Interview with director Julian Grant
Coming from Wild Eye Releasing first quarter of 2015, the Pollygrind festival favorite (that's Las Vegas' premier underground film festival) - and winner of BEST CRIME FILM, BEST THUG and dubbing star Graham Jenkins 'The King of Pollygrind' - SWEET LEAF is a drug fueled race into madness. Here's an interview with director Julian Grant on the project.
Q: Where did the idea and story of Sweet Leaf come from? Is it based on actual events?
A: Yeah, it’s me and my bad ass friends back in the 1970’s and 80’s. We were just plain stupid and more concerned with getting laid and getting high than anything else. We didn’t understand anything about real life and the consequences of our actions. The fact that I’m still alive is a friggin’ miracle.
Q: You’ve had a successful career as a feature moviemaker for lots of cable networks and television. Why micro-cinema and what does it mean to you?
A: For twenty years I made low-budget TV movies, mini-series and straight-to-video projects that were all at the request of the distributors or network. I was a gun-for-hire for Lionsgate, HBO, Lifetime, Syfy and more – and you basically have to follow the party line and produce movies in keeping with their mandate. It’s a market driven machine and I was able to make good-looking pictures at a reasonable rate. When I became a college professor, I was determined to return to my roots as a way of showing my own students how to do it for cheap. My goal has always been to demystify the filmmaking process and with the advances in digital technology, home editing and the support of the college, I can pretty much well make anything I can afford to produce.
Q: This isn’t your first micro-feature film, is it?
A: The picture that got me started in 1992 was my 16mm feature, “Bust A Move” that played at the Montreal World Film Festival and got me a gig making movies for CFP (which changed into Lionsgate) and then I was off. When I moved to Chicago in 2008 to begin teaching at Columbia College Chicago (the largest film school in the Northern hemisphere), I made my first micro-feature – “The Defiled” – my black and white love letter to old horror films. You can pick it up on ITunes and it really set the bar high for me and what I could achieve shooting on weekends with limited funds.
Q: “The Defiled” has screened at a number of film festivals worldwide and is distributed by Chemical Burn. Did your other films do as well?
A: I followed up “The Defiled” with “Fall Away” which won five New York City International Film Festival Awards. It’s the story of a bi-sexual country singer who gets killed and we try to figure out ‘who-dunnit’. It’s got a video-on-demand distributor and it’s starting to make the scholastic circuit now. I’m proud of the picture and it’s really quite touching. I followed that by producing “Roundabout American” for my friend, Boris Wexler – it was his debut feature and I needed some money for FLOST and Boris promised me the camera when he was done so I could shoot my next picture. I think “Roundabout American” is going to do very well for Boris. It’s a classy picture. It has a very polished look. Much like my network movies.
Q: Following up on the success of your last film, which you also shot, FLOST, what inspires your unique visual style?
A: FLOST aka FUCKLOAD OF SCOTCH TAPE is a film noir musical that just kicks ass. It’s all singing, all bleeding and has been carefully crafted and shaped to now be available on iTunes as A F Load of Tape. Have to laugh out loud as it’s such a demented film. My friends Jed Ayres and Kevin Quain provided the stories and the music I based the film on – it was a peanut butter and chocolate moment as they just got along so swell. With that, I shoot my own films and I approach all of my micro-cinema as a dedicated visual artist. I have a fine art photography background and I basically light the shit out of everything with all kind of fixtures and use strange lenses from junk boxes to finely milled gorgeousness.
Q: Sweet Leaf was shot on weekends? In Chicago?
A: That’s right. Everyone keeps their day jobs and then from Friday to Sunday we just shoot like madmen and women at friends and other friendly locales. You need to reverse engineer your script into the available locations and be flexible about your time. Chicago is a great community with phenomenal locations, people and actors. It’s the best and biggest backlot I’ve ever worked on.
Q: You consistently provide additional content about how you shoot your films. Why do you think that’s important for filmmakers to do?
A: You have to share what it is you do with others. It’s not brain surgery. I’m a film professor now and I make it a point to live and share the dream every single day. You have to if you want to be a successful artist. There are no secrets or special pathways. It’s all just hard work and constant mistakes. Do it again, make an adjustment, fix it, collaborate with others, listen, adapt and never, ever surrender.
Q: What was it like working with such an ensemble of characters? And the vintage car?
A: The car was a C*NT! She broke down more than once and everyone took a turn pushing her. She got sold at the end of the flick and good f*cking riddance. The actors are all finely trained professional players here in Chicago (although three of them now call LA home) and they were lovely, finely trained thespians. That’s the good thing about Chicago. Solid theatrical training. I can show them how to work to camera. How to be still. How to think the moment.
Q: What’s next for you?
A: We just wrapped Arkham Sanitarium: Soul Easter for Chemical Burn Entertainment. It’s an HP Lovecraft found footage screamfest with a shi*load of blood, space beasties, sexy girls, hulking monsters, deformed villains and a foul mouthed ghost-busting team. It was a friggin’ ball.
More information regarding Julian Grant and his film philosophies, body of work, etc. can be found here
Check out the groovy Stone Soul Foundation music video -