Brea Grant on her heist thriller 12 Hour Shift and filming The Stylist in KC
When you think of slashers, there are serial killers and then there are the murderers. And by murderers, I mean the people that are straight murdering it out there. Where their slashes are more about being multi-hyphenate creators. Brea Grant has plenty of both.
Your initial recognition of her might be from her acting work on Heroes, Dexter, or Friday Night Lights. But for the last decade, Grant has been constantly dabbling in the creative arts by bouncing between positions—following the spark wherever it leads. She’s done film and internet series work, established herself as a director, produced numerous screenplays, and even found success in the comic book world. All while keeping the acting work coming.
There’s just not enough hours in the day for anyone to be Brea Grant, and it feels unfair.
Currently, Grant is cycling the film circuit in the promotion of multiple films, making it difficult to even do an interview that could stick to one. 12 Hour Shift just released in theaters and on VOD. Grant is the writer/director of this bloody, drugged-out hospital heist. She’s also one of the stars of Jill Gevargizian’s upcoming The Stylist, which is set (and was filmed) right here in Kansas City.
Here’s our chat with Brea Grant about following your dreams and what it’s like to be adopted by Kansas City’s horror and film community.
Right off the bat here, I want to say congratulations on the movie. And then I need to specify which movie because I just watched 12 Hour Shift and The Stylist back to back yesterday. You were direct into my veins all day.
Brea Grant: Thank you! Good, good. You know, there’s a third one floating out there too, so I never know what people are going to say. I like The Stylist a lot.
I wanted to know how often someone says, “Oh, your movie’s great!” and you’re like, “You’ve got to be more specific, I’m very prolific right now.”
I feel like kind of an asshole right now asking for that, but Kaila, my publicist, texted me and was like, “You just won ‘Best Screenplay’ at Fantasia,” and I’m like, “Which movie? I wrote two movies at Fantasia.” [laughter]
What a nice problem to have, needing others to be more specific on an award.
Yeah, maybe in a different year it would be better, but overall a good problem to have.
So why Arkansas in 1999?
Well, the movie is originally set in East Texas, where I’m from. I am a child of the 90s and for me, subjectively, it made sense to set something in my hometown in the 90s when I grew up. I wanted to write something that I knew a lot about. When we went into production, my producers are from Arkansas and they found these amazing locations and the Arkansas Film Commission was very nice to us. They have a great tax incentive for any filmmakers looking for a tax incentive, so we decided to shoot there. Filming a hospital on a budget is an insane ask, and we were able to do it.
I got into the movie—I was going in blind—and all of a sudden, I was shouting, “Hey, it’s my friend Tara (Perry),” and then Brooke (Seguin) and Tom (Hobson) also popped up. I was like, “What the fuck is happening?” and then I saw at the end that Tara was the producer. All of it came together.
Yeah, I know Brooke separately because Brooke acted in a series that I wrote called The Real Housewives of Horror, that was on the Nerdist Channel when they had a YouTube channel. Tara and her husband Jordan Long are part of a production company, and they liked the script. When we were casting, we had a lot of friend crossover.
I know Brooke and Tom from 30 Minute Musicals, and Tara’s on podcasts with me for a few years, so everyone’s here. Good for her for producing the shit out of it. Now I understand Arkansas, too. There was something I found delightful about the—I’m surprised that people don’t set more things in 1999, not only for the pop culture references you wave in, but the stuff around Y2K seems like such a permeating thing. That’s equally as interesting as setting something against the backdrop of the Cold War. There was such a paranoia around that thing that that was a surprise to have in the background here.
I was very scared of Y2K, weren’t you?
It has such a wonderful parallel to now; I feel like, for our generation to be set up like it was actually going to be doomsday and people worked really fucking hard and then we avoided it. So, for a lot of us with that COVID thing, it feels like our generation are like, “We’ve heard this doomsday thing before and it all went away, there was nothing we had to do.” But no, a lot of people worked very hard to not make it happen. If no one’s working to make it not happen, it’ll fucking happen. So yeah, I wound up going on a spiral about that during part of the movie instead.
Yeah. I also make a lot of references to various urban legends in the movie, and some are Easter eggs and some are like the kidney legend of the 90s. But Y2K almost feels like an urban legend to me, if you would explain it to a teenager now. You’d say, “I thought the world was going to end! I thought computers were just going to shut down everywhere.” It sounds so outlandish now, that we thought that it was going to happen. I guess it was going to happen and they fixed it, but it was a true fear for me, I was very scared of Y2K.
What caused you to set out to make the Quentin Tarantino version of Drop Dead Gorgeous?
Oh my God, I want to write that down. Thank you! I like fun stuff. I like funny stuff. I love Tarantino. I love quick-paced, witty, unrealistic dialog. I like my movies heightened. It made sense for me to try to make something along those lines. I made my first movie seven years ago and it had quippy dialogue as well, but I tried to keep it really grounded and realistic. Where I’m at now is that I watch more things and like more things that are bigger and broader and take me out of my everyday life. It’s all I want for 2020. So yeah, the style is puling from Tarantino and these bigger, broader people making huge swings. The Coen Brothers, stuff like that. I love the Drop Dead Gorgeous reference because I love the South, I love trashy South, and I love trashy women because I am one and I grew up with them and respect them. I think they’re amazing and I’d like to see more cool, bizarre women on screen.
It is so fun because it has this whole cast of side characters including—it took me till nearly the end of the movie to recognize Tom even though I’d known him for a decade. I was like, “Holy shit!” You cranked his dial all the way to eleven. It feels like you wrote a fanfic Harley Quinn movie to be the opposite of the re-imagining of the Joker movie. Like, “What if we made it a time piece and a bit grittier, but she’s a nurse who keeps killing people, and no one seems to be able to stop her?” It has a really big Harley Quinn energy. They could’ve just changed the name and sold it for a lot more money.
It could’ve been a prequel too! The Harley Quinn origin story. Yeah, I would do that, and I would cast Chloe (Farnworth). I think she has a real manic energy on screen that she doesn’t have in real life. She’s a calm, reflective person who is very mature and normal. On screen, she can really go places.
I do like assuring the interviewer, “I promise she’s normal.”
You know what? I almost had to reassure myself! When we cast her, we had a lot of trouble with that role because it’s such a broad, dark, weird role. Everyone kept coming at it really dark which was how it was written and how I thought it would be. But Chloe came in with this tape where she kind of played it with a lot of conviction, as if she believed everything she was saying with a lot of innocence. I was like, “Let’s hire her, but let’s meet her first to make sure she’s not truly a sociopath.” She could be, and her tape was so good! When you’re watching a tape, you have no idea what they’re like in real life. She was nice. She’s such a lovely woman.
So what was the most difficult shot for you to get in the movie?
We were watching it last night at the drive-in, and my DP was in the car next to me. I was texting him the whole time. One shot came up and I texted, “This was the worst day of the shoot and the most difficult shot of the movie.” And it’s not one that people would even recognize as being difficult; it’s that long dolly shot in which we’re following Mandy down a hallway and she walks into the nurse’s station, and there’s just a lot of things happening at the same time. It was just one of those days where we could not get it right and we had a very small crew, and we didn’t even have a real dolly—my producers made a dolly-like contraption from things that we bought at Home Depot. Stuff like that was hard. The movie had a lot of movement in it. It was a lot of improvised movement that would be far more difficult on a larger movie, but I’m really proud of the stuff we were actually able to put into it.
What is your preference right now? Would you rather be directing or acting, or is this a blend of everything that keeps you going?
I mean, I like the blend because I get to work different muscles. There’s really cool stuff out there that people are writing for women my age, which is exciting. Like The Stylist or a movie I did last year, After Midnight. I’m proud of my work in both of those. But I am definitely moving towards directing and writing. Being on that side of the camera and having the ability to create my own stuff from scratch has really made me much happier and fit my personality much better. I’m just kind of bossy and controlling and it’s better to be able to wear those on my sleeve.
Are you happy with how After Midnight has been received?
It played Tribeca and Fantastic Fest, and I got to attend both of those. I’ve seen it a couple of times and I didn’t want to watch the monologue because it felt like a lot of me was up on screen there. So what we would do is we would go drink in the bar until the jump scare was about to happen. Jeremy Christian and I would sneak back in and watch everyone jump at the jump scare. I love that movie; it’s the exact kind of movie I want to watch and be a part of. I don’t think I could ever make something like that, so it’s exciting to be a part of something so artistic. Those guys just take huge swings and it’s an honor to get to work with them.
Speaking of you in Kansas City, you are in the aforementioned Stylist movie, certainly our big movie for now—so you’re grandfathered in as a Kansas City-an. What was it like to work with Jill (Gevargizian) on that, and what are your hopes as far as that release?
I love Kansas City, first of all. I spent about a month there and it snowed. I never get to see snow, so that alone felt like a treat. I was staying really close to your art museum, so on my days off I would go to the art museum and listen to music and it was cool. Anyway, I had a really great time working with Jill. I had known Jill for a few years, and she’s got a really great cool team together for that one. I think Najarra (Townsend) is a real star, and I’m super happy about it. It’s a cool, weird little movie with roles that you don’t really get to see women playing, where anxiety meets sociopath, I guess. I love shooting outside of LA because people are so friendly, nice, and excited to be part of a movie there. We shot 12 Hour Shift in Arkansas; having the support of the town is something you don’t get in Los Angeles.
Finally, how would you describe the soundtrack of this movie? I spent the whole time loving it so much but I’ wasn’t sure if I could describe the soundtrack to anyone. At first it was like jazz, then it was Gregorian chanting. There’s a lot happening.
The soundtrack took us a long time. Matt Glass, my cinematographer and producer, is also a composer. That’s how small this movie is. We went through a lot of different stages for the soundtrack of this, and what we ended up landing on is Birdman meets Us meets an opera. I would say the ones we were listening to a lot were Us, Birdman, Ravenous, and weirder soundtracks that sounded really different.
12 Hour Shift is available now on VOD.
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