Big News from Grand Rock is a film that focuses on an idea that seems on the verge of becoming obsolete. The story follows small-town journalist Leonard Crane (Ennis Esmer) as he tries to keep the local paper running by creating news stories based on old films. The movie uses two objects that many of us live without at this point, the video store and a print newspaper, as the main focus. The obvious first thought is to wonder why anybody would use these things that many people would consider dead or dying. Director Daniel Perlmutter and star Ennis Esmer, both of whom were gracious enough to spend some time with Toronto Film Scene to talk about the film, realize that print media may be dying, but that it’s still an important part of many people’s lives.
“I think in a lot of small towns, print newspapers really bring a community together.” explained Perlmutter, with Esmer adding “The idea of the video store and small-town papers, I think it’s something that there’s a nostalgia there but it’s sort of a weird nostalgia because they still exist, but they’re not as ubiquitous as they used to be.” The importance of a local paper for some of the smaller towns in Ontario was felt strongly as filming on Big News from Grand Rock began. “Midland, where we shot the film, lost its newspaper just before we started filming and that was a paper that had been there over 100 years I think, and the town felt that a lot. Not everybody there is going to be online or connecting to the same news site where as you knew that this one paper that was available everywhere would be the same thing that everybody was reading, and that they were sharing in this one same experience.” said Perlmutter.
The other aspect that plays heavily in the film is the video store where Leonard gets his ideas for fake news stories. By watching a string of older comedies, like Overboard or Multiplicity, Leonard is able to write fake stories based on the plots of those films. For hardcore movie fans, it seems crazy that nobody would notice, but not everybody has watched all those films. “They’re not these huge iconic films but they’re movies that everyone kind of remembers and if you told somebody it was actually real it’s possible that they’re removed enough from it that they would actually think it happened as opposed to being in a movie.” Esmer says, as Perlmutter continued “That was kind of the reaction we were going for, that kind of ‘oh I remember that movie’ and there was also this element that those type of movies aren’t really made anymore and we were trying to make Big News from Grand Rock as one of those movies also.”
The idea that Big News from Grand Rock was inspired by those kinds of wacky 80s comedies immediately makes sense, and it’s something that you kind of unknowingly understand while watching. To perfect that kind of family friendly comedy, you have to find just the right actors to lead the way, and that was a huge part of the film as Perlmutter explained. “I think that a lot of that [success] is having actors that are coming from a world of improvising and when you have Ennis who is a great improviser, that was probably the most important part to me.” Esmer also had high praise for his co-star, Meredith MacNeill. “Meredith is incredible. she is a force of nature unto herself and she just has such a unique style and take, it’s rare that I would hear her say a line in a way that I had it in my head. When I’m doing all of my lines, she would just cut the end of my sentences and jump on them. As the actor trying to perform it I felt compelled to rush out more lines, and she was jumping on them, her timing is just incredible.”
Esmer and MacNeill together are hilarious, and their pairing is what drives so much of the comedy in the film. The characters they play also have a bit of a change throughout the film. MacNeill plays Lucy, a reporter from a much larger paper that has come to Grand Rock to talk to Leonard about one of his crazy stories on cloning that is secretly taking place in town. She doesn’t believe him from the moment the two of them meet, but it starts to seem that Leonard’s story may be more true than he thought. As Leonard starts to take his role as a journalist more seriously, Lucy is caught up in the hints of a story, having the two characters suddenly switch places as Lucy is quick to jump while Leonard is the skeptical one. “It was fun to have that reversal kind of take place and that switch at that point of the movie, because Lucy’s character was someone who is very confident in herself in her professional setting. To have the switch where she could rev up and be the excitement and Ennis’ character, Leonard is suddenly the one who’s realizing that he’s got to be a better journalist and part of that is not jumping to conclusion and taking your time to be questioning.” Perlmutter explained.
Esmer continued speaking about that role reversal and how the characters are actually quite similar in the end. “I think that they actually follow a similar path too because if you think about it, Leonard clearly doesn’t think before he acts and given what happens to Leonard, the town, and the paper in the wake of Lucy releasing the story of Leonard’s lies, she also kind of acted without thinking and she discovers the impact of what she’s done, so I think she’s very desperate to rectify the situation.”
The end result for Big News from Grand Rock is that it’s a successful comedy that plays well for all audiences. Timing is certainly key, as viewers learn from watching the dialogue between Leonard and Lucy in the film, but it’s also something that happened off-screen for the script as well, which Perlmutter explains before the interview is over. “The script was in development for so long and we had so much great support. It got to a point that we were all happy with it and it felt like it made sense and you finally feel this is where the script needed to get to and this is how the story should be told. It was great that we got somewhere that felt right.”
Big News from Grand Rock opens Friday, February 27, 2015 at the Carlton Cinema. Be sure to catch a screening and enjoy a few great laughs.