Recently, I had the pleasure of speaking to Elliot Grove, Canadian-born film producer, founder of Raindance Film Festival and the British Independent Film Awards, and an all-around rockstar of independent film. We talked about my filmmaking journey beginning shortly after failing my GCSEs, the importance of assembling a trusted, passionate creative team, and my process as a writer and director when producing my most recent short films...
Elliot: Why don’t you tell everyone about yourself and how you got into this crazy business?
George: For as long as I can remember, I was interested in storytelling. When I was sixteen, I pretty much failed all of my exams... After that, I was studying part-time so I had a lot of time to kill, and I spent most of it at the local cinema watching films - watching every film - and my love of film, and therefore filmmaking, just intensified. The more I watched films, the more I learned about what was involved in filmmaking, the more it seemed like something that I could actually do. Studying things like French New Wave and the Mumblecore sub genre... Filmmaking started to seem a lot more accessible. There weren’t all these rules. You could just make a film with your friends, and that’s what I’ve been doing over the last couple of years.
Elliot: Cool… Now, did I hear you right? You failed high school?
George: I failed most of my exams… GCSEs, they were… And wasn’t sure what I was going to do next but, ultimately, I ended up going to college and studying filmmaking.
Elliot: Which college was that?
George: York College.
Elliot: Okay, cool…. Up north somewhere...
George: Exactly. It was a really great course and, again, one of the first moments where… It didn’t seem like an industry that was as impenetrable as people had made out.
Elliot: So, I understand you’ve got a new project out. Can you tell us about it?
George: Yeah, The End of Comedy was a short film that we shot last year. It’s really exciting that, now, it’s come to a time that we can get it out there and share it with people.
Elliot: Do you write and direct?
George: For a long time, I was just a writer. The End of Comedy was my first endeavor as a director since being a student. I think a lot of what made directing scary was all the logistics and responsibilities and getting everyone together, so having a producer really took a lot of that pressure off. My producer is my sister, Melissa, and she’s been a TV producer-
Elliot: Oh, right (laughs)
George: Yeah, we keep it in the family. She’s been a TV producer for about ten years now, and it just made sense to get her involved. It helped me to focus a lot more on working with the actors. That really gives you the confidence to be able to do these things, if you involve other people and spread the workload. It’s something that I wish I’d learned a lot earlier!
Elliot: Do you fight with your sister?
George: We have a really good relationship. What’s really important is that we’re trying to make the same movie together so, even though I write the film, the vision is shared and we’re all trying to achieve the same thing, so… Yeah… I don’t think we’ve had any arguments… I suppose the only thing is that, my scripts… Oftentimes, they’re quite autobiographical, so… Sometimes, real life crosses over into the script, which can be… Maybe “awkward” is the wrong word, but…
Elliot: “Awkward” is a good word. (laughs) You know, Chris Nolan and Edgar Wright - two filmmakers I knew back in the early days of Raindance - they’re still working with many of the same people and getting the team together to support you is really key.
George: It just makes sense. Everyone’s able to focus on the thing that they do best. Be confident about the things that you know and humble about the rest. It’s a collaborative medium, at the end of the day, isn’t it?
Elliot: Exactly. So, thinking of your life as a creative - forgetting all the money and producer stuff - what’s your biggest challenge in getting a project together… creatively?
George: I suppose it’s finding ways of making the story you’re telling resonate with other people. There was a lot of imitation when I was a student filmmaker, but I think that finding your voice is the most important thing. And it takes a long time; it’s just a part of life, really. But, everyone’s got a story to tell and, as a writer, it’s just a combination of that and knowing the basic fundamentals of story structure, which… You can read any number of books about that. Film can be the most specific, arbitrary thing that has crossed your mind one day, and yet it can be a story that resonates with people. I think the more specific and the more strange it is, the more people will watch it and find, “Oh, that’s interesting, I feel that way too..” And it will really connect with people.
Elliot: So, how would you get a first-time filmmaker off and running? What advice would you give them?
George: The biggest thing to remember is that you don’t have to make your masterpiece first. People might think that you can make a short film, then immediately get funding for a feature, but it can take ten or twenty short films before you start to find an audience. There’s really no pressure to make the perfect film right away. So much of it is about learning and, again, finding your voice. You only really start to find your voice once you’ve been stretching those filmmaking muscles and finding out what stories you’re interested in telling. And you don’t have to spend loads of money, or have an enormous cast and crew, you just have to be able to tell a story.
Elliot: Shane Meadows, the British director, I met him when he’d made his thirty-seventh short film, which Bob Hoskins saw, and then he did his first feature ‘Twenty Four Seven’. And his budgets were so small… He talked about the budget for one of his shorts being £1.69, and that was because… Matt, one of the actors, was diabetic, and he had to buy him a cheese sandwich from the shop. (laughs)
Well, it was great to meet you, George. We’re big fans of yours, so keep in touch!
George: Thanks very much! Speak to you later, Elliot. Take care.