Bleecker Street releases Mass in select theaters on October 8th, 2021.
NYC MOVIE GURU: When it comes to entertaining the audience and provoking them emotionally as well as intellectually, which of those three elements was most challenging to tweak in the editing room?
Fran Kranz: I tried to put the camera where it was most necessary to be. It was never a question of "Let's cover the dialogue." We covered the scene and covered all of the dialogue, obviously. The effort was to be where we felt that the camera needed to be. So, if that was an internal moment and catching a secret that one of the characters was holding or a look at the husband or partner that the partner misses---something that tells the story and to add layers to the complexity of the dynamics of the four parents. That's where we felt we needed to be. That's what I felt was the priority. When I was on set watching the scenes as they were happening, I would mark off where I felt my heart and eyes wanted to be. It wasn't necessarily always on the person who was speaking. I love the question, but I think I would've gone mad if I was trying to serve those three things. I just had the one priority of trying to find the most important emotional beat in a single moment. That's one of the reasons why we had two cameras so that we could get as much coverage as possible.
NYC MOVIE GURU: I think that the audience becomes another character in Mass because the film invites them to join the four parents at the table and to open their own curtain to their humanity through introspection. What do you think?
FK: I love that you said that. Yes. We want the audience to feel like they're there at the table. There's a realism to both the performance and the whole aesthetic of the film. You feel like you're watching real life. You get a good seat at the table. We want the audience to feel like a part of the conversation. I love how you even took it a step further in that I want the audience to ask the same questions. I worry that things are not changing and that these things happen too frequently as this country gets more and more divided. I feel like we need to have a different mode of thinking about this. Something that struck me in doing the research was that what always mattered to me wasn't statistics or learning about the event; it was the people, the personal information and personal details. That led to real empathy. I thought, "What if we sit here with these families and listen to their suffering, trauma, heartache and desire to heal and forgive and just the courage that they're showing?" I hope that it changes the way that we think about these things and that it inspires the need to do something that promotes positive change. So, certainly, an audience member asking about their own relationship with spirituality, their own relationship with their parents or children or just family members if they don't have children, I want people to be able to walk out of the movie asking those questions. I love that you recognized that and felt that. Thank you.
NYC MOVIE GURU: Thank you for finding actors who are willing to be both emotionally generous and mature with their performance.
FK: Yes. Those four actors are as good as it gets. I was so incredibly lucky to get them. I never dreamed of having that kind of star-caliber cast. It was a miracle to get them together. Because of that, we didn't have to talk about how you get so emotional. Either they knew how to do it. What was most important was trusting one another and becoming an ensemble as quickly as we could. I love that about acting and actors--they have this need to form ensembles. They want to be an ensemble and want to become friends. It's the joy of putting on a play or show. You become close. They knew, because of the short time that we had to shoot the film and only had 2 1/2 days of rehearsals, they knew this. They knew that we had to become close, close friends and trust each other and go to these places, but it was never really a question of how you do this; these actors, like I said, are as good as it gets. They knew how, as long as the words were there. We worked on that together, but as long as the words were there, they were going to take the journey.
NYC MOVIE GURU: Who do you think is ultimately responsible for opening the window into a character's heart, mind and soul?
FK: This is my first time writing and directing. I felt like I should embrace and acknowledge my lack of experience. So, I wanted the actors to tell me what was missing and to tell me where they felt something was wrong. So, I believe that in this specific project and this instance, they were like co-authors. The script was there and the changes were relatively minor, but what they needed, I added. When they felt that things were missing or wrong, we changed the script so that they could take that journey effortlessly, so-to-speak. I think that the characters became fully three-dimensional only when the actors arrived. The subtle changes on the page brought them to life in whole new ways, and the ownership of the actors brought the characters to life in whole new ways, too. I was never able to see an actor for the role of Linda in my mind. The other roles, even at the very beginning when I was writing, I kind of always could think of actors to put in the roles, but Linda was always vague for me. It wasn't until I had the other three actors that I was finally able to start seeing Linda in my head. I think it speaks to how these actors really bring these characters to life. When I can see Jason Isaacs and Reed Birney and Martha Plimpton, all of a sudden I kind of knew who Linda was or should be. Of course, then we got the amazing Ann Dowd. I think it's definitely a partnership between the writer and the actors for sure.
NYC MOVIE GURU: Do you think other people in the four parents' lives might've also helped them through their issues in any way?
FK: The four parents had clearly had this past and have had people encourage them or they directly sought out help through therapists. There's this subtle reference that Linda has been meeting privately with the reverend of the church, although she's not a parishioner. It was really important for me to open the film with people helping people. That supporting cast, Breeda Wool, Michelle N. Carter and Kagen Albright, do this wonderful job of setting up the scene. At the heart of it, I wanted to show people helping people. There's this sort of misdirection of people wondering what the story is about and trying to get the audience into a very specific emotional place by the time the parents arrive, but Mass is, I think, permeated with this desire for people to help one another, something what I believe is true, even though I'm afraid that we're beginning to normalize hating people who don't know because of things like social media. It gets pretty scary out there, but I wanted to lift that up. I wanted it to be felt in the story. There are people in this world who are being selfless and really trying to help people that are hurting.
NYC MOVIE GURU: Do you think that the four parents' in-person meeting would've been less effective if they were to have met and interacted online instead?
FK: The meetings that I've read about happen in person. The Truth and Reconciliation Commission and The Forgiveness Project are in-person meetings. There was no question that the film had to work that way because when you're physically in the presence of another human being, at the least, you behave differently. I believe that you're forced to see their humanity. You're confronted with a sense of shared humanity. If people are fully disclosingthe truth of their lives, you will inevitably see a shared suffering. We all suffer. We feel pain and that's what these people come together to find and to find a way to reconcile by seeing their shared humanity and shared suffering. The point of having them physically present in a room together to show that power of physical human presence and connection was basically the most important thing of the whole film for me. It's what I argued for going three years back when people told me that you can't make a movie in a room. I knew that it had to be that way because they had to be physically present. I get very worried about this increasingly isolated world and losing the ability to connect in physical presence with other people. So, no, I think an online meeting would not have had the same effect.