South Surrey-raised screenwriter and filmmaker Grayson Lang wasn’t intending to be a movie director – but people might have a hard time discouraging it now.
The 21 year-old Earl Marriott grad – who traces a passion for the film medium to watching a personal favourite, The Social Network, at age 15 – recently finished shooting the footage for a debut short subject, directing from a self-written script.
“The shift to directing was something I hadn’t anticipated – but I really loved it,” Lang said, in an interview with Peace Arch News.
“It’s something I could see myself doing again in the future.”
Called Get Home Safe, the 10-minute short is just about to be cut by editor Fergus Coyle – in collaboration with Lang – and the plan is to release the finished product on social media and YouTube by the end of this year.
It’s intended as a “calling card” for professional work in the industry, Lang – a graduate of the Vancouver Film School’s Writing for Film, Television and Games program – explained.
Helping pay for the project has been a GoFundMe campaign, which has so far raised almost half of its $1,500 target, and a quarter page display advertisement for the film in PAN’s sister paper, the Surrey Now-Leader, successfully bid on, in a charity silent auction, by Lang’s dad, Brent.
“We used that to direct people to the GoFundMe campaign,” Lang said.
Also supportive of the project has been Lang’s mom, Sherry, formerly an actor in White Rock Players Club productions, including The Wild Party.
A showcase segment of a feature-length script Lang has been working on from the age of 16, Get Home Safe is a drama of the kind that some parents – particularly those in denial about the rituals of teen socialization – might find disquieting.
The script, distinguished by Lang’s sharp observation and spare, authentic dialogue, tells the story of four high school-age friends on a fateful night, when late night partying on a beach with other teens takes a tragic turn.
Lang’s clear-eyed view doesn’t blink at some of the harsher realities of teen and young adult life – including underage drinking, gatherings police would probably want to break up if they knew about them, confused social cues, and yearnings that inevitably express themselves in sexual experimentation.
But, above all, it’s evident the filmmaker views the characters with compassion – these are not ‘bad kids’, one feels, they’re everybody’s kids.
And, yes, much of what is in it is inspired by real life – particularly life as Lang experienced it growing up in White Rock and South Surrey.
That’s why Lang – now a New Westminster resident – returned to the Semiahmoo Peninsula to film Get Home Safe, following strict COVID-19 protocols, earlier this month, another reason the filmmaker is keen to place the finished short on highly accessible media.
“I’d love for people I grew up with and went to school with to see it, to see if it resonated with them,” Lang said.
“I’ve written a lot of scripts but this is my favourite – the one that stuck with me the longest. I definitely see myself in it. I resonate with the character of Brie – I wrote her with myself in mind.”
Described as an 18-year-old who “sports round glasses and baggy clothes” Brie (Kira Thiphavong) has bought alcohol for her friends Vincent (Adam Parenteau), his skateboarding buddy Dean (James Louvris), who takes inordinate pride in his beaten-up car, and Dean’s girlfriend Gabbie (Jordana Summer), all of whom plan to attend an unsupervised night-time youth party at the beach.
It becomes clear that Dean is that teen who is responsible enough to assign himself the ‘designated driver’ role – and mindful enough to provide cab fare when he has to leave, while the party is still in full swing, because he has to get up early for work.
But, as Lang establishes with a few deft storytelling strokes, “there is a lot going on with these characters.”
Brie is infatuated with Vincent, but he’s smitten with another boy, Dante (Trenten Mowat), who he encounters at the party. And Gabbie, despite the jealous ‘protectiveness’ of Dean, is hyper-aware of the presence of Tyler Beck (played by Oscar Chark).
“It’s what we call in screenwriting a ‘vicious circle’,” Lang said. “Brie wants Vincent, Vincent wants Dante, everybody wants something they don’t have.”
Lang said earlier drafts of the script took a more generic approach to characters and setting but that changed after it was submitted as a potential production for CBC’s YA Digital Originals program.
”Get Home Safe didn’t make it into the program, but Melanie Le Phan, who is the executive in charge of production, took time to sit down with me and gave me the best advice I’ve ever received as a writer,” Lang recalled.
“She said it should be more specific to what I felt growing up in White Rock and South Surrey – which seems counter-intuitive – but she said audiences would be more likely to respond to it.”
“As soon as I heard that, something clicked in my head. I went back and did another draft and tried to make it much more specific; to pull on the heart strings.”
Lang also received crucial advice from fellow screenwriter Roy Garza, collaborator on Victoria, a short subject based on his family background in Mexico in the 1930s, which he ultimately directed.
“He said I should direct Get Home Safe because it was so close to my heart,” Lang noted.
The production came together surprisingly easily – there are a lot of young film school grads and aspiring actors keen to get involved in showcase projects, Lang added.
VFS has offered an extra year of working with school facilities to this year’s grads to compensate for last year’s courses being mostly online due to COVID-19 restrictions – and Lang, whose other gigs include working in a movie theatre and as an assistant on film productions, is taking full advantage of that.
But at the same time – ironically – a VFS policy doesn’t give students access to the student projects they worked on for two years after they graduate, Lang said.
“That makes it kind of hard to put together a portfolio,” Lang added – hence projects like Get Home Safe.
Lang and producer Ella Bacchioni put together a production crew of some 18 people for the filming – including such core team members as assistant director Ry Fry, director of photography and camera operator Tyler Banich and sound recordist William Bolwell – many of them doubling as extras during the party scenes, Lang said.
One of the thrills of the project, Lang noted, was finding cast members who so closely matched the characters envisioned, and having a chance to direct them in readings during Zoom callbacks.
And while Lang acknowledges having been a little intimidated to wield directorial authority at the outset of shooting, that soon faded.
“By probably an hour into the first shooting day, I felt totally on a roll – I was completely comfortable with it,” the filmmaker said.
To contribute to the Get Home Safe GoFundMe campaign, visit gofund.me/13B43DF3