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Charlie Griak, director/writer: THE CENTER

February 19, 2015
Charlie Griak, director of THE CENTER

Charlie Griak, director of THE CENTER

1Q: Tell us a little about the origins of THE CENTER, from concept to financing.

I’m always a little embarrassed to admit just how long I have been working on “The Center”. I believe I’ve been writing and story boarding it since 2005. So needless to say, its been a long road to get the film where it is today.

After years of writing in secret, and being completely afraid to share the story with anyone, I somehow found myself making a public commitment to a group of close friends that I would quit holding back and actually make this movie.

Almost immediately after making this commitment, I regretted it. I soon convinced myself that what I was hoping for was all but impossible. Luckily, I received some great advice from a friend. He suggested I simply take one small step forward— even if it was a very small step, even if I didn’t believe it would lead anywhere, even if the results were disappointing, and even if what I was doing seemed completely foolish. I simply needed to take a step that day and start the ball rolling. And then I just needed continue to do that everyday, over and over, for as many days as it took to complete the film.

With that in mind, my wife and I, along with our friend Ramon (who would eventually play Leon in the final film), began to shoot test scenes. We would take some small excerpt of the script and try to film it. We borrowed cameras, and microphones… we used desk lamps instead of lights… we found actors through craiglists postings (many of whom became our final cast)… we shot on street corners, and in churches, friend’s apartments, and abandoned alleys. And whether we knew what we were doing or not, we had started the ball rolling. For the next two years we shot those test scenes. And in enough time we had convinced ourselves that we could actually make a feature film.

Having generated this type of momentum, the means to make a complete feature film started to line up very organically. By sharing some of our test scenes, we were able to connect with two great Minnesota producers, Annie and Judd Einan. They joined our small team and created a very efficient and innovative plan to film the entire feature. Soon after, we able to secure enough financing to shoot for 20 days with a paid cast and crew. And we were off and running…

2Q: Cinequest Film Festival is hosting the World Premiere of THE CENTER. Explain to us how it feels to bring this film before audiences for the first time, and what do you think their reaction will be to your film?

I am beyond thrilled to bring “The Center” to the Cinequest audience! The whole experience so far with Cinequest has been wonderful and it sounds like the Cinequest audiences are filled with true film lovers. That really is the ideal situation for any filmmaker, so I’m really looking forward to our screenings and the Q &A following the premiere.

I hope the film generates a lot of discussion in the audience about cults, human behavior, belief systems and group dynamics. I think there is no bigger compliment than hearing that my film made someone “think”.

3Q: What was your best and/or worst experience while making THE CENTER?

“The Center” is my first feature film, so I have a long list of “best” experiences. The first thing that comes to mind is the moment right before our very first take. I remember looking around the location — the crew, the cameras, the lights, the actors — and it felt like a dream come true. I felt (and still feel) incredibly lucky to have the opportunity to create a film. I consider the creative process to be very sacred, and to collaborate with so many great people in that process was a life-changing experience

Another moment that stands out is the first time I was able to share my rough-cut with one of my heroes, Jonathan Demme. Hearing his positive feedback and excitement about “The Center” is a memory I will always cherish.

Another best moment is of course finding out that we were accepted for Cinequest 25!

4Q: Festival audiences often have to make hard decisions about what to see, and the catalog descriptions sometimes run together. In your own words, why should people see your film?

I think people should see “The Center” because it touches on some very real experiences that are rarely explored dramatically. I think a “realistic” look at a cult-like group is a unique thing in a narrative feature film.

But beyond simply the topic, I think the film is emotionally authentic and therefore something that an audience can connect to on a deep level. And ultimately, I think that is why we see films — to connect with the characters, the story, and with, as Joseph Campbell put it, “an experience of being alive”. I sincerely hope The Center gives the audience some level of opportunity for that type of connection.

5Q: Time to pre-plan: You just won the Oscar for THE CENTER. Give us your acceptance speech.

That is certainly a fun thing to imagine! I think I would have so many people to thank that I would be kicked off the stage before I could name them all!

Truly, film is such a collaborative process and I would want everyone involved to get their proper credit. Most importantly, I would want to thank my parents and my wife, Wendy, for all of their amazing support. I also would want to thank Jonathan Demme for all of his guidance and generosity… and our great producers, Annie and Judd Einan, and the cast and crew… see, I could go on and on….

See THE CENTER at Cinequest!
View the trailer!
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