In January 2018, my church, Vineyard Boise, asked if I would be interested in producing a short film to be shown during service.
There were no parameters given, other than the theme of “masks”. I had just started collaborating with screenwriter Brandon Keckler, who had moved to Boise two months prior, and this seemed like the perfect first step in taking a script to screen.
We spent two Monday nights talking about the concept, with nothing really to show for it. The film was due on February 4 if it was going happen, but neither of us wanted to do something preachy – dialogue is all too easy to lean on in such a setting. So we let the time burn a little bit before the idea hit me – instead of masks, what if the characters on screen were wearing yellow button pins that said, “I’M FINE”?
We decided the film would have no dialogue, treated as a silent piece with music. Brandon Keckler quickly hammered out the concept into a three page script. I went to work casting – Boise’s film actors were quick to jump at the concept, filling out the cast in two days – and I rush-ordered some bright yellow, three-inch button pins.
Initially, Brandon’s script kept the ending church sequence a bit more ethereal without defining the church or the location, but as I sat in church the morning before the shoot, I realized the concept of these characters sitting at a table in service needed more context. I whipped out my camera and grabbed footage of our church’s table-centered service format, and a quick shot of the exterior.
That night, we shot the big table sequence at Vineyard Boise, and while there was no sound, I had encouraged the cast to bring stories to share as the pins fell one by one. I didn’t specify if they should be fictional stories, or closer-to-home truths. I could tell some did bring a piece of their own lives to the table (from knowing them personally), but everyone brought the same level of authenticity and powerful transparency. I think there was something that felt safe about not having pre-written words fed, or having microphones recording hard truths. All the emotions were real; we had a mighty brave cast.
The rest of the piece was shot the following night and two nights later – the office sequence at Argos Productions, the bedroom sequence at a cast member’s house. I had three days to cut everything together, and this wasn’t the only project I had on my plate. I spent one night working on the rough cut, and the weekend working on the color.
My biggest sadness was knowing that I would not have time to write the music – I heard the music in my head, but I was up against the clock. So I went to my royalty free music service, www.soundstripe.com, and the most amazing thing happened – on the first play, I found my emotional closing track, with the same notes I’d been hearing in my head.
The opening track, sort of a generic Ocean’s 11 vibe, initially didn’t sit well with me. Reason being, it didn’t quite play obviously enough to the idea of wearing a mask, and while the production quality was there, it had a very “stock music” feel. At some points it fit, and at some points, it didn’t.
I came this close to removing it that first night of editing, before realizing the tiring, unending, unwavering “generic cool” created a frustration in the viewer (myself), a “ho-hum” vibe, that was incredibly relevant to the character’s own existence. She wasn’t hiding anything super dark or sad with her “I’M FINE” pin – she just wasn’t actually “fine”, but figured no one would want to hear that. If I picked something that played harder to the pins, like super smiley circus music, it would tip the hand and tell the audience how to feel about them. I didn’t want that. I just wanted them to feel frustrated. Maybe that risks some people turning it off, but I’m okay with that.
The frustration of the first track gives way to the quiet, simple, hard-hitting moment when one character dares to set down her pin, and, as our lead watches in stunned uncertainty, the dominos start to fall. But she can’t go there, not yet.
In the original script, we ended with our lead making a clear decision to leave her pin behind as her new week started, but it struck me that the purpose of this film was not to make a statement. It was to ask a question. So I had the lead actress pull the pin up to her chest, as if she’s about to put it on, and then look at us with what she’d be covering up. Then we cut.
The question posed – will you take off your pin? Will you stop masking your pain, or are you fine to keep pretending?
A powerful punch of an ending, that impacted quite a few viewers. And that’s why we do what we do. Give it a watch, and see how it strikes you.