VTB PICKS UP AWARD
VIOLENT TRUE BELIEVER is an award-winning short dramatic film written and produced by composer and filmmaker Arlin Godwin, whose 2011 film THE MAN IN 813 took home one of 16 awards given out that year at the DC Shorts International Film Festival.
In November of 2022 VIOLENT TRUE BELIEVER was nominated for Best Short Film, Best Screenplay, and Best Director. It then won the acting award.
This latest project tells the story of a woman, recently fired from her job as a high school chemistry teacher, who sees a random television news story about an American terror group and finds herself drawn into a situation from which there seems to be no escape.
Inspired by the rise of Donald Trump, the U.S. Capitol insurrection, and the growth of fascism in America, VIOLENT TRUE BELIEVER explores the personal story of one woman caught up in a nightmare.
You can reach the filmmaker at email@example.com
VTB - BEHIND THE SCENES
MAKING AN AWARD WINNING SHORT FILM
WRITING THE SCREENPLAY
As early as 2014 Arlin Godwin had considered making a film about a male character based loosely on Timothy McVeigh, the domestic terrorist who was responsible for the devastating terror attack in Oklahoma City in April of 1995.
Arlin was initially intrigued by the idea of watching someone construct a homemade bomb in their apartment. After doing some research he discovered the FBI's term "violent true believer" and realized that it was a label that would apply to the character he was thinking about and that it would also make a great title for the film.
But the "story" needed expanding.
With that in mind, the script developed in a direction that saw the character build a bomb and place it into a rolling, black suitcase which he took into Washington, DC--implying that his target was somewhere in that city even though it was never specifically stated. Of course, this was well before Trump and the Capitol riot.
Arlin explains, “My idea was that this guy was angry, disgruntled, and was going to do something really terrible but on his way, he has some kind of experience that changes his mind. So he returns home and while dismantling the bomb he makes a mistake and blows himself up. But even that was not much of a story."
"So then it became a question of what exactly is this transformative experience he has? What happens to him on the way to deliver the bomb that changes him? This was never settled to my satisfaction. At one time he was going to see a single flower growing out of the asphalt in an alleyway. A delicate flower in a place where it shouldn't be able to grow, but that idea always seemed a bit too artsy. I probably wrote 50 drafts based on that idea of the flower."
Flash forward to 2016 and Donald Trump becomes President.
"When Trump showed up on the political scene I slowly started to see other dramatic possibilities. It was clear that there was a serious fascist presence in the U.S. and that white supremacists were on the rise. And Neo-Nazi groups."
HOW THE CAPITOL INSURRECTION LED TO A FEMALE LEAD
More drafts of the script were developed and eventually, when the January 6th insurrection happened, Arlin started to think that a female protagonist would make better sense for the movie and be a lot more interesting for the audience.
Arlin explains how the change from male to female lead slowly happened, "I had been watching a lot of films with really great female actors. There was and still is such a great group of ladies in Hollywood---Cate Blanchett, Jessica Chastain, Jody Foster, Kate Winslet, and Regina King. So, I wanted that for my movie and J.C. Hoffman became my great actress in the leading role of VTB."
"I remember seeing Viola Davis in something and she was a knockout. And I just started thinking a female character would give me something different. Everybody's already seen the angry young male character...a million times...but people weren't quite used to the idea of an American female terrorist. The insurrection at the Capitol kind of changed that. We all suddenly realized that there were lots of women involved."
"So, out went the young, militaristic male, and in his place was an ordinary woman played perfectly by J.C."
“It was clear when the Capitol riot happened that many women were there and actively taking part in what was going on. So, I rewrote the story for a woman. It took years to get to that story to be what it turned into and actually shoot the film. Screenplays tend to happen in their own good time. In this case, I had a small idea about someone building a bomb in their apartment but it took real events happening in the city in which I live to complete the trip."
"Now, every time I watch the film, I'm extremely proud of what J.C. did with the part. The movie is really a character study. It's not about blowing stuff up. It's about this woman at the heart of a strange and sad story. And when I watch it I feel sorry for her. I feel like this is how real people get pulled into things they regret."
CAMERAS, EDITING & OTHER TECHNICAL STUFF
VIOLENT TRUE BELIEVER was shot mostly on a Blackmagic 6K Pro Cinema camera and finished in "cinemascope" widescreen at an aspect ratio of 2,048 x 858 pixels, otherwise known as full 2K. This format is one of the few accepted by major film festivals around the world so writer-director Arlin Godwin decided to make life simpler by keeping the project in that format right from the start. There would not need to be any downscaling later on. The final film would already be set for festival screenings. A small amount of footage was also shot on the Panasonic GH4 well before principal photography started.
Work on the film began with experimental special effects tests as far back as 2013. At that point, Arlin, who lit and shot the film himself, only had a basic idea for a movie. And he needed to find out if he could convincingly pull off the effects work before spending more money or committing to a long shooting schedule. The first things done were camera and digital compositing tests for various special effects shots that would have to be accomplished if the rest of the film was going to work. After completing those tests it was clear that the effects work could be done by Arlin himself---who after all had a decades-long background in broadcast television editing and design work.
After many delays and one worldwide pandemic, Arlin decided in 2021 to go ahead with attempting to complete VTB. With that in mind, he cast actor J.C. Hoffman and began shooting all her scenes with the Blackmagic 6K Pro. He also used a Peter McKinnon Variable ND filter that gave the photography a gauzier, softer look while the camera's 6K resolution supplied more than enough sharpness. All lighting was done using standard LED panel lights which give off a bright, soft, and accurate light spectrum.
Both the cameras worked great but the GH4 employs an 8-bit color space, necessitating great care in handling the images in post and particularly in color grading them.
The Blackmagic on the other hand shoots in Apple Prores and Blackmagic Raw formats. Arlin chose to shoot all of Ms. Hoffman's scenes in 12-bit Raw to allow for maximum adjustment of color and levels in post-production. And in fact, most of the movie was shot in the 12-bit 6K raw format.
The fact that the film was largely captured in 6K but finished at 2K also meant that often a single shot could provide as many as 3 different frame sizes. Often shots were intentionally framed wider than normal knowing that the huge 6K frame could be scaled down in post to whatever framing the director wanted. In this way, a lot of the final compositions were created more in editing than during shooting.
On-set audio was recorded through a RODE NTG mic attached to the Blackmagic camera itself, and it worked surprisingly well. A lavalier mic was used for a few scenes but none of the lav sound was ever used in the edit. All the live sound is coming from the RODE.
Editing for the film was accomplished on one of the world's top film and video post-production applications---Adobe Premiere Pro CC22. Arlin is editing the movie himself---a long, painstaking process taking months to complete. Then there is sound and color work to do.
BELOW is the desktop of the Premiere Pro editor with the rough assembly of the movie spread out over the timeline. The brighter parts are shots and the greener sections are the accompanying audio.
Below are some screengrabs of a shot where actor J.C. Hoffman, who stars in the film, is sitting on a park bench eating a sandwich. We shot her part of this in my apartment with J.C. actually sitting on a stool against a green screen. The background is a moving shot of trees in the Fall with beams of light filtering through. The bench she's sitting on came from an online stock company and took me maybe an hour to cut out as a separate element.
Below that is another screengrab showing the masking process that allowed me to make the camera side of her face just a little darker than we had shot it. This little adjustment makes her look a bit more like she's really in that environment with the light coming from the upper left side.