“Hope” Short Film Interview with Director Shaun James Grant

Written by Anna Harrison

Hope takes it time to unfold. We are introduced to its protagonists, a French man and a British woman stopping at an American diner. We don’t know what they’re doing here, only that something seems off. The darkness is interrupted by the neon lights of the diner, and the quiet by a fussing child. Slowly, over the course of the film, we begin to understand the sense of melancholia that smothers the main couple, and why the woman begins to cry when she looks at the toddler sitting across the aisle from her; when it clicks, it hits like a gut punch. The performances from Jane Dowden and Yann Gael are superb, and the accompanying music beautiful—while the closing montage may lay the cheese on a bit too thick, everything that came before it remains powerfully affecting and gorgeously shot.

When did you first get the idea for this film? How long did the process from idea to post-production take?

The idea of the story originated from the diner. I would pass it as a kid when we went on road trips as a family, it had this isolated Americana feel that made me always want to stop and get a burger, we never did. I never thought too much of it back then but as I got older and drove the road myself I often thought about my short memories of it as a child. Now a director I always thought it would be a great place to shoot something. I wondered who went there and where they were going. This was the beginning of the story. When it came to writing the film we had a lot of crazy ideas that just felt too elaborate, I was constantly trying to simplify. It was then I started to consider my own personal fears as a father and how we could create a very human story surrounding the issue of parental fear. From there it just formed a life of its own.

Were there any major script changes from conception to end?

No not really. We had the script down pretty quickly and pretty much stuck to it all the way through. The one thing I did tinker with is the moment where Jane (Her) gets ups and moves seats. This is something that actually came about in the casting sessions. I felt that moving her mid-scene, although subtle, heightened the intensity of the moment.

The film follows a French man and British woman in an American diner. Did you always plan to have an international cast? What do you think that brings to the story?

We did, yes. It was important for me to disorient the audience as to where they were in the world. I wanted it to feel like this could be anywhere, a universal believability.

The film did such a good job of teasing out the reason for the couple’s journey—how do you make sure not to give the realization away in the early parts of the film while still maintaining emotional truth?

As important as the climatic realisation is for the audience I always knew it wouldn’t be appreciated unless you felt something for the characters. So the intention was to not focus on a reveal of any sort but to focus on the human disposition of the characters, their relationship and nuanced body language. Tapping into what they would be feeling and how the environment around them would be affecting them. This I believe helped to focus on the right moments. I think on second viewing you start to see the signs much earlier as to what’s going on which is all a result of the above.

I thought the film was beautifully shot. How does your background in photography influence your directing? What does one medium offer that the other can’t, and vice versa?

I think photography taught me discipline and efficiency, especially given that I only know how to work a film camera. You have to be economical with what you’re doing, make each moment count. I was a director before I was a photographer but what I would say is, I never truly understood directing until I became a photographer, more specifically I’d say photography helped me to understand my and feel confident in my tastes and decision making. 

You were the editor as well; what was that process like? Did you leave anything on the cutting room floor?

I wasn’t supposed to cut this film. I had an editor that I’d been working with for some years who was supposed to come in and cut with me in the room. However, Covid hit and this made things really difficult. We shot at the beginning of March 2020 and the rushes came back from the lab pretty much just as Covid was starting to really affect things. I thought it was all going to pass by the summer and was happy to take a break but that wasn’t to be. Realising the situation we were in and how I didn’t want to do a remote edit I decided the right thing to do would be to cut it myself.

The music by Kyle Preston was gorgeous—how much input did you have on the music? What was that collaboration like?

So it’s funny, the music was actually found on a licensing website. It’s actually two of Kyle’s songs from an album he had online that I played around with, looping, cutting and fusing until we had one continuous piece of music. Once I had something I was pleased with we reached out to Kyle to see if was up for doing something bespoke but he watched it and really enjoyed what we’d done and suggested some things but fundamentally we kept it to what we had. 

What’s your favorite greasy diner food?

Ham Egg and Chips. All day.

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