Julian Grant is the Chicago-based writer/director of F*ckload of Scotch Tape, an impressive, no-budget neo-noir/musical that will receive its world premiere at the Chicago International Film Festival next week. As I noted in my capsule review from last Monday, the film that has already come to be known affectionately as FLOST is made with a fuckload of filmmaking heart. I recently interviewed Julian about this gonzo movie, a guaranteed cult item in the making.
MGS: As I understand it, you began making cable TV movies as a director-for-hire in the 90s, then became a director of microbudget indies after you started teaching film production at Columbia College a few years ago. What lessons did you learn from your cable experience that you’ve been able to apply to your work as an indie director? Also, can you clarify for me what you see as the relationship between your roles as teacher and indpendent filmmaker?
JG: I’ve made a lot of movies over the years and always had to deliver maximum bang for the buck. From kickboxing dramas for Lionsgate to high-action mini-series for Syfy or romantic weepies for Lifetime, I was tied to the world of ‘movies’ – cinematic product that was market driven and defined by advertising, cast and proven formula. It’s not a bad world – but it’s a limiting one for an artist sometimes. As I became a full time professor, I was able to return to my love of ‘film’ and as such make anything that I could afford. It meant that I had to eschew the cheese trays and multi-camera world of moviemaking and dial into the more personal world of DIY LO-FI filmmaking. Worlds became character driven and I moved away from readily identifiable genre and market driven formula. of course, the irony is – the more you ignore the pretty girl, the more she wants you.
MGS: FLOST is a great neo-noir. A lot of big budget Hollywood movies try for a “noir feel” by using voice-over narration and nighttime exteriors but they miss capturing the true spirit of those original films from the 40s and 50s. FLOST reminds me of great b-movies like Detour in the way that it captures a sordid atmosphere of sleaziness and rank desperation. How much of that mood comes from the Jed Ayres’ stories on which the film is based and how much of it comes from your love of classic movies of this genre?
JG: Jed’s a great writer and the tone of his work inspired me to rework it into a cinematic world very reminiscent of Ed Ulmer and the poverty row pictures of yesterday. Dennis Potter (Pennies From Heaven, The Singing Detective) from the UK was an even greater influence and FLOST is very much a love letter to the palooka who can’t get a break and has to fight and sing his way out of trouble. Imagine a 30s version of Fight Club mashed up with Glee, and you’ve got a sample of what I was trying to do.
MGS: A couple of other films I thought of while watching FLOST were John Boorman’s Point Blank and Park Chan-wook’s Oldboy. As in the former, there is a plot involving a protagonist beating the hell out of one person after another in pursuit of a bag of money, and complex editing schemes including a montage that flashes back to all of the moments of violence throughout the film. As in the latter, there is the revenge theme as well as the use of a hammer as an important prop in one of the fight scenes. Were either of these movies a conscious influence on you?
JG: Point Blank is definitely a reference and the gritty ethos of all Asian action cinema runs through this as well. Park’s Oldboy is a friggin’ masterwork and his ‘hammer moment’ is just lovely – in a horrible way. Editing and violence go together like chocolate and peanut butter and my editor, Jason Robert Becker and I had long talks about what we wanted to do and just mix-mastered the hell out of everything to represent state of mind, time frame and emotional resonance. Who says editing is just to show who does what and where?
MGS: My favorite aspect of FLOST was your decision to turn it into a musical. There is something incongruous, funny and yet strangely poignant about baby-faced Benji lip-synching the songs of gravel-voiced Kevin Quain. What made you feel that this risky aesthetic choice would be right for this gritty story material?
JG: Musicals have always been a way for the poor and downtrodden to make light of the steaming pile that is their lives. The great work of Busby Berkeley during the 1930s, the British war musicals, the rock operas based on the music of The Who (Tommy and Quadrophenia) – all were seminal works for me as a child growing into this mania for cinema – and so with my dear friend Kevin Quain being gracious enough to let me raid his canon, it was a lovely way to show the fear, contempt, anger and love that is usually expressed through exposition. Fuck reality. This is cinema. We want a world that transports us away. To keep singing like a champ when we are hellbent and gutter bound.
MGS: I have a feeling that this film will go over well with the gay community. Benji is a character of ambiguous sexuality with self-confessed “daddy issues” and your camera seems to show more appreciation for the male body than the female body in the way that you shoot your actors. How did you and Graham Jenkins, who gives a fearless performance as Benji, approach the complex sexuality of this character?
JG: Benji is a twink. A flesh hammer of sorts for the gay crowd. He is eroticized as is every aspect of this film. I want to feel the fuck in this film – and you do. It’s sweaty and wet and smelly and heart-breaking at the same time. It’s the smell of bleach wiping down the sex club walls. Nostalgic and astringent at the same time. A razor blade in a dildo. The sort of work that demands you to participate and feel a little bit queasy afterwards. GJ is the next James Dean – and every gay man wants to fuck James Dean.
MGS: The stylized visuals are a real treat throughout the film even though you obviously had a limited budget and resources. One of my favorite scenes involves Benji putting on make-up before going to a club while what looks like found footage of old movies and TV shows is playing behind him. Where did that footage come from and how did you construct that scene?
JG: I’m a cinephile. Cut me and I bleed cinema. I draw from my extensive library of vintage materials (over 3000 hours) and sources dear to me. I use the old to inform the new and like to reference materials and show the audiences my homage honestly. Fuck thievery like some filmmakers who blatantly copy old pictures and call it their own. I stand up and show you the reel thing.
MGS: Following the world premiere at CIFF, what distribution plans do you have for FLOST? What is next up for you as a filmmaker?
JG: FLOST does the festival circuit for 18 months and plays wherever anyone has a sense of humor and an airline ticket for me and a place to stay. I’ll sell it directly, take a big check if offered or give it away on the web as a 16 part web series. The old model of distribution is dead – but that doesn’t mean I won’t roll over if someone is silly enough to offer me real money up front. Not stupid money – just enough to pay back costs and give cast and crew something for Xmas.
I’m shooting Sweet Leaf in Oct – Dec in the Chicagoland area and then moving onto another feature I’ve just been offered to direct for Summer 2013. I’ve got an animation series currently in negotiation in LA and lots and lots and lots of other ideas for anyone looking to get onboard the crazy train. Sweet Leaf is another Neo-Noir bad boy (and girl) fist in the face and I hope that fans of FLOST will dig it.
You can view the trailer for FLOST here:
You can purchase tickets for the world premiere of FLOST at CIFF here.
You can learn more about Julian Grant on his official website.