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2019 LAAPFF Film Interviews LAAPFF

LAAPFF Interview: Producer/Actor Grant Rosenmeyer on ‘Come as You Are’

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Three young men with disabilities hit the road with a jaded nurse driver to a brothel in Montreal catering to people with special needs. Remake of the acclaimed Belgian film ‘Hasta La Vista’.

IMDb

What was the process of putting this film together like?

It was a very long journey and it took about six years to get things together. The movie originally was based on a true story about this guy–Asta Philpot–who is an Englishman with a condition called arthrogryposis, so he’s a quadriplegic. About ten years ago he actually did go on a road trip with two other gentlemen with disabilities to a brothel that catered to people with special needs so they could lose their virginity. They’re all virgins for one reason or another. And it was an unbelievable true story that made for a terrific Belgian film which ended up winning a bunch of awards and being very successful in most places but America, funny enough. Some producers over here picked it up and developed a screenplay with a friend of mine named Erik Linthorst, and I happened to be in a writer’s workshop with him. He knew I was an actor and he asked me to read Scotty who I did eventually end up playing in the movie. I basically watched from the sidelines as this movie would come together and fall apart, come together and fall apart… but the entire time that we were workshopping it over the course of three months I was like, “This is unbelievable, this is an amazing movie! This has to get made!”

Asta Philpot and Richard Wong. Photo by UMedia at SXSW.

Somehow, cosmically I wound up being in a position where I was able to make the movie. It had fallen apart just one too many times and I was able to swoop in there and basically go to the filmmakers of the Belgian movie and say to them, “Look, I’ve never really put a movie together before but I know people who do. I make movies, and I think I have an idea of how to make this thing on a smart budget. If you give it to me for a short amount of time, I’ll try to get this done for you!” And they said great, go for it! 

That was kind of the start of the journey, and the first piece of the puzzle was getting Richard Wong who’s an unbelievable director, cinematographer, and editor. I happened to know him from a show I was on called Oliver Beene. He was a digital technician on that. I think he was about 24 or 25. So I had known him and we had our own separate journeys, but we came back to each other with this movie. He was the perfect guy–Colma, Yes We’re Open–and he’s been the best creative partner. The next piece of the puzzle was Hayden… usually it’s a slow process but we just didn’t have the time. We just got this unbelievable cast together–Ravi Patel, Gabourey Sidibe–and I found the money with this great cast attached and they were like yeah, it’s a slam dunk! We just went off and made it. We had to make it before Gabourey had to go back to do season five of Empire. That was last summer and here we are!

Still from Come As You Are.

Director Richard Wong’s Come As You Are is a remake of the Belgian film Hasta La Vista. In this version of the film, was it always a conscious decision to make the cast as diverse as possible?

It was absolutely a thing! In terms of making this movie, unfortunately when it comes to casting people–I’ll start with the people with disabilities. We had to get names in order to get the financing, but once we were able to get the financing we knew we wanted to make the movie as diverse as possible. We also wanted to make it as inclusive as possible! Both able-bodied and people with disabilities. It was always a thing.

Especially if you’re going to make an independent film it should be–and really any movie–and I love that we’re seeing more and more now. Movies are getting more diverse. It represents American and the world that these movies need to appeal to. Now I find myself at LAAPFF and I’m not at all Asian. It’s great!

How different is this version of this film versus the Belgian version?

It’s pretty different. I think tonally, it’s pretty different. The Belgian sense of humor is also probably not the same as the American sense of humor. It’s funny, since it’s been a while since I watched the original and I feel like I’ve been so focused on this one. But I hope that we have made improvements–I hope we’re better! I don’t want to give too much away, but there’s just things that we had to change and a lot of that was Erik writing the script. How do we make this as relevant to this time and this place as possible?

They were also on a wine trip in the original one. They loved women and they loved wine. We got rid of the wine thing.

Bar scene in Come As You Are.

What was the transition like from acting to producing?

It was a complete baptism by fire, really. I think mostly because I just didn’t have the time–six months only. Usually when you get the rights to make something the minimum term is about 18 months. Because I didn’t have any money to offer, we decided that I could have six months to try and put this whole thing together. Which is kind of crazy for a movie, but in those six months it was just learning everything that I could and talking to others. The thing is, if you want something bad enough (and this is what I do love about this industry) and you are willing to put in the time and the work, and you’re willing to learn, people will help you. That’s what I found along the way. So many people were open to talking to me for a coffee!

I talked to some unbelievable producers about their experiences and they gave me wonderful advice. It was so scary and stressful. I lost more hair in this process than any other, but I’ll tell you what, it has made the acting a lot less stressful when you realize that while you are a crucial piece of the puzzle, you’re such a small piece of the puzzle. As a producer you need to see the whole picture. Very much like a director–you’ve got to have the whole story in your head but it’s not just the story as a producer, but it’s how you find the right people. Not just to play the parts but the right production design, the right DP, the right editor. You’ve got to find the right director. And how you’re going to market the film, and how you’re going to get the film out. What is the strategy? All this stuff that I had no idea about. I’ve learned so much just from making this, and it’s so cool.

Before getting screened at LAAPFF, Come As You Are had its world premiere at SXSW. What was the reception to the film like? Have you found support from the communities that you’re trying to represent at SXSW?

Film poster for Come As You Are.

That was probably the scariest part. We felt like we had a good movie, but it is a comedy. It’s a sex comedy about people with disabilities. While we had a lot of people with disabilities working on the movie, you don’t really know how it’s going to go over. That first screening was pretty scary and there were a large number of people with disabilities in the theater. And they loved it! To have that validation from the community was moving. Every screening we had there was very emotionally charged… [especially when] you have the Q&As and the talkbacks. The first hand in the air at the first screening was a blogger who was a wheelchair user. He was like, “I just gotta say first and foremost this movie is fucking brilliant.” And that brought the house down! That’s what you’re waiting for.

From that to people sharing their own anecdotes and testimonials about why they related to this movie and how they had a cousin or a brother or a father or a mother or they themselves were at one point or another disabled. To have them share these stories and for them to get emotional about how this movie made them feel less alone–that was really cool. The minimum that you want to do with a movie is entertain, but to have people really love it and made them happier or made their day better, that’s the best feeling.

Ultimately, what do you hope people will get out of watching this film?

I think for people with disabilities, I hope they can see this movie and say “I see myself up there. This is true. I feel that.” And for everybody else to see people with disabilities in a different light. Before I made this movie, my conception of disability was very different from what it is now. My understanding, I feel, is a lot deeper and I hope that people can look at this and realize that everybody has needs.

Everybody has the same shit that they want and strive for–whether that be love or the pursuit of a goal, or a family or friendship or any kind of acceptance. Really, it’s a quest for acceptance and connection. If that’s evident, then we’ve done our job.

(Back row L-R) Ravi Patel, Richard Wong, Gabourey Sidibe, (front row L-R) Hayden Szeto, and Grant Rosenmeyer of the film ‘Come As You Are.’ Photo by Getty Images/Robby Klein.

Related Links: IMDb

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Li-Wei Chu

Li-Wei Chu is a recent graduate from UC Davis who majored in Cinema and Digital Media who also briefly studied film at Queen Mary, University of London. Li-Wei is obsessed with horror films (especially the ones that give him nightmares), films from East Asia, and really, any film that makes you stop and think. He loves talking about film and indie music with others. He’s also a record collector and cross-stitches when he has free time. In the future, he hopes to be able to write about film and wants to find a job in the film industry that can support his record buying habits. Maybe one day he’ll also be able to play the guitar.

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