How 'Mass' Director's 'Obsession' With School Shootings Created an Oscars Contender

New American drama Mass arrives in movies theaters on Friday but that's only because of the drive, will and pockets of the writer and director Fran Kranz.

The Dollhouse actor was the driving force behind this new movie which tells the story of a tense meeting where the parents of a victim of a school shooting come face-to-face with the parents of the shooter.

Jason Isaacs, Ann Dowd, Martha Plimpton and Reed Birney star in Mass, which has received rave reviews and is out in theaters now.

Newsweek sat down with Kranz to discuss his "obsession" with the subject matter, how he finished filming despite running out of money, and how he's keeping cool despite Oscar buzz.

Understanding Mass Shootings

"When I initially started reading about the subject, it came out of just a real pure desire to understand what was going on and why these terrible things were happening and why they kept kept happening." Kranz is referring to mass shootings, in particular mass school shootings in the United States.

"I was just sort of obsessed with the subject matter of, you know, basically mass shootings in America," he said.

Mass doesn't focus on the actual event of a mass shooting which could easily be dramatized in a Hollywood movie; instead Kranz shows the repercussions. Mass shows those left behind, focusing on the parents whose worst fears are realized. We see the story of a meeting between two sets of parents who lost their children. But one was a victim, and the other a perpetrator.

Writer and director Kranz started "obsessively" reading books and articles relating to mass shootings which led him to the idea of looking at this alternative side of the story.

The reaction to this moving film has been powerful so far, and Kranz believes he knows why. He told Newsweek: "The way it seems to be resonating with people, in a sense we want to see humans behave this way, we want to see people reconcile, we want to see people repair relationships, we want to see people forgive because we want it in our own lives, if and when we need it."

Mass behind the scenes
Fran Kranz directs Martha Plimpton for a scene in "Mass." Bleecker Street Media

Running Out of Money During Production

Forgiveness doesn't come easy though as tensions rise between the four individuals sitting around the table in Mass. In a film that's low on theatrics, the script and dialogue drive the plot, which is lucky when considering the monetary foundations Mass was built on.

Once Kranz set his mind to the task, he was faced with the reality of financing the movie—something that was easier said than done. Kranz admitted: "I financed a lot of it. I just created a bank account one day and put $30,000 into it and started telling people I was partially financed. It never ends. I shouldn't name names, but we now have multiple distributors in all different territories around the world now."

Mass behind the scenes shot
Fran Kranz had to partly finance his movie himself. Bleecker Street Media

He continued: "We went into this film with a SAG [Screen Actors Guild] ultra low budget, you know, that's $250,000 and below. We shot it, and then we raise more money to get beyond that. Then we kind of ran out of money by the end of principal photography.

"But it truly was a passion project for, I think, everyone involved. That kind of spirit and motivation is really contagious, and, I think it kind of carried us through this whole process," Kranz said.

Oscar Buzz for 'Mass'

Fortunately for Kranz, the cast and the dedicated crew behind Mass, the initial reactions have been astoundingly positive. After a run on the film festival circuit across America, Canada, Spain, Switzerland and the U.K, hype is starting to build ahead of its release in movie theaters.

Variety recently included Mass in its top 30 films in contention for Best Picture at the 2022 Academy Awards.

"[The reaction] has been overwhelming. I mean, really so much has to go right. I've been in so many movies that I felt really strongly about and they just don't turn out. And you know, so far we've had so many breaks and so many things have gone right for us."

While positive reactions are impossible to ignore according to Kranz, he recalls some useful advice he received from an acting legend. He said: "I worked with Philip Seymour Hoffman on Death of a Salesman on Broadway and when we were in previews, and when the reviews came out, he said to everyone, 'good reviews don't help your performance' and so that's always stuck with me.

"It's hard not to go check out Rotten Tomatoes, or listen to Oscar predictions but you end up just paying attention to the negative things. So I tune out compliments from people because it won't help."

Mass is available to watch in select movie theaters across the United States now.

Mass behind the scenes
"Mass" features four parents who've suffered the tragedy of losing their child in a school shooting. Bleecker Street Media