The centerpiece for my portfolio, it is my senior project.
Based on the novel by Timothy Findley, I first read the novel back in 2012, and knew that I had to write a script based on the work. after a few years of working on the project, I approached the publishers, who agreed to allow me to produce the project. The producing process was a long and detailed one, with various people interested from actors to cinematographers alike. The biggest challenge was the location; the film is set in 1914; however, the set had to be accommodating to the modern world, not an easy feat in the part of the state that I was shooting in (especially when I was not paying anyone); fortunately, my aunt was gracious enough to let us use her house and allow the cast and crew to spend the night. The production was a huge success and I cannot thank my friends and family enough for their hard work and perseverance. The following is a detailed analysis of the entire process I went through.
The Novel and Screenwriting: Adapting a Genius
Timothy Findely (1930-2002) was a Canadian author, most known for his plays, but his novels centered on humanism and psychology, with war and humanity being mainstay themes.
In “Pilgrim”, the world has just experienced the tragedy of the Titanic, and in London, an English gentleman commits suicide by hanging himself via a tree. His butler, Forester, a man who is generally caring and studious, takes him down and calls the family physician, Doctor Greene, who examines and declares the Englishman, Pilgrim, dead; however, Pilgrim managed to come back to life two hours later, and much to the concern of family and friends, he is taken to a hospital in Zurich, Switzerland, known as Burghölzli Psychiatric Clinic, where Carl Jung, a young Swiss doctor, practices. Jung’s colleague, Doctor Josef Furtwangler, a German man who is rather portly (at least, in my head), and carries a rather big voice, originally administers Pilgrim, who is taken to the hospital by his best friend, Lady Sybil Quartermaine, who stays in town on occasion to check in (along with Forester). At first, Josef is unsuccessful with treatment and getting Pilgrim to speak, but Pilgrim seems responsive to Carl Jung, whom eventually, becomes his doctor instead of Josef. Later, Pilgrim claims that his peculiar condition (for he has tried to kill himself multiple times, has been pronounced dead, and has come back from death every single time) is due to him living forever. Sybil assures this by giving Jung Pilgrim’s personal journals to look through, and it is these journals that propel both Pilgrim and Doctor Carl Jung to uncover the truth about what is really going on.
The book is a phenomenal take on history and psychology, and Findley was an admirer of Carl Jung specifically, using his brand of psychology throughout his work. What caught my attention most, when trying to adapt this entire novel into a short, was Chapter Seven of Book Three, which is what was I based my script on (with some creative liberties).
For about a year, I had most of the characters involved, from Sybil Quartermaine as an adult (for there are flashbacks in which she is a child, or at least, they are alluded) to Josef Furtwangler, but I condensed all of these characters down to six in the spring of 2017, when I discovered that some of the characters (i.e. Josef Furtwangler) were creating something that was not existent in the original story and I made a rule for myself to stick to the source as much as possible. So, in June, I finalized the script, which was draft 14.
The Producing Process: Casting, Location, and Crew
As producer, my main job included gathering the cast, the crew, and securing location and food for the duration of the shoot. The food was easy, my parents covered that, the location and cast were my main struggles.
I knew very early on who my director was going to be, Lane Lewis, a college friend whom I trust extremely well and is one of those people that I work really well with (he is easily a life-long friend), and my brother, Blake, who is my editor and assisted with production design. Another friend, Haley, was my Director of Photography (Cinematographer) who works really well with Lane, and my parents, aunt and uncle, and my friend, Taylor Barnett, whom I’ve known since middle school, helped with grips and other production assistant work. My sister, Riley, was production assistant and 2nd AC.
Casting was a struggle because I had a hard time picturing Carl Jung, it was difficult for me to visualize his specific character (along with this issue was costuming, I wanted to be as economical as possible). In terms of location, for a while I was set on Perryville, KY, for they have a fantastic Main Street and a host of old houses from the late 1800’s to the early-to-mid 1900s, great for period pieces like this, the main problem was that the Perryville location was straight from 1851, they did nothing to the building, so there was no air conditioning, no running water, and no electricity (which means that we would have to rent a generator, something that we did not have the funds for). There was a location closer to Bowling Green, KY, a town in Tennessee called Dover, and their muesum was a perfect candidate; however, by the time this location was found, the cast was set and I was worried about distance, so we choice for the middle, less expensive, and most reasonable option, my aunt’s house, which fit our needs enough for our purposes.
Current Post-Production: Editing and Color Correction
The on set experience was fantastic, I suppose it was because it was so relaxed and everyone knew each other, for the most part (some of the actors we didn’t know, but they were fantastic and we all made fast friends). The crew and cast were the best that I could have asked for as a producer, exceptional thanks to them.
At the moment,we are in post production, which includes film editing, sound editing/mixing, color correction, color grading (which is similar but different), rendering SPX (if needed), and exporting it all by December 8th, 2017.
The goal is to have copies sent out for Christmas for the cast and crew and the production company that this is for.
Above are a slideshow of original and color corrected stills, as the project is worked through, I decided to create some test images.
Release Date: December 25th, 2017
Starring: John-Michael Lander, Jeffery Lowry, Damon Sudduth, Brady Gentry, Jenna Johnson, Breck Johnson
Granted permissions by Pebble Productions Inc., / Westwood Creative Artists, Toronto, Ontario, Canada, and The Timothy Findley Estate
Based on an excerpt from “Pilgrim” by Timothy Findley