When Wilmington’s Ashley Strand and Katherine Carr set out to film “The Book of Mark,” Strand says they didn’t have anything in mind for the project other than to simply make the best of a bad situation that is the unending black hole of COVID cancellations.
“Like everyone else, we are doing our best to make lemonade out of lemons,” he says, “and when the theaters closed, we were determined to find a way to bring the stage show ‘King James Live’ to a larger audience.”
Strand and Carr will release “The Book of Mark,” the film version of “King James Live” by Two’s a Crowd Productions, on Vimeo this Friday, August 14.
Strand spoke with encore last January when he reprised his role from 2018’s reading of The Gospel of Mark from King James Bible in “King James Live.” The one-man show at Castle Street’s Ronald Sachs Violins was produced by Alchemical Theatre Company and praised by Wilmington’s theatre critics, including encore’s Gwenyfar Rohler.
“By the end of the first run, I’d already secured three more bookings,” he remembers, “and there’s no shortage of churches, theaters and schools that would be interested in this show. . . . [As an actor I want] to inspire and move audiences, and the reactions I got from those first several performances were, bar none, the most effusive, grateful reactions I’d ever gotten. I knew I’d found something very special. So everything looked just great in February.”
Of course, by March everything changed. Theatre productions were among the bevy of events to be postponed or canceled. Many entertainers and performers have used the time to tap into the virtual world of entertainment, a la livestreaming or asynchronous performances. Strand immediately was advised to follow suit.
“From the beginning, people were telling me to do a film version of it,” he says, “but I just couldn’t imagine it. I had designed it as an interactive show, where I was moving among the audience, sometimes even touching them. My memorization was tied to the blocking, and the central image of the show was one man being thronged by the multitude. I had no idea how to recreate any of that, and being heartbroken over the show didn’t help my creativity.”
Nevertheless, in late April 2020, Strand says he came to the realization he could accomplish the intimacy and even some of the interactivity of the round from his own apartment. “Because I wanted to capture the slight but fundamental danger of live performance—that thrill at the thought that a pretty lady might slip off the tightrope—I decided to do it all in one take.”
Strand began filming “The Book of Mark” at the beginning of May for a total of 1 hour and 47 minutes. There was a slight sense of urgency back then, too, as Strand thought things were going to get back to normal.
“If I wanted the film to be ‘of its moment,’ I needed to get it done [quickly],” he notes. “Without the time and resource constraints, I probably never would have gotten it done—there just always would have been a piece I could have added to make the production ‘better.’ So it ended up freeing me.”
Strand spent a week rememorizing lines before borrowing a camera and convincing his girlfriend, Katherine Carr, to be his cinematographer. “Katherine and I spent a week reblocking it in the apartment, and then shot six takes over the course of two weeks,” he continues. “We finished shooting on May 16 but the best take ended up being number three, which we shot on May 8.”
Now approaching fall, “The Book of Mark” film adaptation has already been met with just as much praise as the original. In July it was selected to screen at this year’s Content 2020 Film Festival (postponed from September 14-17 to February 1-4, 2021) and garnered the Content 2020 One Man Drama Award.
In the interim, Strand and Carr are hosting a virtual opening weekend with an independent release of “The Book of Mark” on Vimeo. They’re offering a limited number of free views on August 14 with use of the promo code “BOMFREE” and half-price screenings on August 15-16 with the code “BOMHALF.” After that the film can be rented for $2.99 or bought for $9.99 at vimeo.com/ondemand/thebookofmark
Strand is selling the project through Vimeo without plans to bring on distributors. He states, rather frankly, “I’m not going to wait for one. I figure if I walk into a pitch meeting at the festival and I can say, ‘I have 10K views in a month on word of mouth alone,’ then the distributor knows the film has value. and I know I don’t necessarily need the distributor. That’s why I’m offering it free for the first 24 hours because I believe if enough people see it, word of mouth will take care of the rest.”
Strand also plans to use Vimeo for more streaming content, with the goal of offering subscriptions for small-batch cinema and local productions. “In fact, Katherine has already written two episodes of a sitcom she’s creating,” he adds, “and she’s shooting the pilot this coming weekend.
“It really feels like a ‘moles vs. the dinosaurs’ moment,” Strand continues, “and I think Wilmington, with its physical resources, talent, and film tradition, is perfectly poised to explode into this new niche, which is what I’m calling, ‘small batch cinema.’ It was either that or ‘micro-film,’ which doesn’t really work. Anyway, the point is, we don’t need to wait for film to come back to Wilmington, it’s already here, waiting to be made.”