Growing up in Wadmalaw Island, S.C., Grainger David ’00 saw film as something “giant and impossible.” Today, he is debunking that childhood belief as an independent filmmaker.
David came to film by way of writing. He was an English major at Princeton and took several creative writing classes, including John McPhee ’53’s famous nonfiction seminar. He credits McPhee with introducing him to journalism, a path he pursued immediately after graduation. At Fortune magazine, David covered such disparate subjects as caloric restriction, a Mongolian gold rush, and New Line Cinemas.
David’s reporting on the movie business encouraged his growing passion for a new medium. Like so many filmmakers before him, he was drawn to the vibrant cinematic culture of New York City. He started watching independent films, “small movies that seemed somehow achievable.” He read screenplays and wrote his own. “Fiction writing is all about taking you into the mind of the character,” David explains, “and the mind of the character is exactly what’s not available to you in film.” He found the challenge exhilarating.
In 2005, David enrolled in New York University’s film school, where he wrote and directed three shorts: “George & Karl,” named Best American Short Film at the 2008 Avignon Film Festival; “Sissypants”; and his thesis film, “The Chair,” which took David back to his roots in South Carolina. “The Chair” will have its world premiere at the 2012 SXSW Film Festival.
David’s next project, “The Edge of the Woods,” was also shot in South Carolina. The film is supported by a grant from the South Carolina Film Commission and by individual donors on Kickstarter, a crowdsourced fundraising website.
The story was inspired by a scenic drive through the Midwest; in the midst of that stark and distinctly American landscape, David came to imagine a little girl trying to convince her parents to let her keep a pet monster. He describes the film as “E.T. meets Where the Wild Things Are set in an Andrew Wyeth painting.” “The Edge of the Woods” will star Kiernan Shipka (Mad Men), Sean Bridgers (Deadwood), and Maria Dizzia (Martha Marcy May Marlene) and will feature computer-generated imagery by Framestore, a visual-effects studio whose credits include The Dark Knight and the Harry Potter films.
The star power of the cast and crew is unusual for a film of its scale, and David was honored and pleasantly surprised by the turnout. “It was really flattering and inspiring in a sense that these people who you admire might be open to coming to rural South Carolina just based on a short film script,” he says. Shooting wrapped two weeks ago, and David will now begin post-production at the MacDowell artist colony in Peterboro, N.H. David is looking forward to the “creative” process of editing: “It’s fun to craft the performance and the story in a slightly new way based on [the footage] you actually got.”
Below, watch a trailer for Grainger David ’00’s “The Chair.”
Vicky Gan ’13 is a history major from Baltimore, Md.