When I first started Faith Flix my desire was to help filmmakers promote their low budget Christian movies. But over the years, my mission has transitioned to helping filmmakers raise their bar and create higher level projects. With that in mind, I’m beginning a new series designed to study high quality films and analyze what it is that makes them successful. We begin with All Saints which released this past weekend.
Like many movies by Sony Affirm Films, All Saints is based on a true story. Audiences love true stories, but it can be tricky to get them right. In this case, it works because writer Steve Armour followed traditional story structure beginning with Michael Spurlock’s (John Corbett) assignment to the All Saints Episcopal church in Smyrna, Tennessee, following his struggles to bring life to the dying church, and concluding with a celebration.
Unlike many faith-based films, All Saints focuses on story over message. The message is there, but we are forced to draw our own conclusions rather than having them hammered into our heads. For example, although Michael Spurlock prays several times in the movie, we don’t hear his prayer. Instead, we see him turning his eyes upward to the skies or to a stained glass image of Jesus, and then later he shares about his time with God. The effect is that we fill in the blanks on our own. We know what he said without hearing the actual words, which, honestly is more authentic since few people pray out loud when they’re alone with God.
All Saints was filmed almost entirely on location at the actual All Saints church. This definitely limited production possibilities, but director Steve Gomer made the most of the location by filming outdoors whenever possible and using dramatic lighting indoors. If you’ve ever filmed inside a church, you know that while the sanctuary can be quite cinematic, classrooms, hallways, and offices tend to be dull sets with unflattering fluorescent lighting. To overcome this challenge, they took advantage of natural light streaming through windows as well as practical lights. Overall, this movie has a very dark look.
While the core cast is made up of professional actors, actual Karen refugees played the role of refugees. It shows how important directing and coaching can be, since you would never guess from watching that everyone on set wasn’t seasoned pros.
The trend right now in so many movies is to have big music that dominates the picture. But All Saints employs a more subtle soundtrack. The score is often invisible, yet it definitely comes in at peak moments to pull the heartstrings and remind us how we’re supposed to feel. Especially powerful are the short scenes with just music and no dialogue.
Not everyone is blessed with millions of dollars to make a movie, but even micro-budget filmmakers can tell a good story, make the most of their locations, coach actors, and incorporate music that enhances rather than detracts from the story.
I encourage you to go check out All Saints this week at your local theater and when you do, I’d love to hear your thoughts on what they did well that we can all learn from.