December 14, 2015

A Real Church Scandal Becomes the Subject of the Slow Burning 'Only The Righteous'

'Only the Righteous' by Brenton Oechsle
Brenton Oechsle writes & directs a story based off his personal experience as a volunteer at a church during the outing of a sex scandal.

It's rare that we get to see stories born this organically from places we wouldn't normally expect — but that's the power of independent cinema today. Any event witnessed anywhere is prone to being the subject of a film. Strongly influenced by The Master and Doubt, Oechsle crafts a strong tone from his first major narrative effort as a director. We spoke about making an audience implicit in the events of a film, faith based media, and translating a real life event to the screen.

How much do you give the audience and how much do you leave behind?

No Film School: You're able to create a strong atmosphere with the composition. How did you decide on the rigorous formal structure for the film? Where was this story born?

Brenton Oechsle: I was attending a Baptist church with an ex of mine when I was in High School. Her family was heavily involved in the church, so I got to meet the pastor and I even created a shitty little welcome video for them. I got to know everyone pretty well. There was this guy that would always tape each service on a handy cam. He was a cool guy, soft-spoken, wife and three kids. One Sunday I was there and this guy looked like he had seen a ghost. After worship finished, the man stood up and in a very loud voice exclaimed “The news comes out today, the Pastor has been convicted of sexual harassment.” In that moment I thought it was something that the church does to illustrate a message, but then the moment passed. Everything evolved from there, it came to point where they had to drag the guy out of the service. It was the undoing of that church, and it put this seed in my mind of “Did this guy really do this thing or not?” And it didn’t matter if he did or not because it was planted in everyone’s mind that he did because of that one man.

'Only the Righteous'

So it made me think how important it is to be accountable for who you put your faith in. That can really lead you down a path you shouldn’t be going down. So I thought about this for a long time and then reverse engineering it to apply it to the story you see here. You don’t know who’s right and who’s wrong — I wanted to create a duality to where you see both sides and you get to decide on your own. There’s two people that see it two different ways — someone can see something one way and think it is the one right way, and someone can see it the exact opposite. All of this to illustrate that there’s an extreme lack of empathy to understand one another and try to see from their perspective. 

NFS: I love the scene in the diner, I find it interesting how humans can justify or happily ignore some things if it’s not our problem or we don’t want to get involved.

Brenton: The whole thing that’s driving the film is this nagging feeling of wanting to do justice to what he feels hasn’t been justice. And where that leads him is the exact opposite of where it should lead him, which is cosmic irony to me.

Diner Scene in 'Only the Righteous'

NFS: I noticed you put a lot of space between people who are talking to each other. People are protecting their point of view.

Brenton: I think silence is an extremely important tool that a lot of people don’t use very often — I have a tendency of using it maybe more often that I should — but I wanted silence to be the tool for the audience to retreat within themselves and pull back from what they think is going on. And that’s invoked in the composition and the distance between the characters. You never really have a gage exactly to what these characters are thinking, and their actions are enshrouded. So each time you watch, hopefully you have more of a grasp, and hopefully you’ve transitioned into a spectator of cinema to a participator, which is what I think good cinema is. 

In my mind the script is more of a road map than a blueprint.

Only The Righteous

NFS: It’s the same thing that happens in your film. Some people don’t want to get involved. That’s what’s happening in your film, the lead character is literally implicating people.

Brenton: How much do you give the audience and how much do you leave behind? Dialogue is an important tool in that respect. I think about: “What’s the simplest form that they can communicate with one another and still have a miscommunication?” Trying to display miscommunication in ways that will be properly communicated to an audience is walking a tight rope.

NFS: Dialogue and discourse is important for creating the thematic groundwork of a movie. What's more important for you, the words being specific or the tone of the dialogue being specific?

Brenton: The tone of the dialogue will always be more important to me than the words themselves. While the dialogue in this film was not improvised, it has a lot of improvisational elements influenced by the techniques of Leigh & Cassavetes. In my mind the script is more of a road map than a blueprint. As long as you get from A to B, it really doesn't matter what route you take as long as that route is serving the story in the best possible way. 

Brenton Oechsle on Faith Based Media

NFS: What role does your own faith play in your filmmaking?

Brenton: Faith oriented media can be a great asset, but it needs to focus less on the objective of persuasiveness and more on the objective of leveling the playing field. Only then will there be a platform to facilitate discussion that has any hope of transforming hearts and minds. Truthfully, if there is anything I hope to do with my work, it is this. I have invoked my favorite Tarkovsky quote many times, but I shall invoke it again as it is especially relevant here:
 
"The aim of art is to prepare a person for death, to plough and harrow his soul, rendering it capable of turning to good." 

 

Your Comment

5 Comments

This film was gorgeously shot and color corrected. Also killer set design. Can we get the details? What camera? What post software? Also I noticed the very subtle use of smoke or haze in the minister's office at 3:02. BTW, there's one scene setting that brought me out of what I imagined is a story taking place in a small town. The coffee house scene. It totally looked like Brooklyn or Queens. After a second or two I wondered if this story takes place in a small city/suburb like Atlanta/Phoenix/OK City. A tiny hiccup in an otherwise totally excellent film.

December 14, 2015 at 12:48PM, Edited December 14, 12:48PM

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Thanks for your input man! The film was shot on Blackmagic Cinema Cameras (2.5k & 4K) with Leica-R Lenses and Iscorama Anamorphic Adapters. It was edited entirely on Premiere Pro and graded on Davinci Resolve.

December 15, 2015 at 3:36AM

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Brenton Oechsle
Filmmaker / DP / Editor
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Sorry Brenton...your film is pretty bleak. I feel more uplifted watching holocaust footage. Why would anyone want to go to this joyless church? Serve the cold, remote God portrayed here? I know you worked hard on this, but why would anyone want to watch this dark, hopeless film? So much of the pain in people's lives and hearts is already reflected in contemporary art -- Such a contrast to the joy I've experienced since committing my life to Christ. Hate to go all 'Pollyanna Spielberg' on 'ya, but audiences tend to respond in bigger numbers when a film offers them some hope rather than wallowing in reality and despair.

December 16, 2015 at 7:07PM

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Jeffrey Norman
Director / Editor
86

Hey Jeffrey. Thanks for your feedback. This goal of this film was to spark discussion and as it would seem - it has at least done that here. However with regards to the film - I fear as though you may have missed the point. I would argue that when we witness evil modeled in those around us - that witnessing can provoke us to reflect on our own lives and question if we are modelling that same evil for those around us. While witnessing righteousness and driving hope from that witnessing certainly is beneficial - it certainly does not function in the same manner - nor does it help convict within us the sin in our lives that prevents us from our death to sin that Paul talks about in Romans 6. "We are those who have died to sin; how can we live in it any longer?"

Furthermore - I also feel like I should again quote Tarkovsky from his book Sculpting in Time - the same book quoted from in the article - perhaps you should read it.

"...art must must carry man's craving for the ideal, must be an expression of his reaching out towards it; that art must give man hope and faith. And the more hopeless the world in the artist's version, the more clearly perhaps must we see the ideal that stands in opposition - otherwise life becomes impossible! Art symbolises the meaning of our existence."

December 20, 2015 at 1:29PM

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Brenton Oechsle
Filmmaker / DP / Editor
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Brenton, well shot, edited, graded and paced for the piece. Your attempt to communicate the vague nature of what happened, whose motives are what, and any clue as to what actually happened was successful. However, it left me empty. Rather than "harrow my soul" it just left me with nothing. I know it's in vogue to be vague. But this didn't leave me wanting to share it with anyone. If they were to ask, "what's it about?" I'd have to say, "the danger of being unclear." So I guess there's a value in that, like a cautionary tale.

It's ironic that while the framework is related to the Gospel (which is not very vague) all the characters, motives and facts are indeed unknown. Artsy, yes. But didn't lead to any soul searching here (not that every film has to serve that). To be clear, that doesn't make it a bad film. I think it's excellent as a piece of work. It's just that in this case (for me) the art didn't invite transformation. I only mention that because of your closing statement.

I do wish you the best as you put this out there and do more and even better things. You've certainly got the skill set!

January 7, 2016 at 2:37PM, Edited January 7, 2:38PM

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Erik Stenbakken
Videographer & Photographer
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