• Through the Trees

Interview: Lucky

We speak to Brea Grant and Natasha Kermani about their surreal satire film Lucky

Interview conducted by Katherine McLaughlin

On the 10th March 2021 I spoke to Brea Grant and Natasha Kermani about their surreal satire Lucky. Brea wrote the screenplay and stars in the lead role. Just in the last year or so Brea has written, directed and released another excellent genre caper, 12 Hour Shift, appeared in Jill Gevargizian’s superb horror film The Stylist and another recent favourite of mine, After Midnight. Lucky is the second feature film Natasha has directed after the beguiling scif-fi flick Imitation Girl which stars Lauren Ashley Carter. It is brilliant and you should check it out.

That same day I spoke to Brea and Natasha alarming statistics about sexual harassment towards women were reported in The Guardian. Stalking, violence and intimidation of women is part of what Lucky is examining as it smartly toys with the tropes of the slasher film and the final girl. In the film the final girl has essentially matured into an exhausted woman in her 30s who is tackling a daily onslaught of violence and dismissal. Brea Grant talks about her personal experience of stalking in this interview.

A couple of things to note, we speak about George Cukor’s Gaslight and like the idiot I am I refer to it as the 1930s film…it was actually released in 1944 and I highly recommend you check it out. Also, you may find it triggering to listen to us talk about violence against women or the Brett Kavanaugh hearings and the testimony from Doctor Christine Blasey Ford.

I hope you find something worthwhile in our conversation and please do feel free to reach out on social media if you want to chat about any of the topics we cover.

You can listen to the interview below or on YouTube. The full transcript is available further down if you'd prefer to read rather than listen.

It looks like you had a lot of fun shooting Lucky but I’m assuming it was a lot of hard work on a small budget. Can you take me through the production and any of the highlights? What was the most chaotic day or what was the best day?

Natasha Kermani: We had such a great team. I was fortunate enough to work with my repeat crew and Brea also has an incredible network of people. A lot of the actors were from Brea’s world which was great. Having that shorthand with your cast and crew really makes everything a little more enjoyable. We love to meet new people but it’s great to have your friends with you. We shot the movie in 15 days so it was definitely a sprint once we’d started. It was go, go go! We really tried to prep as much as possible. We definitely had a plan but things change of course, but overall it was pretty smooth. We didn’t do a lot of overtime. Brea definitely had the hardest time as she’s in every scene of the movie, basically every shot. With actors it’s super tough they have to come in early and get their make-up done.

Brea Grant: As an actor, yeah, but it’s nothing shocking. Honestly, as an actor the hardest thing is waiting around and I didn’t do a lot of waiting around with this movie! It was interesting because most of the actors came in for a day or two. A very little amount of time. It was sort of strange because I feel like I didn’t do a lot of actor bonding. It was much more me and the crew every single day. It was a different vibe to other film’s I’ve been on.

NK: I always think of the movie as Alice in Wonderland as you’re moving through these bizarre people. It was a great cast of LA actors…It was like the circus was in town. Shuffle through new acts. I also want to say, this was the most women I’ve had on set, specifically the most women heads of department, which was really special for both of us and we really enjoyed that and we hope to be able to do that again.

Do you do your own editing?

NK: I work with an editor. I find that collaboration very important. My process is usually to let the editor take it and actually start to do an assembly on his or her own. Then I come in about 2 weeks later into the process and pull everything apart and redo it. But we sit together and we edit together. I like to have somebody else come to the material. With Lucky actually our editor is a man which I thought was really interesting and important to have an outside viewpoint in, and ask, ‘hey, does this make sense?’ Obviously, there’s still a lot of the movie that may still be a stretch to access for people who don’t identify with May’s experience but having him as part of the process was honestly really helpful for putting it all together.

Was there anything beloved that ended up on the cutting room floor?

NK: Always. With such a short, quick movie there’s very little that you’re going to cut in fifteen days, but there were a few things I really liked. Just some cool shots that we had to cut short. The one big thing we cut was the conversation between May and Ted at the dishwasher…it slowed down the momentum and we were having trouble fitting it in and it just felt better to have a smoother opening sequence. That got reshuffled. The order of things got reshuffled at the beginning of the movie. For the most part, what’s on script is what we shot and what ended up in the edit.

Let’s talk about the title, was that the title from day one and did you have any discussions about changing the title?

BG: Yeah, that was the title in the original script and there were a lot of discussions about changing the title because in this day and age you have to worry about whether something is googleable and whether or not it can be hashtagged…this is kind of the anti of that movie so I feel like we never really cared that much. There’s other movies called Lucky, there’s a movie I love called Lucky! Natasha and I talked a lot about it, we talked a lot with our producers and at the end of the day there wasn’t a title that felt right besides Lucky. It worked on so many levels and it worked for the movie. It’s been called that since I started writing it.

NK: There’s so many different interpretations of the word, it’s really loaded. Also, we made the choice to…I mean I do this with most of my work but the title card doesn’t appear till the end of the movie and it’s almost like a post-script…it’s an epilogue to the movie that you just watched. It’s one word that encapsulates the whole thing. I did that with my first film as well and I just kind of like it so people can form their own opinion. I think titles are so loaded and when you feel those words at the beginning of a movie, people are like, I don’t care who these people are, just start the movie. I think Lucky as a word is an epilogue to the movie you’ve just experienced works really well and opens up the conversation. You can start to see the movie as leading up to that jump-off point and then now the conversations can happen and things can come out of it. We love the title. I love the title.

When it showed at Fantasia, where I saw it, I was listening to the Q&A with you, and Britney Spears was mentioned in that. Is that true?

NK: #freebritney

Well, we’ve all seen the documentary now, right?

Both: Yes!

NK: No, that’s totally a joke…

I was just checking…

NK: It would have definitely been my karaoke song if SXSW had happened and we went to karaoke after that. So, the world missed out on that.

Today I read a depressing statistic: Women in their 30s are the most discriminated against in the workplace. 60% of women in their 30s report opportunities stalling, the highest of any age group. How much of that have you experienced over your career? Have you noticed doors closing and opportunities dwindling?

NK: Damn!! We have a lot of thoughts on this.

BG: I will say this, it is so helpful having other women in the film industry as friends because we can text each other and be like…and let off the steam because we know this happens to us. We’re told sometimes…I mean you’re talking about problems that come from years and years of not having women behind the camera, right so, anyone can always say to me or Natasha, or pretty much any women our age or older…I think this probably extends in to your 40s and 50s…that you don’t have the experience, right? Because we haven’t been given the opportunities to have the experience. Yes, that’s something that somebody is going to be able to bring up and hire someone who has been doing it longer, who was born a man, remained a man, and identified as a man and who kept making movies throughout his entire career. He’s going to get more opportunities because it wasn’t until the last five or ten years where we started paying attention to women and started telling these stories. Yeah, I think Natasha and I can literally write you a little doc of the times this has happened, and I can tell you the times it has happened to her and I can tell you the times this has happened to my friends. That’s a sad ending to that sentence, that was the end though.

Lucky kind of encapsulates that feeling of fear, frustration exhaustion at a system that’s designed not to favour women.

NK: You know, Katherine, one of the things…obviously there’s a really overt metaphor for violence against women in this film but it is also the systemic exhaustion that women go through because we bust ass so hard through our twenties, that by the time we get to our thirties we’re so tired. And now we’re also supposed to be starting families and putting our homes together. It’s so much, and I think that is the second layer to May’s experience, that she is a career woman and she busted ass to get herself to that point and now she’s trying to get to the next level, and that’s why we chose…one very important change that we made to the script is that her second book is actually not doing well. So this is a woman who got herself to a certain level and suddenly it’s not working anymore. She has to reinvent herself, she has to shift herself and she’s exhausted, she’s fucking tired. I think that’s very relatable and I think that’s just as important as the other conversations in the film.

I also need to say, this pandemic has revealed a lot. It’s revealed a lot about how women are not prioritised in our society and the rate at which women, especially women of colour are leaving the workforce is a huge problem and it’s something that we’re going to have to contend with. Our generation is going to have to contend with that. We’ve taken many steps backwards in the last year. We can talk about the film industry, it’s incredibly important. Visibility is incredibly important, seeing women like Brea publicly at the front of the movie is incredibly important but we also need to remember all the other industries that are more important. People working in hospitality, working in the food industry, those are women who are working and are leaving the workforce. That’s a real problem. So, that’s my soapbox.

On the opposite end of the spectrum, on a more positive note, has Lucky opened any doors on its release for you?

NK: We’re really pleasantly surprised, I guess, at the critical response to the film. I think it’s incredibly exciting for us because we knew that women were going to love the movie and respond to it. Or even if they didn’t love the movie they were going to get something out of it and want to talk about it, but having the really positive reviews from really well-respected publications and reviewers and critics has been really gratifying. So that’s been one really great thing. Even the arguments seeing people get into Twitter fires with each other has been kind of great because that’s the point of the movie, it’s to talk about this stuff.

I was really happy to see The Guardian gave you a 4* review so congratulations, that must have been really exciting.

BG: Yeah, wild, wild. I mean it’s exciting to see people understand the movie on a broader level too. I had a lot of fears that people were going to just dismiss it as a horror movie that came out this week that stars a woman, and she’s screaming and running for her life. That was definitely not the movie I was writing and not the movie I think Natasha was attempting to make.

I listened to Natasha on a podcast I always listen to, Switchblade Sisters, talking about Strange Days. You said, and correct me if I’m wrong, you wanted to examine violence in society. Obviously, Strange Days is quite explicit in how it does this and I feel like Lucky veers away from that to look at the greater impact as a whole, the psychological toll as well as pain being diminished. Can you talk to me more about how and why you want to examine violence in society through your filmmaking?

NK: Not to glorify it, I think that was really important to us as well with Lucky, even to the point of hiring a woman stunt co-ordinator. And making sure that May was not this super cool, awesome super hero-like sexy moves, that it was actually really grounded and not glorified in that way is incredibly important. I think that there’s a lot of violence and a lot of brutality in our society, and don’t like to think about it. My dad is an ER physician so my whole life I was really aware of the uglier parts of our society that are discarded and end up very often in the emergency room. I know this seems like a total veer off from your question but I promise it comes back around.

There are people in our society who base…they hold the line between what we go through every day as a society and what we think is our civilised life and there is such a tiny think layer between our day to day and the total chaos and brutality of our base instincts. Be it, our propensity for addiction, our propensity for violence – sort of these uglier sides of ourselves. This is what horror does so well, right? It exorcises those elements and talks about those parts of ourselves and I think film has a really unique way of starting these conversations and having these conversations because it is experiential. You can really be in the shoes of an addict or a victim of violence or someone who’s struggling and no news article is going to do that. You have to be in the emergency room seeing this pain that people are dealing with.

Anyway, that’s my interest. I think it’s very real and I think unless we talk about it, it is something, like it or not that we pay for. We pay our taxes, where do you think those taxes go? It is a part of our society and if we continue to turn away from it, it will just fester and we need to talk about.

Definitely, and as you say horror has always been at the frontline for discussing topics that people shy away from. Brea, I read that you took inspiration from real life, and I’m sorry to hear about your experiences, but what you’ve also done is you’ve channelled that into a form that toys with slasher tropes and the final girl in such a smart way. Firstly, I think the final girl has matured into a woman who is totally exhausted of dealing with the daily threat of violence. Can you tell me about the process of writing the screenplay and the final girls or slasher films that maybe you’ve watched over your life, that may have had an impact on the screenplay?

BG: I’m always writing something, and of course this material is close to me. At the time I was dealing with the fallout of having a stalker and dealing with the judicial system, talking to detectives on a regular basis, so all this stuff was very present in my mind. At the time I had moved in with a couple of roommates and I had to be like, “hey, I have this situation, here’s my restraining order against this person. If he shows up I don’t know what you do, you can’t throw this restraining order in his face.

What really struck me, when I would tell people about that because I had to or just when it would come up, and I’m not a person who talks about this stuff a lot. That I do have in common with May, where I tend to try and deal with everything myself, I found that women were just like, “right, yeah, I’ve been through that.” Or at the very least they related in some way, they were like, “yeah I had this guy in college…” For me that all kind of played into the screenplay. It wasn’t just my experience, it was the experience of all these women that I started talking to. All these interviews, as Natasha will tell you, every woman is like, “yeah, yeah I know.” Like you have some experience you can point to where you were in danger. Which is pretty horrifying.

It went to a couple of other places and I got a lot of notes back that didn’t necessarily understand the script. I even got a note back at one point where someone was like, can you add…can the opening be a scene with sexual violence? Because they thought that that would really propel May. There’s enough happening here already, we don’t have to propel May with a rape scene, which is essentially what they wanted. There were a lot of people who misunderstood the script, I think. But then I found a nice place for it at Epic and Natasha and some producers that really seemed to understand the point of it.

As far as movies go, there’s a ton of movies that play into it. I love indie horror and I love older horror. A movie I think I pulled from without really meaning to was, Let’s Scare Jessica to Death, which has similar gaslighty vibes and I watched some older movies that had gaslighting in. Is it called Gaslighting?

Gaslight is the old 1930s film…

I watched loads of those for research, but a lot of it was just playing with those typical slashers that I had seen my whole life. All the Friday the 13ths, I mean I’m a Halloween movie, like those kind of movies…What would really happen to these women? They would be exhausted! They would not by day two of after the night happens you would not…if the guy came back I don’t know what woman would be like, “And I’m gonna fight him again!” Most women would be like, “I’m done!”

NK: And May – you also mentioned the name.

BG: Yeah of course, May is named after Angela Bettis’s character in the movie May – which I think is an amazing movie. As artists and writers we’re always pulling from crap and then people are like, “What about this movie?” And I’m like, right yeah, I did pull from that movie and a lot of it doesn’t even dawn on me half the time.

On the subject of influences and stuff, and maybe intersectional feminism as well, were there any particular cultural things, like books, articles, music, films that you’ve digested throughout your life that’s cemented how equity isn’t readily available to women? When was the first seminal moment where a piece of culture explained to you what was happening?

NK: This isn’t the first thing but in context maybe, when I was reading the script for the first time, the Brett Kavanaugh hearings were happening in the background and that was the news cycle at the time. That was obviously dredging up a lot of shit for a lot of women including myself so that was the cultural context, I guess, in which I read Lucky and it was pretty apropos. It was exactly what the movie is about in a lot of ways; women being believed, women being gaslit, their trauma being marched in front of everybody, for what? For what reason? I would also say the first time as a young adult when I was told to not get married and to not have kids if I wanted a career. That really shook me to my core because I plan on getting married, I plan on having children and I plan on having a family so that really shook me. I think I was 19 or 20. It was such a horrible thing to say to a young woman. That’s a horrible thing to say and here I am at 32 years old and I’m now just getting those things together and I think that fed into it. I was really scared of that stuff because it had been told to me so many times. Basically be a man, just do what men do on their career path. You can have your boyfriends or girlfriends or whatever, just don’t get pregnant, don’t get married.

And Brea?

BG: I think I was really fortunate because I grew up…I’m a little older than Natasha and I grew up in the 90s and I started listening to punk music on the trail end of the Riot grrl movement so I remember someone giving me a mix-tape with Bratmobile and Bikini Kill and a bunch of spoken word on it and listening to the spoken word and being like, “What is this?!” I was familiar with bigger punk bands and even political punk bands because where I grew up it was a pretty political scene, but more animal rights, that kind of hardcore punk.

And these girls were in this scene at the time. I was young, I was like 14 or 15 and I would catch a ride with my brother to the shows and these girls would make Zines who were 17, 18 and give us these zines and it blew my mind. I’m from a very small town in East Texas, it’s quite conservative, very traditional gender roles and I think that was such a moment, where I was like, “The World is bigger than this.” I learned to play drums, I started a band, I played in a punk band all through my teens and I was like, I can do something beyond what I’ve seen at this point. Which is why I think visibility is so important. I didn’t know that stuff existed. I didn’t even have the internet…I’m almost 40. I had to find out these things in a very specific way and it was so eye-opening. I don’t remember who that girl was who handed me that first zine but she’s basically responsible for my career.

That’s lovely!

I wanted to talk about the collaboration between you two…as Natasha was saying the Brett Kavanaugh hearings were happening when the script landed with you and it chimed with you. So, can you tell me more about when you did decide to collaborate what kind of conversations did you have? Were there any changes that you made? Did it bring up any talking points or discussions that maybe you hadn’t thought of?

NK: The first thing I want to say, is that I really want to highlight that this movie was a collaboration between two women on the topic of visibility, because there’s a lot of competition that’s fostered by society between women and it’s healthy to see women collaborating in a healthy, productive way. That’s the most important thing that came out of our collaboration is that it happened…that the movie happened and it came out. If anything, I feel like I came into this working relationship with a lot of respect for Brea and I have even more now and I can’t wait to collaborate again. I think it’s really important to see that it’s possible and also with all the other women on the set as well.

I think that Brea had to think about, this is my story, am I ready to step into the role? She had already processed the writing, so I think the next step was that. And then getting the script production ready and having very open discussions about what made sense, what didn’t make sense. Pretty logistical conversations to be honest, I think we were on the same page.

BG: Yeah, totally. What’s nice about when you work with someone who’s a professional like Natasha is that I felt really comfortable that she was going to take charge of things and work her magic. I’m a strong believer in having a captain of the ship. You need a singular voice once you get to the process of production. My voice is in the script, I worked on the script, I did what I could do, but I think of that as one piece of art and then the movie is a different piece of art. Whatever it is, is what Natasha wants it to be and is trying to make. She came in with so many strong ideas and opinions that I could see the movie already, immediately. You made a look book early on and I was like, oh cool, this is so much cooler than what someone else would have done.

NK: That’s good! I was listening to a radio programme the other day that was talking about bringing more women into…not to bring up this can of worms but it was looking at policing alternatives. It was a mayor of a town in New York who was looking at alternatives and he was talking about bringing more women into resolution roles, so conflict resolution roles, and how it’s seen over and over again how women have a propensity for de-escalation. For whatever reason, it’s a bit easier for us to put our egos aside, sometimes and focus on the task at hand. I think that’s really key. It’s not about putting my mark on things, pissing all over the project and making it a Natasha Kermani film. It’s what’s best for the project, how is this going to work for both of us and have a really great piece we can all move forward with. Putting ego aside is really key.

Lucky is available to watch now on Shudder

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