Cannes Short Film Corner - Finding God

The only thing on Kristian’s mind is playing video games with his friends but when he discovers his mother is diagnosed with a life-threatening illness he and his friends embark on an odyssey to find the man that can help – that is, if he exists.

Interview with Writer/Director Brittany Franklin

Main photo: Actors Lori Brown-Niang and Daniel Gus Cunningham.

 

Congratulations! Why did you make your film?

While studying at the New York Film Academy, one of the requirements for graduation was the completion of a short film. For months I was struggling with an idea that would be a compelling story in under twenty minutes. I was driving myself crazy analyzing trends, trying to write stories that I thought people and festivals would like. Then one day I decided to look through all of my old journals for inspiration. I came across one particular entry. I wrote it on the day I was scheduled to undergo an operation to remove one of my kidneys - I had been diagnosed with Stage 1 Kidney Cancer.  In this journal entry I wrote about the loss of my grandfather and cousin to cancer. My cousin had passed away a year earlier, he was in his 20's.

I wrote about survivor's remorse; having the opportunity to live a life fulfilled when others did not. I also wrote about my little brother, and his innocent yet intuitive outlook on life. I read that entry and cried because reliving that moment was hard. But after conversations with friends and family who have lost loved ones, after realizing that 12.7 million people discover they have cancer each year and nearly half of those people die from the disease, I felt this was a story that needed to be told. 

Imagine I’m a member of the audience. Why should I watch this film?

Cancer is something that is prevalent in our society and is among the top leading health-related causes of death. But there are so many survivors living to tell their stories and the families and communities involved in their recovery that go untold. "Finding God" is one variation of a common experience, told through the eyes of a young boy, Kristian, who is deeply affected when his mom is early diagnosed. It is essentially a message of hope.  

 How do personal and universal themes work in your film?

Writing the script was extremely hard since it is based on experiences that were still fresh in my mind but it was somewhat therapeutic. When I worked with the cinematographer, Joe, we talked about props and mannerisms of the lead character. In fact, some of the medical props used in the film were my own personal records. Lori Brown-Niang played the role of of Kristian's mom, Ms. Conliffe. Before I was diagnosed I had sharp pains in the lower back, I decided to work that into the script and Lori delivered this so well.  Her performance was raw and amazing.

The topic of cancer was one of the universal and personal themes but I also wanted to capture the essence of a close-knit Queens community, the type of neighborhood  I grew up in that you don't really see today. You know, where all your friends live next door and your friendship is mainly a result of the proximity but those friends are your best friends. Your parents know their parents and their parents know you and everyone looks out for each other. There is nothing grand or marvelous about this but the "it takes a village" notion is something I think is important with families raising strong and aware children. 

Finding God - (From left to right) Joshua, Jorvanny and Abe resting between takes. 

Finding God - (From left to right) Joshua, Jorvanny and Abe resting between takes. 

How have the script and film evolved over the course of their development?

Originally, in the first draft of the script, after Kristian and his friends declare to embark on this journey of finding a person that they thought was god, Kristian had a montage of scenes where he experiences each of his friends' religions. He went to a temple, mosque, a cathedral which led to more questions and more confusion on his part. The majority of the script was his experience in these places. I had the chance to test out one climactic scene in a production workshop with my professor and classmates, where Kristian runs into this church angry that he hasn't found what he was looking for in order to help his mom. He is met by a young priest, who sees this boy's pain and knows that there is nothing he can do but listen. 

Unfortunately in the final edit, all of the church scenes were scrapped due to time and locations (because filming a twenty page script in 5 days is apparently extremely hard!) Also I thought, maybe it might be too cliché.  So I had to cut down on some of the extravagance and then I had a revelation. During casting I met amazing actors who had some inspiring life stories and with their permission I reworked new characters into the script based on the actors' real life experiences, Julian and Matt. Julian lost his older brother to cancer and wise Matt, who actually suffers from dyslexia. The result, in my opinion, opened up Kristian's world and really brought the neighborhood to life.

What type of feedback have you received so far?

I had some amazing teachers who were hands on throughout the process. Specifically while editing my professor pointed out the change in the feel of the film without the "EPIC" church scene, as he described it. Where the film was lacking in general aesthetics brought on by the spectacular locations I had to make up for in the interactions between the characters, editing, even graphics. So we talked about this, my teachers, crew and I and we really tried to dissect the footage and piece it back together in ways that it would honor the overall message. The end result was heavy dialogue and moving performances. There is definitely more that can be done in post to allow the audience to fully experience Kristian's world as a ten year old boy tackling such mature concepts. In the story Kristian loves playing video games. My little brother thought I could've added graphics whenever the camera switched to the lead characters pov. 

Has the feedback surprised or challenged your point of view?

The thing that is often dreaded but extremely important in any artistic field are reviews. In film we find ourselves wondering "How will audience feel about this scene?","Will they laugh here?", "Will they understand this?". A lot of the feed back I received was invaluable and in most cases helped me take a step back from my own investment and try to see things from a different angle. Especially in the writing phase, there were a lot of dots left unconnected, a lot of characters that seemed unnecessary and the peer reviews made me realize that I was forcing messages and metaphors into the story instead of letting the characters breathe. 

What are you looking to achieve by having your film more visible on www.wearemovingstories.com?

"Finding God" originally was a personal feat for me to prove to myself that I had the ability to tackle such an emotional and personal story and be vulnerable in my artistic approach. Never would I have thought it would be featured in Cannes Short Film Corner merely months after completing it! So I am eager to help the film reach its full potential by attracting an audience that is interested in socially charged content that's thought provoking and real and who believe that stories like this deserved to be told.  In film school, I found my voice as a filmmaker and the things I value most which is why I started a production company called Cerebral Entertain Studios. Cerebral Entertainment Studios is a freelance production company formed by some of my friends and alumni from NYFA. Our mission is to create and produce content that is not only visually stimulating but mentally as well, while advocating for accurate representation in film and content that leaves audiences more informed, open-minded and aware.  

Who do you need to come on board (producers, sales agents, buyers, distributors, film festival directors, journalists) to amplify this film’s message? 

"Finding God" is still in post production and I would like to work with an impassioned editor and colorist to finish off the film. At the end of the day, this was a student film and the crew and I really gave our all in helping bringing this story to life while learning  the art of filmmaking as well. With the proper exposure from festival agents and journalists I believe we can garner the attention of seasoned filmmakers who can take this project in the direction it was meant to go originally, possibly gaining the funding to make this a feature film. 

What type of impact and/or reception would you like this film to have?

Whenever someone watches "Finding God" the most I can wish for is that they enjoyed spending twelve minutes of their time joining Kristian on his journey, maybe, they laughed a little or cried.  But also, in the most hopeful sense,  I want viewers to understand the importance of perseverance, of selflessness and courage. I want this film to encourage people to go out into the world and be present in every moment, in every relationship because we are living in this world together, experiencing life together.  

The arts is the only profession that has the ability to bridge gaps and create common understanding. When we watch movies or read books it is that empathetic part of our human brains which allows us to feel for a character or subject that we have never met or known. With everything going on in the world it is being made more evident that we need to have more empathy for the people around us and more stories that remind us so.  

Finding God - "That's a wrap!" Final day of Finding God with some of the cast and crew. 

Finding God - "That's a wrap!" Final day of Finding God with some of the cast and crew. 

What’s a key question that will help spark a debate or begin a conversation about this film?

How can we approach the topic of loss or serious ailments with loved ones especially young children?  

What are the key creatives developing or working on now?

Brittany Franklin is currently working on producing a short film entitled "The Mob Kings" which is an adaptation of a 24 independent book series on Amazon written by S. W. Frank. It will be the first project launched under her production company Cerebral Entertain Students with her fellow NYFA alumni. "The Mob Kings" is currently campaigning on Indiegogo to reach its goal of $10,000 to produce the film. For more information you can visit the campaign here https://www.indiegogo.com/campaigns/the-mob-kings-entertainment/edit#/story.  As a hard-of-hearing female filmmaker, she is also advocating for the advancements to make filmmaking more accessible for the deaf and hard-of-hearing, and inclusion for women and minorities in film.

Chun-fu "Joe" Chang will be continuing on in the NYFA Cinematography Program in Los Angeles. He is expected to receive his M.A. in Filmmaking in 2018.

Social media handles:

Personal Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/brittany.franklin1

Finding God Facebook Page: https://www.facebook.com/JoinTheSearch/ 

Personal Twitter: @Frenzie0825

Personal Instagram: @inmyownlittlecorner 

Business Instagram: @Cerebralentertainment

Finding God Instagram: @FindingGodFilm

Other: (To see the extended church scene from the production workshop that didn't make the film  but is also the workable trailer here: https://youtu.be/yGq-O-_cMpw

Funders:

Made in association with: New York Film Academy

Where can I see it in the next month?

Finding God will continue its festival run and has been invited to be programmed in CINEQUEST Film Festival 2018.

 

Interview: June 2017

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 We Are Moving Stories embraces new voices in drama, documentary, animation, TV, web series and music video. If you have just made a film - we'd love to hear from you. Or if you know a filmmaker - can you recommend us?  More info: Carmela

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Finding God

The only thing on Kristian’s mind is playing video games with his friends but when he discovers his mother is diagnosed with a life-threatening illness he and his friends embark on an odyssey to find the man that can help – that is, if he exists.

Length: 12 minutes

Director: Brittany Franklin

Producer: Laura McKinsey

Writer: Brittany Franklin

About the writer, director and producer:

Brittany Franklin is an emerging writer/director from New York City. She is an alumni of LaGuardia Performing Arts H. S. and New York Film Academy. 

Laura McKinsey is a New York based producer and alumni of the New York Film Academy producing program.

Key cast: 

Daniel Cunningham as Kristian

Lor Brown-Nigan as Ms. Conliffe

Abraham Nasher as Abe

Isaac Braunfield as David

Jorvanny Martinez as Jesus

Looking for (producers, sales agents, buyers, distributors, film festival directors, journalists):

Looking for festival directors, producers, editors,  buyers and journalists