About Grant

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New York, NY, United States
Film director and screenwriter. Cinephile since birth. Director of DREAMS OF THE WAYWARD (2013). Film Studies MA student at Columbia University.

Monday, April 15, 2013

The Heart Of Filmmaking Is Where The Home Is

Still from Ben & Grant's first film Dreams of The Wayward shot in Knoxville, TN.
  While working on pre-production for our second feature film The Days That Follow, Ben Neal and I (Grant Bromley) are constantly examining the current state of cinema around the world and in relation to our community in Knoxville, TN.  Knoxville is home to the headquarters of the Regal Entertainment Group theater chain which includes (in my opinion) the best movie theater in the South - The Regal Downtown West Cinema 8 art house - and for the first time ever will be hosting a film festival (the Knoxville Film Festival).  However, aside from facilitating several venues for film spectators, Tennessee lacks a history of producing material for the silver screen.  Hollywood is relatively 2,190 miles away from Knoxville, TN - and the state of Tennessee is known generally for the musicians that have sprung from the region and not for anything film related (unless it's on CMT).  Frankly, Tennessee is not the most film-aware state (though there really aren't any states that are more film aware than others, just people), but that doesn't matter.  At the heart of filmmaking is the art of storytelling - a native element to all art forms (and a key reason why Taylor Swift is a popular songwriter or why Edward Hopper is considered a great painter).  Stories can be told anywhere and by anyone, so the true heart of filmmaking is where you live.
  An "independent film" is simply defined as a movie that is funded and created by a means outside of traditional studio involvement.  Making a film can often be an expensive endeavor, but thanks to the digital revolution that has swept through the film industry, it has become a less expensive venture and a more tangible opportunity for non-insiders to create the stories they want to tell.
John Cassavetes working on The Killing of A Chinese Bookie (1976)
  The concept of a film being independent does not simply apply to a lack of monetary dependency, but goes hand-in-hand with the democratization of storytelling.  The freedom to shoot a film on a topic that may only cater to a niche-market, may focus more on artistry and abstract ideas, or may be too "risqué" for mainstream audiences is a major reason why independent filmmaking began (it's fun to make movies too).  American filmmaking icons such as John Cassavetes, Francis Ford Coppola, Martin Scorsese, Gus Van Sant, Whit Stillman, The Coen Brothers, and recently Shane Carruth have paved the way and demonstrated to film students and lovers of cinema the potential for unique films created outside of a studio's grasp.  Within the world of independent cinema is a trend of honest and unique stories that often depict real-world situations and characters.  This honesty (juxtaposed against much of the movies produced out of Hollywood) is occasionally undesirable to mainstream audiences because of the lack of escapism - the money often isn't available to independent filmmakers to create large-scale pictures.  However, the result is that the stories are often more humanistic in nature - making them less of a spectacle and more of an emotionally rewarding experience.
  In 1969, Independent filmmaker John Schlesinger won the Academy Award for best picture for his film Midnight Cowboy - an NC-17 drama about a male prostitute (Jon Voight).  A story like this was atypical at the time (and is still an edgy piece today), but it's a perfect example of the many facets of independent filmmaking.  It's an art film that features some of the more marginal corners of society, but its story-based content makes the protagonist's journey more colorful and true.
  Looking at independent films from a distance, the mainstream movie audience could easily misinterpret the intent of these movies as "dirty" and unnecessarily immoral - when in reality, there are so many life lessons to be learned from these works.  Recently, Nashville native Harmony Korine's latest film Spring Breakers was released theatrically across the nation.  The film is marketed as one would imagine a film with that title would be - sex, drugs, and parties - when in reality, the film is an indictment of that culture.  Yes, many independent films indulge in content of that nature - and some have good intentions and others have bad intentions, but the same can said of contemporary Hollywood films.
  For now, Ben and I aren't making films about male prostitutes (nor do we currently intend to), but there is so much untapped potential in our hometown of Knoxville, TN for serious films to be made.  It's easy for the South to get underestimated for story potential - and a lot of times the talent that doesn't migrate to Hollywood isn't as respected.  It's almost expected that films made in Tennessee will only be about farm life and romanticize the South - which a lot of films made here are about that kind of stuff, but they don't have to be.
  During the summer of 2012, Ben Neal and I co-directed and produced our first feature film entitled Dreams of The Wayward in Knoxville, TN.  Dreams of The Wayward follows Luke, a high school graduate who has been out of school for over a year and doesn't intend on going to college.  When his parents get onto him about setting goals for his future, he decides to hit the streets to escape from the obligations of adult life, but he winds up getting himself beat up and all of his things are stolen.  He's too ashamed to return home, so he continues wandering until he accidentally runs into the guys who beat him up and seeks revenge upon them.  
  We had made short films before, but approaching a feature film was a different kind of beast.  The process was a challenge on several fronts: naturally, it's a long-time struggle and commitment to create a singular film, making a feature-length film is a process that is not a perfect science, you don't know that you can make a feature film until you actually finish it, and until you finish the film there are no guarantees that the film will "work" until it's been edited together (in addition to all the struggles with financing and the logistics of actually shooting).  We are currently trying to submit our film into film festivals (the festival submission process being a learning experience all by itself), but while we are waiting we are already preparing for our second feature film, The Days That Follow, which will begin shooting in Knoxville this July
  Making our first feature was an incredible learning experience, but now that we're moving onto our next film, the slate is clean as we approach a new story and try to bring it to life as well.  Knoxville is our home - in the same way that Portland, Oregon was Gus Van Sant's home when he made his debut film Mala Noche in 1986 or how Austin, Texas was Richard Linklater's with It's Impossible To Learn How To Plow By Reading Books (1988) or Slacker (1991).  Will our new film work?  We hope so, but we honestly don't know - it's all a risk... Naturally, a risk worth taking. 

Photo of John Cassavetes: http://www.criterion.com/current/posts/2683-cassavetes-at-work
Info on Dreams of The Wayward: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt2329110/?ref_=fn_al_tt_1

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