A compelling imagining of a hidden force working to secretly shape the future within the innocuous cover of a wholesome organisation, Chad Cunningham’s suspense short The Order follows a trio of young scouts who, having been selected for a prestigious secretive opportunity, must fight to prove themselves worthy of membership. Chad joins us today to discuss how his love of gritty thrillers and personal history in the Boy Scouts of America culminated into this dark allegory about the creation of American masculinity.
What inspired this exploration of a dark hand hidden within a wholesome organisation guiding the future of American masculinity?
I came up with the concept for The Order in early 2017. The Trump era had started and the MAGA idea was in full swing. I thought it would be interesting to have something so traditional and innocent to American culture, like scouting, and have it be secretly corrupted by American masculinity and power. I coupled this idea with my long history with the Boy Scouts of America.
I achieved the rank of Eagle Scout at age 15. This would be an impressive achievement for most young men, but in my family, it was expected. My father, both grandfathers, 7 uncles, and countless cousins all achieved the rank before me. Along with the rank of Eagle, I was also accepted into The Order of the Arrow. This is an organization within the Boy Scouts that is more selective and offers leadership development. To get into The Order of the Arrow you must go through The Ordeal which is a much less dramatic, violent, or perverted version of the film. However, this is what sparked the idea and allowed me to write this film from a corrupted version of my memory.
How did you then go on to define what the look and feel of the film would be?
Pre Production was fairly smooth thanks to my brilliant collaborators on the film (DP John Carrington III, Art Director Ian Goodman, Wardrobe Stylist Ann Thomas, etc.). This was my first project with John but we found that we share a similar narrative aesthetic which made finding our look for the film a breeze. As far as locations, art direction, wardrobe, and our overall color grade, I only wanted darker natural tones with orange and red being the brightest. Fire and blood were visual themes for the film.
Our biggest struggle in Pre Production was finding a good location for our cabin. We shot in the middle of the summer so camp grounds were out of the question and we finally nailed down our location (which they could only offer us for 1 day) 2 days before principle photography. We had to do a lot to create the feeling of texture and history in the cabin, but my art director knocked it out of the park.
What was your set up for the shoot?
We shot the film in 2.5 crazy days – 1.5 days in the woods/amphitheater and 1 day at the cabin – on an Arri Alexa Classic with Vintage Zeiss Super Speeds, using a tripod and dana dolly for support or operating handheld with an easy rig. For a lot of the night exteriors, we used 2 x 1200 HMIs and a Skypanel s60, while the inside of the cabin was largely lit by practical lamps, the fire, and 1 x 4ft quasar tube. The first shoot day was smooth, however, the second was very long since we had to prop out the cabin, shoot all of our scenes, and load out. I thought I would lose all of my crew for the 3rd day because of how intense the 2nd day was, but credit to all of the awesome people who worked on it with me, they are all true professionals.
The 3rd day was supposed to be a full day, however, a massive thunderstorm was supposed to hit us right at lunch so we had to sprint ahead to finish our last 2 scenes. Ironically we saved the 3 biggest scenes (Jackson hitting Miles with the shovel, Jackson killing Dustin, and the fight at the amphitheater) for last so that was a big test. I still wish I could have that day back, but I don’t know a director who doesn’t feel that way about something in every project.
I can’t say enough about how great my actors were through this whole process. This project was incredibly ambitious and when it was their moment they knocked it out of the park. Especially Iain Tucker (Jackson) who was only a junior in high school when we shot this.
I believe scouting has actually shaped who I am as a director and a leader.
How long did it take to cut The Order and did you hit any issues during post?
I cut the film in about 3 weeks and sent it on to Christian Sawyer, my post audio supervisor, and Daniel Da Silva who did almost a 90% replacement of the audio. Really the dialogue is the only audio in the whole film that is from the shoot day. They worked some magic and I couldn’t be happier with the quality of the audio.
Ben Worley and I talked thoroughly about ideas for the score and how we wanted it to be unique and I think he delivered something special. We drew a lot of inspiration from Get Out and Gone Girl. Ben truly surprised me with how great the score was.
John Carrington III, our DP, is also a professional colorist which made finishing the image a breeze. The only hiccup we had in post was that we forgot to get an insert of a photograph on the desk when Jackson breaks into the cabin. So when we were grading the film we did a rough recreation of the desk with props in John’s office and it cut seamlessly into the film. If you look close enough you can tell it’s my hand and not Iain Tucker’s (Jackson).
What types of reactions did The Order get during its festival run and do you know if anyone from the Boy Scouts of America has seen it yet?
Overall we got a great reaction at every festival that we played at including awards at Nashville Film Festival, Chattanooga Film Festival, Knoxville Film Festival, and the South Carolina Underground Film Festival. The Order was made at a proof of concept for a feature film so I was really hoping that the audience would feel like they are on a ride that ended too early and for the most part that’s what I got.
At every festival we played the very first question I was asked was, “Were you a Boy Scout?”, then if there was a former Boy Scout in the audience I generally was asked if I was part of The Order of the Arrow. I usually took that as an opportunity to explain that I don’t regret my time in the scouting program and that this film isn’t a reflection of my feelings towards the Boy Scouts of America. My experiences were just a vehicle to tell the story I wanted to tell in a world that I knew well. I believe scouting has actually shaped who I am as a director and a leader. I wouldn’t hesitate to put my kids into the program if that’s what they wanted.
I don’t know if anyone from the Boy Scouts of America has seen the film, but hopefully, they understand that it is just a story. I did make sure to create a fictionalized scouting organization and custom patches for the uniform just to be safe.
Do you have any new projects in the works which we should keep an eye out for?
I’m currently working on the feature film script of The Order which I hope to shoot in 2020. In the meantime, I’m planning to shoot another short film this year.
The Order is one of the many great projects shared with the Directors Notes Programmers through our submissions process. If you’d like to join them submit your film.