Rapturous: the making of a Levi Agee film, part one

October 23, 2012

We won the bidding war for Levi Agee’s production diary. Yes, we’re gloating.

By Levi Agee
Big Deal American

I’m sitting in my office in downtown Little Rock waiting for a rendering of a 3D pen writing on a napkin frame by frame when I thought this would be a perfect time to clue everyone in on where we are in our production of Rapture Us. As the gears in my computer tower are churning away inside their chassis I want to let hear some of my gears spin.

I’ll be honest with you, when I started writing Rapture Us, I had a very simple concept that turned into a really ambitious screenplay. When I sit down to write I usually just go after it without much thought of editing or plan of attack. I’ve learned that I write best on first impulse to get all my thoughts out and to do revisions later after I get everything I can out in one or two sessions. This can make me a little impatient and impulsive in the production process but thankfully I have amazing creative partners at 2007 Productions who helped me every step of the way. After showing them some early drafts of the script that I was happy with but was having trouble developing some of the sideline characters of the sister and a renegade cult preacher I was inspired by our conversations to focus more on the relationship between Toby and Mac and their quest to figure out their place in or out of this new world. The new version of the script places all the emphasis on their emotional development and builds their relationship to me that has a lot more resonance by the end of the story. I guess what I’m trying to say is that I’m really happy with what we were able to edit although I mourn the characters we lost in the process.

Our lead actor, Quinn and I have done a couple of read throughs of the script and it’s interesting because he comes from a really well established theater background, something of which I have very little experience yet he’s hungry to spar and improvise in the moment — something a little more my style. I’ve been reading acting books and there are many arguments to rehearse or not to rehearse. My philosophy is balance and moderation so we’ll do a little of rehearsing and “not rehearsing.” I must learn my lines but also be open to where the scene takes me as an actor not a writer or director. It’ll be a fun balancing act for sure.

In preproduction lots of stages of the film need to be addressed. Two things we are tackling at once is props and locations. We’ve been scouting locations for the film for what seems like months. Some of the bigger more difficult locations to secure are a midsize grocery store, a church and a cemetery. Luckily my dad and mom who live outside of Bauxite, AR are letting me use my childhood home (they still live there) as the home for our lead, Toby and his mother. Cemeteries are virtually everywhere in central AR and we’ve found some great ones. The trouble again is balance. Sometimes the cemeteries would be very cinematic but too close to the city or overgrown and unattractive while far out in the country. We found a great cemetery that falls right in the middle and is isolated enough to keep us from bothering anyone — and it’s right down the road from a great historical church. Churches are another big issue that has proven very difficult to get access to and be able to film. I don’t know if a memo went out to all the Southern and Missionary Baptists in AR not to let people film but we’ve been rejected or ignored from about 12 different churches. Everyone says “Oh you can film at my church no problem!” and when I come by and talk to the pastor he says he’ll bring it up with the board and I know that’s not a good sign. A good sign (like that segue?) is what I need. Toby begins the film replacing letters on the church sign and he uses a ladder in the process because it is a tall sign off the ground. Finding a good tall church sign has been a task too. Most churches have signs on the ground or if they’re above the ground they’re digital marquees now. it’s important to the story I think that he start off the film up in the air doing something ritualistic for his church. It reminds me of what I used to do for my church at Pleasant Hill Baptist growing up in Sardis, AR.

The next hurdle of a location we’re in the midst of looking for is woods. Woods in Arkansas? That’s hard to find! Well yes and no. We need private property or state property so we don’t have to worry about people shooting at us as we’ll be filming right as hunting season starts. I also have a very climactic scene in the film where I need a large tree with strong limbs about 12 feet off the ground with one limb directly above the other. I’ve been to Burns Park, Allsop Park, Lake Maumelle, Roland, AR and have searched high and low for this type of setup— a set of woods with a clearing and this type of tree–and it’s been nearly impossible searching just on weekends. I enlisted some friends on Facebook and have had great leads but it’s been very difficult to find the “perfect location.” That’s part of the fun though. Searching, seeking and when you finally find it, you can’t beat that feeling. I hope to have a similar feeling after the film is complete.

To be continued …

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