Mark O’Brien makes an impressive filmmaking debut as writer, director and star of The Righteous (alongside Henry Czerny and Mimi Kuzyk), heading to ARROW on June 10th. As the subject of our latest Q&A, O'Brien talks about the film's black and white cinematography, its influences, and what's next!
The Righteous is a gorgeous film and one of its most striking elements is the use of black and white cinematography. What was the purpose behind the bold aesthetic?
This film appeared to me in black and white the day I began writing it. It was a natural progression from the words on the page, to the images in my head. The story is really about a man’s subconsciousness, what’s underneath, beneath the surface, psychologically. To me, our subconsciousness is murky and indecipherable. Color would bring too much reality and understanding to this story, which our lead character is lacking. I always imagine Frederic as seeing things in black and white, while the rest of the characters see everything in color. Black and white also leaves much more room for mystery and curiosity, which accents what Frederic is going through. This film is about something you can’t quite place, and black and white achieves that effect. It also aids in the themes of the extreme in the film of heaven and hell, right and wrong, righteousness or damnation, black and white…
The film has a highly theatrical quality – Greek tragedy sensibilities – what were some of the artistic influences you drew upon for The Righteous?
Funny you should mention that, because my minor in University was Classics and I was always drawn to Euripides and Sophocles. However, I wasn’t consciously thinking about those writers as I was making the film. It’s interesting how certain artistic works are simply just in your bones and you don’t even know it. So there’s certainly a level of that, along with the obvious reference to Bergman. A lot of people have asked me about my relationship to Bergman’s work. It’s everlasting. His work is the highest mountain of filmmaking. I couldn’t not be influenced by him if I tried. There are certain works and certain artists that are part of my foundation. I studied the Greek tragedies at a young age, so they’ve seeped into my artistic tendencies. Bergman is the same. There are certain artists whose works change and mold you as a person, so you can’t possible shake it. And why would I want to! Aside from the above, there are many influences from Michael Haneke, Hitchcock, Lynch, Dreyer, De Palma all the way to the works of Nabokov and Dostoyevsky. I suppose I’m drawn to stories of damnation. Afterall, what stakes could be higher than a dwindling spiral into hell.
Why choose the lens of religion to tell this story?
Religion at its core is simple. If you make mistakes, you will be damned. There are rules of the highest consequence. It’s a wonderfully dramatic backdrop for a story. This particular story is about confronting. Confronting your own misdeeds (big or small) that are eating away at you. We’re our own worse judges, until you throw God into the picture. A higher power is just that - higher than anything else. It trumps and stomps upon your own image of self-worth, because there’s someone always watching. There’s a line in the film about God - “Did you think he wasn’t looking?” That says it all right there.
The Righteous is an extremely impressive filmmaking debut. What is something that you will take away from this experience, into your next project?
Thank you! I enjoyed every single moment of making The Righteous. It was a dream come true. I feel so privileged to have had the opportunity to have seen the film in my head play on the screen. Filmmaking is a communal experience, it is a luxury. It is to be celebrated and enjoyed. Other than that - know your story and why you are telling it!
Do you have any upcoming projects that you’re excited about?
I’m on a new series called 61st Street for AMC. It’s a very important show that takes a close look at what’s happening right now in America in terms of our justice system, police and race. I like making work that has something to say, and is not afraid of saying it. Their should be a heavy dose of passion behind any piece of art and this show pulls no punches. We only have a limited time in this life and even less time to create our work, so while I’m here I want to make things that matter, and I believe 61st Street falls into that category. I’m also filming season 2 of Perry Mason for HBO. It’s an incredible series that also carries a strong message about America in this season, mirroring 1930s California to the present day.
"A unique and darkly engaging spiritual thriller, strikingly shot in black and white, The Righteous tells the story of Frederic (Henry Czerny) a grieving man struggling with his faith, who helps an injured young man, Aaron Smith (Mark O’Brien) who stumbles onto his property one night, claiming to be lost in the woods. Frederic and his wife (Mimi Kuzyk) invite the man to stay for the night, but Frederic soon begins to have doubts about this enigmatic stranger’s story - and his motives for being there. When Aaron asks Frederic to commit an unspeakable deed, it becomes clear that the man is not who he seems, and has been sent to test the very limits of Frederic’s existence."
Arrow Films has set a June 10th digital release in the UK, US and Ireland on ARROW, the brand's SVOD service.
"ARROW is available in the US, Canada, the UK and Ireland on the following Apps/devices: Roku (all Roku sticks, boxes, devices, etc), Apple TV & iOS devices, Samsung TVs, Android TV and mobile devices, Fire TV (all Amazon Fire TV Sticks, boxes, etc), and on all web browsers at https://www.arrow-player.com."