Editors note: Deadline’s Read the Screenplay series debuts and celebrates the scripts of films that will be factors in this year’s movie awards race.
Previously best known as an actor with credits including Dollhouse and Cabin in the Woods, Fran Kranz’s transition to screenwriter and director was sparked, after years of being intellectually aware of the horror of school shootings, by an unexpectedly visceral, emotional reaction to the news of the 2018 mass shooting in Parkland, FL. Kranz, then a newly minted father and formerly a target of bullies in high school, had to pull his car off the road after hearing the reports.
Mass is what emerged as he began to explore the feelings that moment dredged to the surface. “I wanted to tell a story about forgiveness, because I wasn’t really sure how capable of it I was in the most difficult circumstances,” Kranz said. “And when I was really honest with myself, reflecting on the ideas around forgiveness and reconciliation and how to heal after loss, I could see more and more how complicated it was, and how harder it was to define and grasp.”
His exhaustive research into mass shootings led him to zero in on intense but surprisingly peaceful, constructive and ultimately healing meetings between the parents of school shooters and the parents of their victims, with both sides working together to help resolve their respective traumas. “When I came across these meetings, I thought, ‘Well, this is at the very heart of defining forgiveness and figuring out when it’s available to you both to receive it and also to grant it,’ ” said Kranz.
Kranz structured his story around one such extended conversation between two sets of suffering parents (Anne Dowd and Reed Birney; Martha Plimpton and Jason Isaacs) in the wake of a school shooting, using his experience as an actor to plumb each character and develop their distinctive points of view as they work through their pain together during an uninterrupted conversation in a single room. That stripped-bare approach made the screenplay uniquely compelling and offered the first-time filmmaker a simplified, performance-centric comfort zone – though that wasn’t central to Kranz’s vision.
“I want to see four people in real time work through something incredibly difficult, that’s divided them not just across the table but amongst themselves, and see if they can figure it out,” said Kranz. “Because it’s something I think we all can relate to in our own lives.”
Click below to see the results of Kranz’s process on the pic, which had its premiere at the Sundance Film Festival in 2021 before hitting theaters in October via Bleecker Street:
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