James Franco is more than just an Oscar-nominated actor. His is also both a director and a writer. For Franco's newest film, “Child of God,” he combines all those skills, as he did on “As I Lay Dying.” Franco appears in a small role alongside star Scott Haze, he directs the movie, and wrote the screenplay with Vince Jolivette based on Cormac McCarthy's book.
“Child of God” is the story of Lester Ballard (Haze), a loner in Tennessee who finds himself increasingly marginalized within his society. The movie follows Ballard's descent into ever more disturbing acts. Over the course the movie, Ballard has several run-ins with not just other locals, but also with the law in the form of Sheriff Fate played by Tim Blake Nelson. Ballard's progression is not the easiest of things to watch, but it is definitely interesting.
The plot of the film, as Ballard is a loner, necessitates that Haze be by himself on screen for long stretches. That isn't something we regularly see in movies, but having acted in “127 Hours,” a role which earned him his Academy Award nomination, it is something with which Franco was familiar.
Franco used his experience in “127 Hours,” with Danny Boyle, and what he learned of letting the a story be told through behavior, here for “Child of God.” He also looked to directors like Robert Altman and his use of long, loosely scripted, scenes for the story of Lester Ballard. In fact, Franco would let the cameras run for 20 minutes sometimes in order to get what he needed for a moment in the film.
“Allowing the actor to live it out for 20 minutes makes the behavior so much more authentic,” Franco said when he sat with us and Haze to discuss the movie. He later made it clear, “There are points to every scene,” but that on set he allowed Haze to work out how Ballard would get there.
Franco pointed out that in order to have the long takes work, in order to be able to cut down 20 minutes of filming to the needed minute or two that would end up in the film, knowing camera angles and what sort of coverage he would need was important. With the necessary angles and an actor who was giving him what he needed, Franco clearly felt as though he could simply let the camera run. He was also, he told us, quite careful to not stop on Haze's toes when things were going in the right direction.
“One thing I've learned from some of my favorite directors is if you don't have to say anything, don't. If it's working, don't mess with it,” Franco said. He continued, “Certainly with Scott and his performance, there wasn't a lot I had to mess with.”
Whether it works for you is something you can determine starting tomorrow, August 1, when “Child of God” opens in select theaters.