The Unexpected Effect That Sunlight Had On The Filming Of Fran Kranz’s Gripping Mass Movie

The following story contains very mild spoilers for the new movie Mass, a drama that’s best experienced knowing very little at all. But once you have seen it (and you really should), come on back and read this insight from the cast. 

Fran Kranz’s gripping and heartbreaking Mass really could be a play, and I mean that in the nicest way possible. Once you get through some perfunctory scenes that set up the story using characters who aren’t integral to the plot, Mass gets turned over to four incredible actors who carry audiences through an emotional roller coaster that barely gives you time to breathe. The moment Mass hits the central conversation between the four actors, the movie plays out like one long conversation. Which presents a lot of filming challenges, most notably, the natural light of the sun. The cast explains in the video above.

The four main cast members of Fran Kranz’s Mass play parents whose lives are forever affected by a tragedy. Martha Plimpton and Jason Isaacs are parents of a boy who is killed in a school shooting. Ann Dowd and Reed Birney are parents of the shooter. Some time after the incident, the adults agree to meet in a room in the basement of a church… and talk. 

Because Mass remains in this one room for the bulk of the run, and there’s no natural place in which to stop the dialogue or cut a scene, I asked the cast how and when they knew to cut, or bring an emotional conversation to a close. Mass really feels like the ensemble filmed for 90 minutes straight, then turned to writer-director Fran Kranz and asked, “Did you get it all?” Speaking on that challenge, Jason Isaacs told CinemaBlend:

It’s a kind of gripping, suspenseful thriller, on an emotional level. And to have to break that was frustrating, but we shot in a room with windows, and it would always get dark at 5 o’clock. So yeah, I don’t know how you bring it to an end. It always felt wrong that we would stop for the day, every single day.

One of the ways that Fran Kranz helped his cast to mentally prepare for the task at hand was to divide the work day up into 10-page sessions, and keep focus on one of the actors if and when they had a significant scene. As Reed Birney explained to CinemaBlend:

They told us, ‘We’re shooting these 10 pages today,’ so we knew it was going to stop on page 30. And if the sun had gone down, then we would know that we had to stop, too, because there wasn’t any light in the room. So you planned your life that way. ‘Today is a big day for me, and tomorrow is a big day for Ann. And then it’s Martha’s day.’ It all was actually very efficient, and kind of easy that way.

Not in the editing suit, when Fran Kranz had to then take all of the raw footage he had captured in the room and shape it into a seamless conversation with ebbs and flows that matched the emotions of the screenplay. When Kranz thought back on the filmmaking day-to-day with his cast, he explained to us:

I didn’t want to break it up. But it was for the sanity of my crew. And we tried as best as we could… we’d shoot 10 pages one day, then the next day, we’d start maybe a page backwards and try and ramp into it. We tried to overlap to get the flow of it. We did have a two-and-a-half day rehearsal. We knew what we were doing, but look, but just was the reality of filmmaking.

The magic of it, as well. Mass feels like a play, like you are a fly on the wall watching four adults wrestle with grief, blame, sorrow, and regret. It’s engrossing, and well crafted. And it’s screening in theaters as we speak, so make sure that you check it out.

Sean O'Connell
Managing Editor

Sean O’Connell is a journalist and CinemaBlend’s Managing Editor. He's frequently found on Twitter at @Sean_OConnell. ReelBlend cohost. A movie junkie who's Infatuated with comic-book films. Helped get the Snyder Cut released, then wrote a book about it.