Brea Grant is a name you’ll hear whispered around the (virtual) Fantasia Film Festival as her standings this year cement her as a successful multi-hyphen. She has two films at this year’s fest, 12 Hour Shift, a film about a nurse’s bonkers night searching for spare kidneys in a hospital stuffed with weirdos, gangsters, and a killer, and Lucky, a surreal tale about a woman whose would-be killer shows up to hunt her every night. The former, she wrote and directed, the latter, she wrote and starred in. She’s written, directed, acted, and produced, and we sat down (virtually) to chat about her new films, her inspirations in film and real life, and what’s next for her.
I want to talk to you about both your movies 12 Hour Shift and Lucky. Just watched them both. I love them both. They're so great. Talk to me about how you took on three different roles—directing, writing, and acting—and how those intersect and how it was taking on two of the three roles for each film.
Brea Grant: They all come from a place of creativity. So I think they all end up working together. For Lucky specifically, once Natasha [Kermani) was on board, and we finished doing all the rewrites that we wanted to do before making the movie, I was able to really let go of the writing side of things. She's such an amazing person to have at the helm that I didn't have to worry that much and I just was able to focus on acting on that one, which felt so easy after writing and directing 12 Hour Shift.
Both of these films have really awesome money shots of the female protagonist with a bloody face. Talk to me about composing those shots and why you thought they were really important to have in there.
Brea Grant: Both movies have quite a bit of blood in them, which I didn't realize until I started doing interviews for both of them. Hospitals have a lot of blood. That felt like a really obvious thing for us to play with there and a somewhat comedic thing for us for us to play with. Whereas the blood in Lucky is so much darker. It was something Natasha and I talked about early on and not shying away from the actual violence that was happening, and to show how horrific and violent it was. While they both have a lot of blood, I think it’s a very different use of bright red color in 12 Hour Shift. It’s supposed to be a little bit more fun and comedic, whereas in Lucky, most of the time, with a couple of exceptions, it is just a much darker moment.
Lucky is pretty on its face with its messaging by the time you get to the final act, but talk to me about burying hints of those themes early in the film.
Brea Grant: It's funny, I do feel like women would read the script for Lucky and immediately go, “Yeah, I get it.” It took a bit more explaining with a lot of men, not all men, but yeah, it is supposed to be a movie in which we take this idea and kind of push it and push it and push it until it becomes almost absurd. There's a lot of themes and I mean, obviously, violence against women and being dismissed when you are a victim of violence happens all the time. But then I think there's also this theme of the idea that women are supposed to dismiss it themselves and just go it alone.
Especially with second wave feminism, I think it felt like you needed to almost push other women down in order to get up, and particularly white feminism has that same themes. We pushed those at the end of the movie in a huge way, obviously when you see other women start to die and May not wanting to help them. So yeah, they're all there at the beginning in the self-help talk, but also just in the general dismissive nature of people around her. It’s a complicated movie for sure.
Specifically, her conversations with her husband, Ted, I love that right at the beginning in that early dialogue after the first break-in. Can you maybe share a bit about crafting that first moment?
Brea Grant: The weird thing about this movie is that when people would read the script, particularly women, it was just so universal to have been dismissed when something like this happens to you. I think that conversation in particular came from a personal experience of my own and being with a partner who, at the time, could not handle my fears and couldn't handle the way I was being affected by all of it. And then, generally, the world kind of dismisses everything. Around this time, I was going through sort of… I was dealing with a stalker situation and around the same time I got robbed. It was a very bad couple of months. The police came after I got robbed and they said, “You know, you're just really lucky you didn't get raped,” and I was like, “But I got robbed. Getting robbed is bad. I’m not lucky.”
Which definitely made its way into the movie, this sort of dismissive nature of, “You're crazy. You don't know what you're talking about. These things are not actually happening to you. And if they are, you know, you kind of need to get over it. It's not that big of a deal.” And those play very early on, and then obviously things escalate from there.
We've chatted about the “lucky” victim. Another part that really stood to me was when May’s manager tells her, “You’re lucky you got another book deal.” Talk to me about what it might feel like if someone said to you that you were so lucky to have two films at Fantasia.
Brea Grant: That came from another conversation I had in my life. I got the opportunity to direct an episode of a show called Eastsiders and I told a friend about it, and they said, “Wow, you're so lucky that you broke into television,” and I was like, “Well, to be fair, I started as an actor on the show. I was a producer for three years on the show. And then I wrote an episode of the show. So yes, I was lucky maybe to have been cast early on, lucky to keep coming back, but I did work really hard to get that opportunity and had to prove myself.” I had already directed a feature film, I had directed multiple shorts. It was my first experience doing episodic, but I felt like I had done a lot of work to get there and had to prove that I could do it. So, yeah, that conversation is just me. It's just me talking. Talking to poor Leith Burke, who plays my book agent, who is so amazing.
I was watching it and I literally paused it to text my friend and be like, “Oh my gosh, she just had to see this one conversation where someone says she's so lucky…”
Brea Grant: It’s this internal monologue we all have. We're like, “Yeah, no, it’s not that I didn't sleep for six months trying to get like work on a show. You know? It's definitely luck.”
Switching to 12 Hour Shift, it's so new and so bonkers, but I also felt like it reminded me of Snatch and reminded me of Birdman. Tell me about your inspirations and coming up with the tone and the vibe of this movie.
Brea Gant: I like fun, weirdo, bizarre movies that have a place in reality, but kind of escape reality. I like heist movies. I like movies with a heightened reality in them. So that was the goal of this. All the characters are big. There's a musical number in the middle of it. I decided not to shy away from any of that. I think I played it safe in my first feature, and I think this one, I was sort of like, “Fuck it, maybe I'll never get to direct a movie again. So I'm going to do all of the things that I want to do, and really experiment and play,” because, you know, if I'm directing television, it's not a good idea to experiment on someone else's dime. But this was my time. So this was my moment to get to play with whatever I wanted to play with.
Why set it in 1999?
Brea Grant: I am 38 years old, so the ’90s were very important to me. I think people keep asking me this and I think it was a really influential time, for me. I think people behaved really differently. I have memories of people talking to each other like this, speaking like this, but also still having an edge to them in the ’90s that maybe I don't see as much now. It was also a time where, because the movie has some urban legend elements to it, there are a lot of urban legends that I actually thought were true in the ’90s. I didn't know that someone didn't wake up in their bathtub with a kidney removed. I thought that was like 100% true. And not only did I think it was true, I thought it happened in my hometown. It was very small town in Texas. I thought all of these weird urban legends happened. I think there's part of me that can't imagine the movie anywhere else, really.
Talk to me a bit about the colors and lighting. I love that it felt very gross, but then by the vending machine, it was almost hot pink. So tell me a bit about how you staged this gross hospital and used light that way.
Brea Grant: A lot of genre movies, when they do hospitals, they make them kind of creepy and dark. We wanted to lean into the uncomfortable sickly nature of the lighting. The bulbs that kind of wash you out and make you feel like you've been there for 400 years. We just kind of leaned into the lighting that was already there. It's a very low-budget movie, we didn't have a ton of money, especially in the hallway to light the whole thing anyway, so we sort of relied on a lot of the aesthetics that were already there. We did completely redo the decorations and things and use machinery and stuff of the night from the ’90s. But as far as lighting went, we embraced the grossness because we thought it really played with the movie. I appreciate you noticing that because a lot of people, I feel like they don't realize that it’s a choice. The choices to be like, it is kind of a gross, uncomfortable all-night. You’ve been up and you're sleepy and your skin looks bad. And that's the feel of the movie.
I think in my review, I was like, “It’s gross.” So, both of your movies, in very different ways, there's women working together. And you also made these movies with women working together. So maybe talk about that, especially in horror and in film, how that theme came to life for you.
Brea Grant: I've always felt very supported by other women. As far back as being in college, I have always had a really nice feminist community around me and women that I felt supported me and I tried to do my best to support them. So making these is obviously amazing. I had two female producers on 12 Hour Shift. A lot of the department heads on Lucky were women. It's important for me to tell these female stories. Particularly 12 Hour Shift. There's some statistic about women over 40 being leads in movies, and it's abysmal. And two out of three of those women leads in 12 Hour Shift are over 40. After doing that, I kind of was like, “Why do I write anything for anyone under 40?” It's so amazing working with these women who've been doing this for so long, and they're so great at their jobs and just easy to work with. We’ve had a lot of stories from the male perspective and I think when I'm writing, I just so rarely write male protagonists. There's nothing wrong with it, it just doesn't really come to me.
You have lots of accolades, obviously, in film and TV, but I'm really excited to talk about comic books all the time. So talk to me about your comics work. I'm very excited for what's coming next. I'll let you share.
Brea Grant: I've written a few series. My first one was over ten years ago. My new one is a graphic novel. It comes out October 4th. It's called Mary and it's about a descendant of Mary Shelley who finds out not only do monsters exist, but she is a doctor for those monsters and is supposed to be helping them. It’s young adults and sci-fi fantasy-ish with a bit of a thriller element, but also a romance element to it. I would say it has elements of Twilight, but also just there's some dark themes as well. I'm very excited, I’ve been working on it for two years, so I'm stoked for people to actually get to read it.
That really takes forever, as I'm sure you know, because my scripts are what? A hundred pages long, maybe? 12 Hour Shift was really long. It was like 130 pages or something stupid like that. But that graphic novel script was almost 200 pages or something like that by the time I was done with it, and then it takes forever for my artist, Yishan Li, to do it. And it looks incredible, but it's still time-consuming.
Yeah, I know. I feel like covering comics announcements, you think film takes a long time, which it does, but every time I cover a comics announcement, I'm like “in six or seven years.”
Brea Grant: It takes so long to get it done. But what I love about comics is that with a movie, you can write a great script, and then you can go in and you can really fuck it up. You can really have an amazing script and then not get what you want at all in the final product. With comics, you can actually really control the final product in an amazing way and it ends up being the exact thing you were hoping for. Because you can afford to put a Loch Ness Monster and her baby as your final set piece, which is my final set piece in Mary, and it doesn't cost more than drawing just a doctor's office.
So, what else are you working on? What’s next for you?
Brea Grant: I'm doing this TV show in Bulgaria called Pandora right now, directing a block for them. And then I just wrote on a show called Unconventional, which has the same showrunner as the show Eastsiders that I worked on for years. I think that one will be really special. It's about a brother and sister. Both of them are queer and they live in Palm Springs, and it's about both of them trying to have babies with their partners. It's just great in the way that Eastsiders is great. It's really small stories about people growing and developing and I guess we're going to shoot it when you're allowed to shoot things in America again.
What's your favorite scary movie?
Brea Grant: What is my favorite scary movie? Tremors. Which says a lot about me, I think. I used to get very mad because I did a bunch of interviews with Jeremy Gardner because I'm in his movie, and his favorite scary movie is Tremors, which I feel like is such a weird one that we both like Tremors. It’s not even scary!
I rarely get a straight answer. Every time I asked, you’re expecting someone to say, “The Thing!” But they're always like, “Well, growing up…”
Brea Grant: Yeah, I have probably 40 answers for it. But that's the one that always comes to mind because when it's on TV, I'm like, “Oh yeah, Tremors!” I love some others like that. Really weird ones. I love Basket Case. I love a bunch of like weird ’80s/’90s stuff, but I'm not likely to pop them in as much. Tremors, I feel like it's always good.
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