From Set to Screen: ‘Novitiate’

Staff contributor Scotty Wright details his time working on the production of Novitiate, which was shot on location in and around Nashville.

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Last Friday, the Belcourt Theater in Hillsboro Village opened a new film from Sony Pictures Classics entitled Novitiate. On paper, it is an intriguing prospect for a film: young girls declaring their devotion to God by joining a convent right at the time of Vatican II reforms in the Catholic Church, starring Margaret Qualley, Melissa Leo, and Dianna Agron. However, what made this particular screening so exciting beyond that was at least half the audience was cast or crew and we were all about two miles away from the main location we filmed at for over a month, nearly two years ago.

In February 2016, I joined the crew of Novitiate as a Digital Loader/Utility. My job for the last week or so of production was to assist the camera department with battery changes and to backup the footage we recorded for the Digital Imaging Technician to create dailies with later on. The crew had already filmed at Scarritt Bennett Center in Nashville for about four weeks, and they were ready to move to the few other locations days they had scheduled at the end of production. Several very close friends of mine had been working on the film from the start and they were generous enough to throw my name into the ring when the prospect of additional help appeared. Without spoiling the story, most of the scenes I was present for were the opening scenes of the film, in which we are introduced to Margaret Qualley’s character Cathleen, her mother Nora, played by Julianne Nicholson, and her father Chuck, played by Chris Zylka. (For you Leftovers fans, this was a really exciting day when Chris and Margaret were on set because they played brother and sister on that show!)

For those who have never been on a film set or seen a crew at work, it is not the glamorous lifestyle you see in tabloids; it is minimum 12 hour days in freezing cold February about an hour away from your house, and you love it. You love the challenge of pushing your technical abilities, be it an electrician rigging lights in an old house or the 1st Assistant Camera pulling focus while the camera is moving. Making movies is hard, but exciting work, and Novitiate was no exception. It’s also something you can never predict. You can never tell how the day will go, how a scene will be brought to life, how the movie will turn out, months, or years later in this case. On Novitiate, while we couldn’t predict how it would turn out, we all felt excited by its potential based on the people working on it and the frames we could sneak a peek at while passing Video Village, where the director watched monitor with the Script Supervisor. We didn’t know, but we felt proud of the work we were doing and proud that we could show that Nashville can be a real filmmaking hub like any other.

This is why the Belcourt’s screening last Friday night was so exciting. Bringing my family to one of my favorite places in the world to see a movie that I worked on with my friends and colleagues is something I’ll never forget.

Full disclosure: I was able to see Novitiate at the Toronto International Film Festival a few months ago. At that screening, much of the main cast, Margaret Qualley, Melissa Leo, Maddie Hasson, several others, and the director Maggie Betts attended. It was a packed theater at the Scotiabank Cineplex in downtown Toronto.

Much love and thanks to Felicia Chunn, Skyler Proctor, and Tiffany Murray for the opportunity. Thanks to the AMAZING camera department for showing me the ropes.

Check out Novitiate at the Belcourt Theatre in Nashville and other theaters nationwide!

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