The multi-talented filmmaker talks about her love for genre films and how her forthcoming Shudder release ‘Lucky’ deals with darker themes of violence against women in a satirical manner.
The multi-talented filmmaker talks about her love for genre films and how ‘Lucky’ deals with darker themes of violence against women in a satirical manner
Brea Grant is a woman of seemingly countless talents. Whether it’s acting, writing, directing, producing, podcasting, or even helming a comic book or graphic novel series, you name it, she’s doing it with a distinctive flair and love for style and genre.
Grant has appeared in prominent television series like Heroes and Dexter, but began to establish herself as a true creative force with her own films, 2013’s apocalyptic road trip movie Best Friends Forever and last year’s darkly comedic heist flick 12 Hour Shift (which I cannot recommend enough).
Her latest film, Lucky, is a gruesomely satirical take on the perpetual cycles of violence in society, and the toll it takes on those who endure it. It’s sharp, insightful, and still contains moments of Grant’s absurd sense of humor despite its heavy message and subject matter. It’s also her most personal story to date.
Lucky premieres on Shudder this month and features Grant both writing and starring in it – directorial duties were passed along to filmmaker Natasha Kermani (Imitation Girl), who brought plenty of her own ideas to the film and allowed Grant to focus on the challenge of performing a rather demanding role.
Grant recently joined Screen Crusades for an exclusive interview via Zoom, where she discussed the film and its themes, its collaborative process, and the trials of making a movie with a tight budget and an even tighter shooting schedule.
This is so exciting for me. I was a huge fan of Heroes. I watched every new episode as it aired and I even read the weekly webcomic.
Brea Grant: I make an appearance in that webcomic! I have the printed and bound versions of the comic somewhere because I made an appearance in one of them, which I was very excited about.
You make comic books yourself, and I feel like a lot of your work has a kind of comic book aesthetic or feel to it. 12 Hour Shift has that kind of heightened reality and so does Lucky. What draws you to that?
Brea Grant: Yeah, well, it’s interesting you bring that up. On my first film, Best Friends Forever, I had never directed anything before, but I’d written comic books. So I drew out what everything would look like based on what I thought the comic book panel would look like. My director of photography and I communicated via comic book panels, because that was the only visual reference I felt like I really understood at that moment. So comic books have always played a role in my creative world. As a consumer, my favorite thing to consume is genre and I particularly like things that take place in a heightened space, like you said. I love sci fi. I love our world, but different. That’s something I love, where it’s kind of like our world, but slightly changed. That’s probably my favorite form of genre media. So I think I’m always trying to enter that space. Because as a consumer, I’m such an escapist. If we’re making a movie and it’s just like your day to day life where you sit in your house on your couch, I’d be like, “No, thank you. I’m not interested.” I need to escape my own reality while bringing a lot of the things that I care about into a new reality.
The reality that Lucky takes place in has only one thing really that’s different than our world. And even then it’s like, “but not really.” It pretty much takes place in the real world.
Brea Grant: That’s funny. Yeah, it is a heightened version of our real world, but like, not really, also kind of the same. That’s a good take on it.
The concept of the experience of women and how it manifests in this film as a literal man coming to kill you every night is like a hyperbole, but at the same time, it’s pretty spot on.
Brea Grant: Yeah, yeah. But also, we’re living in a little bit of a hyperbole. Look at the last few years of our lives.
How do you decide which ideas work best in a comic book or graphic novel form as opposed to film or television?
Brea Grant: What’s nice about graphic novels is that there’s no budget limit. So I can write things that are huge and it’s the closest place where I feel like I can write something and it’s very similar to the actual way I pictured it. Whereas, just on the budgets I have had so far as a filmmaker, you’re always making concessions. Even if you’re doing things and you’re writing stuff to a smaller budget, you still end up at the end of the day making concessions and it’s not quite what you had hoped in your wildest dreams. With comic books, you can say, “Please go draw a Loch Ness Monster and it throws a girl through the air” and you can make it really huge and have a thousand people at this huge event. It might take your artist a long time, so as long as you’re paying your artists well, I think you can end up with exactly what you’re looking for, which is really nice. So yeah, budget is a huge thing.
But also, because I have so many different ways that I approach art, like as a writer or a director or actor or a comic book writer, I think certain things just speak to me in different ways. There’s certain things that I think I’m really good at and certain things I think are just not for me. People will bring me scripts, and I’m like, “This is great. I don’t think I know how to direct this.” or whatever the the idea is. I feel like I’m aware of what my strengths are versus things that I could do, but maybe there’s somebody better out there.
Has the past year helped or hindered your creativity? Or both?
Brea Grant: Oh, man, it really depends on the day. At first it didn’t feel like a huge deal because most days I just stay at home and write anyway. Maybe I’ll have a meeting or something, but I pretty much sit on the couch with the dog every day and write. I’m a pretty disciplined writer when it comes to stuff like that. I get up early, I go do a workout and then I start writing or whatever my job is at that time, maybe I’m prepping to direct something or whatever, I just get to work. So I did that for a while. There’s definitely been some weeks where I’m like, “I don’t know if I can do this.”
But I’ve gotten a couple of scripts done, and I’ve optioned a book. I have done some things for sure that I hope will happen in the future, but I haven’t gotten to make very much stuff. I was really hoping 2020 would be a year where I got to make a lot of stuff because I had a lot of stuff coming out in festivals. But obviously that was very difficult to do during that year. Lucky was supposed to premiere at SXSW and we ended up at Fantasia Festival. 12 Hour Shift did premiere at Tribeca, but it wasn’t public, so it wasn’t the same thing. I’m also in a film called The Stylist which played at Fantastic Fest virtually.
I had a really great experience at the virtual Sundance Film Festival this year. It had me thinking of how streaming is now and how accessible certain films are now. I was able to find your three films easily. Best Friends Forever is on IMDb TV, 12 Hour Shift is on Hulu, and Lucky’s about to be on Shudder. Do you feel like that that’s a good gateway for smaller movies to become larger and get more word of mouth? I can go on Letterboxd and sort through literally over a thousand reviews for 12 Hour Shift.
Brea Grant: I didn’t know. I had no idea. I’m not on these things. I actually am on Letterboxd but I update it every once in a while and then I’m like, “Why did I do this? I’m never gonna keep up with this!”
I think the access to instant feedback from so many people can be good or bad depending on who it is that you’re reading.
Brea Grant: Totally. Because there’s certain movies that I feel like got blasted. The example I always point to is the Black Christmas remake, people seemed angry about it but then I watched it and was like “This is a good movie!” It’s really well done! I’m not on Twitter anymore, but Twitter-verse quickly turned against it in a way that was like, I think y’all just hate this movie because it’s not the original Black Christmas. And because it has like feminist themes or something, I have no idea.
It’s so much easier to shit on something than it is to champion it, that’s just a given. Is it good that movies can get out there? Of course, it’s so much better. I released Best Friends Forever over seven years ago and we just didn’t have the platforms. Netflix wasn’t buying that kind of stuff and Hulu wasn’t buying it, so it just kind of disappeared into the ether a little bit. And then recently, I was on Kanopy, which is owned by public libraries, and it had this whole new life on there which was fascinating to me. I loved that that was the place where it ended up because I’m a big library fan. There’s a library in the movie. I thought it was very cool that this really small niche movie found its space.
Smaller indie movies have a chance at getting more recognition and acknowledgement because of how easy it is to find them now, but do you feel like with that comes an oversaturation? Are others going to get buried?
Brea Grant: There’s a lot of movies. We’re really happy that we’re going to Shudder because they curate, it’s not a bunch of movies thrown on there where you have to sift through a ton that you would never really like. It’s kind of like having a film festival because they’re releasing a movie on a regular schedule and you get to see these cool independent movies that you might not normally see. We’re just gonna fall between the cracks on a place like Amazon because they might not be in English, or they might not have a bunch of stars in them or something like that and that would put them further down on people’s radar.
All of your films definitely have elements of horror, and Lucky is probably the one that’s most in that realm. What keeps drawing you back to horror, and would you ever be interested in making a straightforward horror film?
Brea Grant: Yeah, I haven’t made a straightforward horror film, which is funny because I think people really associate me with horror, in part because of my acting career and maybe because I talk about liking horror a lot. I always try to warn people when they’re like “You do horror” and I’m like, “Do I?” I think I do genre, I don’t think I have done horror. And yeah, Lucky’s the closest thing, but it’s really a satire. Am I open to it? For sure. I think it would be hard for me to make something that didn’t have a little bit of humor in it, something that is a little bit tongue in cheek or just doing the genre in a way that I haven’t seen done. I think that I have a version of something like Saw in me but I don’t think it’s the version that you’ve seen. So that would be interesting to me, in taking it and putting my spin on something that we have seen done before.
I think horror is such a fertile ground for talking about things and playing with themes in a way that makes them really palatable. You can do these really broad and huge things, you can do something like Lucky, which is really at its core about perpetual violence against women, but I can take it and make it a little funny. That’s a tough line to draw on a movie but I can really talk about these issues in a real way and I think people will be able to swallow them. It’s almost a spoonful of sugar. And honestly, I just don’t know how to make something that’s not genre. I think it’s just the place that I’m gonna feel the most comfortable.
You wrote and starred in Lucky, but Natasha Kermani directed. What was that experience like?
Brea Grant: This is the first time I’ve written something and someone else directed it and I was in it. Knowing what it’s like to be a director, it was really important for me to step back and make sure that Natasha had the room to do what she wanted to do. I really am a strong believer in having a captain of the ship and I think the best movies have a very strong vision. Natasha is a person who has her own strong vision, and I wanted to support it. The moment she signed on director, she was my director. I did some rewrites and we work together on stuff and sometimes we would have conversations about intention, things like that, but for the most part, it was Natasha’s show after that. And it was me just stepping directly into the acting role, which was, you know, not nothing. It was a lot of role. I literally saw the movie and I was like, “Oh, I’m in this a lot. Kinda forgot.”
What were some of the challenges that came with playing May in this film, especially since the entire thing is from her POV? I don’t think there’s a single scene she’s not in. Does having written the character makes it easier?
Brea Grant: It is a little bit easier if you’ve written it because I know the scenes and I’ve been living with the script. I worked on it for about three and a half years before we made it. Some of the challenges come from the fact that it is exhausting to do this kind of work. Whether or not you know that it’s fake, your body does not know it’s fake. So there is a lot of physically taxing things that happen. And I’m a person that when I get upset, I get a stomach ache. I have a stomach ache for like three weeks or something like that. My body does not understand that it’s not real. So when I’m screaming and running and stuff like that, I have to deal with the physical ramifications of that afterwards.
We had to move really fast. We shot this in 15 days. That means as an actor, I’m probably not getting the amount of takes and the things that I want every day. But luckily, I wrote the script, so I knew it a little bit better and was able to already kind of know what I wanted to do. Time crunch was tough, and then I was also in post-production on 12 Hour Shift while we were shooting this. So I was kind of juggling, doing edit notes and literally going to my editors when I wasn’t on set for Lucky. That was another challenge for sure. Movie shoot times are getting shorter and shorter, and that is not the direction I’d like to see it going. I’d like to see it getting longer and longer. Hopefully, I will not have to do that again. But I think we got it done. It was just a lot of crunch time. Natasha had to make some really hard decisions on how to get it done that quickly.
What do you feel Natasha brought to the film that was different, that maybe you hadn’t thought of before?
Brea Grant: I never wrote this character with the intention to play her. I was having trouble wrapping my brain around it a little bit and I was meeting with my acting coach and trying to figure it out. I hadn’t acted in something in a minute and I didn’t know quite know how to approach it. We all went shopping for my clothes for the movie and Natasha started putting these clothes on me and I was like, “Oh, now I get the character.” It was not how I had pictured the character at all, as far as her style, and she’s very different from me. I find that once I have the look of the character I can understand who she is a lot more, which is one of the reasons I think having a really good creative team on the side of hair, makeup and costumes is really important. That alone helped me to realize her vision for the movie.
Natasha has a really specific visual style. A lot of the visual stylings that she brought and did are things that I wouldn’t even have thought to put into the movie. The parking lot scene was written very differently, but for budget reasons we couldn’t shoot it the way it was written. She came up with this whole other cool thing where it’s like she throws a spotlight on all these things and she just really pushed the surreal aspect of it. And the script was obviously surreal. You have people talking in chorus, people breaking into song, there’s all sorts of weird shit happening in the script. But Natasha took it and just really pushed that surreal aspect of it in a way that I never could have thought of, and I think she did an amazing job.
Were there any films that inspired your approach to writing Lucky? It made me think of films like Steven Soderbergh’s Unsane.
Brea Grant: Yeah, the way the world is kind of against her and there’s definitely a gaslighting element. A movie that really stuck with me and inspired me a lot was a movie called Let’s Scare Jessica to Death. It also has this whole kind of world turning against a woman but it’s way less surreal. I think I pulled a lot from science fiction and from The Twilight Zone and things like that because I wanted us to literally enter an entirely new world. You have May in her normal world in the first few minutes of the movie and then she enters a different universe in which the rules of the universe are different and the way women are treated are different. What’s expected is different. That, to me, feels like Twilight Zone and Black Mirror kind of stuff.
This was conceived years before the pandemic, but I feel like it resonates on an even bigger level now. It made me think about how after a traumatizing event happens, or in the case of the past few years, multiple traumatizing events, everyone just kind of normalizes it and I feel like that normalization is a big part of the film as well.
Brea Grant: That’s an interesting take on it. Because you’re right – at the beginning of the pandemic, I had a friend who started a mask company, like, last February. And I was like, “Are you insane? No one’s gonna be wearing masks, you are wasting your money.” I couldn’t believe it. And then very quickly, you know, it became normalized to wear a mask. It’s amazing how human beings are so good at shifting, at getting used to something entirely new, which is good in terms of a pandemic but also bad because it means that we start to normalize things like violence.
It’s like, “Oh, yeah, of course there’s going to be these horrible things happening to someone every day.” There’s all this anti-Asian violence right now, and it’s so quick how my brain goes from shocked to like, “Right, I bet that is happening.” There’s something very scary about how quickly my brain can comprehend it. Even the normalization of Trump, we were so shocked by everything he did at first and then by day four, we’re all like, “Look what this asshole’s tweeting” like it just becomes a normal thing. I think you’re right, this movie does deal with that in a way that I could never have predicted.
Are there any new projects you’re involved with? I think I saw you’re in Happily, which I’m really excited to see.
Brea Grant: I am in the background of Happily but somehow got listed in the credits. That’s my friend’s movie. I told him people keep asking me about Happily and he’s like, “Tell them it’s the best movie of 2021” Which it’s not, Lucky is. It is great, I have seen it, it’s awesome. I’ve been friends with the writer director for a really long time. This is what happens when you live in LA and they need someone to be the woman who works at a cash register.
People can buy my graphic novel and that’s always relevant. That came out late last year, it’s called Mary and you can buy it anywhere books are sold. I’m also in a movie called The Stylist that just came out on Arrow Player and is out on blu-ray later this month, which is a movie directed by Jill Sixx.
Since this is Knotfest, what kind of music are you listening to?
Brea Grant: I’ve listened to a lot of 60s soul lately because I walk around my neighborhood and I need something to kind of get me going. I live with a music producer and he just did this new album for this band called The Staves. It’s really good.
Lucky is now streaming on Shudder.