and commitment and vision that forms the soul of all great art.

It was a generous note, and his phrase, “obvious personal resonance” touched me today, especially. The themes of this project keep resonating while also striking the gong anew. Each hour holds its own mysterious stories, in addition to the ones we have planned. This is both the challenge, and the transcendence, of the work.

And while we are at that work, welcome to the world Fletcher Castle. We are praying the hours today, for you.

Follow us on Twitter @praythehours as we shift, this next week, from tweeting None (3 p.m.) to Terce (10 a.m.).


The cast of Praying The Hours

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Cast of Praying The Hours


Stop Thinking and See

By Director Lauralee Farrer

The “found moment”  is our shorthand for authentic moments that inspire a film but cost a fortune to orchestrate. Here’s an absurd example (except that it happened in the movie Ray): A common hummingbird flies in your open window and buzzes there, then zips out. Your heart pounds as if it were an angelic visitation. You write, of a person who has an epiphany, “a hummingbird flies in her window.” Later, producers have to organize a scene that requires a hummingbird wrangler or expensive CGI. To make an even sillier point, at the time of its release, Titanic was the most expensive movie ever made, while the sinking of the Titanic happened for free. What cost so much was making it happen on cue.

On a far smaller continuum of epiphany to disaster, independent filmmakers try to manufacture the organic moment just like big budget filmmakers do. On PTH, we are using a shooting style that is half-documentary and half-narrative to capture the truthful moment, much as John Carney did so beautifully in the movie Once.

We write a story, built of bones and filled in with dialogue and action—instructions of the kind of thing to look for and to film. When actors are cast and locations secured, we rewrite around the reality in order to accomplish the same ends as the first script, but in a more organic manner. When the script for None called for a baby to be sleeping and she was irrevocably wide awake instead, we rewrote a scene that required a laughing baby.

Before the None shoot I showed DP Abraham Martinez the locations in advance. He said, “these locations are perfect for the script!” Of course they are, I wrote to them after they were secured. We write/film/edit a story from pieces of real life, relying on our ability to see the narrative in the circumstances surrounding us. I told one cinematographer: “God will show up. It’s your job to get it on camera.”  This requirement to be present is unnerving to some and liberating to others. To my mind, cinematographer Jordan McMahon is the prince of the found moment. He knows how to compose and frame a shot, but he also has a sixth sense of when something is about to happen—even if it’s stillness—that speaks to the moment the scene calls for.

While shooting Compline in Indiana, our found moments were created by things like snowfall, the availability of an abandoned house, an unstable mousetrap covered in peanut butter. Marcia recounts:

During one of the scenes it was my job to pick up a mousetrap and place it in one of the kitchen cupboards. We filmed it enough for me to let my guard down and realize that mousetraps are nothing to be afraid of. And then, while scooting the trap to the center of the shelf, it snapped shut, flinging peanut butter in every direction. I have no doubt my screaming was heard in Canada.

That was a simple—and hysterical—found moment that was easy to catch. Recently, as we shot the story of None, there were sober, winsome, sad, pensive, and charming moments, such as a moving bus throwing a maze of shadows across the frame shop (seen by Abe) or a picture frame reflecting the expression of the framer as he works (seen by Jordan). In the script I wrote the line of dialogue: “I just don’t think about it.” After that, on a location scout, I saw a small framed image that had written on the corner of the canvas “I try not to think about it.”  That was eerie. And now I realize, often that’s what it takes: stop thinking, and see.