PRESS NOTES FROM BRAD SILVERMAN, WRITER/DIRECTOR OF
NO GREATER LOVE
No Greater Love was my first attempt at writing or directing a feature film. If I knew anything in this process before me, it was that in light of a major budget, I would need a story that was very simple to shoot and intensely character driven. In 2007, a colleague, Brandon Rice, pitched me the concept of the first act of what would eventually become No Greater Love. I was intrigued by the potential of the deep emotional scenes as well as the potential for some great “collisions” (which is a term I use to describe characters in a film being forced to deal with one another in a dramatic, unsuspected, or extremely awkward way). So, after much prayer, we at Coram Deo decided that I would embark on writing our first feature film.
By God’s grace, I was able to write the first draft of No Greater Love in a few weeks. In general it is not hard to find people who will compliment your work, but I have found that it is always best to find people who are notoriously critical. My feeling is that if someone harshly critiques all or part of my work then one of three things will happen; 1) I will like their ideas better, 2) their ideas will challenge me to make my existing idea better, or 3) after hearing their ideas it will confirm that I am pleased with my existing ideas (it’s a win, win, win.) With this as my motivation, I sent the script to my dear friends – who definitely fit my criteria - James and Beth Killian. The three of us proceeded to spend a couple weeks of very late nights walking through the script - picking everything apart and seeing what would stick. At some point, and with a hard deadline approaching I realized that it was time for me to take all the ideas we had come up with and lock myself away and write the final draft alone. Simply put, James and Beth’s contributions were invaluable.
When I write, I basically have an idea for a scene in my head and I begin to improvise and act out all the parts. After I have done about three or four improvisation passes at a scene, I then go to my laptop and do my best to transcribe my multi-character improvisations into a written scene. Then, once a first pass of a scene is written, I then act out all the parts again– but this time from the script – and make any changes which seem right. As I made my way through (what I thought was) the final draft of the script there was another person who stepped up to help in ways I hadn’t anticipated… my wife Hayley. She deserves SO MUCH credit for the script. I acted out the entire film, line by line, to her countless times. Her input was absolutely invaluable. Another thing worth mentioning is that when I wrote No Greater Love, I was CONSTANTLY in prayer. I was in constant communion with God throughout. There were times that I would pray for every single word of a line– and even verbally pray that God would lead my fingers to type each letter with the goal of bringing God the most glory. Anyway, by February, 2008 I had a completed script (though the script is really never complete until you finish shooting… or editing the film for that matter.) If there is anything good about the script, I thank those who helped and praise God, for He truly deserves all the credit.
Casting is one of my favorite parts of directing, but finding the right actors for NGL was no easy task. Going into the process I felt that the hardest role to cast would be Dave. While the character of Dave is not a pastor in the film, he does the most “preaching” and is really the face of Christianity in the film. I felt it was important for the actor playing that character to be not only a good actor, but a strong Christian. I called my friend from church, professional actor Anthony Tyler Quinn, and sent him the script and he agreed to play Dave. We then proceeded to hold auditions for all the other parts. The first person we saw on the first day of auditions was Alexis Boozer. She absolutely nailed her read for “Katie.” I remember thinking, “WOW! We’ve seen one actor and she is amazing… this is going to be easy!”… (not exactly) We proceeded to see hundreds of actors over four sessions of auditions in Los Angeles. Along the way, by God’s grace we happened upon some sparkling diamonds in the rough. Eric Bivens-Bush was hysterical and so prepared and professional – he was a no-brainer for “T.J.” Casting kids is always a challenge, especially boys. From the moment we saw Aaron Sanders, though, his maturity was clearly beyond his years. He could take direction, clearly articulate and proved to be a brilliant young actor. We knew we had our “Ethan.”
It was closing time on the second day of auditions. We were packing up for the night. I walked out through the audition room lobby and saw a young lady sitting alone with a Bible on her lap. Thankfully I had enough sense to ask if she was there for the NGL auditions… We brought her into the audition room and just before she was about to read her audition lines, I said for all in the room to hear, “We’re about to see how it’s supposed to be done…” It was Danielle Bisutti. Needless to say, we had found our “Heather.” I was excited that we had Heather, Ethan, Dave, T.J. and Katie – but there was one role notably missing… OUR LEAD, JEFF! I felt we had a nice supporting cast – but no anchor. We had seen so many actors reading for Jeff, I had lost count. None really came close to hitting the feel I was looking for. My wife had said from the beginning, “Why don’t you cast Tony (Anthony Tyler Quinn) for Jeff?” I continually explained to her that I needed him for Dave and being stubborn and persistent, I proceeded to hold another round of auditions for Jeff – to no avail. My wife, once again, gently asked, “Why don’t you cast Tony?” I called my dear friend and asked him if he would play the lead in the film. I didn’t realize Tony’s wife of 25 years, Margaret, was also on the line and she light-heartedly chimed in with, “What took you so long?!”
We had our anchor. But now I had to find someone to play the very difficult role to cast of Dave. We held another round of auditions – and no one really worked. NGL Producer Matt Green told me of a former professional actor who was now a full time pastor up in Northern California named Jay Underwood. I looked up Jay his acting resume was impressive, but he was now a full time pastor. By this point, however, I was trusting God completely with the film so Matt and I sent Jay the script. He liked it – and was immediately passionate that if he were to do the part he wanted to clearly and accurately communicate the things of God through the character – which is EXACTLY what I wanted! He talked it over with the leaders of his church congregation and we agreed that he would preach at his church on Sunday, we would fly him out to shoot Monday – Wednesday, then fly him back. We did this for each of the three weeks of the shoot. We had our principal cast! We were three weeks from shooting and things were looking great! That is until I realized that I was not happy with the script.
Three weeks out from production, our cast, crew, locations and our shooting schedule were all set. It was a Saturday night and I couldn’t sleep. I tossed and turned like I never had before – something wasn’t right. I had never felt so unsettled in my life. The script was done but I simply was not happy with the last half of it. As it stood, the character, Jeff becomes gravely ill, with the main plot revolving around him coming to grips with his mortality. I suppose that version had some merit, but simply put – on that Saturday night I absolutely could not live with it. I wanted romance! The problem was I needed the final script in the hands of the cast/crew by Monday (two days later). In addition, my wife was 8.9 months pregnant with our fourth child and was due any minute. I didn’t sleep Saturday, but with my wife’s blessing (and a great pep talk) on Sunday I went up to the office to attempt something that I really didn’t think was possible. After three other births, we had experienced that the more my very pregnant wife walks and moves around, the more likely to induce labor. So as part of her commitment to the cause, she volunteered to sit on the couch – and move as little as possible - for as long as it took. That day in the writing process was one of the most incredible and memorable times of my wife. Every page, every line, every word was written through the most committed prayer I had ever done while writing. I would write a scene, then call my wife and talk it out with her… then another scene… then call my wife. I hadn’t slept the previous night so I was completely spent, but I just kept praying that God would give me the strength to write one more line – over, and over and over. I had never sensed being so close to God before. By about 10:00 pm that night it dawned on me that I hadn’t eaten anything that day. I looked around and realized that I had left my wallet at home. I was pretty hungry, but again, I was completely trusting God. I’m not sure why I thought of it, but after looking unsuccessfully for some extra change around the office I went out to my car and for whatever reason, I reached under the driver’s seat and pulled out a five dollar bill. Then I reached under again and pulled out another five dollar bill. I couldn’t help but cry a bit at how gracious God was in providing for me. That was the best Wendy’s hamburger combo I had ever had! In all, I prayed and wrote for fifteen hours that day. At about 5:00 am Monday morning I got home and was brought to tears again when I saw my beautiful pregnant wife sleeping on the couch, in the exact position she was when I left the previous morning. The script for NGL was complete…. Our son, Nicolas Ryan Silverman was born on February 27th…. and we began the No Greater Love shoot on March 10, 2008.
The actual shooting was an extremely exciting and rewarding time. Shortly before our first shot, executive producer Russ Rice gathered the entire cast and crew together and gave a God-honoring speech for the ages. The stage was set. This set the tone, as at the beginning of each shooting day, many of us on set would gather and spend as much quality time in group prayer as we possibly could. By the end of the first day of production I was confident of two things: 1) the actors were doing a fantastic job and
2) the shots were looking amazing. Much like casting actors, I believe it is critical to assemble the right crew combination.
As director, I spend much time, effort and prayer in selecting the key crew members. Among so many others it seemed quite clear that the combination of Geoff Reisner (director of photographer) and Marcello Colacilli (lighting director/gaffer) - though they had never worked together before – were the perfect shooting combination for the film. I thanked God repeatedly for this! By the time we finished our seventeen day shoot I was convinced of three things: 1) We shot everything we intended, 2) the scenes looked great and 3) we had a great, fluid, peaceful, diligent – and I hope above all else – God-honoring set. It was now time to put the film together…
As writer/director I have found we made three “films.” The first film was the one I wrote. When writing I visualized every scene, etc. and had the whole film completed in my head. The second film is the one we shot during production. The third (which is the “real” film) is the one that we made in the editing room. Brandon Rice (who came up with the story) wore many hats including editor. He and I spent countless hours editing and re-editing about twelve cuts of the film and he did a fantastic job!
We were well into the editing and it was time to focus on the music. James Killian, my critical writing friend, played a song for me called, “Lovely” by Australian born Christian recording artist, Michelle Tumes. I absolutely loved it. I thought, “That’s it!” – that’s the sound we need for this film. I proceeded to become more familiar with her music and found about six or seven songs that I thought would be perfect for the film. I set out to track her down in Australia to seek clearance for her songs. Through a sequence that would make Sherlock Holmes proud, I learned that she had not only relocated to the U.S., but she and her husband lived only forty minutes away from me! I contacted her and she was willing to meet! Brandon and I put together a DVD of about six scenes from the film – including the emotional final scene – and we included Michelle’s songs. Russ and I went to go meet with her and we played her the DVD. As the DVD finished I looked over saw both Michelle and Russ wiping away tears. Then came a question I won’t soon forget… Michelle asked me, “Who is composing the score?” All I could think to say was, “How about you?” The rest was history and it worked out perfectly.
Overall, in every area and on every level, the experience of No Greater Love was a sanctifying, life-changing time for me – and I believe for everyone involved. I was so humbled to work with such a talented and diligent cast and crew, as well as to have such unconditional support of the “boss,” Russ. From the beginning, we sought to make the best, God honoring film we could and we have been incredibly humbled to experience the ministry effect the film has had on so many in so many ways!
We pray that NGL will continue to bless many!
brad j. silverman