Building the Story

Director’s Statement  |  Dana Elise

“Cagin of Chrysaint” has been a story I have wanted to bring to life since I wrote it in a screenwriting class in 2004.  I was a twenty- year- old woman who had been romantically slighted by a young man who was also my friend.  Though this scenario is common in young women’s lives, I felt this event held significance for me.  I fell into bitterness and depression for months before I found a turning point.  In my screenwriting class, I found an outlet and a means to move forward in my life.

I was finally able to escape to a world and create a character that experienced the same thing.  Cagin is a better version of me; rather she is the person I would like to be.  I made her a devout Christian who also struggled with depression but also had tough choices ahead of her is she didn’t get over this guy.  Her choice to hold on to him would cost her the opportunity to rule her kingdom.  I also wrote her to turn to her faith as I did while she struggled.  Cagin and I both grew into maturity and grew in our faith together.  Writing the film and eventually producing the film over the past seven years has so much to do with my personal and spiritual growth as well as my growth as a filmmaker.

Over a period of four years I created many drafts of the screenplay.  It started out as a typical fantasy with the common elements of a medieval story book fairy tale, but over time I delved into research. I took an interest in Ireland and Irish history, particularly during the early Christian era.  I decided to take the audience back to that time; it would serve as a glimpse of different culture and faith.

I also found that historical elements brought more of a reality to the project.  These elements included Irish law, architecture and the practices of the early Irish Christian church.

The issues Ireland faced during that time period made it an interesting setting for the film. The Irish still believed in pagan Gods and spiritual entities like fairies and spirits.  The pagan religion meshed with their government, laws, and medicinal practices.  When Christianity came to the land, most people converted easily but there were still many aspects of the culture that remained pagan.  Eventually the Christian people updated their laws in a way that centered on the Messiah.

The plot of Cagin of Chrysaint is centered on a real practice in Irish culture regarding the appointments of chieftains or kings.  Kings and leaders were elected by the people, not ordained by God.  The kings were expected to marry if the village was a Christian village. Usually the wife was chosen by the people or was a daughter of a prominent leader or former king.  The lady before Christianity was called the “Goddess of the Land” because she represented the land or the kingdom itself.  So in Christian villages, a king was called a Christian king and he had to be holy. The people believed that the man could be holy if he married the Goddess of the land, because marriage was a holy sacrament. I felt this would give an interesting twist to Cagin’s obligation as a princess. She had to marry for the sake of a man becoming King, not just because she had to become queen. Also it gave Elisha a bigger story line. Elisha, a pagan druid, is appointed chieftain and expected to marry Cagin.  Elisha, in turn, undergoes a spiritual transformation so he can become a Christian king.

“Cagin of Chrysaint” has elements that are symbolic although it is not quite an allegory. Although I have personally labeled it a Christian film, I feel that it can reach a much larger audience. My goal was not to preach or force a religious agenda, but to celebrate culture, history, and heroic values.

I believe this story was worth creating. Bringing it to life with actors, sets, and costumes was something I felt only I could do. I wore the hats of director, cinematographer, and costumier to ensure the story was told the way I felt it should be told. Because I was involved in every aspect, I felt I was both sharing Cagin’s journey and growing in my film-making skills. I am excited to share this with the world!


Production Notes

The culture surrounding Cagin of Chrysaint is loosely inspired by Early Christian Ireland around 755 A.D. I used historical elements such as Irish law, architecture, clothing and the practices of the early Irish Christian church to make the story feel like it could have actually taken place in the past.

The plot of Cagin of Chrysaint is centered on a real practice in Irish culture regarding the appointing of chieftains or kings.  Kings and leaders and their wives were elected by the people, not ordained by God. Usually his wife was chosen because she was a daughter of a prominent leader or former king.  In early Irish Christian villages, a king was called a Christian king and it was believed that he became a holy man through marriage, because marriage was a holy sacrament.

The love story in many love stories that take place in the Middle Ages consists of a love triangle, for instance Tristan and Isolde and King Marc or Lady Guinevere, Lancelot and King Arthur.

Aside from that I drew from a different era, and researched the elements from the romances written by Jane Austen.  Austen’s 19th century novels are full of romantic tales that are filled with circumstances in which characters must choose their mate carefully. Sometimes that choice does not come easily and may end up with another man entirely as a result of her character growth. In the end the heroine is usually rewarded with her ideal mate. That is the idea I came up with for Cagin. She does not get the guy she thinks she wants in the end, she gets someone better.

In many fantasy genre films, the lead character is usually given a memento usually a piece of jewelry or a sword that plays a role in the plot.  For this element I chose the Garlach amulet.  It drives the plot in so many ways. When D’arc gives the amulet to Cagin, his heritage is discovered and leads to his supposed death. When, Cagin is kidnapped, the wearing of the amulet saved her life.  When Elisha discovers Cagin is still wearing it, he breaks off the engagement which leads her to decide for herself who she loves.

Not only does the amulet signify a member of the Garlach tribe, the exchange of the amulets is a ritual that engages the exchangers to be married. While Cagin is unaware of its intended significance, it embodies her feelings for D’arc. It serves as proof that she cannot let him go. For Elisha the amulet is a mark of deceit in which D’arc used to mislead Cagin.

The dialogue is like that found in other middle ages genre movies, but is also inspired by Jane Austen’s writing style. When spoken, it is a bit more complicated for the modern era. I chose terminology authentic to the culture of medieval Ireland. “Chieftain” is simply a fancier word for “king,” even though a man in such a position would simply be a village elder or mayor. “Hand-fasting,” an alternative to the term “wedding,” literally means a joining of hands.

In the dialogue are some Irish Gaelic words. I reserved the usage of the Irish language for the more spiritual references or when a character is praying. Cagin uses the word “Aher” which means father. She is addressing God while she prays. Cagin also sings at one point and Petra asks what language she is singing. She simply replies, “Praying language”. Cagin was singing the Gaelic words “Anois gra go deo” which means “love now and forever” Also while Elisha prays, you hear him singing a Gaelic song in his head. He is singing “God, lead me to the path of salvation.”

I used the Gaelic word for village which is Tuath. It is the word that Irish historians use to describe villages and tiny kingdoms in that time period.  Garlach is the Irish word for “orphan” indicating that the Garlach tribe is a fatherless and leaderless tribe.

Music and dance are also elements of medieval and Irish history introduced in the film. Two medieval dances were performed: Simple Brawl and Hearts’ Ease. The soundtrack features Irish songs from Jim Flanagan, a native from Ireland and his friends, Legacy. The film was scored by Petch Lucas who utilized Celtic instruments and sounds in his original score.

For the location we used King’s Arrow Ranch, a privately owned patch of land that is used by medieval re-enactors. Erik of Telemark, a re-enactor and an avid historian of the Viking and Norse culture designed and built the fortress and the “early period life” village that consisted of a house, a smithy, a chapel, a pavilion, and a long hall. These structures were similar to the architecture the Irish used in the fact that the Irish used wood buildings and thatched roofs.  Therefore, Early Period Life village was a fitting location for the village of Chrysaint.

I altered every scene within the film in post-production, taking them from their natural colors to more saturated and deep colors. I wanted to give the film a feeling it took place in another world that was also visually appealing.

The day-for-night adds more of a purple hue rather than the typical “blue moonlight”. Blues became much deeper and darkened the shot to appear that the scene took place at nightfall. In most day-for-night scenes, I generated rays of light to create bright full moons.

The only shots that were not altered were the day-time shots in the Garlach woods to resemble Garlach’s crude and natural culture which contrasted with Chrysaint’s more cultivated one portrayed with deeper richer color.

The changing of seasons played a role in the film. Although principal photography lasted two years, I tried to down-play seasonal differences. The story takes place in winter although it looks more like autumn in Chrysaint. In Ail Alainn it is spring and green because a new opportunity to flourish is there for the Garlachs.  The old tuath or the Garlach woods are decorated with dead leaves and bare trees throughout the film to signify Garlachs weakening state.

The only exception is the scene in which D’arc arrives to retrieve Cagin and return her to Elisha.  Chrysaint becomes green again after Cagin and Elisha kiss. The green leaves that surround John as he dies provides evidence that he is close to the Chrysaint border.

There are other countless elements of production and post productions that went in to the making of the film. The history, the costumes, and unique color effects I felt told the story the most.