What does it mean to find one’s true purpose in life? It’s a question with a simple, on-paper answer, but which in reality, is far less easy to answer. Whether you’re a firm believer in fate, insistent that the future is yours to make, or one whose sentiments lie somewhere in the middle, the answer to how one finds their life’s purpose remains different for every individual person.
It’s a concept which Feels Like Home director Lucas Dabrowski explores in ‘Faded, Not Yet Gone’. It’s a short film about a young man’s struggle as he’s caught between the pull of family tradition and the possibility of seeking another calling in the world. Depicting the relationship between a son with untested potential and a father for whom farming is all he’s ever known, Lucas reflects upon the difficulty of choosing one’s path. Taking an intentionally simple (at times) approach, the film allows viewers to experience the beauty of nature, while also realising the gruelling, strenuous and tumultuous life that farming can be.
More than this however, the film is also a reflection of Lucas’ own experiences. Growing up in the countryside, the now director describes himself as having always been enamoured by the land. “The allure of a simple and honest life as a farmer working the land has never faded on me, albeit the idea is probably a bit romanticised in my head,” he says. “Overall I wanted to create a cinematic slice of that life that plays on the age-old idea of finding one’s true purpose in life.”
LBB’s Josh Neufeldt caught up with Lucas to find out more about the director’s personal experiences, the challenges of creating an original narrative and how this project came to be.
LBB> You’ve mentioned that ‘Faded, Not Yet Gone’ is a reflection on the age-old struggle of finding one’s true purpose in life. When did you realise that you wanted to make films?
Lucas> I am being vulnerable here, but it all began in high school when I started making gaming videos. (I was a bit of a nerd.) I played ‘World of Warcraft’ and loved creating videos of my gameplay. Crafting little stories and narratives in that sense is where it all began, and then I fell in love with shaping a story and feeling through moving images.
LBB> How did you come up with the idea for ‘Faded, Not Yet Gone’? And when you did, did you start working on it right away?
Lucas> I held onto all of these fragmented moments or scenes that would play out in my head and they all revolved around life on the farm with a young man at the centre. As I began writing these moments down, I started looking for ways for the film to have a common thread throughout, which slowly helped shape the narrative.
LBB> How much of the narrative is driven by personal experiences?
Lucas> A good amount of this film’s inspiration comes from my personal experiences. I grew up in a small rural town and spent my summers working on farms. As gruelling and monotonous as the work would be, I always finished the day feeling fulfilled and satisfied. You’re out in nature, you’re working with your hands, and you could often see the fruits of your labour. Those feelings after an honest day’s work always stuck with me.
LBB> The film reflects the idea of upholding one’s heritage vs. seeking one’s own purpose. What has your own experience with that been like?
Lucas> Going back again to my upbringing, in small or rural communities you often see people stay in and around what they know—they’ll stick with the family business or family trade. I get that appeal though. There’s no surprises, it’s a simple life, and the warm embrace of a small town feels almost insulated from the rest of the world. My own experience as a filmmaker was off the beaten path and filled with uncertainties. I often think about what my life would be like if I didn’t take the chances or leaps of faith I did for my career. This thought process is where the narrative of this story started to develop.
LBB> What was the writing process like? Did you fully flesh out the characters, their dreams and their feelings before you started shooting? Or was it a case of leaving it open-ended and filling in the blanks?
Lucas> As I mentioned, this story came together piece by piece over time. I never really had a script per se, instead I had written an overarching storyline with the main story beats laid out. The characters were pretty fleshed out before the shoot as well, especially the father who I wanted to be a stubborn, set-in-his-ways, and no bullshit type of presence on screen. However, I left it open for our actors to fill in the minutia.
LBB> The characters in this film manage to say a lot with very few words. What was the casting process like? What were you looking for?
Lucas> Not having a script or speaking lines made casting a difficult process. What I was after were subtleties and idiosyncrasies in the performances, the little things, but this is a difficult thing to find while casting. Ultimately my casting director, Shasta Lutz, and I figured it would be best to create a scene with dialogue for the actors to audition with, so that’s what I did. I wrote a small scene between the father and son which really portrayed the underlying emotions I wanted in this film. That scene never made it into the film, but it was a necessity for the casting process.
LBB> The reveal just after the two minute mark that the narrator is the departed mother is a heart-wrenching twist. What was the thought process behind delaying the reveal until so late in the film? And how did you pull off this twist in terms of the narrative and filmmaking technique?
Lucas> Early in the process of creating this narrative and story, I felt that the idea of people contemplating their true purpose in life had been done before. As such, I wanted to weave in another layer to give the story some breadth. The idea of this letter from Cole’s late mother was essentially her telling her son to ‘follow your dreams’. But, Cole’s father kept this letter secret because he knew that in Cole reading the letter, he might lose Cole on the farm. At least that was the narrative idea of the letter/mother’s VO. I wanted to be subtle with it and have the audience work to figure the idea out.
LBB> The film features many beautiful nature shots. Where did you shoot, and how did you go about capturing it?
Lucas> We actually shot this film near my hometown of Orangeville and surrounding Mono, Ontario area. We had a main unit shoot out the big chunks of the film in two days, and then there were a couple skeleton crew days where we captured landscape shots and some smaller, intimate moments. I really enjoyed this process as it allowed me to feel immersed in the world of this film.
LBB> One of the most visually striking shots is the barn on fire. How did you go about making it happen?
Lucas> We originally thought of doing something practical, but that idea quickly got complicated for obvious reasons. So instead, my cinematographer/collaborator Kristofer Bonnell and David Whiteson from Alter Ego worked together to create a CG fire. We shot a locked-off plate of the barn at night with film lights to create a fire ambience and glow, and then David painted out our lights and added fire to the barn in VFX.
LBB> What was the scoring process like? How did you go about finding the right music for the job?
Lucas> I worked with Walker Grimshaw from Eggplant Music & Sound. We had conversations about the feelings that we wanted each scene to elicit. I then sent over some examples of sounds that I wanted to hear in the soundtrack. It took a lot of back and forth and dedication from Walker, but we eventually landed on something that created those exact emotions I wanted.
LBB> How long was the production process in total?
Lucas> About three months total, but being a passion project, it was put on the back-burner a few times.
LBB> What was the edit process like?
Lucas> My editor, Steve Puhach, was excellent to work with on this project. I think there was a bit of discovery in the edit at first. We had a rough storyline on paper, but until you see it, you never know how it’s truly going to feel on screen. I think we did three editing sessions, then worked through notes after that.
LBB> What are some of your favourite shots from the film and why?
Lucas> My favourite shot of the film is when Cole is walking through the field at dusk and is surprised by a storm brewing in the distance. It’s a simple shot, but that grounding moment of being by yourself in nature is something I’ve experienced before. It’s a pensive and introspective moment that is suddenly interrupted by the power of mother nature - something we have no control over.