Writer/Director Brad Silverman Discusses "No Greater Love"
Born and raised in Los Angeles, Brad Silverman (Director/Writer) gravitated toward the film and television industry at an early age. In his late teens and into his twenties, Brad was on the fast track climbing the “Hollywood ladder” as writer, director and producer. However, in the mid 90s, the Lord mercifully saved him. Within a couple years, Brad felt compelled to make the toughest decision of his life – walk away from the biz.
After an eight year “wilderness” period, in 2004 the door opened for Brad to become staff writer/ director and vice president of production for the newly formed (and Christian owned) Signature Productions. After writing and directing a series of successful programs for kids, in 2007 Signature Productions was incorporated as Coram Deo Studios. The following year, Brad wrote and directed the first feature film for the company, the Christian romantic drama No Greater Love. Still living in the Los Angeles area, Brad and his wife Hayley work with teens at their church and have four young children of their own. A couple of weeks before the DVD release we talked with Brad about the movie, his work with Coram Deo Studios and his unusual method of writing.
Where did the story idea come from?
Brad: Our company finished the pilot for a children's TV show, and while that was being shopped around by our agent, we were wondering what to do next. Brandon (Rice, one of the producers) initially had the idea for the story. He went to the theater to see a secular romance-type movie, and while he was there, he thought it would be neat to have a movie like that from a Christian perspective. He came up with the germ of the concept that would become No Greater Love.
He emailed me a 3-sentence email asking what I thought about the idea, and it was the basic premise of the beginning of No Greater Love. I thought it was a great story, but at the time Brandon was about 22, and he was single, and I remember thinking it couldn't be a good story because what would this guy know about some rich marriage trial-type film? Intellectually, I kind of discounted it a little bit. But we revisited it, prayed about it, and decided to go in that direction.
So I locked myself away for a few weeks and came up with the first draft.
You mentioned a pilot for television. Do you have experience with screenwriting?
Brad: I do. This is my first feature, though, and it's my "first" in a number of categories. It's my first feature, my first faith-based film and my first drama. Most of my experience has been writing comedy and kids' programs.
How would you compare writing for the two genres? Those are pretty disparate types of writing.
Brad: Not to over-spiritualize it, but we had done a number of different projects, and we got a lot of critical acclaim, but weren't able to sell anything. Looking back, it's almost like God was intentionally keeping doors closed to get ready for No Greater Love. We have to give all the glory to God because it was beyond our experience and scope.
Though I'd never written any drama before, the first draft was done in a couple of weeks. Everything was fast and fell into place we'd never expected. There are probably 10 or 12 moments in time we can look back and say in all the years we've been working, we've never seen that happen. We often wondered how the doors opened so quickly. In God's providence, it all came together very fast.
Definitely my comfort zone is with comedy and kids, but I have sort of a unique writing method. I don't sit and write. I come from an acting background, so I lock myself away from other people. Then I'll start acting out all the parts for a scene I imagine. As I start acting out, I keep going until I think something will be interesting. Then I try to transcribe what I said as best I can.
One place I love to write is this thin little balcony that's about 45 feet long. I'll have my computer at one end, and be walking around at the other end. At times I come up with something and think, "That's absolutely perfect!" Then I realize I need to write it down and I'm 45 feet away, so I start sprinting back to try to get it down before I forget it.
I tried my best to make the dialogue feel as real and as genuine to the actors as possible. I try to get into the psyche of each character and help them find their own voices as I go. I try to get into the world of the children, the women, the men, etc. It's a long process and I hate writing because it's so exhausting.
Russ Rice, the executive producer, owns a parent school fundraising company, and that's how I met him. I began to write and direct shows for kids for his company, and that's how we got started. That was the beginning of what became Coram Deo studios. One of our partners in that process was Warner Brothers, who liked the work we were producing.
We never saw this coming. It just wasn't on the radar, and that's what I love about it. It wasn't on some 5-year plan, it just sort of happened. But we worked really hard for years to get to the place where, as a company, we'd be ready to make it. By the time we began No Greater Love, we were a really cohesive unit and it was the next logical step. To progress to filmmaking was pretty easy because we experience filming and experience working together.
As a director, what were some of the challenges that were different from the children's and comedy projects you had worked on previously?
Brad: The mechanics are the same. What's tough about a feature is dealing with so much time passing in the story and trying to always keep the big picture vision of every aspect of the story you're trying to tell. You have 120 pages detailing this multi-faceted story, and every moment has to play into the big picture of what you're trying to say.
For example, you might have a scene where there's a brilliant moment for an actor. Part of my job as director is to say, "Wow! That's genius. That was great. In a vacuum, if we were doing a demo reel, that would have been fantastic. The problem is you can't be that upset yet." Or maybe the character would be more upset at that point in the story.
What made it harder on this particular is that it's a very character-driven film dealing with this couple in this very awkward situation. We do shoot out of sequence. One scene might be really light-hearted, then the next one deeply emotional, then the next more light. So emotionally, you could be all over the map over the course of a day.
I loved our cast. They were professionals in every sense of the word. So much of the burden of my direction was to continually keep them at the emotional place their character needed to be at that point in the film. The two leads had awkward moment after awkward moment, and we wanted to gradually see them get to know each other in a very methodical way. The actors themselves were also getting to know each other, so sometimes I had to ask them to be more tense with each other because we were at an earlier point in the film.
I was trying to give them all the freedom in the world to create their characters, but also keep them in the right frame of mind and at the right emotional level.
So as a director, you have to be living that story every minute of the day.
Brad: It helps that I wrote it. The benefit is that I've eaten, slept, and breathed these characters, so by the time I get to the set, I know them really well. Before we get on set, my script is full of notes. I've performed the movie a few times by myself a handful of times. I'm thankful for a wife who enjoys the process because she's seen me perform it a few times.
While I'm doing that, without any distractions or pressures of deadlines, I'm taking tons of notes, mainly on the characters' emotions. That way when I get to the set, I know where we are and have this great cheat sheet. Otherwise, when you're in the lights and have cameras going and a hundred things going on, you're lost. But I have my notes and can quietly take the characters aside and help them.
I try to keep the set mood matching the mood of the scene. If it's a dramatic scene, I don't want the crew goofing off. If it's a tense, angry scene, I'll be tense and angry on purpose. I'll look for opportunities to put people on edge.
As the person who wrote and directed the film, when you look at the finished version, is it very different from what you started with? And can you pick out a couple of moments that really satisfy you artistically?
Brad: There were several things we came up with along the way that I really like. There are parts that are verbatim from the beginning to the end. One of the most significant changes that happens is watching the characters change because the actors make them their own. At first I resist it because I'm so connected to who I thought they were when I wrote them. By the end of the film, I can barely remember what I thought about the characters because they have become so completely what the actors made them to be, and I can't picture them in any other way.
A lot of times I tend to overwrite and overexplain. Those got cut in the final edit, because I realized we didn't need to so much explanation and detail. The opening six minutes changed more than anything else. We ended up going with a "dramatic less is more" theory. Of the first three scenes in the film, two of them weren't in the script at all. We borrowed outtakes from another scene in the film and realized it would be a nice touch at the beginning to immediately jump into conflict.
What's on your plate right now?
Brad: I've had some speaking opportunities and chances to talk about the film. What's been really exciting is that God's opened up doors for us to partner with so many marriage and family ministries. They've approached us and are interested in various aspects of the film.
We're publishing a 90-day devotional book with Thomas Nelson that comes out in February. We're working on a small group curriculum to deal with marriage and family issues. There's been so much happening, and it's related to the ministry aspects of the film, which is exciting for us. We're really praying it will be used by God to help marriages.