Bleecker Street’s “Mass” takes place almost entirely in one room, with four characters. When writer-director Fran Kranz was hunting for funding, he resisted suggestions to “open up” the film.
“I always believed it had to be this,” he tells Variety, because he didn’t want to “undermine” the characters.
The film concerns an emotional meeting between two sets of parents whose sons have died in a school shooting. It features four of the best performances of the year, a first-time filmmaker taking risks that pay off big time, and a thought-provoking script about the state of the world in 2021.
The topics are weighty, but “for me, it’s a hopeful movie,” Kranz says.
Some people worry it might be hard to watch. In truth, film history is filled with “difficult” movies, including Oscar best-picture winners “The Best Years of Our Lives,” “Schindler’s List,” “Million Dollar Baby,” “12 Years a Slave” and “No Country for Old Men,” as well as nominees as diverse as “Taxi Driver” and “Amour.” Not “easy” films, but not to be missed.
Kranz says the catalyst for writing this was the Parkland, Fla., school shootings.
“I was very scared, being a new parent. I started ordering books online to study Columbine, Virginia Tech, Sandy Hook, Aurora, the 2011 Norway attacks. I wanted to know more as a parent and a citizen.”
For awards voters, the No. 1 question is: should I see it? Answer: definitely yes. And the No. 2 question: In terms of Oscar and other awards considerations, who’s lead, who’s supporting?
Bleecker Street is promoting all four — alphabetically, Reed Birney, Ann Dowd, Jason Isaacs and Martha Plimpton — as supporting. Kranz says: “It’s hard for me to think of them competing with one other. But there’s a good reason for them all to be in that category.”
“Mass” should also be considered for ensemble noms in SAG Awards and Critics Choice.
The lead-vs-supporting debate is a favorite topic of awards pundits, but it’s always academic. In the past, there has been debate over Alicia Vikander, Christoph Waltz and the three actresses in “The Favourite,” for example. Last year, LaKeith Stanfield was campaigned as lead of “Judas and the Black Messiah,” and ended up in the supporting category with Daniel Kaluuya.
As an actor himself, Kranz knows how to write for actors. “As an actor, I wanted to make sure everything made sense for each character. I asked the actors: how does it work for you, what’s missing, what else do you need, and so on. The script was there, but those 2½ days of rehearsal were a significant phase of the writing process.”
The equality extended beyond writing. Kranz frequently had two cameras in the room and when he turned over 100 hours of footage to editor Yang Hua Hu, they had to decide when to stay on the speaker or to cut away.
“It was a question of which character was most affected by what was being said. Whose head do I want to get inside of, at this moment, and it didn’t have to be the speaker.”
The film arrives at the perfect moment. In 2021, “we have normalized hating people we don’t know,” says Kranz. “We can’t change that unless we come to the table and accept each other’s humanity and work through the differences.
“I am aware some feel the movie is challenging — even worse, they fear it’s going to be depressing. But there’s hope in watching people work through their differences and find peace and a path forward, so to me it’s a hopeful movie.
“At the end of the movie, the weight is lifted and there is so much light.”