I thought, 'It must be just as easy to make a feature. It's just a longer short film.'"
Six years ago, this little nugget of hubris sparked filmmaker Sean Grady to get started on Operation Mongoose, a mockumentary about a wannabe bounty-hunter whose escalating delusions make him a tragicomic figure. Grady, who had made it into film festivals in South Korea and Hungary based on a short he made in his teens, was confident he could make the leap to features. With an inexperienced cast and crew and a minuscule budget, Grady risked becoming a quixotic failure himself.
If nothing else, Operation Mongoose, which enjoys a one-night-only screening at Park Lane next Wednesday, is a testament to perseverance. Filming began in Grady's home province of New Brunswick in 2005 and didn't finish until 2009. In between, he rewrote, re-shot and re-edited many times over, incorporating some unexpected production perks---the use of a Lamborghini in one scene and a small plane in another ---and surviving some near-disasters.
Take the plane scene. Grady took a camera into the skies on a rickety old plane owned by a family friend. Two weeks later, the friend died when that same plane crashed. "The very last time it went up and down successfully, I was in the front seat," he says.
Still, the fledgling director was undaunted. "Over the years, people said, 'Why don't you just abandon it and do a short film?' But I had so much invested in the actors, and so many people came out and gave their time for free and cancelled plans because they believed in this and believed in me," he says. "I felt like I couldn't stop filming and start something else because it would be an insult to them."
Grady knows as well as anyone that Operation Mongoose is rough around the edges. "I think, more than anything, it was a way to teach myself how to make a feature," he says. But he's proud that, despite the fact that some scenes shot in 2005 bump up against sequences filmed years later, the film maintains continuity and a narrative through-line.
"It's hard when you shoot something at 24 after four or five years of experience and it comes right after a scene you shot when you were 19," he says. "But as many problems as the movie has, being so cheaply made, continuity, at least for me, didn't really jump out."
Grady never planned to be working on Operation Mongoose for as long as he did, but the experience did yield some lessons, among them the value of a happy accident. The lead character Gordon Rockatansky, for example, is played by Steve Crane with a ludicrous fake moustache and sunglasses, costume props that came with side benefits.
"Over the years I realized that really helped. Steve got older, he gained weight, he lost weight, but because he had this ridiculous thing on his face you couldn't actually tell."
Grady's next project also blends sadness and silliness. "It's going to be a redemptive Bigfoot story," he explains. "Bigfoot has come out to the world and nobody cares, so where does he go from there?"
It's a short film, which Grady might say is just like a feature, only smaller. Maybe a little easier, too.