THE LORD OF CATAN poster | courtesy Stuart C. Paul

THE LORD OF CATAN poster | courtesy Stuart C. Paul

It isn’t that actor Fran Kranz only works with people he’s met on the projects he’s acted in for Joss Whedon – the TV series DOLLHOUSE and the films CABIN IN THE WOODS and MUCH ADO ABOUT NOTHING. In the past year, Kranz has had a recurring role on DALLAS and made several features (more about them later) that have nothing to do with those connections.

Then again, he does often work with his fellow DOLLHOUSE alumni. One case in point is the short film THE LORD OF CATAN, which has its Los Angeles public premiere Saturday, May 31 at the Chinese Theatre as part of the Dances With Films festival. The film, written and directed by Stuart C. Paul, chronicles what happens when a couple, played by Kranz and his DOLLHOUSE/CABIN/MUCH ADO cast mate Amy Acker, go head to head in a game of SETTLERS OF CATAN

Speaking by phone from New York, Kranz discusses his experience with CATAN – and how he got Acker to come aboard as his CATAN leading lady.

ASSIGNMENT X: How did you get involved with LORD OF CATAN?

FRAN KRANZ: I met [CATAN] producer Jason [Dolan] and one of his writing partners, Sean Christiansen, years ago on this incredible script that was passed through Jim Sturgess, Justin Timberlake, all these big actors and Scott Free was producing, and then it was one of those weird things that never got made, and I was never offered the part, either [laughs], but we became really good friends. Jason and I are just buddies, and we’ve done little things together here and there, but we’re mostly friends. Then one day he sent me a short, where he was like, “Read this, I think you’ll like it.” And I feel like I was probably pretty slow to even get to it. I think unfortunately – I’m going to sound like a jerk –sometimes you have to have your priorities. You get scripts from your agent with amazing people involved, and I had this little short film sitting in my inbox for awhile, and then one day I just opened it up, gave it a read. The thing was like twelve pages long – there was no excuse for taking so long to read it, but it was awesome. It was such a cool, crazy little piece about a board game that I had just recently discovered and was already obsessed with. I had first played the game maybe a year before and I’d already bought an iPad app of it, the CATAN HD app – I think that’s what it’s called – and I was in the middle of an obsessive phase of SETTLERS OF CATAN when I got that script, so it was kind of perfect, and I just immediately wrote him back, saying, “Yes, yes, yes.” I did not know Stu at all and they did not know who the girl would be or anything, but I was just like, “Oh, my God, I’m so sorry I didn’t read this. It took twenty seconds and it’s amazing.”

AX: Do you know how Amy Acker became involved with the project?

KRANZ: I got Amy involved. I contacted her, because they were like, “Who would you like to work with?” Normally, obviously, I’m interested in casting on the stuff that I work on, but I also feel like it’s not necessarily one of the actor’s places to do so. I just trusted in Stu – when I met Stu, he showed up with this giant folder, four inches thick, stuffed with papers. He had all these outlines and storyboards and all these references for this little short. It was an alarming amount [laughs] of research and material that he had for a short film. But it was cool, it was exciting. And so I was like, “Well, you’ve got this. I’ll just put this in your hands. You clearly have a vision.” But nevertheless, Jason and Stu called me when it was all moving forward, and they were like, “Look, we don’t have a girl. It’s important that the chemistry is fun. Who do you like?” And Amy is one of my favorite actresses. Of actresses I know closely like that, Amy’s number one, and obviously, they had an interest in keeping it in the Whedonverse once I was involved, they thought, “Well, wouldn’t it be nice if we had someone else in the Whedonverse involved?” And they mentioned that to me and it was sort of a no-brainer, because I’m in love with Amy and she’s a great actress. And so any excuse to get her locked down in a hot building in downtown L.A. for fourteen hours, I would take.

At the same time, I remember it being really hot, like dangerously hot, on this set. People were sweating – it was like a work hazard. We were in this building downtown – there’s this whole area of downtown L.A.that’s used for lots of studio space. Chris Brown shot a music video there one night. For this little movie, it was a surprisingly difficult shoot. And we had long, long days, and it was hot, really tiring and far more detail-oriented than I think either of us anticipated. I told Amy I’d buy her a case of wine. I was like, “I’m so sorry, I’m going to get you a case of wine.” Because it was a really tough one. And I’ve not gotten her a case of wine. And I just saw her recently, I remembered, “Oh, my gosh, I owe you that.”

Amy Acker and Fran Kranz in THE LORD OF CATAN | ©2014 Stuart C. Paul

Amy Acker and Fran Kranz in THE LORD OF CATAN | ©2014 Stuart C. Paul

AX: Now, there seems to be a pattern in the projects in which you appear with Amy Acker – even when you don’t have scenes together – where her character is, shall we say, very hostile towards your character. In DOLLHOUSE, she kills your girlfriend, in CABIN, she’s trying to kill you and everyone you know, and in MUCH ADO, she wants her lover to kill you.

KRANZ: [laughs] Yeah, it is funny. I guess that’s why she might be someone that comes to mind when I read that, why she might be sort of perfect, given our relationship in DOLLHOUSE. But it’s funny, because I think everyone knows this at this point, but she’s like the sweetest person in the world, and we just have a very sweet, fun relationship with each other. We both love food, so we’re always going out to restaurants. When we were shooting CABIN IN THE WOODS, we went to multiple restaurants in a day or night, and we’d have four or five meals and just have tiny little pieces of things everywhere, because we’re both such foodies. So we have a very sweet, healthy, normal relationship, which is not at all what our onscreen chemistry and history would suggest. But I think in a way, you can go there and trust each other and it’s fun to play those extremes and that different side of each other when you know each other well in such a different way. But yeah, when I read it, there was no question who was the right person to play it, because we could really have fun with it, and that level of comfort was important, especially because the process was so detail-oriented. I think there were maybe sixty set-ups for a twelve-page short. And so you needed an actor that you were very comfortable with, because we knew it was going to be a grueling shoot, a very strenuous shoot where you needed to have someone you trusted and, number one, someone you like, just someone you get along with, because otherwise, it really tested your mental and physical endurance [laughs].

AX: Your CATAN character Todd is not somebody you’d necessarily want to play a game with. How would you describe his overall attitude?

KRANZ: [laughs] Well, he’s sort of a jerk. He’s a tough student, right? He’s a tough learner, very thick-headed. But there’s humor to it, there’s an ease between this couple, that they can make fun of one another, and I think as dull as he is, trying to pick up the rules of the game, a lot of it is also his joy in watching her get frustrated. They have that teasing each other kind of flirtation in the relationship. So I think there’s an element there that’s good-natured, but at the same time, SETTLERS OF CATAN is somewhat of an overwhelming game. When you watch people play it or when you learn how to play it, I think it’s a lot easier to learn than it appears. And I think if you’re not willing to cooperate and invest in figuring out the rules, it can be a very frustrating process. So my character is not in the mood or a willing participant to learn the game, and because of that, it makes it much harder for Amy’s character, much more frustrating, but I think it’s all ultimately good-natured in the beginning. Obviously, things change quickly.

AX: How much work did the character require in terms of playing him?

KRANZ: It was easy in terms of, the way I learned the game was with my brothers. They all knew how to play it, and I was very much the beginner asking questions, frustrated, very wide-eyed and green [laughs]. So I really knew that experience. The teasing in our [characters’] relationship was poking fun and walking that fine line of, are you going to really piss her off, or is it all just teasing and flirting? I know all that, because that’s usually my approach with women [laughs], is I’d like to think a healthy mixture of teasing and flirting. So that all was pretty easy. The challenge of the character would be the scenes where they both kind of become unhinged. There’s more of a – for lack of a better work – dramatic take in chapters of the short film. It progresses with different states, and at a certain point, [Todd] is essentially mad. He’s gone mad with power and this desire to win the game.

Really, the ultimate challenge was how broken up it was. The first couple pages in the short are pretty straightforward – it’s the couple just teasing one another, it’s the introduction to the game and it’s light-hearted and it moves quickly and naturally and it’s uncomplicated. As the short progresses and as the tension rises and they get more invested in the game and more obsessed with winning and beating each other, technically, the film became a lot more complicated in just stylistic changes, so there would be a point where we would have whole set-ups just to say a sentence or a fraction of a sentence and eventually just a word or a scream. So the physical and mental endurance that was tested during the shoot, that was the challenge. It was a very intense, complicated shoot. But it shows in the film – it’s this beautiful, complicated, insane short, and so the payoff is there. It’s something an audience might not recognize or realize, but to get all those shots and angles and camera moves was actually very, very difficult. So to sustain a level of insanity, that kind of high, desperate energy that the characters find themselves at, to sustain that over such a meticulous shoot, that was very challenging. But in general, the emotional state, I think, was something both of us were comfortable with. It was just, you’d like to play those high emotions in a longer, more sustained take, whereas this was so chopped up and diced up in the editing.

AX: Was it mostly shot in very short takes?

KRANZ: A lot of short takes, yeah. It was quite surprising. There would be a lot of short takes, a lot of repetition, so it was definitely very difficult. There would be the smallest tweak of lighting, the smallest tweak of a camera movement, but it was really kind of an educational shoot. Stu knows what he’s doing. His background is in animation. To do something like action was new and different for him, so it was a challenge for him, because he was almost used to the format of almost like a graphic novel. We were creating little boxes, essentially, even little moments, little panels, like you find in a comic book or a graphic novel, or in anime. It was challenging, but cool and very interesting and different, and I was really happy to be a part of it. It was an interesting learning experience of how difficult that sort of style can be, but it’s all very much worth it. It’s quite a unique and wild film.

AX: Have you seen it with an audience yet?

KRANZ: I have, and it’s a lot of fun. I saw a couple [private] screenings back in L.A. But I’m going to see it at the New York Shorts Festival. But I’m sure there will be more and more screenings. Ultimately, I just want to get it out there online, or whatever it is, on iTunes, whatever it is. Ultimately, this is up to Stu and Jason, the producer, Lisa [Barrett McGuire], but I want it to be something that people can easily access, because the board game has such a following and I think anyone that gets the board game, loves the board game, will love this short. Beyond that, I think also a lot of people will just understand that feeling of frustration and the kind of insanity, the way a game can take you over, whether it’s a video game or a board game, I think everyone knows the idea of the hours flying by because you’ve become so obsessed or manic over a game, and also the way the competition can get so intense. Obviously, the short takes it to a whole other level, but I think we can all relate to that. I think I grew up getting into fistfights with my brother over board games and video games. [laughs] So it can get really ugly, really fast, which this captures in a very funny and also extremely dark way.

Related: Exclusive Interview with Writer-Director Stuart C. Paul on THE LORD OF CATAN


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Article: Exclusive Interview with Fran Kranz on THE LORD OF CATAN – PART 1

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