Talk To You
“Talk To You” is an experimental documentary short based on a series of voicemails I discovered from my late grandfather, Gerald Grant, years after his death. Papa Gerry – as he coined himself – was both an omnipresent figure in my young life through his consistent calls and voicemails, and an absentee grandfather who lived alone in Orlando and rarely saw his family in person. Exploring the tension of childhood nostalgia and adult regret, the film guides viewers through a recreation of my grandfather’s Orlando home through a cautious and unfamiliar lens. Filmed in March pre-COVID and shot in one practical four-minute take, “Talk To You” invites the audience to consider their own family relationships and how the feelings behind those relationships change with time, age and death.
Credits / Collaborators / Cast
Directed by Zack Grant
Written by Gerald R. Grant & Zack Grant
Starring Raymond Sammak
Producer – Gabija Blake
Director of Photography – Nathan Podshadley
Production Designer – Cheyenne Ford
Steadicam Operator – Matt DiGregorio
Assistant Camera – Alexandra Bock
Gaffer – Sam Wolff
Grip – Jack Newton
Art Assistants – Courtney Bailey & Roger Mancusi
Editor – Zack Grant
Music Composer – J.R. Narrows
Re-Recording Mixer & Sound Design – Evan Mangiamele
Colorist – Tim Masick
Color Producer – Kevin Breheny
Title Design & Online Edit – Sarofsky
Flame Artist – Cory Davis
Online Producer – Dylan Ptak
Title Designer – Nicole C. Colvin
The Story Behind the Film
My grandfather passed away in 2012 at the age of 82. Prior to his death, he lived alone in Orlando, Florida. He and my grandmother separated when my dad and aunt were teenagers in what was a messy, painful divorce. Eventually he made his way down to Florida where he could escape the winter, hang out, watch TV, gamble and chase women with little responsibility to anyone but himself.
But this film isn’t about my grandfather’s failures in marriage and fatherhood. In fact, my grandfather – known to me as Papa Gerry – was an incredibly important figure in my life. Starting from a young age, we spoke on the phone often. We rarely saw each other in person, but I always felt my grandfather was there for me, even if he was never physically there. His calls were random, spurred by something he saw on TV or read in the newspaper that he thought we just had to talk about. I knew if I didn’t answer he’d be sure to always leave a voicemail, something I came to take for granted. Despite his importance in my life, our relationship never evolved beyond a cycle of missed calls, voicemails and returned calls. Right up until his death, he continued to be my irreverent grandfather, and I continued to fail to recognize my role in our protracted dynamic.
Four years after my grandfather passed away – in the midst of restoring my phone – I uncovered a batch of old voicemails he left me during the last six months of his life. Hearing these voicemails as an adult, my mind builds an image of his world that is based upon a mere handful of visits to Orlando. I can hear the television in the background, always a few clicks too loud, forcing my grandfather to shout into the phone. I can envision him sitting in his chair, newspaper in hand, and glasses perched delicately on the brim of his nose. Perhaps there’s a tumbler of scotch nearby, or a wad of cash that was either his sports gambling winnings or losses depending on the week. As a child and even an adolescent, these voicemails were fun and charming. And while the nostalgia certainly remains, now as an adult, my grandfather’s messages paint a picture of a lonely man and his grandchild who didn’t realize the extent of his grandfather’s isolation. Picking up the phone and leaving a voicemail was a hell of a lot easier for my grandfather than putting in the time in person. And for me, letting his phone calls go to voicemail was way more convenient than advocating for us to have a more substantial relationship.
The Making of the Film
The two biggest challenges in executing this film were the set design and cinematography.
I knew I wanted to recreate my grandfather’s space, but I only had a vague recollection of what his condo in Orlando actually looked like. Every detail of the space had to feel appropriate and believable, but I also wanted to embrace my fragmented memories and role as an unreliable narrator. My production designer, Cheyenne Ford, did a fantastic job of embracing my grandfather’s aesthetic, using the real mementos that I had in my possession as inspiration to source all the other furniture and props. For location, we had access to a soon to be renovated brownstone in Ridgewood, Queens, which was a blessing because we could do whatever we wanted to the space, but also a curse because the space was empty and had to be built out from the floor to ceiling. In under a week on a limited budget, we created a space that felt lived in, true to my grandfather’s life, but also distant and surreal like our relationship.
The cinematography, both the lighting design and camera work, was also integral to achieving my vision for the film. My DP, Nathan Podshadley and I were really excited by the idea of a practical one taker as a way to embed the viewer in the room. We wanted the camera to creep curiously through the room, discovering new objects and details at every turn that reinforced that my grandfather’s space was an unfamiliar territory. In order to get the timing and camera choreography down, I actually had all the voicemail audio edited and timed out before we shot, which gave our steadicam operator, Matt DiGregorio, the cues he needed to fluidly move through the space. The look and feel was also particularly important as I really wanted the lighting design to reflect a sense of suspended reality. And because we were shooting the entire film in one take, the room had to be totally lit for every angle all at the same time. Nathan found a way to create pockets of light and darkness throughout the set that really amplified the mood, culminating with a dramatic practical lighting change that happens in the final moments of the film.