Arts·Canadian Screen Week

Filmmaker Grace Glowicki on breaking norms and the secret to shooting 13-15 pages of script a day

Indie film can be a rough road — but Tito filmmaker Glowicki is riding it gracefully to breakout success.

Indie film can be a rough road — but Tito filmmaker Glowicki is riding it gracefully to breakout success

Grace Glowicki. (David Leyes)

In anticipation of Canadian Screen Week and the Canadian Screen Awards, Johanna Schneller, co-host of The Filmmakers, talked to five nominees about what they do, how they do it, and why they love it.

Grace Glowicki is nominated for best first feature for Tito, a 70-minute ride which she also stars in, wrote, produced and edited. Here's the film's IMDb's description: "A desperate man seeks refuge from the predators hunting him by befriending a cheerful intruder." Here's Glowicki's: "It's an experimental dark comedy about a man who's very afraid."

The difference between the two may explain why Glowicki the actress (CarmillaPaper Year) is sometimes baffled by conventional roles for women, and why she started making work for herself. We talked about staying true to yourself in the business, even if you're still figuring out who that is.

Johanna Schneller: You bounced around McGill University before you settled on a major.

Grace Glowicki: I think I have an art history degree with a minor in English, but I'm not entirely sure. I started in biology, then moved to history, then art history.

JS: I feel like the questing nature of that suits you. You began acting on a whim.

GG: During my second year of university, I was missing something. I didn't know what. I saw a sign-up sheet for a play, showed up to the audition, and got the role. It was called Friends for Rent. I played a dominatrix robot. I felt like, "These are my people." I felt alive and free in a way I hadn't yet experienced. I talk to myself a lot when I'm alone. I do characters. I finally realized, "Oh, that's something I can do. This is something real."

JS: You moved to Toronto and rented a basement apartment with your friend Harry Cepka, who would go on to direct you in Raf.

GG: I showed up with $1500. I got a job at a coffee shop, I think because the manager was a comedian and felt sorry for me. I couldn't get an agent. Harry and I started making comedy sketches on Vimeo at the end of the day after our minimum-wage jobs. We'd post them on Facebook and then wait for likes. 50 views was a big success.  Eventually I put it together that I couldn't get an agent because I had nothing to show. So I filmed myself doing dramatic monologues. That's how I learned to shoot and edit. I started to crack into the industry in a general way, following conventional steps. But as time went on, I realized, "This is not going to work for me."

JS: What wasn't working?

GG: I started to understand myself more, and what I wanted to express as a performer. I'm amazed how few people, still, write interesting female characters. The more I honed in on the uniqueness of me, and the agency I have as an actor, the happier I was. I can write myself a character; I can learn how to direct a film.

JS: Did you ever try to jam yourself into a mould you know you didn't fit?

GG: Oh yeah, for the longest time. I even fall into it still on set when I can't articulate my intuition or find my voice. I'm always trying to get out of that place.

JS: Which is?

GG: A lot of directors would tell me I move too much. That messed up the way I thought about my physical behaviour. I tried to sexualize myself as part of "doing a good job." I gave other people's opinions too much weight, instead of building my own sense of confidence — which, honestly, I'm still working on. It's difficult to trust yourself when there's so much information that's telling you the opposite.

JS: "We love how unique you are, but could you now smooth all that away?"

GG: Definitely. And, "Do this thing for me, it's so unique!" Meanwhile, my intuition is saying, "This isn't unique at all." People want you to be nuanced, eccentric and individualistic, but it's not there in the material. They're pretending it is. I find that complicated to navigate.

JS: Can you describe your sensibility?

GG: I'll try. This might be a scattershot of thoughts. I have a hard time connecting to things that don't have humour and an edge. I do my best work when I'm challenging ideas — unfair assumptions that society makes, or social/behavioural "rules." I don't care much for plot. I don't understand how it works. I'm reading Save the Cat so I can figure it out enough to get to the part I really like, which is character and vibe.

JS: Tell me about your transition to directing.

GG: It was after Her Friend Adam [her breakthrough short, directed by Ben Petrie, who's also her boyfriend]. I was there from start to finish with Ben. The process was demystified for me; I could see the mechanisms of how it worked. I had done one mumblecore-type short in my bedroom with a friend in 2016, which I showed in an art gallery for a night. So doing Tito felt like a bold move. But I had a blind assumption that I could figure it out.

A scene from Tito. (Hawkeye Pictures)

JS: What social rules did you want Tito to break?

GG: I went through a period in my life where I felt very scared, in particular of other people. I hid it well; I pretended I was feeling fine, because that's socially acceptable. So the rebellious exploration in Tito was taking off the mask and allowing real feelings of fear and anxiety to do to my body and voice what they would.

JS: Was the experience of making it what you thought it would be?

GG: I was just trying to hang on and survive it. We had a production budget of $12,000. Then we cobbled together $30,000 to $40,000 for post. We shot it in seven days. I like to work fast so I can't look back and I can't escape — I have to put my head down and sprint. Which made the process unusual.

JS: I'll say. Why put that restriction on yourself?

GG: I love theatre. My heart remains there. You rehearse a play for two months, then you do it in 90 minutes. I always thought, "Why do films have to take so long? Maybe if they were rehearsed they'd take less time." So we rehearsed Tito vigorously for almost two months. As actors, we knew exactly what we were doing. Often I'd only do two takes. We shot 13 to 15 pages a day.

I connect to the idea that there's something magic in making something happen in a focused amount of time. Lightning in a bottle feels more alive to me. Also, I find performing challenging. I feel vulnerable. Sometimes I find it quite painful. And being a director is a lot of pressure. So I did it quickly because I didn't know how long I'd last.

JS: Would you do it the same way again?

GG: I'm getting ready to do my next feature. I've planned for 12 days. I wanted it to be 10 [sighs], but I agreed to 12.

JS: Independent film is a tough road. What keeps you going?

GG: I feel a craving to see something that's inside of me that I'm not seeing anywhere else. I get off on seeing harmful social conventions exploded. I like to challenge assumptions of how to be — how you're supposed to exist in a conversation with your neighbour, or order a coffee. I'm fascinated with gender norms. Like, how come there's no Big Lebowski character who's a woman?

JS: Do you make people nervous?

GG: Sometimes, yeah. After Her Friend Adam played at Sundance, a woman came up to me and said she was disgusted. But anything you do, no matter how mundane, someone can find a way to be uncomfortable with it, or say you shouldn't be doing it. 

The Canadian Screen Awards will be held over four nights from May 17-20, 2021.


Johanna Schneller is one of North America's leading freelance journalists specializing in entertainment features. Her work has appeared in major magazines, including Vanity Fair, In Style, Premiere, More and Ladies Home Journal. She was a senior writer in the Los Angeles bureau of GQ magazine from 1990 to 1994. Her Bigger Picture column in The Globe and Mail, Canada's national newspaper, has been nominated for five National Newspaper Awards, and won in 2021. As the co-host of CBC Arts' The Filmmakers, Schneller interviews directors and film experts about classic Canadian films. She also hosted TVO's renowned film series Saturday Night at the Movies.

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