Written and directed by Rob Grant, Harpoon focuses on a trio of friends stranded at sea after a brutal fight. As hours turn into days, tension and jealousy arise, threatening not only their friendship but their lives. Grant was able to take the time to answer a few questions about his latest blood-soaked feature. Harpoon is available to watch via Amazon or through Showtime's streaming service.
How did you get the film off the ground and into production?
My producer Mike Peterson knew I was having a creative crisis and kind of let me go bananas with this new script I was thinking of. Luckily he liked it and pushed to get it financed.
What was your writing process like? Did you find yourself reevaluating certain friendships in your life? Watching this definitely put certain relationships within my life into perspective.
Yeah, my process is a bit funky, I can usually get excited about a premise quickly enough, but then I need to let that idea sit for a year or two while I kind of think out everything that I'm trying to actually say… and it's usually not what I think it is.
I’m glad that you had that reaction, as my hope is that even if the trio are extremes, there are parts of old friendships that can be recognized. We worked hard on making sure that regardless of their squabbles, the real issues with one another are universal flaws we can all recognize either in someone we know or ourselves. I like to say I’m a bit of all three of them depending on the circumstances.
What do you think is the key to writing characters that audiences can simultaneously care about and dislike? You found a really good balance there.
I appreciate that because based on some responses I don’t think we were entirely successful with that… and that was okay for us going in. Not everyone likes watching the ‘bad people do bad things’ films. We knew this wouldn’t be for everyone, so at a certain point, we just had to focus on what we were digging about it and kind of chase what we wanted to see on screen. Our only saving grace was as I said above, you hope there is enough relatable humanity in there that doesn’t turn everyone completely off. We would constantly talk with the cast about how each of them had to justify their behavior. No one thinks they are a bad guy…
What led to the decision of using a narrator? Especially with character backstories rather than having the audience discover the characters themselves. I’m sure you’ve gotten this a billion times, but the narration is very Magnolia-esque.
We had a narrator from draft one, and our justification was that I didn’t want old friends to have to give expositional dialogue for the sake of the audience. There was going to be enough reveals without having to then have them be self-referential about their past. Friends have a shorthand, so the narrator was always meant to catch us up beforehand.
During test-screenings we also found that the tone of the narrator’s delivery helps warm up the audience. We found that by having the narrator not judge these characters it gave the audience a chance to accept them. It also gave the audience permission to know things were going to be a bit off-kilter. When we were in the room with [Brett] Gelman, Magnolia came up for sure. Without that voice-over telling you weird stuff happens I don’t think you would accept frogs raining from the sky by the end of the film.
What was the most difficult part of filming in such a confined space? Props to your production designer, Tim Rutherford. The interior set seamlessly blended with the boat’s exterior.
Tim and his team nailed it. There are so many details in that set that tell you a story if you are looking for them. They had a tough job because they built an interior boat set before we had even picked a real boat to match.
Filming in a confined space was a real blessing actually. We could only fit one camera in there so it actually made things a lot simpler, no distractions. We got to really just focus on the performances and the composition and kind of just hoped for the best.
With the exteriors being shot at sea, what safety precautions did you have to take?
The boat came with a three-person local crew that kind of told us what we could and could not do. Movie magic allowed us to have the boat tied to the dock for most of shooting so we had pretty good control over all the various elements.
Honestly, the biggest issue (aside from clouds rolling in and out) were kayakers and scuba divers stopping in the background to watch us.
What most do you want viewers to take away from your film?
That’s a tough question… I think I just want a reaction, good or bad I suppose, mediocrity is death. The goal for me is just to entertain. If people want to dig a little deeper and read into things a bit more that’s great, but I certainly am not one to force any ideas on people.
What exactly is the difference between a harpoon and a speargun?
Haha, we went back and forth on this a ton on set too. From what we could gather a speargun is the handheld device meant for spearfishing. A harpoon usually seems to be the large, mounted on the front of your boat, whale catching weapons.
What films/directors have had the biggest impact on your life and why?
I saw Terminator 2 in the theatre with my Dad when I was in grade 2… and that was like discovering fire for me. The usual suspects of Spielberg, Scorsese, Linklater, Soderbergh, Kubrick, and in now thinking of it, none of the biggest impacts came from genre films or directors, which might explain why my genre stuff leans a little further into the dramatic, but who the hell knows.
What’s next for you?
I have another script that we are in the early stages of showing to people. It's another wacky one that this time deals with the good side of friendship, the ‘would you help your friend burry a body’ side… but still early days.