September 27, 2019

How to Get Your Gritty Horror Movie Made

Getting your horror movie made while working a full-time job is not easy, but Rob Grant has done it four times. Read how. 

Everyone that reads No Film School wants to get their stuff made. That's why it's so fun talking to people like Rob Grant. He works in the industry but still finds time to make his projects come to life. 

Harpoon finds three best friends stranded at sea as tensions, secrets, and rivalries boil to the surface, and madness unravels beneath the biting narration of celebrated comedian Brett Gelman. It stars Munro Chambers (Turbo Kid), Emily Tyra (Code Black) and Christopher Gray (The Mist) and is truly one of the year's most notable movies. It already made GQ's list of The Best Horror Movies of 2019 So Far and it garnered IGN's praise as an Upcoming Horror Movie You Need to Know About.

We sat down with Rob and chatted about the industry and how to get your movies made. 

For those interested, Rob Grant was born and raised in Vancouver, BC, attending the Capilano University's Motion Picture Production Program before continuing on to earn a degree in Philosophy from the University of British Columbia. He got his start in the editing department as assistant Editor most notably with Steven Spielberg and Michael Kahn on The BFG, Previz Editor on War for the Planet of the Apes, and Assistant Editor on Deadpool 2.

He has directed and edited multiple feature films that have played at festivals such as Toronto International, Austin's Fantastic Fest, and Montreal's Fantasia Film Festival. He has edited movies and series for Lifetime and Netflix.

1. Describe the way you came up with the idea for this film. 

It takes me a long time to have a good idea. I can come up with general plots and scenarios fairly quickly, but until I've figured out what I'm actually trying to say, it's usually a year or two before I can put it down on paper. With Harpoon, I was definitely feeling a general frustration with the film industry and felt I had a bunch left to say about friendships and relationships. So I figured -- if this is my last opportunity to make a movie -- I better go for broke and try and say and do all the things I had been too scared to try prior. That became Harpoon.

NFS: How did you get the script to producers? 

My producing partner, Mike Peterson, knew I was having a tough time on another project, getting burned out and frustrated. Thankfully, he recognized that and just flat out asked me what I wanted to do next if I was given my choice. I pitched him the general premise for Harpoon and the attitude I was feeling behind it. He just said "start writing" and that was it, I vomited out the first draft in a week or two, it just poured out, and then we bounced ideas back and forth until we thought it was ready to send out to people.
 

NFS: How were you able to find financing for the movie? 

Mike is partners in an awesome production company in Calgary, called 775 Media Corp with Laurie Venning. The company is only a couple years old, but they have a reputation for championing indie genre material, and Laurie and Mike share the same philosophy that they just want to do interesting stuff. I had done a really small project with them before called Fake Blood, and I guess that gave them some confidence to come on board with Harpoon. It all happened really fast. I had presented the script in October and we were shooting by January.
 

NFS: What did you shoot on and why? 

My DOP, Charles Hamilton, shot on a single Alexa mini. We had a backup Alexa classic, in case something went wrong, but we were very specific that we wanted to do a single-camera shoot for two reasons. One was that shooting in a confined space would have been a nightmare for a second camera/operator etc., and two, we knew Harpoon relied so much on performances, I didn't want to get distracted by a second camera angle.
 
As to why we shot with the Alexa, I can't really speak to that as that's Charles choice, really. My relationship with him is great in that we will discuss a look and feel for a movie and he will go off and figure out what camera setup best serves what we need both visually and economically.
 

NFS: What did you use to edit the film?

We edited Harpoon on Avid Media Composer on my home system. I got my start in the business as an editing PA and Assistant Editor on a lot of the studio films that would come to shoot here in Vancouver, Canada. They all use Avid as the industry standard so I had to learn it as part of the job. I was very fortunate that I got to work under a lot of talented editors and they each had their own process and advice on how to make the best use of the material, and it was always on Avid so I can't imagine trying another system at this point.
 
 

NFS: When do you know an edit is finished? 

My producer, Mike, and I -- we have this rule. When we think the edit is done, its actually only 90 percent done. It is really easy to get the movie to 90 percent, and then it is really, really difficult to get that last five to 10 percent better.  And thats where Mike and I spend most of our time and energy, in that last ten.  We even opened the edit back up after our World Premiere to fix some areas we knew that we had rushed. So I guess the long-winded answer is, if you think the edit is finished, it probably isn't...
 

NFS: How can a filmmaker network while on the festival circuit? 

One word: Karaoke. If you ever wonder why all the film festivals have a karaoke night, thats why. Not only is it a chance to mingle and share a few cocktails with one another, its kind of an important element to just throw yourself out there for both audience members as well as other filmmakers as a way to get to know you. 
 
If you are willing to make a jackass of yourself, people usually respect that. It took me a long time to realize the best way to network at festivals is just be open. You don't need to schmooze, or extract anything from the people you are meeting, just be friendly and show a genuine interest in what others are doing. That should be your only goal, meet awesome people. Anything beyond that feels disingenuous to me.
 

NFS: Any advice for filmmakers trying to meld genre like horror and comedy? 

Not everyone is going to enjoy what you are trying. Some people want to order their chicken salad and receive a chicken salad. If they suddenly get a scoop of ice cream with that chicken salad, they may not like that. But that's not who you are trying to make your movies for. You are trying to make your movies for the people that want that surprise scoop of ice cream, so just focus on that.  
 

NFS: How can you turn one project into the next job? 

It was only once I realized I may never get another opportunity to do another film did the work actually improve. Harpoon was a singular focus, and I constantly reminded myself 'if this is my last movie, will I be happy with it?'. And it still nearly didn't get seen...  So my suggestion is, just try and make the project the best it can possibly be, because if the focus is already on how can I parlay this into something else, then I'm taking my focus away from the project's immediate needs and making a lot of assumptions that may never come true.
 

NFS: What's one piece of advice you value? 

I can't remember who asked me this, but it was 'what is it about this project that makes you get out of bed every morning and work on it?'.  And this is a question I try and ask myself daily because, if I don't have a good answer, then it's either a bad project or I'm doing it for the wrong reasons. It forces me to be honest with myself about filmmaking as a whole. 
 
Am I trying to say or tell something that speaks to me personally and help contribute to the medium or do I have ego-related motives?  That and the wall analogy.  Something to the effect of 'the walls weren't put up to keep you out, but to keep out those that don't want it bad enough'.  But beware, I only recently learned that once you get over that wall, theres still another ten sets of walls.
 
Harpoon hits select theaters October 3 and it arrives on VOD/Blu-ray October 8.

 

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