Grant Perdew, whose film won at the SONscreen Film Festival this year, talks about the inspiration of Wes Anderson, the power of film to change the world and the amazing opportunities at Walla Walla University.
Question: Your film, The Exquisite Outdoors, won the Best in Festival and Best Dramatic Short awards at the recent SONscreen Film Festival, held this year just outside Washington, DC. Were you surprised?
Answer: I was surprised to hear of the success of the film. We had definitely targeted the film to our [Walla Walla University] student body specially. There are a lot of inside jokes that may only be understood by those in our university community.
What do you think gave your 10-minute film the edge?
I think the attention to detail really gave the film its edge. All of us who worked on the film donated our time and energy to make sure the film was exactly how we wanted it to be. It was the result of several people with varying strengths coming together with a shared vision to create something “exquisite.”
I watched the film and enjoyed it very much – but I would have a hard time describing it. What do you say to people who ask what the film is about? Does the film have a message?
I can’t honestly say the film has a deeper meaning behind it. I usually tell people it is about two quirky students who decide to venture into nature and discover all sorts of things. The film is driven more by the aesthetics than the narrative – there was a feel to the film that we tried to pull off with intentional color palette, sets, costumes, and style of action.
You have said it was "inspired by Wes Anderson." Certainly the film is quirky, colorful, stylized and the actors are awkward – these are all elements I would credit to a Wes Anderson film. In what ways would you say it paid homage to Anderson?
Wes Anderson’s films are amazing because his films are so incredibly intentional – every shot is intricately planned to the tiniest detail. We tried to capture that with the visuals, but also with the music, quirky characters, dry dialogue, and the sort of nonchalant way characters respond to the action that takes place around them.
You were the film's producer and co-director – was The Exquisite Outdoors your idea? How much of a collaboration was it?
The film started as the brainchild of cinematographer Erik Edstrom (who won Best in Festival at SONscreen last year) and myself. We always wanted to shoot something in the unique style of Wes Anderson, and working with ASWWU Video at the university was the perfect opportunity.
More students came on board and donated their time – Jacob Patterson wrote the screenplay and Eric Weber dove into creating the world as costume and set designer.
As ASWWU Video Creative Director, I made sure the project actually happened, and because of my original interest in the project, was able to take on an assortment of tasks. Apart from co-directing, I really enjoyed recording and mixing the original score with the help of some talented student musicians: Joel Willard and Nate Stratte.
ASWWU? What is that?
It stands for Associated Students of Walla Walla, and ASWWU Video as it is today, came to be a few years ago, when several student filmmakers realized they could empower the students and really capture WWU as an amazing place to be. ASWWU Video is really by the students, for the students and is intended to promote WWU as an amazing place. The success of the music video WWU – Can’t Hold Us really kicked off that “culture to be proud of” back in 2013.
Walla Walla University provided several amazing opportunities during my time there. I was first the Editor-in-Chief of The Collegian, then I became the Head Creative Director of ASWWU Video, where I led a team of eight students to produce a short film each week.
Most of the students involved in ASWWU Video aren’t actually film majors. None of the ASWWU Video Heads have been film majors – just students who enjoyed film and spent a lot of time perfecting their skills. Though I had plenty of communications classes, I only took a few film classes at WWU. I chose the major I did because I knew I’d want to continue film as a hobby, regardless of what I studied.
Are there groups like ASWWU on other campuses?
I was able to attend the annual Adventist Intercollegiate Association gathering a few years ago as outgoing Collegian Editor-in-Chief and I learned that there is no department like ASWWU Video or even a student association with the size and passion as ASWWU. At WWU, ASWWU is a culture. Student want to get involved; they see the value, the opportunities, and the potential to create amazing things together.
How long did it take to write, shoot and edit The Exquisite Outdoors? When was it made?
Jacob wrote the script over spring break 2015 and we conceptualized, storyboarded, shot, and edited the film in 10 weeks, just in time for an end-of-year release.
How did the film come to be entered in the SONscreen festival? Have you won awards at SONscreen before?
This is my first win for SONscreen, though not the first for Erik Edstrom, the cinematographer and lead editor. Last year, his film The Way won Best in Festival and Best Dramatic Short.
We decided to enter The Exquisite Outdoors after its success on our own campus and the encouragement of the WWU Film Department. We had never intended to enter the film for awards when we created it.
You graduated from Walla Walla University last year with a degree in international communication and marketing. What are you doing now?
After a summer creating videos for the marketing department at Loma Linda University, I am now back in Walla Walla working for CMBell Company, a Communications/Marketing agency as the Lead Video Producer. I help produce a variety of short films, from whiteboard animations to internal communications for Adventist Health corporate.
When I’m not working, I’m exploring new film/animation techniques to implement in upcoming projects, both for work and for fun/freelance.
What is your favorite film of all time?
That is an incredibly difficult question, but a few of my all time favorites would include Her, Interstellar, and The Darjeeling Limited. All of them have gorgeous cinematography and a strong emotional core driving the story.
What drew you to work in film?
I’ve always loved film, but never really thought I’d be able to find work in it. Thanks to the internet and a vast pool of learning resources, I’ve taught myself a lot of editing, special effects, and animation techniques I’ve been able to use to get real work and a good agency job doing exactly that.
Do you have a film project you are working on now? What is your ultimate goal in filmmaking?
I’d love to continue more narrative projects and find more opportunities in larger scale film productions, with talented filmmakers to learn from.
Only brainstorming now: I’ve begun very early collaboration again with Erik Edstrom on a dramatic science-fiction short, but no solid details in sight yet. Right now, I’m spending a lot of time learning useful effects, animation techniques, 3D modeling, and color grading skills that I can use on the next big project I tackle.
There are plenty of miniature projects I’m working on outside of work, but the agency projects take most of the time at the moment.
Do you feel that the Adventist church appreciates film and filmmakers? Does the church make use of the medium? Do you have ideas about how film could be used in the church?
Film is the best medium to effectively convey messages and inspire people to change the world.
I think the best films are the ones that aren’t blatantly religious. I think you can make a huge difference with just a compelling story.
The Adventist church could learn and better understand that with an inspiring project secular filmmakers can make just as much, if not more, impact than expressly religious filmmakers.
How does winning at SONscreen benefit you and your career?
I was incredibly honored to win at SONscreen. It gives me motivation to keep making films after receiving such positive affirmation. I’m incredibly inspired by the potential of film and I hope that I can help create things in the future that have a positive impact on those who view it. I hope we’ve helped inspire other potential storytellers to not give up and keep finding the most effective ways to convey their stories.
What opportunities are there for Adventist filmmakers?
We live in an age where the resources to create incredible films are at our fingertips. It’s not about the equipment you have or the budget. It’s about the story and the hard work and the passion that goes into it.
The Exquisite Outdoors cost us about $15 to make because everyone donated their time and energy to see it through. Adventist and non-Adventist filmmakers shouldn’t be discouraged by a lack of resources of equipment –– find your story, and shoot it on an iPhone if necessary.
We live in an ideal age for spreading information. We have the power to make significant change in our world.