Strangers and Pilgrims

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The Trial of Porter Rockwell (2019), Soulkix, and Voice-Overs

I recently picked up a short film (42 minute run time) called The Trial of Porter Rockwell from the Deseret Book store at the mall in downtown Salt Lake. The writer of the movie is a guy named Joshua Michael French. I hadn’t heard of him before this, but had seen another movie he wrote based on the early history of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints — Carthage. That movie had the same director as this one, John Lyde. I was familiar with John Lyde before this because I had seen a movie he made at the LDS Film Festival called 626 Evolution. It was a science fiction film. People were fighting in a parking garage. That’s all I really remember from it.

John Lyde, apparently, pumps movies out. His IMDb page is stacked. Small budget films. That recoup their small budget. Give him a little pocket money, and enough credibility to make another small budget film. At least, that’s how I remember him explaining it at the Q&A session for 626 Evolution. Respect to him.

Someone else in the movie who I’ve seen around a lot in these films that come out of Utah is Mason Davis. He and his dad came and spoke to one of my classes when I was in graduate school at BYU getting an MBA. I was in a class taught by Jeff Dyer on Innovation. He wrote this book called The Innovator’s DNA, that was about how to innovate if it isn’t something that comes to you naturally. Great class. Interesting ideas. I think about it all the time.

Anyway, Mason and his dad came in to one class, because they were trying to figure out what to do with Mason’s company Soulkix. Soulkix made silk screened slip-on shoes. Like vans, but you could put pictures on them. Soulkix used to have a store front on State Street in Orem that I’d drive by all the time. It’s empty now. I don’t think the company made it.

But, anyways, the Dad wanted the company to fill corporate orders — B2B stuff. And, the son didn’t. He wanted the company to be B2C. We talked about that for a while.

The actor Danny James, who plays Alexander McCrae in Out of Liberty, had a small part in this movie. In this short film he is the bounty hunter who captured Porter in St. Louis. Also, Brock Roberts, who plays Sidney Rigdon in Out of Liberty, is an extra in the movie.

The movie is interesting.

One of the things I like is that the film’s story involves Porter’s mother — Sarah Witt Rockwell. Sarah is, in my opinion, pretty necessary to telling the story of Porter’s “escape/release” from prison in Independence, Missouri. I tell parts of that story, by the way, in Season 1 Episode 1 of the Strangers and Pilgrims podcast. And, the movie hits, what I believe, are most of her key story points — not by showing them, though, but by telling them. I think it misses one or two of her story points, but that can be excused or forgiven. It doesn’t necessarily take away from the story.

One of the ways the short film covers the story points of Porter’s mother is through a voice over — her voice over. Which, I like that it was her voice over — if it should be anyone’s voice over it should either be her’s or Porters. So, that was a great choice, I think. But, I think the voice over could have been executed much better.

And, I don’t like the execution of the voice over for three (3) reasons:

1) It doesn’t provide us any insight to the mental state / mind of the narrator

2) It is mostly for exposition.

3) It sporadically shows up. It shows up a little at the beginning of the movie. A tiny bit in the middle. And a little at the end.

I think if you’re going to have a voice over, then it better give you something that the story can’t give you any other way. Terrence Malick’s voice overs are all great, because they’re all necessary for the film to be told. Without Malick’s voice overs — you don’t get the story. Martin Scorcece’s voice overs are pretty great, too. Wes Anderson is pretty famous for his use of narrators / voice-over dialogue.

This voice over wasn’t necessary for the film. In my opinion if your movie is going to have a voice over it needs to be part of the theme(s) and perspectives of the story. The form or structure of the film needs to have a functional purpose that relates to the film’s artistic purpose.

And, because no internal dialogue was revealed through the voice over — no emotions, no grief, no understanding, the voice over gets relegated to just giving us more exposition. Which, makes it kind of boring. A movie that is 42 minutes long — of which is mostly exposition — could really spice itself up, and make it more exciting, by giving us emotion through internal dialogue.

I think Voice Overs can either really make a great movie, or really mess it up — if it’s used as a crutch. A lot of my all-time favorite movies are voice-over heavy: Amadeus, The Social Network, the Tree of Life.

Voice-overs can be something that are really great, and provide a lot. They make the film much more of a novel-like experience. Giving internal motivations. Helping you understand the character better. It is the film version of a soliloquy.

I’m not really into writing stories with Narrators, just because I’m more interested in a straightforward, hard beginning / hard ending story telling experience. Shakespearean. Classic.