Friday, March 03, 2006

Independent Film-making in the Making: The Newest Powell/Mason Production, Chorus

This article appeared in The Rambler, the official student newspaper of Christendom College, and was written by Anna Svendson.


Mike Powell and the Mason brothers (Colin and Nick) are relentless. Their love for movie-making has driven them yet again into the chaos of amateur actors, unruly locations, lack of funding, the inexperience and the magic of independent film. After the success of their latest film, Discretion, shot and edited last year, Mike (‘04), Colin, Nick and a slew of faithful crew have decided to give life to Powell’s latest screenplay, Chorus, which he finished editing this January.

The experience that they gained in making Discretion has given them a lot of direction for the project and encouraged them to delve more deeply into mastering their technique and honing their skills in directing, photography, production, management and everything else that is essential to the art of film-making. They’ve moved up in technical equipment, trading the high end consumer camcorder they used in Discretion for a "low-end" professional camera. "[The camera] is designed to imitate film" says Colin. "The next step up would be Star Wars and 20,000 dollars," Nick adds. They’re also adding some other technical novelties, including a ‘boom mike’ which Nick says makes an incredible difference in the quality of sound because of its magnificent sensibility.

The film is also tackling denser themes and more complex characters that will require longer development. The film has twenty-five speaking roles in addition to several dozen extras, all of whom need to be directed at a broad range of locations in the area. They are intending to make it a near full-length feature. This will require an enormous amount of footage, and they hope to have all the material they need by the end of term. Although Mike and Colin want to reveal as little as possible about the actual plot of the story, they did have some commentary about its message and its projected audience. "I wanted to make a movie about young people that shows how they struggle with fundamental issues," Mike said, "and not just the meaning of life, but specific problems. I wanted to show that the minor decisions are where the battlefield’s at and the ramifications of these normal activities are the cause for real despair and real heroism." He adds that the movie is intended "for everybody" meaning, there is no specific age group he’s targeting, even though, as he said, the movie is mostly about young people.

Mike and Colin got together artistically a little over a year and a half ago when Mike caught a glimpse of some of Colin’s work. They proceeded to work on their first film, Discretion, that was released last May. As I interviewed them, they sat across the table, both in leather jackets, quoting Office Space verbatim and several other similar films, periodically reviling each other for technical issues with the movie and problems with production and such. After a rally of criticisms hailed down on one another, Mike looks at me and says: "This is us on a good day." Their chemistry is evidenced in the way they tease each other; it makes them work well together, especially under the stress involved in film making.

The most frustrating part of the process Mason and Powell agreed was the lack of time available. They are fitting the shooting of a full-length feature into three months of weekends, with the added stress of having to plan around school schedules. Powell added to the list of frustrations: "my inexperience." However, the two attest that amidst the trials of figuring out how to go about the project, the pay-off is quite worth it. Mason says the most fulfilling part is "sitting in the theater and sensing that people are reacting to the images in the way they’re supposed to. That makes it all worth it." Mike, whose background is primarily in theater says "It’s higher stakes with movies; you’re doing everything for the final project. The pay-off isn’t until the end, but that’s where its power comes from." "As a director," he adds, "you have something in your head that you want to express to the audience, but you have to communicate it to the actors so that they communicate it to the audience. So, getting a breakthrough with an actor when they understand the significance of a line and do it perfectly is the biggest thing for me." Speaking about the audience, Mike and Colin agree that: "the best is when they totally forget [about everything going on around them.]"What is most admirable about the duo is their approach to movies in the true spirit of evangelization. "I’m tired of having to like movies but with reservations," says Powell. "I mean, I’m tired of watching movies and saying ‘That was great in so many ways, but... it’s not the whole Truth.’ So I thought to myself, ‘I know Catholic Truth, why don’t I make movies?’" In this movie, particularly, Powell speaks about the role of Catholicism: "The object was to show the Catholic faith as something that’s real and assumed in the lives of Catholics, not something that is justified or self-conscious, but real, just there." The projected release of Chorus is not until this coming fall, so that Mike and the Mason brothers can put everything together over the summer. Until then, Colin assures us: "We think you’ll like it."


Anonymous Anonymous said...

"Svendsen" ought to be spelled "Svendsen." Just thought it prudent to point this out. Cheers!

10:06 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Colin, Nick!
I can't believe it took me this long to see the trailer. Proud of ya'll! Would love to scope for settings for Mirandum in Richmond area. Can find historic and modern AND the Virginia countryside looks amazingly like Ireland. Just something to think about. Pax Christi, Reagan McKenna '87

3:11 PM  

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