SCOTT SIMON, HOST:
There was a school shooting this week - another school shooting. Four people were injured in Arlington, Texas. School shootings have become a feature of American life. They kill innocents and injure the lives of survivors, families, bystanders and whole communities for decades to come.
"Mass" is a film set in a small room, set up with four chairs and a box of tissues in an Episcopal church. Two sets of parents meet across the table. They have both lost sons in a school shooting. One was the shooter, and the other son was his victim. "Mass" stars four brilliant character actors - Reed Birney, Ann Dowd, Jason Isaacs and Martha Plimpton. It is written and directed by Fran Kranz, who joins us from New York. Thanks so much for being with us.
FRAN KRANZ: Well, thank you, Scott. I appreciate that introduction.
SIMON: I gather this idea began when you heard of the Parkland shooting.
KRANZ: Yeah. That was the real catalyst. It was the first major headline of one of these since I had been a father. And I was driving down the street in Los Angeles, and I had to pull over. I was listening to a parent. I just couldn't focus. I had to stop. And I can remember where I was for Columbine, Sandy Hook. But this was different, how I was reacting.
I think something was sort of stirred up inside of me because I went that very day and started ordering books online about the subject and about these events and started - I just basically spent two years reading nothing else but the subject. And I had remembered when I learned about the Truth and Reconciliation Commission in South Africa that I was inspired by it. I thought it was incredible. But I was terrified by it, too, because I didn't think I was capable of it. I didn't think I was capable of the forgiveness or just participating in restorative justice.
And as I was reading about shootings in America and really around the world, I came across these meetings, these private meetings. And I thought, my God. It's the Truth and Reconciliation Commission. It's this effort to heal and move forward, and I had to confront those feelings again.
SIMON: Gail and Jay are the parents of Evan, who was shot to death. Richard and Linda - their son was Hayden, who was the shooter. How does bringing these four people in the world together supposed to help them or us?
KRANZ: I think these four people need each other. I think they need each other to make sense of it. I think they need each other to explain it. They're looking for connection. They're looking to restore something in their lives. Of course, they're looking to heal, potentially forgive, but they - they're stuck.
You know, school shootings are so devastating. But I wish for audiences to be able to expand on the story and the context. I chose to keep the movie in the room and without flashbacks or score, a lot of the conveniences that cinema offers, because sitting across from the people you're at odds with or people you feel blame for or people you hate - to me, it's extraordinary. We don't see enough of that in the world. So I wanted to lift that up, put a spotlight on that, the simplicity of what they're doing and that all they have at their disposal are their words and feelings and their expression and to sort of work to a better place together.
SIMON: Yeah. And then when Gail, the mother of Evan, who's been shot to death, says, parents should have intuition about their children. You love them. You ought to know what's going on.
KRANZ: These characters seem to have these expectations, these ideas of what they want to find and how they're going to find it. And it sort of all goes up in flames. It's all too messy. What they want out of the meeting is not necessarily what happens. And yes, there are lines like that, which I think are both truthful but a little hollow in some ways, you know, because we just don't know. We just cannot know.
SIMON: It's - I found the parents of the shooter very appealing. And then every now and then, I would say to myself, why are you feeling anything for them? I'm not proud of that. And your film makes me see otherwise, but it reminds us of how difficult it is.
KRANZ: Hmm. I was shocked when I started reading about these events because I didn't find what I expected.
KRANZ: There were nights where I couldn't sleep. I could not sleep because I had read the personal details and lives of these parents and could not - and I feel terribly insensitive talking this way, but I don't really know how else to articulate it. I could not imagine anything worse.
SIMON: Mmm hmm.
KRANZ: And I just could magnify the mistakes of my own child or when I'm frustrated with that. You can sort of go there as a parent. And so I had nothing but compassion for them. And I know the messiness of being a parent. I know it. To me, it never occurred to me to write them as anything other than deeply human.
SIMON: I like your phrase, the messiness of being a parent (laughter).
KRANZ: Yeah. Oh, my God (laughter). I mean, it's just immediate, you know? It's - like, I probably can't go a day without thinking, wow, I should have - maybe I should have handled it that way, you know?
SIMON: I do have to ask this question. Was this a hard film to bring out now? There's a lot going on in the world, and so many people want diversion or a kind of unreal dystopia. There's nothing unreal about this. Yeah.
KRANZ: I felt like, unfortunately for me, I had no choice, you know what I mean? I didn't have some intention or grand plan of this is going to be my filmmaking career, and I'm going to start with this. And I just - I couldn't help myself.
KRANZ: I - look; I don't see this - and maybe I'm crazy, but I see this as a hopeful movie. I see all four of these people having movement. I think I want it to promote something positive, but I know we go through this emotionally difficult - truly and incredibly difficult, unimaginably difficult sort of journey to get there.
SIMON: May I ask, do you want to make a romcom next?
KRANZ: I - you know, (laughter) I'm still - I feel like I'm still working on it. I feel this sort of knot in my stomach all the time now because talking about it is working on it. And doing the press and putting it out there, in so many ways, it's as emotional as writing it. I had the - just the honor of meeting a parent the other day who lost her child in a shooting, in a high-profile one. And that the front of my mind has been those communities the whole time - the families, victims, the real survivors - and - because this has never happened to me. I've never experienced anything like this. And I feel admittedly insecurity about it. You know, is it my place to write about this? And to meet them and to get acceptance about the film and to hear her speak about the film and what it meant to her, I mean, it's been the most rewarding journey of my life. But that was simply the most exceptional part of it.
SIMON: Fran Kranz, who has directed the film "Mass," in theaters now - thank you so much for being with us.
KRANZ: Yeah, thank you so much. I really appreciated the conversation and speaking about the film. Thanks for giving me the time. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.