"Only Once" has been shown in seminaries and firesides. But this is not a seminary video. It was independently financed and produced by people who wanted to make a film that embodied artistic as well as moral excellence. The production values make it look as good as any Hollywood feature film.
The story, if you don't already know, focuses on two teenagers (Greg and Kellie) who meet, fall in love, and then do something "only once" that causes the girl to become pregnant. The screenplay for the film was adapted by Lisa J. Peck from Douglas and Donlu Thayer's short book Greg and Kellie.
This might strike some as somewhat heavy, very serious subject. But it's a very appropriate topic, and hardly new to anybody who has seen many movies during the last thirty years. Best of all, the material is handled with a refreshing honesty and frankness that you will rarely find in Hollywood films. In "Only Once," serious actions have serious consequences; they aren't simply a punchline.
But the film never feels "preachy". A moral, gospel-oriented viewpoint is evident, simply because most of the characters, who are portrayed realistically, are active Latter-day Saint Christians. But the film does not present "the solution" to Greg and Kellie's problem. There are no lectures about "here is what they did wrong" or "here is what they should do now." The film simply portrays, in a straightforward manner, the events that lead up to and follow the life-changing choice that these two teens make. This is done mainly through episodic flashbacks, which jump between key events. There isn't even a clear resolution. When the film ends, things are not "all better" and the viewer does not know what will happen between Greg and Kellie or how the pregnancy will turn out.
The ambiguity and openness of the film is welcome, and a bit surprising. It also increases the potential usefulness of the video. Because no specific solutions are dictated, the film leaves wide open the possibility of discussion, even within different socioreligious groups. An alternative version of the video, with just a few lines of LDS-specific dialog cut, is available. Because it presents a difficult situation, but does not specify "the solution," it is easy to see how this film could be used by any church or school.
But "Only Once" does not serve up generic (and hence, unrealistic) people and places. After watching it I felt that, although it wasn't released theatrically, "Only Once" might be considered the first "realistic film" about Latter-day Saint teenagers, just as Dutcher's "God's Army" could be considered the first "realistc film" about Latter-day Saint missionaries.
Like "God's Army" and "Brigham City", "Only Once" should be a fascinating viewing experience even for people who are not Latter-day Saints, or even for people who aren't religious at all. The performances are so authentic that people who don't share the same sexual values and ethics held by the film's characters will still empathize with and understand the characters. The culturally-specific details and behaviors (such as Kellie saying they needed to talk to their bishop, and Greg's family going to church) give the film an almost ethnographic feel to it. Even the high school shots have a real feel of "Utah County young people in their native habitat."
But forget for a moment how well "Only Once" accomplishes its mission as a video about sexual morality. This is a well-made, artistically accomplished film!
As a thirty-something married person with no teenaged children I hardly felt like the film's target audience. I watched "Only Once" because I had enjoyed director Rocco DeVilliers' other feature film, "Pure Race." My verdict: "Only Once" is a much better film even than the enjoyable but at times uneven "Pure Race." The production values, acting, cinematography, music are better. This film definitely made me hungry for more from this director.
One of the best things about "Only Once" is the acting. Austin O'Brien stars as the teenaged boy. What a casting coup! O'Brien co-starred with Arnold Schwarzenegger in "The Last Action Hero" (1993), which at that time was the biggest-budget film ever made. He was also a star of the TV series "Promised Land." But forget the "star-gazing" details: O'Brien is simply an incredibly talented actor who inhabits the role of Greg and never seems like anything other than a real teen involved in real situations, reacting with real emotion. There is no over-acting or mugging for the camera. O'Brien and co-star Britt Leary, either alone or together, are in essentially every scene, and they're a big part of what makes this film such a success.
No less talented, but with less screen time, are the parents. David Jensen, Becky Harding, Douglas Caputo, Jan Hanks Jensen are all outstanding. But it is David Jensen, as Greg's father, who really steals the show with such a convincing performance as a father whose son has gotten in trouble. One only needs to think about how many ridiculous caricatures or overwrought portrayals of fathers there have been in films to realize that this was not an easy role. David Jensen's part here was not large, but his performance was literally Oscar-caliber.
And, hey! Half way through the film I was surprised to see Jacque Gray show up as Kellie's older sister. It was a small part, but it was fun to see "Sister Fronk" from "God's Army" in something I hadn't even realized she was in.
[Look carefully and you'll also notice actor/director Gregory C. Haynes in the background in a few shots. (He's black, so he's easy to spot.) Haynes was the 1st assistant director on "Only Once," and is known to Rocco DeVilliers fans for his starring role in "Pure Race." The "Only Once" DVD also has a preview of the Haynes-helmed film "Cowboys and Angels."]
"Only Once" is a great-looking film, and a great-sounding film. Its songs and music blend well with the story and images. Lisle Moore's work on "Pure Race" wasn't bad, but this composer/sound editor did a much better job with "Only Once." Moore isn't John Williams, or even Sam Cardon, but this is really professional quality work.
Admirably, the camera work, sounds and other elements are extremely well done, but restrained. The film is very performance-driven and character oriented, which is appropriate for the subject matter.
While watching "Only Once" I noticed only one shot in which the camera work seemed poorly done, and I was surprised when I listened to the commentary track to hear the director actually point that scene out and explain what went wrong. (The talented cameramen he used during the rest of the film's production had not been available on the day that scene was filmed, and an operator inexperienced with their equipment had stepped in.)
I was also bothered by what I felt was a silly directorial choice in the restaurant scene, when Kellie tells Greg that she is pregnant. With the camera focused on Greg's reaction, there's the old dolly-out, zoom-in effect introduced by Hitchcock in "Vertigo". Simultaneously, the ambient audio track drops down to exclude the sounds in the room, replaced by what sounds like a crash-and-burning airplane engine. Something similar was recently done in the "Charlies Angels" movie, but that was supposed to be funny. Here it is terribly distracting and completely takes the viewer out of the moment. (DeVilliers also identifies this shot as a mistake on the commentary track.)
But these are very minor complaints, and most viewers won't even notice.
My advice: Every parent with teenagers should have this film. Young people will enjoy watching it because it features great music by attractive, talented actors, and focuses on fun and familiar topics such as budding romance, high school dances, motorcycle riding, etc. Nobody will be embarassed by watching "Only Once" -- not by the subject matter, the content, or the artistic quality of the film.
"Only Once" is also well worth watching for parents of teenagers, because they can see things from a young person's perspective, and also think about some of the pitfalls that can contribute to problems. If nothing else, watch this film purely to see the example of some fine, sensitive (yet believable) parents.
And fans of well-made cinema will enjoy this, especially if they're interested in local and independent filmmaking. The director's commentary alone is worth the price of the DVD. And I haven't even mentioned the fact that the "Only Once" DVD includes another Bristone production: the 30-minute Michael L. Schaertl film "Christmas Mission" (1999), starring Corbin Allred.
"Only Once" is an extreme rarity among films in the degree to which it succeeds both artistically and morally. I highly recommend it.
23 November 2001
Only Once stars Austin O'Brien and Britt Leary. Austin is currently fetaured in the CBS series "Promised Land." His lead role credits include Last Action Hero and My Girl Two.
Based on the book, "Greg & Kellie" by Douglas & Donlu Thayer.
A film every teenager and parent should experience.
- George Durrant
Running Time: 56 minutes
Lisa J. Peck
Greggory B. Peck
Based on the book "Greg and Kellie" by
Douglas and Donlu Thayer
Director of Photography
|Greg Packer||Austin O'Brien|
|Kellie Timms||Britt Leary|
|Mr. Packer||David Jensen|
|Mrs. Packer||Becky Harding|
|Mr. Timms||Douglas Caputo|
|Mrs. Timms||Jan Hanks Jensen
(credited as "Jan Jensen")
|Kyle Packer||Ben Moore|
|Tiffany's Husband||Dallen Gettling|
|Little Sister||Jacqueline Peck|
|Doctor||Steven R. Pack, M.D.|
|Nurse #1||Melissa Pace-Diamond|
|Nurse #2||Mary Ann Landefeld|
|Paramedic #1||Rob Martin-Diamond|
|Paramedic #2||Ann Topham|
|Paramedic #3||Shirl "Rocky" Stone|
|Written by||Lisa J. Peck|
|Executive Producer||Greggory B. Peck|
|Based on the book |
"Greg and Kellie" by
|Douglas and Donlu Thayer|
|Director of Photography||Michael Grady|
|Edited by||Rocco DeVilliers|
|Line Producer||Gregory C. Haynes|
|Unit Production Manager||Audra Cervantes|
|1st Assistant Director||Gregory C. Haynes|
|2nd Assistant Director||Jason Rodgers|
|2nd 2nd Assistant Director||Jason DeVilliers|
|Script Supervisor||Delphine Slezak|
|Location Manager||Jason DeVilliers|
|Production Assistants||Peter McCombs|
|Production Designer||Elaine Dabbas|
|Lead Man||Gus Wood|
|Set Decorators||Rorie D. Van Klaveren|
|2nd Unit Photography||Rocco DeVilliers|
|Steadican Operator||Don Muirhead|
|Cam Mate Jib Operators||Glen Fisk|
|1st Assistant Camera||Ulysses Domaloan|
|2ns Assistant Camera||Terri Griggs|
|Best Boy||John Slezak|
|Thomas D. Watson|
|Key Grip||J. Terry Hilton|
|Best Boy||Gary Cox|
|Transportation Coordinator||Michael Russel|
|Security||Matt Rangi Brown|
|Catering||Viking Feast Catering|
|Craft Services||Karen Lundquist|
|Post-Production Sound||Lisle Moore|