Glenn Garrabrant is a filmmaker and the founder of the Illinois-based indie film house Logan Avenue Productions. With an emphasis on meaningful storytelling, Glenn has written and directed several shorts, such as Eventual Blindness (2018) and Cal & Amy (2020). He recently made his feature debut with Visiting Friends, a profoundly affecting drama that screened at London Rocks and the Chicago International Indie Film Festival where it took home the special festival award for Best Feature.
What can you tell us about your upbringing?
I was born in Bedford, England and grew up mostly in Florida and Pennsylvania, USA, with my dad, stepmom, and three younger sisters. School was always important to me, but from a very early age, creativity and art became my lifeblood. I was always drawing and writing stories as a kid. My dad is a musician, so that was definitely a big influence; we definitely have a lot of creatives in our family.
You got your start in music and then theater. Can you elaborate on your journey with both and how it led to you finding filmmaking?
My career as a working artist really began back in 2004. That year, I graduated college, married, and moved to Chicago. At that point, I didn’t know for sure what I wanted to do with my life, but once I tapped into the Chicago music scene, I knew then that art was my one true path.
As a performing DIY musician over the next five years, I toured extensively and also released an album, but after that time I started to feel like it was time to move on. I then took an acting class and was immediately hooked. I acted seriously for the next ten years, mostly theater, but started to act in indie films more and more. I had been writing since I was a kid, and never really stopped writing, just took long breaks to focus on other things. Seven years into my acting career, the screenwriting and filmmaking bugs had bitten me hard. That was 2017, when I founded Logan Avenue Productions and produced my first professional short film, Eventual Blindness. I still acted seriously for the next three years after that, but screenwriting and filmmaking were taking over.
In 2020, I basically became a semi-retired actor, although I did make a voiceover cameo in Visiting Friends. It’s uncredited, and you have to listen for it. I may do some acting again someday, but my focus now is screenwriting and filmmaking. I want to write and make films for the rest of my life. And I don’t feel that I ever gave up on music or acting, but rather grew into different but connected art forms. My experiences as a musician and as an actor feed into what I do now on a daily basis.
Are there any films or filmmakers that inspire your work?
There are so many filmmakers who inspire me; of course, I never try to copy. After I completed the first draft for Visiting Friends, I did feel like I had drawn some inspiration from two favorite filmmakers in particular – Martin Scorsese and John Hughes. Those two are fairly different in their styles, so I definitely felt like the script I wrote had a certain range of tone and emotion. Oh, and then I felt like the dream sequence in the script was somewhat Lynchian. That scene was originally more elaborate and it did go through different versions. We wound up simplifying it vastly due to COVID concerns and budget constraints, but I’m happy with the simplified version. I feel that it works better.
And then, funny enough, after shooting the film, I started to see some Kevin Smith inspiration as well. Again, I was never intentionally trying to copy anyone, or even emulate them. But in searching for which filmmakers inspired me the most in making this film, I would have to name those four specifically. Okay, maybe Christopher Nolan a bit too. That’s five.
Reflecting back from where you are now, what was it like directing and writing your early works?
I can confidently say that none of my early scripts were very good. That is, I wasn’t ready to seriously submit anything or try to produce it myself when I first delved into screenwriting. It took me many years of trial and error to hone my craft.
When I was finally ready to start submitting, producing and directing my scripts, there was a lot of trial-and-error as a producer and director. I did have a lot of experience to draw from as an actor and a musician/music producer. Naturally, I’m honing my craft as a director and producer as I go along as well.
Could you tell us a little bit about the mission of Logan Avenue Productions?
Our mission statement is to create compelling films that entertain us but also explore what it is to be human. At the heart of every Logan Avenue film is a social awareness issue. I like to think that we are more about asking questions than trying to give answers. Above all, we want the audience to go on a journey with the characters and get lost in it. It’s not so much about intellectualizing as it is about exploring our feelings, on a very deep level, concerning important matters in life.
Your film Visiting Friends has a very grounded tone that is driven by complex personalities. What was the catalyst to explore this theme?
Thank you for that feedback. In 2019, I was driving rideshare to supplement my income and help fund my filmmaking habit. I gave a ride to a young lady who seemed to me, from her appearance and conversation, among other things, to be a high-class sex worker.
I immediately felt sorry for her and wondered if there was anything I could do to help her. I considered calling a human trafficking hotline. However, I didn’t know if this qualified, I didn’t have any proof, and I was also concerned that reporting her would ultimately lead to making her life worse. So instead, I wrote and made this movie loosely inspired by the experience. Yet, I still wonder if I should have done more to directly help that young lady.
Keep in mind that the Jeffrey Epstein scandal and other such terrible news were floating in the background. All of that played into the overall inspiration as well.
Martin Scorsese once said that “the most personal is the most creative.” Do you feel like that applies to you and your film?
Yes, that’s a very perceptive question and insightful quote. I always wind up gravitating toward what’s the most meaningful for me on a very deep and personal level. My films are never meant to be entirely autobiographical, and they are not necessarily about me. The films are meant to be about everyone.
To produce an independent feature like Visiting Friends can be a daunting task for any filmmaker. What were the biggest obstacles you encountered?
Well, we shot the film during the pandemic, so there was that. We tried to be very careful, and thankfully no one got sick. Of course, we also had the usual obstacles, like the budget, locations, staffing, and equipment. But we tried to keep everything as minimal as possible.
Kevin Vicks, our sound recordist/mixer, and I were basically the entire crew for most of the film. We had the actors clap instead of using a slate. It was extremely bare-bones. We tried to keep it simple, focus on the characters and the story, and just make it work. I’m so grateful to Kevin Vicks, Giana Carli, Michael Farca, Richard T. Fields, Amelia de Rudder, Katie Mattot, and all of our cast and crew for being so dedicated and helping me to pull this film together.
Was it a difficult transition to making a feature length film after shorts like Eventual Blindness and Cal & Amy?
No, actually, because those short films were great warmups and trial runs leading up to making our first feature. The most challenging part was how much longer everything took. It was like making twenty short films back-to-back. The trick is to be patient, take it one thing at a time, and never give up.
What was it like on the set of your film? Can you describe the atmosphere?
It was the wonderful, intoxicating atmosphere of a bunch of serious artists coming together to create something that we all care about. It was challenging and exhausting at times, but, for the most part, we had fun.
Indie budget films often struggle when interior car shots are involved, especially when the vehicle is on the road. How did you accomplish those scenes?
Because of our bare-bones crew and the fact that we had car scenes with a lot of dialogue, we really had no choice but to use greenscreen. In general, as a filmmaker, I try to avoid greenscreen and any type of CGI as much as possible. But in this case, it was the best solution so that we could stay safe and simply focus on the acting.
Since I had never done this before, I did research online of course, but also did a few tests at home leading up to the film shoot. I found that with some soft light on the actors’ faces, green poster board taped outside the windows, and lights outside the car illuminating the green poster board (not too harshly), you could accomplish a good greenscreen without too much spill. Of course, most editing software now is set up to help you reduce the greenscreen spill pretty easily. You just want to reduce it on set as much as possible. Then we added light leaks and a shaking motion in post. Of course, our mixer, Kevin Vicks, did a wonderful job mixing the driving noises as well.
A few people who have watched the film told me that the car scenes look real to them. I think the story unfolding in those scenes is what takes up most of your attention, and that’s the most important thing to me – that the audience is lost in the story. If that’s happening, then the VFX takes a back seat (no pun intended).
What can you say about your on-screen talent and what working with them was like? From the casting process to directing them, what pointers did you give your actors?
Having acted professionally for a decade, I’m definitely an actor’s director. In auditions, I look for talent, dedication, and magic. I cast each and every actor because I see something special in them. I was very fortunate to have such an amazing cast for Visiting Friends. As a director, I’m very focused on each individual moment, always starting from a place of reality and looking through the eyes of the characters, but also through the eyes of the audience. So I give notes to my actors that I feel will ground us in reality, communicate the right things to the audience, and also help weave the story we’re trying to tell. Of course, sometimes I’m asking the actors what they think and/or listening to their ideas and questions.
Because of COVID concerns, budget and time constraints, and the long dialogue scenes, we often did Zoom rehearsals one day a week before each week’s shoot. This helped greatly with this film, but it’s not a process that I feel I need to repeat with every film.
What upcoming projects can we look forward to?
Our next film, which is our second feature, is entitled Local Area Network. It’s aimed at suicide prevention awareness. It’s currently in post-production, and I’m excited to get that one finished and get it out there sometime soon.
What advice or motivation can you give to filmmakers reading this?
It may sound like a cliché, but always follow your heart. If your art provides you with some money too, then great, but remember that money, as they say, is not everything. Start with short films, but go for that feature film when you feel ready. Try crowdfunding and apply for grants. Go zero budget and shoot it with your phone if you have to. Not sure how you’re going to distribute and promote? Just make the film and research/develop that later. And research all your favorite filmmakers; you’ll find inspiration and consolation in their struggles, trust me. All of them started out as rookies and just kept making films. It took David Lynch five years to complete his first feature, Eraserhead, because he kept running out of money. Filmmakers make films. Period. So what are you waiting for? Go make a film! Just remember to take it one day at a time. One moment at a time. And don’t forget to enjoy the other aspects of your life. They’re important too. Stuck on the script? Budget issues? Actor drama? Equipment broke down? Editing blues? Go for a walk, grab ice cream with a friend, clean the apartment, go to the gym. . . find healthy outlets that help clear your mind instead of clouding it. And nobody’s perfect. We’re all learning and growing. You got this!