Coldwater: Vincent Grashaw SXSW Interview

Buzz has been around Grashaw’s feature film debut ever since Bellflower, which he produced,received huge praise in the indie scene. In Coldwater, which premiered at SXSW 2013, troublemaker Brad Lunders is sent to a juvenile reform facility in the wilderness. Soon it’s apparent that the operations are abusive and the attendees are far worse off than upon their arrival.

Vince and I had a chance to meet in the legendary Driskill Hotel in Austin. We talked his need to voice the issues on reform facilities, the countless times the film almost got made and the moment his leading man walked in the room.

ATW: What made you get into filmmaking?

G: I think the movies that I saw from the ages 13 to 18 heavily influenced me, He Got Game, The Basketball Diaries, Saving Private Ryan. I would write scripts in junior high, like full lengths scripts! I felt like when I got older, looking back, I’m so grateful for that. I knew I had an imagination I could harness into something! In early high school I was making movies with my friends. They were shitty as hell! By the time I was a senior in high school I made this World War II feature and showed it to the whole school! I didn’t go to college, and I jumped right into the industry and the madness. I didn’t have any connections, but my parents were really supportive.

ATW: You started the script for Coldwater when you were just 18!

G: I had just graduated high school. I had a friend when I was 15, and he was a goofy kid who was a rebel, but his parents had him abducted in the middle of the night. All his friends were like what happened? At that age I was starting to write and had heard about things like this. It’s not just wilderness therapy or modification places; its boarding schools, drug rehab centers that the reality behind this movie comes from. I wanted to shed the light on this. I don’t have all the answers and if I did I would have made a documentary. But the subject matter is sensitive because parents have lost kids. I talked to some of them. If I can help by giving them a voice, then that’s great.

ATW: What was that research process like? Are there any stories or interviews that stuck with you?

G: I have one that comes to mind: it was in 2006 and there was a kid named Martin Lee Anderson in Florida, and he was at one of these facilities. Everything that happened was caught on video. He couldn’t finish one of the runs, and they thought he was faking it; there were seven counselors restraining him. The kid ends up dying right there. They do an autopsy and said he died because of sickle cell; no one was charged. There was a huge uproar about that, so they did a second autopsy…finally all the counselors and nurses were charged with manslaughter. But there was a trial and they were acquitted. It’s so easy to wash your hands and be done with it. There’s been one report by the government on this, and they admit that it’s a huge problem. It’s a matter of how to oversee these places, especially the ones that are privatized.

ATW: Why did you bring Mark Penney on to co-write?

G: There were several false starts for this movie. We couldn’t get it made. I had known Mark for years.  In 2003 I was really down on where the script was, and it wasn’t even called Coldwater. I reached out to him and asked him to come onboard. I’m more of a director, editor, actor. I’m very limited when it comes to writing. I respect writers so much because it’s hard as hell!

ATW: And that was all the way back in 2003? 

G: Well, in 2004, it almost got made with Ron Perlman and Lucas Black, and when it fell apart, it was devastating in a way again. I thought damn I’m going to live with this thing forever and always revise it and put it on a shelf over and over. I came to terms with it having too much blood on it. [Laughing] There was more blood on this back-story than Passion of the Christ! But then I went and made Bellflower and that was a great experience. Creatively, I’d moved past Coldwater years ago, so when we had the opportunity to get it made, I had to step back and fall in love with it again. I know all these characters like family; they exist to me in some weird reality.

ATW: Did that affect the casting process?

G: The casting wasn’t hard actually. I was a little worried because I wanted all unknown actors. When PJ [Brad] walked in he had no resume, he had never been on camera before. He had a solid presence and then when he started reading it was like Wow, who is this guy? I literally cast him off one read of two scenes…never do that! It was in my gut, and I just went with it. It was scary because I didn’t know if he could do certain things. But when we got there, I was like this guy is a whole new generation of talent.

ATW: Much of your work centers on people dealing with emotional demons, it’s all very dark. Do you have your own demons we need to talk about?

G: Don’t go there with me! [Laughing] I can’t tell you where it stems from inside me, but I gravitate towards it. I like to focus on human conditions and choices and the consequences for them. Coldwater is a lot about that. It evolved into this kid that’s not able to communicate with adults. But parents need to deal with their kids, find a way to communicate, instead of scraping them off. If you can weather the storm with them, they’ll get through it.

ATW: We could also be talking about directors working with their actors!

G: Oh yeah! Every single actor on this movie brought so much to the character, but they all have their own quirks about them. That’s how I’ve got to deal with this one. It was such a family experience out there in the woods for weeks and weeks. In the script, [Colonel Frank Reichert] came off much more toxic, but James brought this human, this other side to him. You could understand him and see how everything collapses. It just shows your script’s not the ‘be all end all.’ Movies need to be molded into something; it’s not black and white.

ATW: That’s the freedom with indie filmmaking.

G: It’s in a place right now that it’s never been. It’s like how music changed with Napster. Now you have crowd funding and distribution and that’s opening a box people don’t really know how to handle yet. But it’s nothing but beneficial. There’s another Coatwolf [productions] movie we’re crowd funding for and not even in a month we’ve raised a $100,000! And that stems a lot from Bellflower fans. But we’re all a family, there’s about eleven of us, and we want to help each other in finding our dreams, as cheesy as that sounds.

It’s not cheesy at all, Vince. For anyone who’s reading this interview in the first place, they probably have dreams quite similar. For those of you on board: www. Long live indies!