In an exclusive interview with Villain Media, writer/director Rob Grant talks about the compelling drama behind his survival thriller, Harpoon. Find out what happens when rivalries, dark secrets, and sexual tension threaten to tear three best friends apart.
Three friends find themselves stranded on a yacht in the middle of the ocean desperate for survival. With plenty of alcohol and very little food and water, emotions run high and their delusions become a reality. As the days stretch on and death seems inevitable, their terrifying truths float to the surface.
With Harpoon now on VOD and Blu-ray, Rob Grant discusses how the premise came about, developing the chemistry with Christopher Gray, Emily Tyra, and Munro Chambers, and how Brett Gelman became the right voice for the film’s narrator. Check out our review of Harpoon as we head on over to the director’s studio to talk about the craft of visual storytelling.
Villain Media: How did the concept for Harpoon come about?
Rob Grant: I had just came out another project and I was frustrated with myself creatively, with the the industry as a whole. Funny enough, Martin Scorsese is feeling the same stuff as well. I decided that, if I was lucky enough for one more opportunity, I’m going to get down and try out all the stuff I was too scared to try, or had just been thinking about. Harpoon came out of a desperate and angry feeling I was going through at the time. I also felt I had more to say about the nature of friendship, especially toxic friendship, and that’s where it all balloons from.
VM: Sasha (Emily Tya) is my favorite among the three. I feel like I’ve known people like Richard (Christopher Gray), with their violent temper tantrums. What was the inspiration behind these characters?
RG: I carry a little notebook with me. I like to think I’m pretty good at observing people and my friends. I internally look at myself. I was writing it from the fact I was personally on the fence and too scared to take action. I’ve been the jealous one. They’re from my own experiences and thoughts; my introspective nature. I felt like, as long as my actors are on the same page, playing this in a realistic root, without it feeling farcical. It was meant so that everyone could recognize these faults in themselves, or people that they know.
VM: Even though Harpoon is set in one location, every angle feels fresh and new. Tell me about creating the claustrophobic ambiance.
RG: Well, we had a wonderful production designer, Tim Rutherford, who built the sets for us. Funny enough, we didn’t have our sheet location, or the boat picked when we started building the interior of the set. Either we had to build something or postpone the the movie. That was all a guesswork to find something that would match on the outside. My DP, Child Hamilton, was fantastic! What helped us the most on this movie by accident was that the set was so small. We only did a single camera shoot, rather than having an A and B camera. What that allowed us to do was focus on this one angle, the single performance we were capturing, and make these shots interesting. Or keep them stationary to focus on the moment. That was our secret weapon to focus on that one camera angle at all times.
VM: I want to talk about the look of the sea sickness. Because these characters were rotten on the inside, they were also getting sick on the outside. Tell me how you wanted these characters to look by the end.
RG: That’s an awesome observation! I like that one! Mike Kovacs [co-writer] was working on the narration. His mom is a nurse. We did some research with her on food and water deprivation. It’s funny, when we were sending the script out, people were like, “5 days! They wouldn’t be that sick! You can survive 5 days without food!”
Yeah, you can survive that long without food, but without any source of liquid like water, you will disintegrate very quickly. That was some very deep research from the medical community. How we were able to accomplish that during the day, we had makeup working on the practical effects. Our costume department came onboard to increase the size of their outfits to make them look like they were thinning. It was just a bunch of movie tricks coming together. We shot all the interiors in order and all the exteriors in order, so that our male cast members could grow facial hair as the shoot progressed. It was a bunch a sneaky tricks and some medical research to pull that one off!
VM: Brett Gelman plays the role of The Narrator. You never feel like Gelman’s narration is repeating what the audience sees. How did that come about?
RG: From the first draft, I always knew I was having trouble writing dialogue where very long-term friends had to be referencing old back-story. Old friends don’t do that. They have the short-hand. How can I get around that? I knew if I had a Narrator that would give us all the character’s back-story, not only would it catch the audiences up, it would allow the friends to interact in what I would perceive as real and normal. That was my ticket in. And then I realized in the editing room, it also became a very important part to allow the audience to laugh or let them know there’s some inherit comedy.
We went through drafts and drafts of this Narrator, with multiple people performing it. It wasn’t landing. It wasn’t working until we realized the Narrator did not have to be judgmental against these characters and just lay it out very much like Magnolia. That narration doesn’t serve any story purpose. It tells the audience that weird stuff is going to happen. So when frogs are raining down from the sky, it’s accepted. We took that same thing and when Brett Gelman came onboard, he totally understood it. We didn’t want to tell him about Magnolia, but he said, “It’s kind of like Magnolia.” We said, “Yes!” This is just to let the audience open up to this crazy world, in this crazy movie. He nailed it!
VM: How did Harpoon change you as a filmmaker?
RG: That’s a good question! When I was making it, it was out of complete desperation. If this is my last opportunity, let’s just throw everything I wanted to try, and see if it works. And then through the whole process of shooing it, editing it, and submitting it to film festivals, we were getting all “Nos.” You’re thinking, did I let everyone down? Finally, it was getting picked up at Rotterdam and started to catch fire with all the other film festivals. With all the positive reviews and feedback, it’s this crazy journey through Hell to get to the other side.
You’re questioning, is it worth it? I still question it. Geez, do I want to put through through another one of these? I know the movies I make are not commercially viable. It’s one of those, is the juice worth the squeeze? The big lesson I learned is, just when you think you’ve climbed over one wall, there’s ten more walls in front of you. You gotta be more prepared as you go through it. It’s a bit of a battle internally for me. You would think all the positive feedback would make it worth it. That’s actually not. I gotta find something about the process that makes it fulfilling for me. It’s a really crazy business! I can tell you that! [Laughs]
VM: How can the readers of Villain Media find your movie?
RG: It’s picked up by Epic. They released a hard copy on Blu-Ray. It’s got some awesome special features on how we made this crazy movie, if you want to hear more of my nutty stories. They released it on all the digital platforms nationwide. In the UK, we got Arrow Video. They’ve got a digital copy as well; Canada as well with digital platforms.
VM: What are you working on now?
RG: I’ve written the next project. I’m about to finalize my draft. I’m going to start releasing it to the public. I feel like I’ve said all that I can about horrible friendships. Now I have one that’s about how far would you be willing to go to protect it. Basically, it’s a really grizzly true crime story.
[Writer’s Note: This interview has been edited for length and clarity. Links are highlighted in bold.]
Harpoon is now available on VOD and Blu-ray.