AN absurdist tale about miracles, Holy Moses is the latest short from promising filmmaker Eli Powers.
Ahead of the film’s screening at Raindance Film Festival (6 & 7 October), Close-up Culture’s James Prestridge caught up with Powers to chat about the bizarre news story behind the film, his interest in the extraordinary and working with Amanda Seyfried.
The Raindance screening on 6 October will also include a Q&A with Powers, Aidan Sheldon (Director of Photography), Thaddeus Bouska (Producer) and Amanda Seyfried (Actor and Executive Producer).
Q: I believe the idea for ‘Holy Moses’ came from a news story about German police shooting a cow in a grocery store. Can you tell us more about this and how it evolved into this film?
A: YEAH, that’s right. The image of the dead cow was really just the first spark for the story, and then it all branched out from there. I knew I wanted to start with something as simple and absurd as a character’s reaction to a cow showing up in place where we don’t normally expect to see cows, and then take that moment and inject it with all this mystical, spiritual importance.
Q: ‘Holy Moses’ looks at what happens when ordinary people come face-to-face with the extraordinary. Why was this something that interested you and why did you want to explore it?
A: I would like to think that the extraordinary is around us all the time, but just that it disguises itself within the mundane, or only happens when we’re looking in the opposite direction, or not paying attention at all.
I’ve always been interested in exploring religion and spirituality in my work, sometimes comedically, sometimes with a straight face, and I guess Holy Moses is a collision of the two.
Q: One of the characters that really interests me is the Priest (John Gowans). What was the thinking behind this character?
A: MAYBE he represents some buried aspect of subconscious, but I guess I wouldn’t know for sure. I can can tell you more about who he is, but not necessarily what he means. I think only he knows that.
The Priest is a character who runs a covert paramilitary organization, operating as a Fifth Column to society. They’re like the shadow selves of the GhostBusters and they make the illuminati look like the boy scouts.
Q: There are two strikingly different locations in the film. Can you tell us about the shoot?
A: WE shot one day at a small dairy farm in Upstate New York, and two days at the desert gas station outside Los Angeles.
We were really lucky with the weather on the Upstate shoot. That particular day it was snowing heavily and gave us this washed-out ethereal effect in the fields. I had prepped heavily with the director of photography for that segment, Jordan Hall, so there was very little stress on the day. We were so confident with our shot list, we started finding new ways to shoot the scenes, trying different angles and consolidating. It was a really great experience, and Jordan staying handheld gave us a real freedom of motion to float around and capture Amanda.
The Los Angeles leg was a whole different beast. Our crew was twice as big, and we were going for a much more traditional, locked-off, wide angle and western-vibe. We didn’t have the luxury to play around on the day as much because we were covering ten pages of dialogue heavy scenes. It was a matter of executing our scenes efficiently and getting what we needed to move on. Colt Aidan Sheldon was our director of photography out there in the desert and he did an amazing job, both visually and in keeping me organised. I probably would’ve lost my mind without him.
Q: Amanda Seyfried plays Mary and worked as an Executive Producer on the film. Can you tell us about your experience getting to direct and work with Amanda? What qualities did she bring to the project?
A: SHE brings such a natural grace to everything that she does and it was incredible to work with her in this capacity. I hope it is just the first of many. We’re talking about a feature-length project called Killer Snowflake at the moment, which is even better than it sounds.
On screen, she manages to make everything so immensely riveting, in such a subtle and effortless way. There’s not all that much action going on in these scenes, mostly just wandering and watching – but it ends up being so engaging because of how talented she is.
She also really nailed that Irish accent, which isn’t easy to do. Our sound design artist, Jack Goodman, was thoroughly convinced that he was listening to an Irish actress the entire time.
Q: What more can you tell us about the feature you are developing?
A: IT expands on the world of the short with both time periods running parallel to one another. We follow Mary’s struggle to escape the Magdalene Asylum, while twenty years later charting Justice’s meteoric rise from gas station attendant to polarising leader of his own religious movement.
Q: You’ve had experience being an assistant for Robert De Niro on ‘Joy’ and Amanda on a number of projects. Do you have any memories you can share of your experiences working closely with Hollywood greats like these two?
A: I once accidentally dropped Robert De Niro’s cellphone in the ocean.
Q: Holy Moses will screen at Raindance Film Festival in London. What does this mean to you?
A: I have always known Raindance as a festival with a reputation for discovering new, upcoming filmmakers. People who want to push the envelope a little outside the narrative scope. I’m grateful to be included in that ongoing mission, and the fact that Pulp Fiction premiered there doesn’t hurt either.