An interview with church filmmaker John Cranman from Vero Beach, Florida about how he made his narrative short film The Promise.
First of all – congrats dude! Love how this film turned out.
Thanks man! It took way too long to put together. I was consumed with it and now feel like a weight is off my chest, haha.
So now that you’re at the finish line, tell me how this whole project got started?
Well, the whole reason I got into film/video was because I always felt like there were stories I wanted to tell. So when I got my first camera the first thing I did was create a silly little film. Fast forward to the past couple years where I was employed at a church as Video Creation Manager and that itch didn’t go away. I felt like I seriously wanted to do a passion project.
And so this project was from some earlier ideas I was praying through. At first I wanted to do a simpler project mainly because it would’ve been easier from a logistical standpoint, but then I felt like the Lord kept putting this project back onto my heart which scared me because I knew I would need a whole lot more to get it put together – one of those things being I would have to crowd fund – which I hate that sort of thing. Lol.
I’ve always thought about crowd funding but I’ve never had the guts to actually try it. What was that process like? What was your fundraising goal?
It was $4,500. It was scary at first because it was a huge leap of faith. I like to be in control, so putting my destiny in the hands of others and their generosity really freaked me out – especially with everyone watching. I think the first few days there were just a couple of small donations. Then out of nowhere a $1,000 came in from someone completely unexpected. That really jazzed things up.
The Lord provides in mysterious ways!
That’s awesome. So how did you go from a script and some money to a finished film? What was the production process like?
Not gonna lie, it was tough. I was a one man show. I had to do everything up until the day of pretty much – location scout, coordinate, cast, rent gear, handle food, get hotels, you name it. Lots of blunders. One of my biggest being that I was working on the script up until near shoot time – not because I was lazy, but because of last minute things. I think maybe I took too much of a step of faith, lol. I will not let that happen again! The script will be 100% before I proceed next time!
How did you find your actors and crew?
My crew still boggles me to this day, but in a good way. I got my DP Miguel Corteo through social media about a year before we began shooting. He was recommended by PJ Accetturo who’s a major player in the Tampa film world. All I did was pitch the story to him on the phone and he dug it and agreed to do it for free basically. So a year passed and he was still down to do it. I didn’t even have a script, just an idea. His integrity to still show up that much later is what boggled me. And not only that, he brought a crew. I wasn’t even expecting that. Solid dude.
The cast I got from Backstage.com, well everyone except Maggie who played the younger version of our lead female. I got her from a local high school drama teacher. Maggie had lots of experience and killed it. And then there were lots of little things that were provided in between all that. One of the things is I took my time with casting. I hate bad acting and felt like that was not something I was going to rush. My budget was low, but I retained the right to be picky anyways.
I remember you saying that at least one of your actors was from out of town. How did you select your actors? Did you have them audition? Did you go off of their reels?
Yes, most were from out of town. My female lead Bonny was from Atlanta. She’s got tons of experience too and is in a film that went to Tribeca Film Festival. Basically I selected them at first by appearance. Since there’s no dialogue in the film, they had to be able to tell the story with their faces. So I began with how expressive their face was and then reached out to them individually. If they had a reel I checked that out, but ultimately everything boiled down to their audition, which I did via Skype. I tended to have them perform what I thought would be the most difficult scenes because if they could pull that off it would be all downhill from there.
So how does one audition an actor via Skype for a role with no dialogue?
Good question lol. If I remember right, I think I described the scene and just had them ad lib something.
I feel like that would be intimidating for me to do, ha.
I had no choice so I YOLO’d it. Lol.
I think I always want to look like I know what I’m doing, but that probably gets in the way a lot of the time. Were you worried about having a cast and crew looking to you as the director without having a ton of experience doing this type of a project?
Yeah, I had no clue, even my DP was saying things and I didn’t know what he was talking about. I had to figure it out by context, ha. I just tried to go with my instincts. In my previous line of work I’ve had to be a vocal leader in chaotic situations and I think that came in handy.
Nice, so how many shoot days did you do and what were those like?
We did three shooting days. Day 1 was hell. It was 18 hours and on top of that I had a torn meniscus at the time. I popped ibuprofen all day. We got behind schedule and everyone was feeling it. My DP even told me that was the hardest shoot day he ever had.
The next couple days we started to get our pace. I think Day 1 was bad because I had so many scenes to shoot and that wasn’t communicated well. That and the crew was painstaking in setting up lighting so we got behind because of those two things. I turned in the shot list the night before the shoot began which is no way to do things.
Sounds like filmmaking to me, ha. Knowing what you know now, how would you do things differently?
Get an assistant! And make sure I communicate better so the director and crew are on the same page, lol. But hey, it worked out. Crew wise, none of us had shot a short film up until that point.
From a creative standpoint, I would be more careful with shooting for the edit – what I mean by that was I was shocked at how much I thought worked in my head didn’t actually work in the final edit. I had to cut so much out of the film. So next time I want to be more in tune with the final edit and have a better understanding of what will actually work.
Another thing that I picked up even before this film was to get eyes on your stuff. Get eyes on your script. Make an early cut with your edit and get eyes on it, too. You think your stuff is gold, but it most likely isn’t. We all have blind spots so it’s good to put feelers out on your projects to test and see if what you think works actually resonates with people. That’s something we all need to take our time with.
That’s great advice. It was cool for me to see your earlier cuts and then this final cut. It really came together nicely and it looks great. What did you guys shoot the film on?
We shot everything on Black Magic. The URSA Mini 4.6K was the workhorse. Pocket 6k and 4K were also used. And we rented a DJI Inspire 2, which was a waste of money to be honest.
Why was it a waste of money?
Because it kept losing signal and most of the functions didn’t work. I know people who get great stuff out of them, so maybe I just had a lemon. That was also the single most expensive part of the budget.
I’ve had similar experiences in the past where I’ve spent a disproportionate amount of time and budget on a piece of gear to get this one special shot that I thought I absolutely had to have and then it ended up just making the whole rest of the video shoot worse because I neglected other things that were more important.
Yep. I think I got two usable shots from the drone. We wasted a lot of time trying to mess with it because it kept losing signal. And it was super hot that day filming Florida exteriors in June!
So now that the film is finished, what are your hopes for the film?
I’m hoping it will open more doors to keep doing this. I’m not sure what the future holds, but hopefully it will give confidence to people who may want to invest in my projects down the road. I’ve entered 6 film festivals so far with a few more to come. And I have another story I’m working on that’ll be longer, with actual dialogue, ha.
Awesome man, well you did a great job and it really shows in the final product. I’m stoked to get to share it with the Church Film School community and I hope that this film and the experience that came from it continues to open new doors for you and your career. Where can people connect with you?