Brittany Snow, Tom Lipinski in Dial A Prayer / Courtesy of the filmmaker
Brittany Snow (Pitch Perfect) shines as Cora, a young woman who's lost her way, in writer/director Maggie Kiley's (Brightest Star) second feature, Dial A Prayer. Though she finds herself surrounded by people who have faith in her rehabilitation (the supporting cast includes William H. Macy, Kate Flannery, and Glenne Headly), Cora continues to spiral downward, refusing to believe her life has any value. Slowly, however, she begins to find her way back.
Now in select theaters and on nationwide digital platforms, Dial A Prayer is a film about positivity, redemption, and letting the light find its way into the darkest places. I talked with Kiley and Snow about their work together.
How do you guys describe Dial A Prayer? What's your elevator pitch?
Maggie Kiley: It's a movie about finding a path via somewhat unexpected circumstances. A misdirected girl finds herself answering phones at a call center for prayers run by a wannabe-evangelist and ends up finding her way forward.
Brittany Snow: Yeah--I always thought of Dial A Prayer as the journey to finding the good in yourself and others. The good in people is what connects us and may even save us.
Brittany, how did you end up as Cora? What drew you to the role, and how did the two of you create the character together?
Brittany Snow: I originally read the script and found it very interesting. The setting of a call center was something I had not seen before, and this was a character who I very much related to. Cora was more like me than anyone I had ever played before. I asked to meet with Maggie and we began a friendship. I really fought for the part. I understood it wasn't how people saw me, but I knew this girl. I think we created Cora to be little bits of both of us.
Maggie, as the writer/director, was Brittany someone you had in mind from the beginning?
Maggie Kiley: I certainly knew of Brittany and admired her work, but initially she didn't strike me as Cora. I was fortunate in that I met a director who had worked with her on another film (Aimee Lagos, 96 Minutes), and she raved about her experiences and suggested we meet. As soon as Brittany and I sat down, I was really blown away by how much she connected to the script and to Cora specifically. We had a lot of discussions early on that brought to light the dedicated actor and person she is. We workshopped some scenes and it became clear instantly that she was our Cora. Cora definitely is a culmination of both of us.
Especially given the title, the film is being categorized as somewhat of a faith film. How many of your early conversations about the role brought up faith?
Maggie Kiley: That part has been really eye-opening, I have to say. Of course, I imagined with the title people would gather it had something to do with it, but I had no idea how quickly people would write it off in one direction or the other. It was never intended to be marketed as a traditional 'faith film,' and in some ways it has limited our attention in the indie space, because people perceive it as something like AD The Bible Continues, which it really isn't.
If faith is the equivalent of believing in something outside of yourself, then this is certainly a film that delves deeply into that issue. This was in line with a lot of what we discussed about Cora. I like to think her story brings up more of a universal examination of where our beliefs lie, and I hope it's one that can resonate with all different types of audiences.
Brittany Snow: We never talked much about 'faith' when creating Cora. The concept was only brought up while we were shooting. Similarly, I never really regarded it as a faith film. To me, this was about a girl who was put in a situation where she was "supposed to find a way out of a situation," and what she found was herself... the good in herself.
I understand there was a tight shooting schedule. How did you collaborate to make sure everything ran smoothly? Did you have any time for rehearsals, or did you dive right in?
Brittany Snow: We didn't have that much time for rehearsals. Maggie and I talked at length as much as we could. I kept a binder of every single scene. Because we were shooting out of order, I waned to make sure Cora′s journey made sense and showed exactly how someone, little by little, was learning about herself.
Maggie Kiley: Britt was incredibly well prepared and always knew right where we were in the journey, despite the fact we were shooting at a breakneck pace for the 19-day shoot. She set a great tone of preparedness on set. So many of our discussions early on helped us when we got in the thick of it.
Brittany, what is Maggie like to work with? Was everything on the page, or was there room for improvisation? How did she instill camaraderie on set?
Brittany Snow: Maggie is an amazing woman. She really inspired me to be both creative and strong on set. She is steadfast in her storytelling and she commanded that set. We became good friends. We just 'get' each other.
Any "lightning strikes" moments from the shoot in Michigan? Something you can't believe happened, for better or for worse?
Brittany Snow: Luckily Tom Lipinski [her co-star] was the perfect person in that role. We have the exact same sense of humor. It was a terrible winter, but Tom and I had so much fun. We were laughing so much throughout it all. Maggie created such a warm set while it was so cold.
Maggie Kiley: It was really cold! And there were a lot of exterior parking lot scenes... but we had a fantastic and incredibly driven MI crew. I felt like we struck the jackpot. We needed snow covered fields, and luckily they were still there in March when we started shooting--by the end of the shoot everything had melted. The universe stepped in so VFX didn't have to.
Brittany Snow, Maggie Kiley on the set of Dial A Prayer / Credit: Kevin Walsh
Maggie, this is your second feature. What did you learn from Brightest Star that made things easier this time around?
Maggie Kiley: This movie was different for me because it was my screenplay, and I really knew the story from the inside out. The schedule wasn't any lighter, unfortunately, but I came to the table much more prepared to power through (easier without an infant on set this time!). But, with that being said, I also slowed down and took more time with things when I needed to. Once you've run the marathon from start to finish, you understand more about how to pace yourself for the next one.
Brittany, do you find your experience working with female directors like Maggie and Elizabeth Banks (the upcoming Pitch Perfect 2--I can't wait!) different from the collaborations you've had with male directors?
Brittany Snow: I love working with woman directors. I've been asked this question a lot, and I actually find it very interesting. I never really have noticed a difference. I love a woman's approach to a character, especially when they are actors as well.
What's next for you both?
Brittany Snow: I am hoping to work with Maggie in the future! She has inspired me to start producing as well. I can't wait to play more characters like Cora.
Maggie Kiley: I just finished up a new film with another amazing Pitch Perfect girl, Anna Camp, titled Caught, that will hopefully be out next year, and I'm working on an idea for television with Brittany. I too would love to work with her again--we like to joke that we are going to be our own version of Leo and Marty.