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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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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Top 5 Films to See from the Toronto International Film Festival

You’ll want to keep an eye out on these five films, which are all slated for release by year’s end. 

You’ll want to keep an eye out on these five films, which are all slated for release by year’s end. 

If you took a look at our Instagram page sometime in the month of September, you might have noticed that 615 Film was posting from the Toronto International Film Festival. Sure enough, I have been attending the fest since September 2014. Returning each year since, I find that the TIFF audiences are the best in the world and the staff that support the festival year-round are some of the most capable and hardworking movie fans in the world.

This year was an an embarrassment of riches for audiences from the World Premiere of Aaron Sorkin’s directorial debut Molly’s Game to Yorgos Lanthimos’ highly anticipated Killing of a Sacred Deer. TIFF’s programming varies from the arthouse and Hollywood circles to even the late night crowds, with the Midnight Madness program that brought James Franco and his cast of The Disaster Artist for a World Premiere at the Ryerson Theater. It was one of the best programs I’ve seen in the 4 years I’ve attended and without fail people ask what they should be looking forward to most, so I have distilled my list into these Top 5…

 

#5 Downsizing (dir. Alexander Payne; Starring Matt Damon)

Alexander Payne’s new film is far more straight comedy than any of his other features. Matt Damon plays the perfect everyman experiencing a whole new lease on life thanks to the newly developed shrinking technology that gives him opportunity to find greater purpose. Hilarious and wonderfully endearing hijinks ensue, and the film never shies away from the more pessimistic shades of a movie about people trying to stave off the apocalypse, but Payne keeps that in check with Damon at the center of it. Suffice it to say, I was all smiles coming out of this one.

Release Date: December 22, 2017

 

#4 Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri (dir. Martin McDonagh; Starring Frances McDormand, Sam Rockwell, Woody Harrelson)

Frances McDormand explodes in this searing black comedy about a small town woman, who puts up three billboards criticizing the local police after daughter’s murder. Woody Harrelson as the Police Chief brings such to a role that simply could have turned into 1 dimension. Sam Rockwell plays the rookie cop, who’s had a violent past, but is mentored by Harrelson’s Chief. In the hands of a lesser actor, it’s an arc that would have fallen apart completely, but with Rockwell he knocks it out of the park. Be looking for him at the Academy Awards in February for Best Supporting Actor. Speaking of the Oscars, be looking for McDonagh in the Original Screenplay category and Mrs. McDormand in the Best Actress categorry.

Release Date: November 10, 2017

#3 The Disaster Artist (dir. James Franco; Starring James Franco, Dave Franco)

Tommy Wiseau’s film The Room is a cult film that will never die. Selling out arthouse screenings all over the world for over 10 years, it has developed a bizarre legend regarding its creation thanks mostly to the mystery surrounding its writer-director Tommy Wiseau: Who the hell is he? The film doesn’t answer this question, just as Tommy never does in Q&As, just as Greg Sistero, his best friend and the author of the book this film is based on, never does either. However, James Franco finds that the best way to tell this story is to show it as authentically as possible. Franco throws on a wig and an accent that never fails to impress. Dave Franco as Greg Sistero, is the spitting image of the actual Greg. Together, they build a remarkable chemistry and pathos for these lovable outcasts trying to make it in Hollywood when everyone tells them to go away. The film is full of laughs as you might expect, but they are never at the expense of the actual people. We are in it with them, so the laughs come from the absurdity of the situations that they get themselves into.

Release Date: December 1, 2017 (Limited); December 8, 2017 (Wide)

 

#2 The Current War (Dir. Alfonso Gomez-Rejon; Starring Benedict Cumberbatch, Michael Shannon, Katherine Waterston, Tom Holland, Nicholas Hoult)

Featuring the gorgeous cinematography of Chung-Hoon Chung (OldboyIt), it is without doubt, one of the most beautifully shot films I’ve ever seen. The production design, costumes, and styling all blend remarkably and glow for the camera. Cumberbatch and Shannon are strong adversaries in this film despite rarely having screen time together. The film’s quick pace perfectly matches the tense and turbulent times depicted on screen, racing against time as Edison (Cumberbatch) and Westinghouse (Shannon) fight to get their electricity across the country. While the script could be punchier, Cumberbatch and Shannon deliver absolutely fantastic performances with the direction of Alfonso Gomez-Rejon (Me, Earl, and the Dying Girl).

Release Date: November 24, 2017 (Limited); January 19, 2018 (Wide)

 

#1 Hostiles (Dir. Scott Cooper; Starring Christian Bale, Rosamund Pike, Wes Studi)

Christian Bale returns to work with his Out of the Furnace director Scott Cooper to head West. Bale is an Army officer ordered to escort a dying Cheyenne Chief and his family to their tribal lands. The catch is the Cheyenne Chief used to lead raids on Bale’s units. Forced to travel and protect a man he fought many times on the battlefield and lost many men to, Bale delivers a searing and nuanced portrayal of a man learning to accept his enemy. It is a beautiful performance that is amazing in how quiet and understated Bale plays it, keeping it under the skin. Masanobu Takayanagi’s cinematography of the frontier is breathtaking as well. From the opening sequence, the audience immediately feels like they are a silent member of this unfortunate crew of travelers.

Release Date: December (Limited); January (Wide). Actual dates to be announced soon as this film was picked up for distribution just this week.

Review: ‘Logan Lucky’ is a Damn Good Time at the Track

Director Steven Soderbergh is back with this witty heist comedy featuring an all-star cast.

Director Steven Soderbergh is back with this witty heist comedy featuring an all-star cast.

 RATING: ★★★ (out of four stars)

At the end of Logan Lucky, the news is playing in the background of a scene. A reporter is interviewing folks about the robbery of the Charlotte Motor Speedway. One of these folks refers to the incident as “Ocean’s 7/11” because they believe a gang of locals committed the crime. That description is a sweet nod to Director Steven Soderbergh’s previous trilogy and a spot-on description of his latest offering that delivers a damn good time at the track.

Soderbergh ditches the glitz and glamour of Las Vegas for the hills of West Virginia with the likes of Channing Tatum and Adam Driver, playing the Logan Brothers. Tatum’s Jimmy Logan has just been let go from his construction job at the track repairing sinkholes due to “liability reasons involving insurance.” Aiming to find a new source of income, Jimmy ropes his brother, Clyde, and sister, Mellie, played by a sassy Riley Keough, and Joe Bang, played by an unrecognizable Daniel Craig, into a little robbery action.

Nailing the almost musical cadence of the accent, Tatum and Driver are a pleasure to watch as they push each other’s buttons, but also stick up for the other. We get a wonderful scene of this playing out when Seth McFarlane’s loudmouth soda-sponsor shows up at Clyde’s (Driver) bar making fun of his prosthetic arm, and Jimmy tells him to apologize, defending his brother’s dignity. It’s this loyalty that leads to Clyde assisting Jimmy with a simple heist that he has planned out to the ‘t’ with miniatures and a classic robbery checklist. Keough’s Mellie is the most dependable of the Logan siblings; stepping up to take Jimmy’s daughter to her recital practice, when he forgets, and joining the heist crew with zero hesitation, from painting roaches to stealing a car.

This leads us to the absolute star of the film, Joe Bang. Bleached-blonde hair and tattoos from his neck to his knuckles, Daniel Craig swaggers into this film like a hillbilly rockstar. The brothers need Bang’s explosive expertise for the job, so they’ve hatched an escape plan to get him out. Bang’s requests his dimwitted nephews Fish and Sam join the crew. In what could have been small and forgettable characters, Fish and Sam’s antics provide some of the biggest laughs. They refuse to join the crew without a moral reason to steal from the Speedway, leading an exasperated Jimmy and Clyde to tell them the manager at the local mart felt their sister up and this would be getting back at the owners, who are sponsoring the race. Of course, Fish and Sam immediately agree to the job. Bang requires his supplies from the “Bear in the Woods,” so the boys head out there to be handed a bag of supplies from a man in a bear costume with no explanation. Part of the prison escape plan involves the inmates rioting to distract the warden and guards, which leads to a hilarious list of demands including the latest Game of Thrones book, which unfortunately keeps getting pushed back due to George R.R. Martin’s difficult schedule. It’s these kind of small little side pieces involving colorful characters and storytelling that could have been handled much more by the book, but instead are given their own little flavor, that continuously add up in Logan Lucky, making it feel like a perfect slice of genre filmmaking.

Hilary Swank surprises as the tough, no-nonsense Special Agent assigned to investigate the robbery at the Speedway. Coming in for only the last 10 minutes or so, she provides an effective wrap-up to case going through all the evidence, but finds no clear connection between any of the Logans and Bangs, beyond prison visits. She’s forced to drop the case by the Speedway, who’s happy to have their insurance payout. Not one to back away from the truth though, we find her at Clyde’s bar, where Jimmy, Mellie, Joe, Fish, Sam, and Clyde share a celebratory shot. When Clyde asks if she’s sticking around town, she coyly responds, “I hope to,” as the camera pans around the room showing us the players on the stage. I for one would like to stick around too, Mrs. Swank.