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Interview with Julian Grant: Director of “The Defiled”

May 18, 2011 | By | Add a Comment

Monica Nickolai

Julian Grant

Julian Grant is a director, producer, and artist.  Since his graduation from film school in 1985, his work, which includes films, television shows, and art, has earned national and international attention.  His credits as a director include Airborne, Hostile Intent, and RoboCop:  Prime Directives, a four-part film series.  After spending twenty years in movies, he made a dramatic shift in the way he created work.

Julian Grant: I had spent a lot of time making movies for ‘the man.’ It was a good life, but ultimately I longed for the days when I had no commercial limitations, no corporate overseers or studio/broadcaster restrictions. I decided to reinvent myself as a ‘filmmaker’ and move away from the world of movies…I started making short films and preparing for a return to feature films—all self-financed—that would speak to my own muse and ideas rather than a homogenized commercial agenda.

Moving to Chicago gave him the artistic freedom he needed.  After becoming a tenure-track professor at Columbia College Chicago, Grant set out to find out more about Chicago’s film scene by attending Chicago Filmmakers and Independent Filmmaker Project meetings, workshops, and screenings at the Siskel Center.  He describes the people at Chicago International Film Festival as having been “incredibly kind to me” and discovered some of the benefits of the Chicago indie scene.

JG: Here in Chicago, audiences support their own. There is none of the elitist BS that characterizes NYC, LA or even Toronto, my old hometown. People are interested and helpful in letting you shoot on location, will work for free, still believe in art for art’s sake, and contribute to a picture because it’s cool or the right thing to do. That’s what indie cinema should be, so it’s no wonder that the scene here is growing in leaps and bounds. I’ve never had a more supportive or collaborative relationship with vendors, locations, crew-members, support services or evangelists interested in perpetuating cinematic agendas.

Much of his work is rooted in action and horror.  However, the hallmark of his work is his artistic obsession with myth.  Myth, by dictionary definition, has two meanings:  ‘a traditional story explaining history phenomena’ versus ‘a widely held but false idea.’ Grant expropriates his chosen genres and makes them his own by dancing between these two definitions and bringing personal meaning to myth.

JG: Myth is the basis of all storytelling. Universal themes are told through allegorical examples. All of my work is based upon myth, the ideas and examples of human conduct as disguised in story form. The ‘Frankenstein’ myth—that of redemption, the monster made flesh, the humanness of the most inhumane—fascinates me. I shall continue to explore this story for a long time.

Since he moved to Chicago, he has completed two independent feature films, The Defiled and Fall Away. This summer, he has plans to work on Roundabout American and F*ckload of Scotch Tape, a 3D murder musical.

As a visualist, he uses a palette of cinematographic techniques that has earned critical acclaim, such as “Beautiful and haunting” and “Gorgeously grotesque.” Even on films with limited budgets, he brings an artistic eye and knowledge of computer technology.

JG: Love new tech. Love the web. Love digital cinematography and DSLR hybrid shooting. I embrace it all. I can do things with my Mac that used to cost thousands of dollars. I am thrilled that I can make a film and show it to the world via traditional distributors, film festivals and the like or I can upload to the web and just have fun. I sketch out ideas and themes that are important to me.

I’m now exploring the world of animation. My short 3D animated film, The Doctor’s Wife, is scheduled for its world premiere at the Sci-Fi London Film Festival in the UK this April/May with many other festivals requesting screenings as well. It’s a brand new avenue for me as an artist, and I couldn’t be happier.

His use of striking visual images coupled with the universality of his stories makes his work accessible to international audiences and sometimes makes language unnecessary.  He and his wife have a production company, Fluffy Flicks, which is dedicated to narratives using puppets.  He says, “No matter where you travel, people are drawn to puppets.  Language no longer becomes an issue as people smile and wave at ‘la marionettas.’” On the other hand, his film The Defiled reaches the universality of the human experience in a different way.

JG: The Defiled is a universal story wrapped in the guise of a horror film. It’s not what most viewers think; it’s a much deeper look at horror that is universal, and that for me is the basis of strong cinematic storytelling. There’s no dialogue in The Defiled, so it allows the film to travel worldwide with audiences interpreting the message through their own geographical perspectives.

Grant has found a balance of professional and artistic goals that enables him to distribute his films internationally, saying, “One side of my career feeds me.  The other feeds my soul.”  He elaborates on how he balances the business side of his career with the side that he finds personally and artistically satisfying.

JG: With Columbia College allowing me the opportunity to teach the next generation of filmmakers, I have an opportunity to advocate the DIY approach that is so important to establishing yourself and maintaining a personal agenda. If a student is persistent, they can succeed in carving out a career in the world of movies and TV. Indie film is a much different animal. I knew I would have to return to my roots to create personal work because a distributor would never finance some of my more avant-garde visions, and that’s how I balance my life. I feed my artistic self by making any film I want—that I can afford to manufacture myself—and use my own resources to support myself as an artist. I’m indebted to Columbia College as they understand this—it’s a mandate, actually—so as a working film artist or visualist, I am encouraged to explore my own cinematic agenda and showcase the work worldwide.

Grant also understands the major difficulties of commercial work versus that of independently financed films.

Julian Grant

JG: In the past, the most difficult thing was dealing with unrealistic expectations based on a financial agenda. It’s impossible to make a forty million dollar spy caper with only $3 million! Now, I have to temper my visions with the fact that I pay for each film and that every dollar comes off the dinner table. Regardless of the size of the production, it’s all about the Benjamins (money). Even when you don’t pay people, you still have to feed and transport them. You only have so many hours in the day and after 12 hours of film work, you really are facing a mounting diminishing return.

Nonetheless, Grant continues supporting his artistic goals as an indie filmmaker by infusing ‘the unknown’ into his narratives, upsetting the traditional expectations of genres, and using stunning cinematography and visual effects.  He describes what is for him the most important thing about filmmaking:

JG: The ability to tell stories. To educate and entertain without falling prey to being didactic or a soap-box preacher. I like cinema that resonates with its own perspective, a unique point of view that challenges conventional ideas of right and wrong, braves new boundaries, and treats the viewer to a singular artistic identity.

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