Don’t Give Them Any Reason To Doubt: Adam Gray on Breaking Into the Film Industry

Adam Gray’s creative partner is someone he’s known his entire life: his brother, Andrew. Together, they’ve made 11 documentaries for TV. In 2014, they released their first feature doc, Fly Colt Fly, at the Toronto International Film Festival. The legendary John Waters put it on his list of 10 Best Films of 2015. The film went on to air on HBO, The Movie Network, The Sundance Channel, and CBC Documentary.

Adam will lead DOC Institute’s New Visions Incubator in Belleville, helping young filmmakers to gain the resources, creative materials, and pitch documents to get camera-ready. The application deadline for New Visions Incubator is March 26, 2017.

Adam spoke with us about his recent short, how he convinced funders to help him make his feature, and his advice to young filmmakers.

Tell us about your most recent project. 

It was a short film called Ty Conn: My Brother The Outlaw. It’s the story of a Belleville kid, Max, who finds out that he has a half-brother in prison for bank robbery.

What’s something you learned while making it? 

Short film can be as much work as a feature film.

We also discovered the power of an intimate story. Because this story is just told from one perspective, it was a lot more emotional than our previous work. It was its own reward, to see people get teary-eyed at the end. It was something we hadn’t experienced before in our previous work. It was different.

What’s your proudest moment as a filmmaker? 

There’s nothing more satisfying when playing the film and hearing the audience laugh at the spots where you were hoping they would laugh.

When you’re sitting there, watching a film, it’s the only time where you know that the audience is engaged. Other than that, people are sitting in silence. You don’t know if they’re enjoying it unless you’re staring at their faces. When you’re making a film, you see everything thousands of times. Little jokes lose their humour after a hundred viewings. It brings a freshness back to it, when you show it to a new audience.

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You’ve had amazing success with your first feature, Fly Colt Fly. What were some of the challenges of making it? 

We’re a couple of guys in central Ontario pitching a story about a guy on the run in Washington State. So it was a real challenge, convincing funders that we were the right people to tell the story.

With our passion and enormous research, we convinced people that we were the right ones to tell the story. We made a small graphic novel — that was our pitch. We collected every piece of news footage available and edited together a reel outlining his story. We built a website. We really went way over the top. But there came a point when people couldn’t say “Oh, you’re not the right guys to do this,” because we had so much passion.

You co-direct your projects with your brother. How does relationship work?

We’re really lucky to have each other to keep us excited about a project and to bounce ideas off of. We’re best friends and we have mostly the same interests, especially in film. There’s just a level of honesty that you can’t have with someone who’s not your brother.

If you could go back & give advice to yourself as a young filmmaker, what would you say? 

Film school isn’t necessarily right for everyone. It’s the way we went, and we needed that to learn the craft.

But if you have a camera, a computer, and a story you want to tell, just go and do it. That’s the best way to learn. Do it and make your mistakes and learn from them.

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What would you recommend to young filmmakers trying to break into the industry today?

What allowed us to break in was two things. One was passion for the stories that we wanted to tell. If you’re really passionate about a story, that drive comes through. It will give you what you need to get the job done. If you decide: I’m going to make this film, no matter what — that’s something that’s really attractive to potential funders.

The other thing is to make a proposal that people can’t say no to. Don’t give the people you’re pitching it to any reason to doubt. If it’s a bunch of text on white paper — if you take that to a broadcaster, they’re going to be bored. Your passion has to come through on every level.

The deadline to apply to the New Visions Incubator is March 26 before midnight. Apply now!