Fantastic Fest 2019 Interview – GRIEF director Brock Bodell

“GRIEF is about a couple who’ve lost a son under some pretty horrible circumstances. After a year of blaming each other and driving their relationship into the ground, they come to a point of ‘final reckoning,’ where a stranger arrives in the middle of the night and makes them face their fears of blame and grief and sorrow and guilt all at once in a violent, climactic ending where fantasy and reality blend and warp in this supernatural David Lynch-ian way. It’s the exploration of the emotion of grief and how it can destroy a seemingly perfect relationship between this beautiful couple in this beautiful home with a beautiful child. All of that is taken away and they’re left with just that grief, and they’re forced to face it pretty brutally by an outside force.” Director Brock Bodell on GRIEF which screens at the 2019 edition of Fantastic Fest! 

Congratulations on your film playing in at Fantastic Fest this year! Is your first time at FF and are you planning to attend your screenings?

This is our first Fantastic Fest. This is our first film festival. It’s our world premiere and it’s the first time Dan Perry and I have actually directed a project together. We’re super excited. We’re definitely going to be at our screening, on Sunday at 11 AM. The movie is screening before KOKO-DI KOKO-DA, which played Sundance last year and is supposed to be really great. 

So how did you get into this movie-making business? Talk to me a bit about how you got your start and what you have worked on in the past.

Well, speaking for me, from the age of probably 15 to 19 I carried a video camera around with me, just a Hi8 MiniDV cam when we’d go partying with friends and when we’d be hanging out. I was kind of the ‘nerd behind the camera’ and was always fascinated with editing. Soon after that I became an editor, cutting promos and commercials, and then I started cutting films. I cut a documentary, and Dan and I actually worked together and cut a feature narrative script about some middle-aged dudes on a boat who were fighting after this one woman. Judd Nelson from THE BREAKFAST CLUB is in it, which is pretty great. I went from just loving film to editing it, now to making it from scratch. But as far as horror goes, I can speak for both of us when I say that we have been lifelong horror fans.

How did this project come together for you? Give me a rundown from the preparation, to shooting, to post-production to now!

About two years ago, Dan and I wrote a feature script called WILD HUNT. We were shopping it around, but quickly realized that people don’t want to give money to ‘green directors’. We decided we needed to do something proactive, or this project was just going to fizzle. So we put together GRIEF. We wrote it, had Rob Schroeder come in from Lodger Films, him and Georg Kallert, and we started working on getting this movie done. I’d just moved to LA from New York about 8 months prior and we put together a good team. I flew in a buddy to DP it, Brad Grimm. He’s an awesome DP, he worked on a feature I edited. He’s got such an amazing eye, especially for horror, and a really great moody atmospheric vibe. Another really great friend of mine from New York who had moved to LA had this gorgeous house, and he was all in for a location, as a good friend would be. He helped finance the film; largely, he financed it, and we shot it over the course of three days with a great crew and actors. 

Next up was casting. I wrote one particular part for Lindsey Garrett, who I’d seen in a local theater troupe called Public Assembly. Every month they do three plays, three 15-minute plays that they write/direct/act from scratch per month. I remember seeing her and being like, “We have to get her in.’ We brought her for a table read for WILD HUNT, she was excellent, and so I wrote this part for her. Then we brought her to casting and we found Tyler Cook, a great actor who was in AMERICAN HORROR STORY and had some featured roles in Modern Family. We knew he was a great fit for the lead. He has this big, bold Shakespearean voice. He has a solid presence, but he is also very calming. You could see how somebody might see him as this big powerful person, but also hurting and aching inside. He pulled that off very well. He’s a funny, goofy guy, but as soon as the cameras rolled, he was on. And Gabe Burrafato–a great actor who just got off a feature–embodied the kind of vibe we wanted to achieve for his scene, which was definitely influenced by the Patrick Fischler MULHOLLAND DRIVE diner scene. We really liked his look and we wanted someone who looked scared for themselves, for what they were going to do and experience. He really captured that perfectly.

Then we took it into post. I edited it, I cut it, I finished it. We brought in Zak Engel, who I have worked with for features in the past, to compose the music. He’s great; we had a band together back in the day. He’s one of my best friends and I knew from the beginning that we were going to bring him in. We had some really great VFX done by Corey Ryan, who I used to work with back in my editing days. All around, we brought in people that we really cared about. I brought in my friend Craig DiBiase as an Executive Producer with MinusL–it was a big project and we’re really proud of it. It took a long time and a lot of people who really helped us. I think it was a success.

What keeps you going while making a movie? What drives you?

I just think the excitement of doing it, to have an idea, and then have that idea become something you can watch, is the closest to being able to record a dream. I thought the coolest invention ever would be able to record dreams. I have this incredibly active subconscious, and lucid dreams and sleep paralysis, and all these things that cause me to experience these crazy dream subconscious states. I’ve always wanted that. Movies are a way you can do that in real life, by taking something that’s nothing, putting it together in your brain, then having it come out the other end as something that everyone can see, with the excitement of what’s going to happen next.

What was your biggest challenge with this project, and the moment that was the most rewarding to you?

Finding money, finding locations. That’s what I feel like the big challenge for every movie is: finding money. The moment that was most rewarding, I would say is when we got into Fantastic Fest, honestly. I knew when we got a final cut of the movie that it looked good, and people were saying that it was good, but I have a hard time taking compliments. When it got into Fantastic Fest, we knew we had actually made something that didn’t suck, and that was very rewarding.

I’m about to get technical, but I would love to know about the visual design of the movie; what camera did you film with, your relationship to the director of photography and how the movie was photographed.

We worked with Brad Grimm. He shot on his 8K RED Monstro, which he was super excited about. He brought so much energy and smarts to the set, and it was almost like having a third director. While some might find that chaotic, or like too many cooks in the kitchen, I loved it. Cinematography really isn’t my bag; I know when something looks beautiful, but I don’t always know the exact way to create that. That’s why I brought him in, because I know that he does, and we just worked really well together. He’s got an impeccable eye and he doesn’t settle for mediocrity. 

There was a scene where we needed an overhead light built, to make a room look akin to a dingy church basement, where you’d have an AA meeting or something, or, in this case, a grief counseling meeting. Brad insisted that we build an overhead light box out of posterboard, or whatever materials we had, to make a room in this house, which was a diorama for the characters’ delusions, look different. We were ending our third night overnight and everyone was insanely tired. The production designer came up to me and said, we can build this box, but it’s going to take an hour. We’re getting towards the end of the day. If you want to do it, we can do it, but it will take awhile and it’s going to eat into our day. So I talked to Brad and said, “Brad, what do you think we should do here? Do you think this box is that important, or can we achieve the effect some other way?” And Brad basically told me, “You didn’t fly me out here to shoot something that anybody can shoot. You brought me here to make this thing look beautiful, and I think we need that box.”

We got the box built, the shot lit, and it might be the best shot in the movie. Everyone knew as soon as the shot was lit that Brad was right on that one. We 100% needed to do that to make this shot awesome. We also shot a lot of hand-held and a lot of Dana Dolly stuff.

What are you looking forward to the most about showing your movie to audiences here in Austin?

I’m looking most forward to getting people’s reactions. I’ve only been to one other screening where I saw a film I had made be presented in front of people, and it was a really great experience, but I’ve never done it with something we made completely from scratch. Just the reward of hearing people hopefully not treat it badly.

After the film screens at SxSW, where is the film going to show next? Theatrical, online, more festivals?

We have a couple more festivals after we screen at Fantastic Fest, and then we’re going to go online.

If you could show your movie in any theatre outside of Austin, where would you screen it and why?

I mean, Cinerama Dome in Los Angeles, just because I live here and I think it’d be awesome.

All of Fantastic Fest is taking place at the Alamo Drafthouse, which is famous for enforcing its no talking or texting policies. What would you say to someone who was being disruptive through a movie?

I don’t know; I personally don’t really even go to theaters too much anymore because of that. I get distracted so easily. I went and saw the first IT in Brooklyn, and made the huge mistake of going to see it at 3 PM. I thought 3 PM would be a great time in the middle of the week, but it’s actually when all the schools let out, and there were kids throughout the movie that were talking.

I moved three times to get away from these kids who were talking just to avoid confrontation. At one point a guy answers his phone, stands up, walks to the front of the screen down by the exit door, and paces around talking on his phone, having a loud conversation. It was one of the worst movie-going experiences I’ve ever had. During my movie, I would politely ask them to shut the fuck up.

We have a lot of readers on our site looking to make movies or get into the industry somehow. What is the ONE THING you would say to someone who is wanting to get into the filmmaking business?

You just have to do it. If you have a camera, shoot it, then take that footage and edit it. Watch movies, find out what makes them good. I never went to film school, I know a lot of people did, and some people get into these film conversations where I find myself a little bit on the outskirts because I didn’t spend time deep-diving into Fellini and Kurosawa and all that jazz. I was just watching John Carpenter, Wes Craven, Joe Bob Briggs, and TALES FROM THE CRYPT. So for me, I had no background other than just really loving it and wanting to do it. Like I said, I used to carry a camera around with me all through high school. You just have to make stuff. 

I see people, these short films online that are just following a girl walking down the street, or a montage of footage with no one speaking, no acting whatsoever, and it’s like, that’s the easy shit. Don’t do that, that’s not doing you any favors. If you need to do that to test your camera or whatever, do that, but you have to get people acting in front of you. If they’re not acting in front of you, or there is no human interaction I really don’t think it’s a film. There’s probably thousands of film school kids who’d disagree. But oh well.

And final question: what is the greatest movie you have ever seen at a film festival?

This will be my second film festival. The first was one for a movie I worked on so, without a doubt, the best movie I have ever seen at a movie theater festival was TOUGH GUYS. 

GRIEF screens before the feature KOKO-DI KOKO-DA! 

Fantastic Fest takes place from September 19th to 28th. For more information on this film and the many others playing in Austin, TX, point your browser to www.fantasticfest.com

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