Fantasia 2020 Interview: Brea Grant Talks 12 HOUR SHIFT
Multi-hyphenate talent Brea Grant (Heroes, Dexter) has come into her own as a writer/director. She helmed the apocalypse buddy road trip film Best Friends Forever as well as episodes of Eastsiders and Pandora, and this year, she has two features coming out. Grant wrote and starred in Lucky (directed by Natasha Kermani and also playing Fantasia), and wrote and directed the Y2K-set dark comedy 12 Hour Shift.
The film stars Angela Bettis (May) as Mandy, an exhausted, drug-addicted nurse with who's involved in a black market organ ring. Things go insanely wrong when organs are lost and a dangerous convict becomes a patient during a night of chaos.
ScreenAnarchy spoke to Grant about donkeys, actor/producer David Arquette, directing actors, and of course, making the film.
Canadians can watch the geoblocked International Premiere of 12 Hour Shift on August 22 and 27 via Fantasia here. Check out the trailer after the interview.
ScreenAnarchy: Congrats on the film, it was really fun. Were there any particular real-life events that influenced 12 Hour Shift?
Brea Grant: Yeah. There was a nurse from East Texas near where I grew up who killed people on dialysis with bleach. The story was much different from anything that happens in 12 Hour Shift but I thought it was so gruesome, it always stuck with me. The film takes place in the '90s, so I combined that story with some of the '90s urban legends I grew up with, most notably the one where someone wakes up in a bathtub missing a kidney. This is my story about what happened to that kidney.
You’re from Texas, and the film is set in Arkansas. Writers like to pull certain personalities from their lives and put them to good use in their work. Was there anyone you knew that crept into any of the characters?
All the characters are an amalgamation of people I knew growing up. Texas is full of small-town, independent, no-bullshit people who I find to be some of the most fun people to write. And, for better or for worse, they’re all just me in some way. I mean, I’m not a drug addict or a psychopath but I do think there are parts of me that relate to all of the main characters. I think all writers do that. We put ourselves in the characters’ shoes. I even find my speaking style fighting its way into all of my scripts to the point that I often ask my actors to say the lines in their own words because I personally have a very wordy style of speaking. When I first met Nikea Gamby-Turner, who plays Karen, I was like, “You’re me in this movie.” She uses the same phrasing I do, she’s no bullshit but can put it on when she needs to and she is the calm in the storm. I think that’s me mixed with one of the librarians in my hometown (who would absolutely hate this movie).
Speaking of characters, actor-wrestler David Arquette looks a bit like Ryan Gosling in DRIVE, especially when some of the pink light used on set hits him. How’d he get involved with the film as an actor and producer?
Ooo, that’s a great compliment. You should tell him that. David and his wife Christina were producers from the start. I had written this script and they came on along with HCT Media. There aren’t that many large male roles in the movie but I thought it was a really different role for David. I loved him as a smart, savvy criminal, this red herring. We needed someone in that role that you would remember and wonder where he went. He appears and disappears throughout as this lurking threat and David is absolutely memorable and fantastic in it.
It was great to see Angela Bettis (May) in a solid role again. She brings an authentic weariness to her part. Did you write the film with her in mind?
I didn’t, but I’ve always been a fan of Angela’s. She slid right into the role so comfortably. I would watch her on the monitors every day and just be amazed at her subtly. Let’s be honest. The movie is bonkers. It’s full of broad characters. But because of Angela’s performance, I think the whole thing is believable. She grounds it. She is a force of nature and I hope I am fortunate enough to get to work with her again at some point.
You started as an actor, which can only be helpful in directing other actors. Can you tell us about the process of casting and developing your characters?
When I’m writing, I try to picture someone in mind for the role. Even if it’s not an actor. I start from a character perspective with every script and will start writing without knowing where I’m going to end up because I think I need to listen to my characters. My scripts are dictated by my character choices. That was difficult to do in this one since the characters were so unpredictable, particularly Regina (played by Chloe Farnworth). What tends to happen is that I write it all focused on character and then I do a page one rewrite for story. Not very efficient but it gives me a good starting point.
This is only my second feature film to cast so I think I’m still learning on that front. I have so many actor friends and I don’t want to make any of them audition but also don’t want them to think I’m not thinking of them. So even if I think my friend is absolutely wrong for it, if they are interested in the role, I want to see what they bring. Actors can completely change your mind about how you see a role. Even as an actor, sometimes I forget that actors can truly transform themselves. My producers and I made all of the final decisions for actors as a team. Two of them have directing backgrounds so they were all really helpful when it comes to making those tough choices. Once I’ve hired the cast, I try to be really specific on what I’m looking for on set. It’s something I always appreciate from a director. Yes to this. No to that. And then I let the actor play. Because 12 Hour Shift is a comedy, we did a lot of improvising. It was helpful to get the actors in the zone and it means that we can end up with some hilarious lines. On indies, you only have so much time, so anything I can do to help the actor really hit what they want and what I want is my goal.
There are tons of characters, action, and bloody situations; I imagine continuity could have been maddening. How did the crew keep it all in check? Did you shoot in sequence?
Knowing all of that was going to be a nightmare, I asked for a script coordinator and a dailies editor. On indies, I feel like those are the first two jobs to go due to budget limitations but my producers completely agreed that they were needed. And I can’t tell you the number of times Kimberly (the script coordinator) and Hannah (my dailies editor) saved my ass. We had to shoot an entire half day again because of a continuity mishap that none of us caught except Hannah. And there are so many little things that Kimberly had to keep track of --- like how many vials Mandy has, etc. that are pitch-perfect in the movie but most people wouldn’t notice unless we had gotten it wrong.
You made a funny film, but did anything funny happen on set?
Well, it was a set full of comedians and improvisers so it was a very funny place to be. Kit Williamson (who plays Officer Myers) is a good friend of mine and he posted a number of thirsty pictures on his Instagram in his cop uniform which made me laugh a lot. Also, one day David brought a donkey to set and we all took pictures with it. It was an amazing surprise that we all really needed at that moment. Apparently there are moments where you just need a donkey on set. And shooting in a small town is funny in itself. People get word that there’s a movie shooting somewhere and they wander through and then we’d usually throw them in the background. We shot in an active hospital and the nurses would come through and give us advice and make us laugh. It was a pretty charming set to be on.
You always seem to be working on something; is there anything coming up you can talk about?
Yeah! I have a graphic novel coming out in October called Mary about the descendent of Mary Shelley who finds out she can heal monsters. It’s a fun, YA sci-fi romp that I’m super proud of. I started working on it as a TV pilot years ago and I feel like this ended up being a better medium for it. I also have my film Lucky that I wrote and Natasha Kermani directed. It is going to a few (virtual) festivals and coming out next year. We are both really proud of that one.
Is there anything else you’d like to tell us?
We have a release date for 12 Hour Shift! It’s October 2nd! You can see it on VOD or movie theaters/drive-ins/whatever is open. I am really hoping for a cool drive-in theater run because I feel like this movie was designed for the drive-in experience.