Fact or Fiction: A Conversation with Rob Grant for the Release of HARPOON
With his perfect family and perfect upbringing, Richard (Christopher Gray) appears to have it all. So when he thinks that his long-term girlfriend, Sasha (Emily Tyra), and best-friend, Jonah (Munro Chambers), are having an affair, it sends him into a fit of rage that leaves Jonah a bloody mess. Once Jonah and Sasha convince Richard the allegations are false, Richard tries to buy back their trust by taking them out for a day-trip on his family’s yacht.
Tension boils-over once out to sea, and, to make matters worse, the yacht’s engine fails. Stranded without food and supplies, the trio must set aside their differences in order to survive. One part post-modern Edgar Allan Poe adaptation, one part Knife in the Water with the cast of Seinfeld, Harpoon is a wickedly humorous and bloody deconstruction of friendship and love.
In our interview, The Fan Carpet‘s Jonathan Hughes in association with The Killer Spotlight Podcast spoke to Rob Grant about HARPOON. In a interview spot forever known as HARPOONAPALOZZA, Rob tells Jon about shooting on a boat, working with the cast and crew in a confined space and if he would revisit a boat setting…
Okay. For the next interview of today, which I have dubbed “Harpoonapalozza”, I am here with director Rob Grant of Harpoon. How you doing Rob?
I’m excellent. I’m recovering from jet lag from the last little tour of the movie and now I’m back in Vancouver trying to play catch up on my real life day job, you know, looking forward to talking about this movie because now its been released in the UK. So all things are good.
Yeah it’ll be released tomorrow on the Arrow Channel, iTunes and Amazon Prime. When I say tomorrow, pretty much when this podcast is released.
Technically we’re speaking from the future (laughs).
Yeah, we’re time travelling. I like it.
As we do. Before I begin, I want to congratulate you on winning the audience award for Harpoon at the Calgary Underground Film Festival.
Oh thank you very much. That was a very friendly crowd, a lot are film-makers so I’m not sure how much that influenced that, but it was a lively crowd.
Yeah. I’ve watched Harpoon yesterday and I was very impressed with it, it’s very funny.
Thank you very much. Yeah it’s kind of one that’s meant to a runaway train from beginning to end, and it usually seems to, because of that attitude, it usually seems to play really well with an audience.
Yeah I heard it went down….I think it played at FrightFest I think as well, apparently it went down really well.
Yeah that’s what I heard. I’m too scared to sit through it any more, so I just have to listen to word of mouth from everyone else (laughs).
No absolutely, not a problem. So what made you want to direct the movie? Was it Mike Kovacs involvement in the writing or did you have this planned out from day one?
It just came out of frustration that I felt with where I was with my career, business and stuff. You know, I was getting to the age where I was, you know, I might not get another chance to do another one of these, so I wanted to put everything that I’d been thinking about or been too scared to try before into a movie. And I always had this premise of a boat that I knew I could shoot cheaply if I needed to, because my friend owns a boat, it just so happens that the script came together and the project grew and people realised that there was something a little bit unique about this. And that’s when Mike Kovacs, sorry, Mike Petersen my Producer kind of found us financing (can’t make out) and then the honest truth is that Mike Kovacs didn’t come in, he’s not co-writer, we gave him additional writing because he came in right at the end when we found out we got into Rotterdam, our World Premiere in December 26th, on Boxing Day and our premiere was in January 23rd or something. So we had less than a month to finish up. Our narrator which hadn’t even been cast yet and didn’t even have the right wording yet, but that’s when I brought Mike in, who I’ve worked with previously on other movies, and we kind of went back and forth and we wrote and re-wrote all of the narration until it got to where it needed to be and then we went and scrambled in Brett Gelman. So that’s when Mike came on board, kind of to help out and push us through the finish line.
That’s great. Well that’s good. I met one of your producers; Kurtis David Harder, I met him at FrightFest 2017 when he promoting In Control, which is another great movie, on my quiz team (laughs) during a quiz night, so that’s how I met him. A really cool chilled guy with the jacket and everything. What was his involvement with Harpoon?
He’s a full producer as well, he usually works in tandem with Mike Petersen, he works a lot with Colin Monahan and does his own stuff, but every time we’ve done a movie since, with Fake Blood and with Harpoon, Mike and him have made sure they’ve worked together. It’s kind of like the perfect team because they both bring different attributes to the table, you know, and just from all three of us being our own filmmakers ourselves, we’re very good at calling each other out when we don’t think something’s correct in the edit and so, it’s kind of nice collaboration that we’ve got going. And luckily Kurt got to also bring Spiral to FrightFest along this year as well when we were bringing Harpoon so that was kind of like a special trip for us.
That’s great man. Awesome. You’ve got a great line-up with Emily Tyra, Christopher and, of course, Munro, the Turbo Kid himself and, of course, the voice of Brett Gelman. I would like to get him on the show, just for his voice alone, I just love… that would be a two hour podcast (laughs) just with him, yeah…
He’s turning into a bona fide movie star right now due to Fleabag and Stranger Things, so he’s a little tough to track down these days. I think I heard last he’s shooting something in Berlin right now, so.
We’ll get him. We’ll get him eventually. Key word; eventually (laughs). But yeah, how was it working with all these people?
It was fantastic, you know, especially on a project like this where there is no where really to hide with, you know, fancy tricks. It had to just be these actors in a confined space talking for, you know, 80 minutes, so I needed to make sure they where the right people, that they weren’t afraid of looking stupid because I feel that if we didn’t do the script correctly, you know, if we didn’t put it together correctly we all would have looked really dumb, because, like I said, there was nowhere to hide with this story. And so I was just looking for people who where willing to be vulnerable in that way, you know, when I found these three, luckily Mike Petersen gave us three days of rehearsal beforehand, that’s when we really kind of found each other, found our rhythm and just honed the script down. So that by the time we got on set, you know, everything was fantastic, and then of course Brett came in at the eleventh hour to save our bacon just due to some connections with a talent agency, and, you know, it was all just very lucky. This movie was very lucky, because there where as many times when it was this close to not happening, you know, we were almost going to have to postpone because we couldn’t find our exterior locations or we just decided to build the interiors set without having an exterior location picked yet and hoped that it came together and luckily it did. There was just many times on an indie where it can fall apart on you and, you know, we came this close to no one wanting to see this movie, then luckily Rotterdam said ‘yes’ and then that changed the course of this movie luckily. So it’s all very lucky.
Yeah, you’re talking deeper about the production, whilst you were filming, did you have any serious issues with the filming conditions on set? Because you’re on a boat, but Emily, I was speaking to her earlier, she was like it’s not entirely the case of one week on a boat and then a bit longer in some other place were fully interior as well. Where there any issues of people getting sick like that on a boat or anything like that?
I mean the interiors, yeah we were in a controlled set inside Calgary, Alberta, which is the furthest place from an ocean as you can get. But that really kind of gave us the opportunity to figure out what we wanted to do story wise and, you know, get our relationships down, so that by the time we flew to Belize to shoot the exteriors were (a?) pretty well oiled machine at that point. The funny thing is, you know, everyone is always extra cautious about shooting on water, we had no problems on the boat, the only issues we had were kayakers constantly paddling through the background and then stopping and being like ‘Hey what’s going?’ right in the middle of a take. So, I mean, I didn’t learn till later and I think Christopher can tell you this he kept a little bit of a secret on how he kept his sea legs, but for me it was just about making our days, you know, you don’t have control of the weather, but aside from that it still seemed to go pretty smoothly. It was a very lucky shoot I think.
Who or what inspired you to get into the film industry in the first place, when you first started out?
I’d say probably Steven Spielberg. I grew up watching and loving Indiana Jones and Harrison Ford became like a big soft spot for me. I remember my first recreation I did, my dad brought home a VHS camera and I recreated the scene in The Fugitive where he’s standing on the edge of the giant waterfall, not waterfall, but the culvert.
You know ‘I didn’t kill my wife’ and Tommy Lee Jones says ‘I don’t care’ and then he dives into the water. The first thing I ever shot was a recreation of that with figurines, where the figurines jumped into a bathtub. So I don’t know, I was very young, this was way back in early elementary school and it kind of just never went away, that’s a good way of looking at it (laughs).
No it’s cool. It reminds me of M. Night Shamyalan filmed a like a hostage situation or something in his living room with two friends.
That’s right. I remember that.
Yeah it was in the extras of Unbreakable I think.
Yeah so that’s cool.
And I think these days, if it was up to me, I think I’d do it with LEGO and do like a stop motion LEGO thing (laughs).
You’d be there for days man, that stuff takes time (laughs)
It does but I’ve always liked that, because the Robot Chicken guys do it and there’s a ‘making of’ the other day and it just looked incredible and I thought ‘wow’, the way they do it.
I don’t know how they do it so fast, because they got to turn around episodes.
Yeah that’s right. Now that you think about it, it’s a dedicated team, like when you’ve got a dedicated team, sort of like with your movie, when you’ve got a dedicated team really push themselves to make this movie and didn’t give up.
Yeah exactly. No they were great and it’s the second time I had worked with a lot of these people in Calgary, so there’s a shorthand you kind of develop after a while and it just seemed to work.
A little question on that, I’ve been asking everybody I’m speaking to today, including Emily and Munro. If there is, say, a situation where you yourself got stuck on a boat, same thing, same situation, who would you, alive or dead, love to be stuck on a boat with and who would you hate to be stuck on a boat with?
Are we talking about these actors or the characters?
No it’s yourself, if you where on a boat and it got stuck, who would you love to be stuck on a boat with and who would you hate to be stuck on a boat with?
That’s funny. I’ll give you a little bit of a backstory on this one, I did get stuck on my friends boat in very similar circumstances to this movie, I won’t give away details because I don’t want to spoil the movie. But I stole a bunch of elements from getting stuck on a friends boat and put them into this, specifically about certain elements of the boat no longer working, luckily we were only got stuck on it for 12 hours (laughs). There was one person on the boat that I absolutely wanted to throw overboard because they where doing everything in their power to make things worse, it was like ‘okay we’re stuck on a boat, maybe we should conserve power’ and their first instinct was to plug in their iPod so they could have the stereo going, I know it’s like maddening behaviour like that, it’s the worst kind of person I’d want to be stuck on a boat with. If I had to be stuck on a boat with someone? Good question, I don’t know. Someone that has a lot of survival skills would probably be a good one, and then worst case scenario on top of that someone that’s got a lot of meat on their bones in case I have to eat them.
(laughs) I was thinking like The Walking Dead cast. Maybe Norman Reedus.
Yeah yeah, he’d be a good one. (Oh?) yeah you’ve got to be careful, depends if he wants to be a good guy or a bad guy.
Yeah yeah, because if you get Negan on there, you’re screwed (laughs).
Absolutely. I’ve asked, I’ve done a little cheeky thing here, I’ve asked people who I’ve interviewed today earlier, Emily has sent a question for you and she set a question for Munro. Basically I’m going to get you to set a question for Munro in a bit, but Emily was asking ‘would you ever direct a film on a boat again?
The answer is yes, but in a different situation, like if the boat was capsized and sunk to the bottom of the ocean. I would still consider that on a boat, but it would be different. So the answer’s yes, but under different circumstances.
Yeah like a Poseidon reboot.
Yeah that’s cool man. So now you’re back in Vancouver, you’re chilling out, what’s your next big project? What are you up to now?
I wish I was chilling out. I’m actually in a diner across the street from our ADR studio where my day job is I supervise a lot of the made for TV movies that come through town here, and so I’m still playing a tonne of catch up while that’s going on and sooner or later I’m going to have time to actually just sit down, decompress, and think about the next project. I’m writing one, it’s more kind of along the lines of a Jeremy Sauiner, like a bit of a Green Room style one, maybe is a good way of putting it, or Blue Ruin.
But it’s still early days on that and I’m also just, I’m thinking I either need to take some time off to kind of see how the indie film landscape kind of is changing, just to figure out where everything’s going or, you know, it’s just in a weird spot right, you know, people only have enough time and energy to go see three movies a year and it usually gets taken up by Marvel movies, so it’s kind of tough landscape.
What do you think of Scorcese’s comments about Marvel, saying it’s more like a theme park than a movie?
I mean that’s not a bad way of looking at it. I’d prefer that (laughs).
Because I mean, I feel like it’s not incorrect. I’m usually one that shits on Marvel pretty bad because for ages all the movies felt like they where just telling the same story over and over again and then I finally did watch Endgame and I loved it. So, you know, maybe it’s because it just has to get to you. I finally found a movie that’s mostly about them discussing about the nature about being a superhero rather than just being superheroes and so maybe that’s why I liked it so much.
Did you see Civil War?
Yeah that was really good, because I thought you were referring more to Civil War just then (Rob continues)
The first half of Endgame felt like it was superheroes actually acting like normal people trying to figure out the nature of being a superhero, whereas the rest of them just felt like rescuing, so.
Oh yeah that makes sense man. Well thank you very much for coming on man, we’re going to move on to our last interview.
HARPOON IS AVAILABLE NOW