Freestyle Releases opens The Masked Saint on January 8th, 2016.
NYC MOVIE GURU: How do you feel about the concept of genre?
Brett Granstaff: There are 2 answers to that. As a producer, I say, "If you do a horror film and open on 2,000 screens, you're going to make $20 million." That's just the way it works. When I was looking at this movie, I was like, "Okay, it's faith-based movie. I don't think there's a lot of very good content in the faith-based genre, so I was trying to bring more Hollywood production values to it so that I could get more people interested in the genre because I do think that it's under-served." At the same time, I think a good story is a good story---it doesn't matter what the genre is.
NYC MOVIE GURU: What was the process like when you decided what to change from the book?
BG: We say that it's faith-based because it's about a pastor, but I intentionally made changes because it was very preachy--all of a sudden they cut to someone reading a bible or praying. That's not a story; that's beating you over the head with the bible. I wanted to tell a story. So, we took a lot of it out so that it's very subtle, but it is faith-based because it is about a pastor. It's not a bible-thumping movie.
NYC MOVIE GURU: Was there anything in particular that you made a conscious decision to avoid doing when you wrote the film?
BG: One of the things is that I wanted to be very authentic and real. It's based on a true story, and I spoke to Pastor Chris Whaley a couple of times. Everything that happened to him in the film happened to him in real life, but it was spread out over his 20-year career, so I wanted to shorten it into a traditional narrative because I didn't want it to be vignettes. The book is told in vignettes. When I was looking at the wrestling scenes, that was one of my biggest concerns. I was like, "How do I film this and not make it fake/hokey or make fun of it?" A lot of time you see wrestling in movies and it's very bad. I really wanted it to be real and authentic. In terms of the action, it was kind of the same thing. I didn't want to do an action, one-liner kind of movie. I took out some of the cliches.
NYC MOVIE GURU: Was it also a conscious decision to avoid using flashbacks?
BG: The original script has a ton of flashbacks. In the real story, Mrs. Edna was a character from Chris' youth, and I was like "We're going to bring Mrs. Edna into the future." The way I look at it is that you're on this journey with Chris. That's the way we filmed it. If you watch the movie, I'm in 98-99% of the movie which is something that I'll never do to another actor ever, and I will never do it myself again. I just wanted you to follow the journey as an audience member in the way that Chris experiences it in the film. That was a conscious decision because the book does have flashbacks.
NYC MOVIE GURU: A screenwriter once admitted to me that a screenplay as a form of writing is very deceptive because you think it's all there, but it's really not. Do you agree or disagree with that?
BG: My last film that I produced was Black Mass with Johnny Depp. Filmmaking is kind of the same thing. As a director, producer and writer, you have your part. As a writer---I did write Black Mass as well--you have your part, you do your job and then your work is there. It's like when you're in English class and read a book and you think you know what the book is about, but then you go to class and the teacher says, "well, if you look at it this way or that way.." It's the same thing with a screenplay. You think it's there and it's done, but as soon as it gets in the hands of a director or a really good actor, he can change a line or sometimes throw out the line and not even say it, and it completely changes and enhances what you've already done. That's what I love to see. Occasionally, it works the opposite way and makes it worse, but if everyone is on top of their game and doing their job, the writer would be very happy. Based on what I've experienced, it's usually a collaborative effort that ends up even better than what the script is.
NYC MOVIE GURU: What kind of questions did you ask the real-life pastor, Chris Whaley, when you met him?
BG: I met him and got his story. I wanted to hear it from his words. Then I said, "I'll see you on set." I didn't want to spend a lot of time with him because I didn't want to get caught in the situation where I imitate him, and then it'd be false. I wanted the emotions to be very real underneath, so I thought that if I try to use what I know as me and try to connect to the script and do some "What if"s and try to figure it out. I didn't want to worry about details like "Am I holding this right? Am I walking right?" and then lose the emotionalism of it underneath.
NYC MOVIE GURU: Given all the wrestling training you went through for your role, do you think you're mentally ready to become a wrestler? How did you handle the mental aspect of wrestling?
BG: I had 8 classes to get ready for the role. James Preston Rogers is the one who actually trained me, and he plays The Reaper in the film. Everything that you do in the ring is about trust. If you don't have nothing. He said to me that I have 15 minutes to learn what usually takes someone 6 months to learn, and I was like "What's that?" and he replied, "Fall!" I was like, "What?" and he said, "Trust me." and I replied, "Do I have a choice?" So he picks me up and tells me to close my eyes. He's 7 feet tall and puts me down, and I was like "Arggh!" and says to me "Bro, you got to breathe!" So, physically I was ok---he didn't kill me---but it was definitely the mental aspect of "You want me to do what??" "I'm going to run towards you, you're going to jump, throw me straight up into the air, and as I'm coming head-first down the canvas, I'm supposed to time it and reach around at the right moment and that will put me correctly and make you flip. What????" If I mess up, my face hits the canvas, so I had to get over that mental aspect. Then, once you have the trust, then it was like easier. Once you get over that mental hurdle, then you realize that the other person is there to help you and not hurt you. It takes 2 people to do every move, so if you mess up, he's going to get hurt, and if you mess up, he's going to get hurt, so there's that bond. I actually got into a ring with [WWE wrestler] Joey Ryan. I trusted Joey completely, but it was my first wrestling match where I'm the actor. I didn't want to be one of those guys that's not supposed to be there and ends up completely blowing it. It was a lot of fun. I would definitely say that there's a huge mental aspect. I grew up watching wrestling and you see these guys are pros, and you get in there and you realize that these guys are elite athletes. They're doing 15-20 minute matches. They're exhausted by the end. It's all improv. They don't know who they're wrestling with until about 2 hours before, and then everyone does the same moves. If you're doing this day in and day out 7 days a week, it's amazing how much athleticism these guys have. I have a lot of respect for them.
NYC MOVIE GURU: How challenging is it to make a film that can't be turned into a video game these days?
BG: I don't worry about that. I'm kind of old school. I went to NYU Film, and we worked on film. There's a 360-degree business plan where you have to have a children's book, video games, toys. I got into some of that when we were doing Black Mass with Warner Brothers. They were looking at it like it was old school because you can't make a video game out of Whitey Bulger. People are interested in these stories. If people just do these blockbuster-esque ideas, then you're just limited to a small amount of movies. I think there are so many great stories out there that need to be told. For me, I didn't worry about it. I was more concerned about whether I like this story and it's interesting. How many times do you hear about a pastor who's also a wrestler? It gets people's attention. How do I reconcile with that in my brain? It just doesn't work, but obviously it has to because it's a real story. So, that appealed to me. One of the people in our street team put one of the character's heads on one of the old 16-bit wrestling games, and wrestled The Reaper versus The Saint. That was pretty cool! But that's about as close to video game as we're going to get. For me, it's all about storytelling. If you can hit all the ancillary markets then it's great, but if you just tell a really good story, you'll be fine with your business plan because people will go to the movies, buy the tickets and everyone will be happy.
NYC MOVIE GURU: I believe that truly special effects are everything related to humanism, while CGI are merely "standard effects." Do you agree or disagree? What's so special about CGI?
BG: Originally, special effects were what we now call "physical effects" where you build a model and watch it blow up. That's kinda cool. Nowadays, it's someone on their computer doing their thing. Those "special effects" have given us ways to tell stories that we never could have done in the past. Even if you go back to the old days of physical effects, the things that George Lucas did on the original Star Wars had never been done. He created a whole industry of Industrial Light & Magic, and they did the special effects for every movie for 30 years until Peter Jackson came along with his Weta Workshop. It allowed us to tell movies that we wouldn't have been able to tell in the past without looking like Plan 9 From Outer Space or some horrible bad, cheesy sci-fi movie from the 50's where you can see the string. I think that there is a place for special effects, but I think that you need to use them to enhance the film and storytelling. It shouldn't be the storytelling. Going back to my Star Wars analogy, the first 3 were very human, but the ones that I will not mention were all CGI and a different tone and I didn't relate to them in the same sense as the first 3. They went kind of overboard with the CGI, but forgot about the story. You still have to tell a story. As we learned in NYU, in every story there's basically 12 archetypal stories with 3 variations of each. So you have 36 stories that you can tell, but how can you tell it?