Rob Grant came to the Canadian Film Centre’s Directors Lab in Toronto with a wealth of experience editing the films Cabin in the Woods, The A-Team, Twilight: Breaking Dawn, and 20th Century Fox’s Dawn of the Planet of the Apes.
He’d spent time writing and directing films to prepare for his new path before joining CFC’s world renowned directors’ programme.
The result: a smart, original short What Doesn’t Kill You, which will première at TIFF as part of the Short Cuts Canada programme.
Given Grant’s experience in horror films, he made a terrific dark comedy drama about three young friends trying to escape school bullies when their car crashes and they die – and then come back, fully recovered. What Doesn’t Kill You
Strictly speaking, these boys are zombies. But they’re also just kids out on a lark that goes wrong, and we don’t want them to die.
The reason I don’t consider them zombies is that their old corpses continue to exist after they die. They are just a completely new and healed version of themselves, basically spat back into existence.
My goal was to show the hell they’ve been through at school in their arguments with one another. The importance of social status between them and how they believe they fit in or don’t or deserve better on this planet.
I think we felt that if we sold their misery, the audience would buy in, and then our talented actors Connor Jessup, Alex Harrouch, and Aidan Greene brought it to life and sold it.
Why this particular story, were you exploring truths about life and death?
The story just came out of a simple thought experiment. “What if video-game logic existed in the real world?” From there, I’m very fond of underdog stories, so who better to give these unique abilities to than the down-on-their luck bullied high school kids.
It was just a desire to see these types of characters get an upper hand but then throw them in the problem scenarios that the ability to “respawn” would present.
From there I brought on Stu Marks as co-writer and we developed the specifics of the burning car accident and how that would make a unique short film. Then my producers Luke Black and Peter Harvey came on board to make sure we could pull it off.
Directing demands many skills. You have to encourage, manipulate, deal with different shops and keep the film clear, frame by frame, in your mind. Did you editing skills help?
The best thing you can do as a director is just stay excited and positive and hope that the cast/crew picks up on it. If they are motivated to tell a cool story, it’s going to permeate through the set.
Coming from editing has been a huge asset since I know how the film will cut in my head before I even step on set, so when problems come up and you are short on time, you know right away the essential setups to focus on and drop the less important bits.
You have a lot of experience in film, you’ve made three now. You were well prepared but did anything throw you? And how did you deal with it?
This shoot was crazy. We all came in prepared as best we could but we shot in the beginning of March in Toronto all outside at Pinewood Studios.
This was during the crazy winter weather with -20 wind chill and everything that could have gone wrong did. The set flooded, equipment froze, the snow would fluctuate and then a blizzard cancelled one of our shoot days.
The only way you can deal with these problems is laugh. So many things go wrong on sets you just need to put your head down and power through. Being upset that things aren’t going to plan doesn’t help the production; you just need to learn to be fluid.
What other genres would you like to explore?
Maybe its jut the way my head works but I usually think of my stories in these genre “grey” areas. I’m a fan of all genres, every movie has at least one genre and I intend to explore all of them.
I just like to think of it more like real life where one day you could be living a love story, and the next day be living a scary story. I like seeing audiences adjusting mentally to the movies as they unfold.
How gratifying is it that What Doesn’t Kill You is in TIFF?
It’s very exciting, the biggest festival I’ve attended. I’m just happy for all the cast and crew that put all their time and effort into the project, it’s really a sign for them that their efforts were worth it.