VIFF ’21 Interview: Lauren Grant on her directorial debut short film ‘Things We Feel But Do Not Say’

Lauren Grant is a prolific producer of Canadian film and television, having worked on the series Killjoys as well as the films Riot Girls, Sugar Daddy and The Retreat just in the last two years. This year she also makes her debut as a director with her original short film Things We Feel But Do Not Say, which premiered as part of the shorts program at VIFF 2021. I had the pleasure of sitting down with Lauren on zoom to talk about the film.

Ed. Note: This interview has been lightly edited for brevity and clarity.

Matthew: Let’s just jump right in: how has the response to the movie been?

Lauren Grant: I saw it in Vancouver with people and a theatre, which was pretty surreal because I edited the whole film remotely. I had seen it with my producer and my cinematographer in a theatre together when we coloured the film, but this was amazing.

To be honest, I don’t think I fully expected this –obviously, I know the experience is very common, and it’s something we don’t talk about– but I’ve had maybe eight people who I know (but not super well) who’ve seen the film and have confided “Oh, I had a miscarriage, This felt and you captured that feeling” and a couple of people saying “I went to work after, too.”

And so I have to say, that’s been the most amazing thing. Obviously, it’s sad that so many people have had them –of course, I’ve I had two of them– but yeah, I have to say I’m so glad it’s resonating and not traumatizing people who’ve been through it. That’s been the most amazing, interesting private response by email and social media DMs so I’m pretty I’m honoured for that more than anything.

Matthew: I knew the film was at least somewhat autobiographical so I’m sorry that you had to go through that twice.

Lauren Grant: I always wonder if people who didn’t know well noticed that year, I was kind of a bit of a zombie for like, all of 2014. But now I have a six-year-old.

But yeah, no, it is. That part is very much autobiographical. So yeah, it’s amazing that people feel comfortable sharing because of what I made because it’s personal. I have to say, I feel so privileged to hold that for them, you know?

Otherwise, yeah, the audience was great and it was really nice to see it in a theatre. There were things in the sound design I had sort of forgotten about; that I couldn’t hear on my computer that I got to hear in the theatre again!

Matthew: The film played as part of one of the short collections, how did it fit in with the other films in that program for you?

Lauren Grant: It’s interesting because the other films [in the program] are so different. In the q&a yesterday, there was a conversation happening about making art, or making films and telling stories that are addressing personal things, such as Srikandi, where the idea that it’s male shadow puppets and it’s a male thing, and there’s a whole challenge about being wanting to be an artist as a woman, and she talked about that. And then obviously, News from Home, this idea of using art to work through things was very interesting.

I’m not sure I totally saw that at first, but as soon as we started talking about it and everyone was saying “well, this is how I worked through it”, for me, I started with writing the script and thought “maybe that’s what it is, you know? maybe that’s the cathartic process, just writing the script”. And then I thought “actually, I think I’d like to make it.”

I know some close family was a little bit nervous –not my partner –ut some family were a little nervous because it was so personal, but there was something cathartic about it, and then it becomes so separate from yourself. It is a thing that exists outside of me now and it doesn’t feel painful to watch in that way.

Matthew: You find you’re able to externalize it by working through it in the art, basically?

Lauren Grant: Yeah, and a few other filmmakers talked about that, too, and I was thought “Oh yeah, it’s kinda true.”

Matthew: Well, the resulting film is beautiful and impactful even for me as a guy who can’t really relate to that exact experience. The woman is obviously based on you, is Aaron Ashmore’s character based on your partner?

Lauren Grant: Sort of! My partner runs and his love language is acts of service, like making the tea and things and trying to take care of everything in that scheduling way when you’re so separate from the physical thing. This is something Geeta and I talked about a lot: for him, it’s the processing of grief and the worry about his partner, but for you, you’re physically going through it, which is actually not a pleasant physical experience. I found that personally very distracting from the grief process. I was like, ok, let’s just do the doctor part and then later, I can sit with it. So sorta, based on him. Yeah. Sort of. That’s not a good answer. <laughs>

Matthew: Loosely, we’ll say loosely.

Lauren Grant: Loosely based on him. Yeah. For sure they’re running, that a way that he processes stuff. There was a line cut in post, where he says he’s going to go for a run, where he stops when he’s about to leave in the kitchen, and that was the thought process, that he’s trying to process his stuff, too.

I’m glad it resonated with you. I wanted it to show that it impacts everybody and impacts both partners, you know?

Matthew: I mean, for me, I would say the most impactful scene was actually the last scene where she just goes to work, and her coworkers ask “are you okay?” And she’s like “yep.” And then nobody talks about what happened. Not to pry too deeply, but was that your experience? It was very much the point of the short to me, that we don’t talk about it and don’t accept it as trauma even.

Lauren Grant: Yeah, I’m glad you got that, right. Yes, that is the point, the idea that with her partner, she’s not even being honest but when she’s out in the world way more of a wall is up and mask of like “I’m fine”.

I had started a new job on Killjoys season one –that’s actually how I met Aaron Ashmore–. and I thought it would look bad to ask to start later. I think I pushed my start date by two days because I was literally still going to the ER dealing with some of it, and in the first two weeks I kept having to go to doctor’s appointments, and I was thinking “Oh, I seem so flaky“. I was so concerned that I seem like a bad worker bee that I didn’t tell anybody.

I think there are lots of reasons for it. One, I think we expect it to work. You know, I think sex education is pretty flawed, most places in the world, and reinforce that you could get pregnant so easily. Actually, though, not everybody can and not everyone stays pregnant and we don’t talk about this.

This whole idea of not telling people you know, when you’re early because you don’t want them to know about the loss. I found with my first miscarriage that I hadn’t told people I was pregnant, but then I was calling my good friends to tell them I had a miscarriage because I wanted to talk to them.

The second time I was pregnant, which I miscarried, I told my friends really early because I was like, I’m gonna tell you if this doesn’t happen. So I really wanted to highlight that society doesn’t treat it like trauma and grief but we also I don’t think a lot of people treat it that way themselves. I didn’t treat it that serious. I was really sad for many months, but it was worse because I was like “I’m just going to work, and work production hours and ignore this.”

When I saw the movie in my head, what came to me first was, it starts at a place that is her joyful place, in the pool, but I saw it always ending in her office where she puts on that mask again, and goes out in the world and acts like everything’s totally fine. It was interesting, I think some people when they read the script said: “Oh, you could end in the kitchen with the husband” but that’s not the point. They’re gonna come together, she’s pushing him away, and they’re gonna come together. But she’s not letting anyone else in and she’s not really accepting that she’s hurt here.

Matthew: it feels like, at least within our society –being so heavily influenced by British stoicism, and also just patriarchal everything. One of my favourite shows had a great line last season about the one thing worse than being sad is being sad and alone, and in situations like this women are societally forced to be alone. I didn’t have a question there I was just trying to empathize.

Lauren Grant: Yeah, and then there’s also the complication of whether you want people to know you’re trying to have a baby? Will that hurt your career? For example, I didn’t tell some pretty big funder I was pregnant and then I went to a film premiere of one of my movies I produced and I was six months pregnant, and some senior funders were like, “Oh, I didn’t know you were pregnant!” And I was like “Oh, yeah, I’ve been kind of private.” But in my head, I’m like of course, I didn’t tell you because I’ve funding applications in front of you and I’m not 100% sure that you’re not going to consider that and think “well, can she do it this year?”

I’m reading a book called “Cassandra Speaks: When Women Are the Storytellers, the Human Story Changes”, and it’s about the myths that (mostly) white culture is based on like Eve and Pandora’s Box and this idea that women have caused the downfall. We’re in this horrible world because of us, and also that idea that it’s our job to have babies, you know? Even though I don’t think that is true there is that –I think– stigma that I couldn’t do the thing I’m supposed to do. So between that and concern about work and all that stuff, I think there are so many reasons people keep it quiet, but I feel like our society is like adding more reasons to keep it quiet, and it’s not helpful.

Matthew: Moving away from the personal aspects of the story for the moment; this is your debut as a director, but you’re actually a fairly prolific producer. How was it I was making that change?

Lauren Grant: I have been thinking about directing for quite a few years. But wasn’t sure what I wanted to say. I studied film at UBC, and I’ve thought a lot about this, again, connected to gender and how often women have to feel very prepared to do the thing. I think there was a bit of that for me, but it’s not like I’ve wanted to direct my whole producing career, I really do love producing, and the more I’ve produced, the more I love producing because everything is different every time. But there’s also a certain structure that is the same.

I filmed two films, Sugar Daddy and The Retreat in 2019, I felt like I wanted to push myself creatively, that I wanted to be new, again, and nervous and all the things. And then the film really like the opening and the end of the film really came to me in the middle of the night.

I wrote it before the pandemic, and then the pandemic hit. And I was like, “Well, I don’t know how to do this.” I produce a lot of first features and what’s hard I think for directors is that it is a job that you learn by doing and it’s hard to have the opportunities to do it. But as a producer, I’ve actually worked with lots of directors, so I actually have more exposure than a director to how they work and how they communicate with crew or cast or how they prep or what has been effective or what was challenging and what was their learning curve? I feel like I got to learn a lot by being a producer because I’ve been exposed to so many different directing styles and be able to figure out through that what would be my process. I think that benefited me, but it was very fun being nervous on set again. It had been a while since I felt like that.

Matthew: So Sugar Daddy and The Retreat are both out now, did you carry over any crew from those? Other than Aaron Ashmore I mean.

Lauren Grant: I did a little, producer Ashleigh Raines and I have been developing a project, a TV series and it ended up stalling, but we had shot a proof of concept for it and Gabriella Oslo Vanden had shot that and that was my first time working with her. She also works in the Union as an assistant camera. She was on an American movie I line produced and she’s so talented. We talked about the movie and my inspiration and references were that I really wanted a very symmetrical kind of awkward like wide shots –I think this like obviously a very lofty comparison but Portrait of a Lady on Fire does it so well where often she’s very centred and they’re travelling behind her. That was our motivation for the scenes where they’re very symmetrical because it’s kind of unnerving, but it’s also beautiful and portrait-like. The other inspiration she and I had was Normal People; they play a lot with shooting the lead alone and then when shooting others the lead always has a shoulder or some of her hair or something in the frame. That was one of the things we tried to do in the movie; Genevieve is always present in the film.

Katie Chipperfield had cut a short documentary I had produced and but actually a lot of people were new. I hadn’t worked with Eric Arnesen, the composer before. He’s from Great Lakes Swimmers and super talented. I honestly uses it as an opportunity to work with some people that I had heard of, but hadn’t had a chance to work with before. We also filmed in September, so it actually was really busy in Toronto, because suddenly production was back up and a lot of people that I had worked with in the past hadn’t worked in four months and were on big shows.

But yeah, I wanted to just create new relationships, partly because it was, for me, a different role. I kind of looked at people’s work and figured out how that would work. You know, Katie Chipperfield editor, she’s fantastic. She’s done a lot of documentaries. She’s done narrative too, but she just has such great instincts. It was a really lovely set experience actually, I had such a great time.

Matthew: Well, I’ve already taken up 25 minutes of your time, so I don’t want to take up too much more. But so what is next for you?

Lauren Grant: I would like to direct again! I have a pretty busy slate on the producing side, but I’m adapting a short story called Erase and Rewind by Vancouver author Megan Bell into a short film, so trying to fund that at the moment. Earlier this year, I wrote an original feature and got some funding from Harold Greenberg Fund, so I’m going to spend some wintertime rewriting. Then on the producing side a couple of TV shows that are looking like they’re finally moving to the next step of development, some feature films and a feature documentary that I’m hoping to do next year that’s about half financed.

Matthew: Any any titles you’re allowed to tell me or… ?

Lauren Grant: The feature doc is called Modern Horror, it’s based on a book that Penguin Random House is releasing in 2022. The filmmakers made two shorts; one is called Modern Horror on CBC Gem and it’s a hybrid documentary. I’m working with Lisa Jackson on her feature, and TV stuff is in the middle of deals so I can’t really say.

Matthew: Well, I just want to say again, thank you for taking the time to speak with me. I do greatly appreciate it and it’s been lovely speaking with you. I wish you all the success with the short and everything else.

Lauren Grant: Oh, thank you so much. No, I thank you for watching and I am glad it resonated with you too.


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