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Diary Feature

Running in Heels, Directing in Drag

Teach Grant is a well known Vancouver actor but his latest role is co-writer, director and producer of the feature film Down Here, a gritty murder mystery in which he also cast himself as a transvestite. The movie is the redemption story of a detective (actor and cowriter Dean Wray) who is investigating a growing number of murders of young women, while also dealing with his own demons. In the following diary, Grant discusses the challenges of wearing many hats on the film set, including the dangers of directing in drag. Diary by

Teach Grant October 2013 Down Here is a film about a man who has lost everything. He’s a drinker and a detective — it’s really all he has left, the bottle and badge respectively. He’s alone in his Downtown Eastside Vancouver apartment, banned from seeing his own daughter relative to a drinking and driving incident that has left her confined to a wheel chair. Somehow he’s held it together enough and is still out there in the street trying to protect the cities young prostitutes from predators. There he meets certain key members of this fragile community that manage to help provide him with the opportunity he needs in order break his own cycle of self-hatred and abuse. The question is will he embrace sobriety in time? If the film asked but one thing of me, it was to keep it simple, grounded and understated. I wanted the story to unfold in a confident and patient manner that slowly sucked the audience into our pace, into our world. Most importantly to me, this film is never telling you what to think and in some ways works towards being slightly elusive. I wanted the audience to chase me a little, to be willing participants. July 2012 It is the summer of 2012 and I find myself treated to an opportunity to co-guest star on CBC’s Arctic Air in Yellowknife with veteran actor Dean Wray. After a great time shooting with Gary Harvey, visiting the sights like Buffalo Air and eating the world’s most expensive fish and chips, it’s time to head back to Vancouver. On the flight home Dean talks to me about an audition we once had. Apparently, he was late for a ferry and I had overheard and volunteered to let him go ahead of me. Dean had never forgotten that and said that he had me in mind for a project that he had written called Nailer, a crime thriller he had in his back pocket. SeptEmber 2012 I brought the script with me to Winnipeg where I spent the bulk of August and early September shooting Mr. Hockey in which I played real life goalie Smokey McLeod. Old friend Martin Cummins whom I met working on Devour and again on Shattered, as well as Andrew Kavadas, were on the shoot, both of whom would make great contributions to the Down Here. I contacted Dean and let him know that I was interested in directing the film, but only if he allowed me to re-write the script and thankfully, he obliged. I wanted to develop it into more of an art film, a social drama with an under-current of a Reel West November / December 2013

thriller as this type of cross genre is where I felt I could be most effective. I think the moment I sat down to begin writing was the moment I knew I was about to start smoking cigarettes again. Interesting, considering that ‘addiction’ is one of the major themes in the script. I tell myself that I’ll quit when the script is finished. One month later I’m ready to present Dean with Down Here. November 2012 By late November, we are ready to send it out to begin attracting actors and crew. First stop, Martin Cummins. I send the script to Martin unsure if he would jump on board, and in a sense he was a litmus test for us. I felt if I could attract someone of Martin’s ilk that it was in some way validating to our project, to our script. In Martin, we found our ‘Tim’ and with him came his downtown acting studio as a production office and one of our shooting locations. Martin also connected us to Murray Gibson at The Character’s Talent Agency, who represented Tantoo Cardinal. We had written the script with Tantoo in mind and a couple weeks later, Murray contacts us and lets us know that Tantoo is excited to do the project. It did however come to our surprise to learn that she was now living in Toronto. Can you say budget alert?! December 2012 Dean and I take on a meeting with his sister Shawna Wray, who proves to be something of a firecracker. She is in fact our co-executive producer along with Dean himself. I like that she makes fun of him and laughs when I do. According to her, he deserves it. Shawna and I will make a great team … A few days later I have a joint account with a woman I barely know and we’re all in business. Dean and I begin to hit the streets and pounding the pavement proves to be rather effective for us. We begin to discuss the pros and cons of shooting on a RED, or going 5D at a coffee shop at the end of a long day. Both of us are leaning toward the 5D so that we can remain light on our feet and move quickly, not to mention, in pocket. Then comes the chance meeting of a lifetime. The guy sitting next to us politely chimes in, (he must have been laughing to himself listening to us) “ I’m a DOP…and this is how it all breaks down.” Meet Adam Myhill. We have tripped over our DOP and not only did he measure up, but would turn out to be something of a dirty wizard on his 5D mark III, with an impressive arsenal of rare boutique lenses. If Adam doesn’t soar into the mainstream of Vancouver filmmaking after this film gets seen, I will be shocked. December 2012 Dean and I had been on ride-a-longs with VPD’s Odd Squad through the D.T.E.S and are learning more about our topic every day. Things are developing nicely, but who’s going to actually run this ship? We knew from the beginning that we were in way over our heads and had been trying 25


November December 2013: Reel West Magazine