Back Stage sat down with David to talk about independent cinema and working with children.
How did you get into filmmaking?
Grainger David: I started out in college as an English major and was really interested in novels and writing, and I thought that that might be a career. I did a lot of short story writing after college. I worked as a journalist for a little while, and then when I moved to New York, I sort of got exposed to smaller movies, independent movies that felt more novelistic to me than the big-budget Hollywood movies I had seen growing up in a cineplex in South Carolina…I went to film school at New York University and have made a couple other small short films before this one. I think it kind of grew out of my interest for general story telling and writing.
So what is "The Chair" about?
David: It's all shot in a rural part of South Carolina, where I'm from, and the story is about an outbreak of poisonous mold in a small town in South Carolina. It follows this one boy who is coming to terms with his mother's death. She was the first person to die from this weird outbreak. He's living with his grandmother, and his grandmother's obsessed with the recliner that sort of started it all. Apparently this is where the mold festered and spread.
It takes a kind of plausible scenario, you know in a really humid and kind of damp part of the world you can get houses and pieces of furniture that are infested with this kind of toxic black mold, and kind of extrapolates it in an almost "science fiction-y" way. And it also sort of warps it again through the lens of a misremembered childhood memory. So, it's a strange little movie.
Where did this idea come from?
David: I remember very vividly growing up that there would be times when our house would get so humid that my mom would have to get up on this ladder and scrape mold off the ceiling. It had this feeling of the natural world encroaching on the human world - that it was slowing going to come over and take over everything if you let it. There was something sort of dark and mysterious about that, especially when you look particularly closely at what's happening in nature and that was really fascinating to me.
The main character and narrator of your film are children. As a director, what's it like working with kids?
David: It's funny. I look back on it as being totally great and really fun. But I do think that at the time it was quite a challenge, because they don't want to work all the time in the way you need them to on a film that you are trying to get done in a certain amount of days. They were a total handful, but they are really cool and most of the kids I have actually known for a really long time. The three kids who play the younger siblings are actually siblings and kids I babysit sometimes. It was a little easier because of that. I knew them and was like 'I'm going to tell your granddad you were bad today.' So, I could crack that whip a little bit, but I mean they were awesome. It was really fun.
What's next for you?
David: I actually made another short in January. So, I'm in post-production on that. It stars the little girl in the TV show "Mad Men," Sally Draper. Her name is Kiernan Shipka. She's really great. And we have a cool visual effects element to it, so that has been a really big challenge, but I'm really excited about the movie.
What is it about?
David: It's about a little girl who is trying to convince her parents to let her keep the weird little monster that lives inside her basement. So it's like the saddest little monster movie ever. It's set in this rural farming community in the 1920s or 30s and the whole idea is in this weird little corner of the world, kids get to grow up with a strange little creature, a kind of creature-companion that has to be put down as a coming of age ritual. And this is one of the last ones. People think it's a primitive practice. They don't want to do it anymore. So she has one of the last little creatures, and she's trying to keep it. I'm really excited by it.