‘Freetown’ screenwriter began at BYU

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Rebel fighters enroach on Abubakar's (Henry Adopho) vehicle in FREETOWN (Capacitor Entertainment)
Rebel fighters encroach on Abubakar’s (Henry Adopho) vehicle in FREETOWN (Capacitor Entertainment)

Garrett Batty, director of the new film “Freetown” and director and producer of “The Saratov Approach,” asked BYU’s playwright Melissa Leilani Larson to write the script for “Freetown” because of a short film she wrote at BYU, “Iscariot,” which followed Judas’ betrayal of Christ.

“Her script was very insightful, and while staying true to the source material, she was able to open my eyes to an unconventional way to tell a familiar story,” Batty said. “It left such an impression on me that 15 years later, when I was ready to collaborate with a writer, she was my first call.”

Hawaii native and BYU graduate, Larson has been writing stories all her life. Her plays have seen the world and earned acclaim, but her writing is always a process. For Larson, that process is life.

Larson didn’t let Batty down with “Freetown.” The script had to be flexible because Larson wouldn’t be on site during filming in Africa. There were moments in filming when Batty knew Larson researched well enough to place the exact elements needed. Other times, Batty felt she was inspired.

On one of the last days of filming Freetown, the morning sky perfectly fit Melissa Leilani Larson's description in the script, even though Larson had never set foot in Ghana. (Courtesy of Three Coin Productions)
On one of the last days of filming Freetown, the morning sky perfectly fit Melissa Leilani Larson’s description in the script, even though Larson had never set foot in Ghana. (Three Coin Productions)

“In one instance, she was very descriptive of the cloud formation in the sky,” Batty said. “The descriptor read, ‘Early morning sun peeks through the clouds like tendrils inside a conch shell: pink and peach and gold.’” Batty, knowing he couldn’t control the elements, thought they would shoot whatever was in the sky and make it work.

“Then, on one of our last days of filming, we were stunned to find exactly what was written in the script was painted across the sky,” Batty said. “It was as if Melissa had seen the sky, then written. Inspired? Yeah, probably.”

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