Thursday, April 10, 2014

Finding the Soul of "Redemption": An Interview with Chris Carden

In October, BMFI launched its inaugural Silver Screen Inspiration Short Film Contest to encourage emerging filmmakers and celebrate cinema’s rich history. From over 280 entries, four finalist short films have been chosen: "Miss Todd," "Wrong Number," "Redemption," and "Sonus." In April, see these remarkable short films on the big screen before the features that inspired them, and learn more about the finalist filmmakers on BMFInsights.

Finding the Soul of "Redemption"

By Kerri Grogan, Staff Assistant

Filmmaker Chris Carden's supernatural short film, "Redemption," is one of four finalists in Bryn Mawr Film Institute's Silver Screen Inspiration Short Film Contest. Although this is his first self-produced short, he has been in front of or behind cameras since age four, when he was a regular on Sesame Street. Inspired by the classic horror masterpiece The Exorcist (1973), "Redemption" asks the question, "Are angels among us?"

Chris acted in commercials until age eleven, when he left the business. He later returned as a broadcast journalist for the CBS affiliate in Philadelphia, before turning his attention to narrative film.

I asked Chris some questions via e-mail about "Redemption," how it related to The Exorcist, and how his actors inspired the film. Keep reading for his responses!
You wrote and directed “Redemption”. How does your acting and broadcast journalism background shape your approach to storytelling? To filmmaking?

There are some great correlations between news and film. You wouldn't think so unless you've done both. But when I was a journalist, I used to rehearse my live leads and then read my stories aloud to hear what the viewers would hear, like an actor, which I had been briefly as a child. I spent a long time crafting news stories that were clear and concise but also emotionally gripping. In my narrative writing I strive to hit all those same notes. Then it's just a matter of finding a visual language to carry those elements forward, similar to what you do in the world of broadcast journalism. In news, you have a shooter; in film, a d.p. You can step out of a news story as a reporter and let the subject matter speak for itself just as a director gathers all of the elements for a story and then lets it come together organically in the service of his or her vision. Even editing is similar because in both you have to be ruthless and leave only those frames that push the story forward. The similarities go on, but my experience has made for a great transition.

This is your first self-produced short film. What inspired you to make it? What was the most surprising thing that you learned?

I actually did a couple of films in college, one of which was also about death and the afterlife. It's an obsession, I guess. But with religion there is never an absolute answer. I wanted to explore the issue of sin and consequences; in essence, how far can you go before you can no longer be forgiven, and what spiritual forces exist in times of trouble to push us either towards salvation or damnation. But I didn't want a preachy movie. So I folded the idea into a film noir narrative and what came out the other side of all these ruminations was "Redemption." On the plus side, I learned that good material attracts good people and "Redemption" was blessed with a talented cast and crew that made it so much easier for me to bring the story to life. Unfortunately, as a rookie filmmaker, I also learned that not everyone has your best interests at heart, and I had to make some difficult choices to keep the train on the tracks. But the most important thing I learned is that perseverance is more important than resources. Keep at it even when you think you can't and solutions will present themselves.

In "Redemption," the forces of good and evil fight to control the soul of an unstable man.

“Redemption” is a parable of good versus evil. How did The Exorcist influence your approach to the story?

Decades have gone by and no one, in my opinion, has yet to match [The Exorcist] for depth, intricacy of character, and durability. The Exorcist's director, William Friedkin, said, "I know that it is considered by a great many people as a horror film. I've never thought of it that way and I didn't approach it that way. It's a story about the mystery of faith." That made complete sense to me, and that's the reason it stands above other horror flicks. Friedkin shifted the focus away from shock value for its own sake, and I attempted the same. Whether I succeeded or not I leave up to viewers.

Actor Simon Lovell plays one of the lead characters. Once allegedly a notorious con man pursued by Interpol, Lovell is now the technical consultant behind USA Network’s White Collar. How did he become involved in the project? Did you tailor the role for him?

I wrote the original part of Harry as a downtown New York guy, somewhere between Al Pacino and James Gandolfini. Then my casting director showed me a clip of Simon conning an elderly woman on a television show. I'm a huge Anglophile and when I heard that charming British accent and saw his morally bereft performance, I was sold. I gave him the part. Actually he stole it and I haven't seen it since. Seriously, Simon was a great find, as well as Michael [Newcomer] and Max [Rhyser], who play Gale and Peter respectively. They played off each other so well all I had to do was explain the scene and let them take off on their own.

What is your favorite part of the filmmaking process? What do you find most challenging?

I'll be honest, I enjoyed everything but chasing the money. Filmmaking would be great if everyone worked for free, but alas, art in itself does not pay the bills. I'm still working on squaring everyone away. But everything else was a joy and I can't wait to start another project. On "Redemption," I was writer, director, executive producer, editor, and colorist. I would gladly hire someone else next time to take on one or more of those jobs, but overall, it was a blast. I only have about ten projects screaming for attention in my head so I'll be busy scratching out scripts for awhile.

Thank you, Chris!

You can see "Redemption" and its inspiration film, The Exorcist, on Tuesday, April 15 at 7:00 pm. The film will be shown in conjunction with a Cinema Classics Seminar. Join us on April 27 for our ACTION! Dedication Celebration, where we will announce the Silver Screen Inspiration Short Film Contest winners.

Kerri Grogan is BMFI’s Staff Assistant. She studied animation at the Maryland Institute College of Art, and moonlights as a dice-rolling, video gaming geek, animator, and comic artist.

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