A word of caution, this is my story about how I’ve managed to try and break into the incredible industry where you get to play pretend all day and tell stories. Its not a guide, as everyone needs to find their own path, and by no means do I consider my path successful or complete. Its just an example of how I thought best to do it. If you can find any useful information, use it, if not, I’m sorry I wasted your time. Here we go….
The first day they asked who in the class wanted to be a ‘Director’? Everyone of course put up their hands and then they stated that maybe only one or two of us would ever get that chance outside of the program, and that’s just the cold, hard statistics of it. So instead I focused on editing while in school. I was already very used to putting images to music from the sports videos I made, and during my time in the program I edited everyone else’s projects. My thought process was that if I stay on this course then I get to at least stay involved in the creative aspect of the industry while living vicariously through the director’s that hired me.
Not wanting to only be able to talk about movies I then went back to school and received a Bachelor’s Degree in Philosophy. Useless on a career level, it DID, however, help me think differently, which in turned helped the writing I was doing in my free time. I then wanted to return to film and applied to the University of British Columbia Film Program. I made an offhand comment to my cousin that if I didn’t get in then I’d use that tuition money on a feature script I was writing about zombies and a cowboy. Shortly thereafter when the DENY letter arrived in the mail, my cousin Scott Mainwood said we were going into production that summer.
I sold my car, we scrambled up some cash, and in 2006 at 21, in between semesters of school I wrote, directed, and edited my first feature film. We shot on film since we had access to student rates from Fuji, and I could get cheap processing at a post facility I was working for as a dailies syncer. For 3 whole years we spent night shifts developing and transferring film, editing, and sound designing until it was ready for festival submission. We did what we were taught in school, apply to all the big festivals first and after waiting almost 6 months to hear back, we finally got a response… ‘Not Accepted’ across the board. Not the start we wanted for our movie that we had spent, what to us, was a lot of money and time.
We held a cast and crew screening in Vancouver, rented a theater, sent out an open invite to check out the movie and charged $10 to anyone that didn’t work on the movie. We sold out the 500 seat theatre and after paying $1,000 for the space rental, we had $4,000 for submission fees. We shotgun submissions to every festival we could from that point on. The first to say YES was Magnolia Film Festival. And to our surprise we won Best Director. Then suddenly Sci-Fi London accepted us. We even spent the last of our pocket change on flying out for the premiere. Then Fantasia Film Festival called. Mitch Davis, the festival director, loved the movie and loved our story and invited us to be official selections. This was the festival that changed everything. We sold out and audiences and other festival directors loved our story of a bunch of misfits clinging to the last dying breath of film and doing things with no money and a broken camera. From there we caught fire and began getting invitations to other large genre festivals such as Fantastic Fest in Austin and it just continued from there.
Soon enough we were getting phone calls for offers on the film and eventually settled on a distributor we thought was a good fit. And the crushing reality is, that if you aren’t savvy, this is where your movie can go to die. And YESTERDAY did just that. We were promised an advance that never came and after a year and a half of holding onto the movie and doing nothing with it, the distributor dropped us for bullshit reasons. At this point, no other distributor wanted it, it was old and damaged news. We tried a self-release, and we just didn’t have the experience or the resources to do it properly. But here is the bright side…
All of those festivals that accepted us and screened us prior kept asking ‘What’s next?’ So although the first feature never made anyone a dime, it was enough of a calling card, that we thought we could improve upon it and do another one that festivals were looking forward to seeing. And this is where MON AMI came in.
At this point I had kicked my door in the editing department in Vancouver as my day job as well. I got lucky enough to receive the editing PA job on The Cabin in the Woods, an opportunity I will forever be grateful for because I was new to the professional environment, just out of school, and green on large productions. But it worked, and over two years I worked my way from being an editing PA to an assistant editor by busting my ass and proving to the higher ups that I was keen to help out. I always said that I would take a job sweeping the floors in the editing department if it got me in the door and I think that enthusiasm was noticed. Its true what they say, if you are willing to work hard and do favors for the bigger companies, they will want to help you out as well. 20th Century Fox did just that and backed me to get into the editing union in Vancouver and I have since worked with them on multiple shows as Assistant Editor such as the Diary of a Wimpy Kid series and Dawn of the Planet of the Apes. I never took it for granted, and I continued to work on my personal projects in my free time, which was MON AMI.
With the changing market however, the deals we were being offered this time were all ‘wait and see’ type offers. We ended up making the safe choice and decided to go with Cinedigm for North American digital rights as we knew at the very least we’d get on iTunes and the other major digital platforms. Internationally we are still working on our deals with Grimm Entertainment, the same people that run the Grimm Up North festival and are hoping to grow with them as they venture into distribution.
Now during the editing of MON AMI, I was feeling creatively stagnant. This tends to happen when you spend two years editing a feature during your free time in between hired and paid work. I’ve always been a huge fan of John Cassavetes and fell in love with the idea of doing similar acting workshops like he used to where you just practice and hone your craft. So I approached my good friend Jez Bonham who was a camera operator at the time but expressed interest in returning to acting if he was interested in improvising and shooting scenes over free weekends just to stay busy and keep practiced while I edit MON AMI.
We did this for almost three years along with Justin Sproule and Teagan Vincze, two other actors who worked with me prior and wanted to keep practicing as well. The project and feature film that developed out of this turned out to be DESOLATE. It was a step in the complete opposite direction of MON AMI, which was exactly the point. I wanted to see with modern technology whether you can shoot an entire feature with no crew and without a script. Whether that was a success or not is still to be determined and a little bit besides the point haha. I documented as best I could the process to do a film this way however as it seems the way the industry is going if you want to even break even these days. All of the behind the scenes material and videos is available on the movies website Desolatemovie.com.
Basically my story is just that, one way that I have and am still trying to break into the industry and make a dent…hopefully one day even a living. The only word of advice I have is that if you truly love making films and telling stories then persevere. Continue doing it not for the accolades, the potential of fame or fortune, but because you wake up every morning with an inherent desire to engage and entertain. That’s how I found the hundreds, make that thousands, tens of thousands of hours creating projects for no money doable and enjoyable, you simply have to love it. If anyone wants to reach out and ask questions or are wanting some advice I’m more than happy to try and offer whatever thoughts I can.
Rob Grant was born and raised in North Vancouver, BC, Canada. He attended the Capilano University’s Motion Picture Production Program before continuing on to earn a Bachelor’s of Arts in Philosophy from the University of British Columbia. He gained knowledge of the film industry through working in the editing department on such features as CABIN IN THE WOODS, THE A-TEAM, TWILIGHT: BREAKING DAWN, and most recently 20th Century Fox’s DAWN OF THE PLANET OF THE APES. While working full time in the editing department, Rob used his free time to write, direct and edit three feature films. His debut film YESTERDAY, a 16mm zombie flick shot when he was just 21, played at Fantasia and Fantastic Fest as well as Internationally on the festival circuit. His sophomore effort pushed boundaries as a horror movie disguised as a buddy comedy called MON AMI, which received widespread acclaim on the festival circuit and glowing reviews from such sites as Variety, The Examiner, and Film Threat. It was picked up by Cinedigm and is now available on VOD. His third and soon to be released film, DESOLATE, is an experimental return to no-budget filmmaking, shot with no crew and no script and is about a young man coming to grips with reality after a horrible breakup with his long0term girlfriend. He is now currently one of only five director’s chosen for this year’s Canadian Film Centre’s Director’s Lab and is workshopping his next project about a lovable loser and his two friend who discover through an act of bullying on prom night that they has the ability to ‘respawn’ after they die, just like in the video games they play from the safety of home.