PJ Boudousque in 'Coldwater'

Vincent Grashaw produced, edited and acted in SXSW's 2010 hit "Bellflower," written, directed and starring his fellow Coatwolf Productions pal Evan Glodell. Now he's back in Austin with "Coldwater," his feature directorial debut, which he also co-wrote.

"Bellflower"'s Joel Hodge, Evan Glodell and Vincent Grashaw at Indie Spirits Brunch
"Bellflower"'s Joel Hodge, Evan Glodell and Vincent Grashaw at Indie Spirits Brunch

The testosterone-fueled drama centers on a teenage boy (Ryan Gosling look-a-like PJ Boudousque) sent to a privately run reform boot camp for misbehaving youth. Things go downhill fast--and with a lot of violence. Grashaw uses an unknown cast to weave the tale, bringing attention to real-life cases that inspired the story of guidance gone wrong.

Sophia Savage: How did making 'Coldwater' compare with 'Bellflower'?

Vincent Grashaw: 'Bellflower' and 'Coldwater' were two different beasts.  'Bellflower' was an example of getting a film made at all costs, with zero money.  I threw myself into something that took almost three years of my life to complete. It forced us to think out of the box… We had the luxury of time because it essentially didn’t cost us a dime.  A movie can really mold into what it needs to be if you make it that way.  It’s completely raw, down and dirty.  You have to be obsessed for this to work.  Sometimes the payoff is magic.  Sometimes it’s not.

On 'Coldwater' we actually had a budget to work with.  We were fed and we paid crew.  It put me in a very comfortable environment.  Things were organized and timed properly.  As nice as that is, it scared the shit out of me though, because I was now dealing with serious deadlines.  You’re forced into running a tight ship because it’s your ass for 'not making your days'… The pressure is doubled if you go even 15 minutes over your scheduled wrap time.  It seemed insane to me at first, but I feel like I operate well under those conditions.  There’s a lot of money at stake sometimes, so it’s important to be buttoned up and over-prepared… but ultimately I feel like the purpose is to make the best movie, not the best schedule/budget.

I feel like someone can thrive creatively both ways in different aspects.

SS: Do you consider your films works of fiction, or are they inspired by your own experiences?

VG:  I would definitely consider my films works of fiction.  I didn’t come from a broken home, I have great parents who were always supportive of my dreams.  I had a full, happy childhood.  I made movies with friends early in high school and discovered I loved doing it.  I guess my enjoyment for films with a darker tone just signifies that making movies is just a form of expression that doesn’t need to resonate from a familiar place.

What were your key influences for 'Coldwater''s story and tone?

Well 'Coldwater' for me began a long time ago, pretty much right out of high school.  I had written the script in 1999 and since then it has basically evolved into what it is today.  The story stems from a lot of research I’ve done over time on the reality behind private wilderness juvenile modification centers.  I had friends who were actually taken to places like this growing up.  It’s a sad reality that most people don’t know exists.  I think that was the key influence for me, especially after speaking to actual families who lost children in these types of places.  I think they felt it was in vain and that no one cared.

When you cast a film, what are you looking for in actors? And how did you manage to find a Ryan Gosling lookalike?

Casting 'Coldwater' posed a bold task because my goal was to cast all unknowns and it is a pretty large cast.  I had lived with these characters for so long, so I felt like these characters after 13 years or so actually existed in some distorted reality for me.  It made the casting process pretty simple because it was easier to distinguish who was right and who wasn’t. 

P.J. Boudousqué was a rare find.  He came into the casting room like some drifter in a Sergio Leone film.  No one knew who the hell he was but he had such a presence.  We were lucky he showed up for the audition because he was gearing up to move to NY and apparently the only reason he came to the audition was because it was walking distance from where he was staying at the time.  We cast him off of two scenes he read in the first audition.  No callbacks.  Totally insane.  But I think we just had a gut feeling he was the guy.