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Arts & Culture

'Mass,' filmed in Idaho, is getting some of the best reviews of the year

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Bleecker Street
Mass opens in Idaho Friday, Oct. 22

The Chicago Reader has compared the script for the film Mass to works of Tennessee Williams, adding that it is “riveting and unforgettable.” And Variety says the film “announces Fran Kranz as a bold new filmmaker who has earned the right to excavate a subject as sensitive as this one.

Indeed, Mass has garnered some of the best critical notices of the year.

“I truly believe this: The film is not about the specific content of a shooting and exactly what happened,” said Kranz. “It is about themes of forgiveness, themes about reconciliation, about healing, and physical harm, about connection.”

Just prior to his film opening in Idaho, Kranz visited with Morning Edition host George Prentice to talk about the powerful themes of his film, and his choice of the Wood River Valley as a backdrop for his movie.

“Emmanuel Episcopal Church in Hailey is a beautiful red brick church. It’s gorgeous. But it also has this modesty. It has a humility about it. It has an authenticity.”
Fran Kranz

MASS | Official Trailer | Bleecker Street

Read the full transcript below:

GEORGE PRENTICE: It is Morning Edition on Boise State Public Radio News. Good morning. I'm George Prentice. There are multiple definitions of the word mass. The Christian Eucharist or Holy Communion, a large number of people, as in a mass gathering or a mass killing and Mass, is the title of a new film that premiered to some pretty great reviews at the Sundance Film Festival, and we're lucky to spend some time this morning with the director and screenwriter of Mass, Fran Kranz is here. We know him from his performances in Cabin in the Woods, Dollhouse and other Joss Whedon films, and he costarred on Broadway in the sold out revival of Death of a Salesman. But here he is with mass. It's quite a debut. Fran, congratulations and good morning.

FRAN KRANZ: Thank you. Really appreciate it, George. Thank you. I'm happy. I'm happy to be here with you.

PRENTICE: We should say up front that Mass circles around four people two couples, parents of young men involved in a pretty horrific event. What do you want audiences to know about this before they see the film?

KRANZ: You know, it's it's so hard. First of all, you know, if I can't speak about it, we don't really have much to talk about, right? And you know why? Why do this if I'm going to try and withhold information for the sake of this sort of a certain kind of experience? There's no doubt you could walk into this movie knowing nothing. And I believe, have a really singular, profound, emotional sort of surprising experience, on the other hand. I think I think the movie works no matter how much information you have. And it's a tricky thing because the these parents have been through a violent tragedy, a violent shooting. And I think it becomes clear as the story goes on, you know, specifically what that is. But the reality is I and I truly believe this, that the film is not about the specific content of the shooting and exactly what happened more than it is about themes of forgiveness, themes about reconciliation, about healing, about physical human connection. I love that you talk about the different definitions of mass because to me, the film takes place in a church, so there's the Eucharist will come to mind. The film is about a mass shooting, something that we're all familiar with. So that will obviously come to mind. But to me, it's about bodies, physical bodies coming together, the gathering of people and the importance of that, the importance of physical human connection being face to face with people and the sort of power of shared humanity and shared experience when you can sit with someone and hear their story, hear their truth. So these are the these are the real themes and the real subject, I believe, of the film. It's just in the context of or through the lens of a mass shooting involving, you know, young young children.

PRENTICE: When you sat down pen to paper or fingers to laptop, did you go in search of a story like this or did this story find you?

KRANZ: Yeah, you know, I've been dreaming about making a movie for most of my life, right? And I've had these ideas, these big ideas. I mean, I literally I wrote a script about an alien invasion, you know, and nobody ever even thought, What the hell am I supposed to do with this? And so I tried to lower my sights, you know, and I was I was, you know, I didn't love the idea of a one location movie. I just thought that might have been a cop out. But but I knew like, look, no one's going to give you money, you're going to have to make this for nothing. What is it? You got to find the idea that works. And I had my daughter, my first child was born and my only child was born September twenty sixteen. And so she was about a little over a year old when the Parkland shooting happened and I was devastated. And this completely new and surprising way. I remember listening to a parent that day and having to pull over while I was driving. I was listening to this on the radio and I was so overwhelmed and I thought it was strange. I honestly just thought, what's going on? I've never reacted this way, and the obvious answer was that I was a father now and it changed my perspective. And then what? What happened after was essentially just I. I became obsessive and went down a rabbit hole of research reading about mass shootings, school shootings, anything I could find on the subject.

Speaker2: You know, flash back 20 years or so, I studied the Truth and Reconciliation Commission in South Africa when I was in college and I was so moved by the stories that came out of there about, you know, this desire or this goal to forgive in order to grant amnesty so the victims would meet the perpetrators, essentially. And if they. Leave their stories and believe their remorse that they could get amnesty and these people would forgive people that committed essentially the worst of human behavior and look them in the eye and forgive these people, it was so powerful and frankly disturbing to me at that young age. And then you flash forward to me now reading about these stories and school shootings and mass shootings and this need for these families to heal. How did they get through this? How do you get beyond this? And I came across these tiny, intimate private meetings of families meeting in this desperate desire to heal and get through pain and get through loss and deal with grief. So that was it. That was the sort of synthesis moment where I said, OK, I got it. And it wasn't one location, right? But I knew I got a cheap movie and a story that is, you know, on on the on the largest scale of human drama and human emotion.

PRENTICE: So I was then there's the painful revelation that not all people heal. Not all people find reconciliation.

KRANZ: Absolutely. I'm glad you said, you know, it was important to me. I mean, look, you know, the way I just spoke about the movie, you can imagine it gets kind of wrapped up in a neat little bow and everyone forgives each other and walks home that obviously without spoiling anything about the movie. But that's just not that's just not how life works and forgiveness is complicated. And those were some of the most intriguing and truthful stories. I read about that forgiveness in some ways. This might sound bad, but there was truth to it. I mean, I read this. There's also this thing the forgiveness project, and you'll hear about stories all across the world. I was fascinated by stories that came out of Ireland with the IRA, where you'd have someone committing a political act of political violence where they were sorry that an innocent person was killed, but not sorry for their action. Stories like that forgiveness becomes complicated. It almost becomes transactional where it's important for the victim or the family member of the victim to find it to move on. But how does the perpetrator heal, or if the perpetrator doesn't believe they need to apologize or still has conviction about their action? How does that? How does that work? What is that relationship? So it was important as a writer and also as an actor, I could only approach it as sort of a writer actor that each of my four characters, no matter what their perspective and relationship to the shooting was, that they had their humanity, that they had their point of view, that they had conviction about their point of view.

And if I was truthful, I think to those four perspectives it was, it was it was inevitable that they would not there would not be a bow, a perfectly sort of wrapped up film here. You know that that that that there would be people left with a feeling of, look, I'll put it this way not everyone walks out of the room having received the same amount. You know, they have gotten the same amount of value out of the meeting. Not everyone gets the same amount of healing or the same amount of closure. And I think that's true to life as sort of painful and as complicated as it is certain people come in with, you know, identities or emotions and backgrounds that might prohibit them from being able to to heal or connect. And on the other side of that, you know, maybe people desperately need some, some form of healing that they're willing to do something just to get it, whether or not it compromises some of their beliefs or some of their relationship with grief and their their child that they've lost.

PRENTICE: We're talking with Fran Kranz. He's the director of the new film Mass. We should note that you filmed mass in an Episcopal church in Hailey, which has a role as what every town America.

KRANZ: Yeah. So I always I'm, you know, in the preproduction, I kept telling people it's got to look like 40 out of 50 states. We ended up in a pretty distinct landscape, right? Are you're going to Sun Valley? This started Casey Mott, a producer on the film. I went to college with him. We had produced a movie, Midsummer Night's Dream Together, that he directed an adaptation of the play. And I trusted him. I needed someone that I trusted that I could vent to as I worked on my first feature and he got a job running the largest theater in downtown Ketchum. The theater right there in downtown. And, you know, he said, Look, I can't help you unless you come out here. And so I went out, I looked at churches as you know, there's beautiful churches in Idaho, but I. And look, Emanuel Episcopal in Hailey is a beautiful brick red brick church. It's gorgeous, but it also has this modesty. It has a humility about it. It has an authenticity about it where it's not a grand design, you know, and nothing against. The church is in Ketchum, but they're they're esthetically sort of magnificent, right, and I thought, No, no, no, no, that's that's not what this is.

his is this is there was a sort of a mantra to the movie of embracing discomfort. So we're in we're in just a plain white room, you know, we're in a church that we cannot use photography or production design to help us tell this story. That's not what the story is about the stories about these people in the in the courageous thing that they're doing by coming together to deal with their pain. Hailey Emanuel Episcopal and Hailey was the last church I saw actually on that trip, and it was really, really came down to Lea Colvill Reverend Lea Colvill, who runs that church. I spoke with her that day and it sort of turned into a therapy session, which made me really uncomfortable. She said to me, listening to my story and the story I wanted to tell, she said, I I hope you can start to enjoy being a father. And I thought I was just, it makes me so emotional, just even saying that today it just it just penetrated. It just hit me when I wanted to get out of there. But I also knew this is it. This is the church. So we, we we got gearing up for an Idaho production.

We got a case. He put me in touch with Marshall Rawlings, who was already who is Alturas films, which I believe is right there in Boise Boise. And now I know it's Boise. Don't say Boise. And Marshall. I mean, look, if it wasn't for Marshall and the Idaho crew, there's there's key pivotal moments in this movie and I don't want to spoil. That would not have been possible without the goodwill and the relationships with the community and the school Wood River Valley High School. So, you know, Marshall and the whole Idaho crew were essential. And Casey, obviously, we're just, you know, an incredible group, super talented. It's funny. You know, this was we did it right before Thanksgiving, right before ski season. So you had all these kind of talented people that will go shoot, you know, mountain ski videos or whatever who were able to join us and put it together. A lot of great crew out of Boise Greg Picard, Sean Meehan, Neil Lyons was our production designer. So a lot of a lot of people just, you know, a lot of locals and they were all fantastic. It's it's a beautiful movie and everyone did beautiful work.

PRENTICE: Fran Kranz, his new film is Mass when you do see it. You will not soon forget it. Safe journey to you. And I can't wait to talk to more people who have seen this film because there is plenty to talk about. So congratulations again.

KRANZ: Thank you. Thanks so much.

Find reporter George Prentice on Twitter @georgepren

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