The Grey Matter
by Faruq Oyekan
The Grey Matter, is a twisted and hilarious dark film from thefilmmaking duo: The McCoubrey Brothers.
The duo features Peter (Writer and Director) and Luke (Cinematographer). Through this short film, these two showcase their filmmaking brilliance and uniquely entertaining approach to storytelling. Running at 18 minutes, The McCoubrey Brothers’ short film is a wonderful example of the power of fantasy-esque storytelling and the power of the often ignored comedy horror genre.
The story that The Grey Matter tells is one that is so odd, so grotesque, and so horribly bizarre that one cannot help but be intrigued by it. Our protagonist is a lowly office employee by the name of Simon (Ebon Moss-Bachrach) who wakes up one night bloodied and in the middle of a dark alley. To make matters worse, Simon discovers that he has a huge (and I mean HUGE) open gash at the back of his head. Despite the severity of his condition, Simon decides to soldier on and return to work the next day. Once there, he grabs the attention of his office crush Emily (Lucy Walters) and a series of events untwine that explores the true nature of Simon's mysterious gash.
Overall, The Grey Matter is a uniquely twisted and bizarre film that features an ensemble cast, who includes the likes of Lucy Walters, Ebon Moss-Bachrach, and Carter Roy. Together, these actors create a real dynamic feel that makes the story and relationships between the characters feel real and organic. Carter Roy specifically does a fabulous job as a form of comic relief, and when on screen together with Ebon Moss-Bachrach, the two play off each other perfectly and create some timeless comedic moments.
The special effects in this film are top notch, and includes a variety of practical blood and gore effects along with some amazingcgi. The effects throughout the film feel real and serve in creating the bizarre atmosphere of the film.
The Grey Matter, is truly one of those films where editing plays a vital role in the storytelling approach. Flashbacks and dream sequences are seamlessly edited to create elements of backstory and plot progression. Combined with the comedic horror element, it all flows together to create the trippy and bizarre world of The Grey Matter.
For a fans of horror and fans of comedy, The Grey Matter is one to watch. With a feature in the works:
The Grey Matter short film is actually a truncated first act of a feature film script by the same name. We are currently in the midst of getting the feature version of the film off the ground. It’s our hope that we’ll start production sometime this year - Peter McCoubrey
There is more enough reason to catch a glimpse of this new exploration into the horror comedy genre. If The Grey Matter is any indication of the future of this story, the future is bright and pretty weird.
INTERVIEW with Peter McCoubrey (Director/Writer)
First, what's your story? How did you become a filmmaker?
When I was a kid my friend’s older brother had a A Clockwork Orange poster on his bedroom door. I would always stare at it, assuming it was some cool 70s rock band that I had never heard of. One day I was at the video store with friends and I spotted the VHS box on the shelf. I convinced my friends that it’s “gotta be cool” and we went back home and all watched it together. My friends were pissed and I was confused. I had never seen anything like it and I surely didn’t immediately respond positively to it… but at the same time I couldn’t stop thinking about it. Up until this point, I only knew movies to be purely entertainment. In that moment, I discovered that I enjoyed the feeling I got from this movie. It forced me to think…. to ask questions. It was entertainment for sure, but it was also something else. It had a very distinct vision. It was art. I revisited A Clockwork Orange several times out of a morbid curiosity. Eventually I grew to love it. That’s when I learned that the director is the driving creative force behind a film. I immediately sought out everything directed by Stanley Kubrick… and after having a similar experience with Terry Gilliam’s Brazil I knew I wanted to pursue a future in filmmaking.
I eventually went to film/art school at Pratt Institute in Brooklyn. After I graduated I worked at various commercial post houses in NYC and over the years worked my way up from an entry level position to an editor. My brother Luke and I would always make little shorts or “video projects” in our spare time. I had my first real opportunity to direct “professionally” when some friends I went to college with asked me to direct the first music video for their band, Stellastarr*. That video was received well and it snowballed into a few more videos for indie bands, which in hand led to directing commercials. Which is what I do professionally today with my brother who is also a cinematographer.
What inspired this short?
A long time ago I saw a cockroach in the subway station. As I daydreamed waiting for the train to arrive I laughed to myself at the idea that the cockroach was also waiting for the train and that he might engage me in some banal commuter small talk. Around the same time, I had an image in my mind of a guy waking up with a hole in his head and instead of rushing to a hospital, he just went about his regular business trying not to make too much of a fuss. Those two ideas eventually merged and became The Grey Matter.
Luke and I had wanted to make something a bit more in depth than a 30 second TV commercial. Something that was wholly our own and got us back to what we really love about cinema. We wanted to make something humorous and odd… grotesque yet charming. We talked a lot about the genre movies of the 80s and how they would sometimes be compromised thematically from everything but the kitchen sink. They could be fun yet weird, human yet far-fetched, enigmatic yet straight forward. We wanted to recapture that spirit but still make something that felt modern, fresh and left the viewer with something to think about. It’s our hope that the film stimulates conversation, forces you think back on it and leaves the audience wanting to see more.
Any interesting production stories?
We shot the film in November 2012 in New York City. We had scouted an abandoned office building in downtown Manhattan to be Simon’s office. It was really cool, an endless labyrinth of cubicles, drop ceiling and fluorescent lighting. Something that recalled the endless office in The Apartment - very Kafka-esque place. Then Hurricane Sandy came to town the week we were scheduled to shoot. We pushed the shoot and needless to say it turned NYC upside down. Lower Manhattan was blacked out for well over a week. When the power came back and the city emerged from the disaster, we were notified that several businesses had been relocated into our location due to flooding. We found this out the night before our shoot. We needed a new location… and fast. Luckily for us, our commercial production company, Radical Media, allowed us to shoot in their offices. In the end it worked out in our favor. I originally had a different vision for the office, but my brother Luke had the fantastic idea to shoot up into the aluminum ductwork on the ceiling, which ended up giving the space that off-kilter Brazil feeling that I love so much. He killed the cinematography and I couldn’t be happier with the final results.
What is it like film making now after having made this film? Has your approach changed?
I don’t think making The Grey Matter has changed our approach to filmmaking all that much. It did take much longer to complete than originally anticipated due to various post production and VFX issues… as well as my attempt (and ultimate failure) to cast a celebrity voice performer for the part of Brian the worm. If we were to make another short, I think we’d try to turn it around much quicker and limit the amount post production heavy shots. I don’t have any regrets though, many people worked on this film for next to nothing or free and it’s a testament to their talent and belief in us and our project that the film came out as good as it did. I’m just glad the film is finally out there for people to see.
One thing I think we’d do differently is in regards to our film festival strategy.Next time we make a short we would probably only submit to 4 or 5 of the major festivals instead of applying to 50. This would reduce the time we would be waiting to hear back from festivals and thus allowing us the chance to release the film online much quicker. It’s really tough to sit on a finished film for over a year waiting to hear back from festivals. We’d rather just get it to an audience as soon as it’s complete.
How would you describe you and your brother's filmmaking strategy?
If we have a strategy it’s not something we’ve ever really discussed openly. Making this short film was strategized in the sense that we had to both agree to stop making commercials for a short while in order to focus on doing our passion project. We had talked about making a short for years but paying work would always derail any pre-production we had started. This was a pretty ambitious short for us and we had to invoke a strict self-discipline in order to keep ourselves on track. Often for us when making a commercial it’s difficult to have a sense of ownership over the final product. This was our effort to redirect our creativity and get back to the cinematic roots that made us want to be filmmakers in the first place.
As far as roles are concerned I’m a writer and director and Luke is a cinematographer and director. When we shoot commercials, I usually write the treatments with input from him and then on set I’ll deal with the talent and performance and he’ll deal with the lighting and photography.
Aside from that, we pretty much collaborate on everything. We’re definitely not one of those sibling teams that finish each other sentences. There’s plenty of overlap in our cinematic interests, but we can get into it when it comes to certain titles or topics. I think that’s what makes our collaboration work so well. It grounded in common interest but we continually challenge each other too. It doesn’t hurt that we’re best friends as well as brothers.
Do you have any projects lined up for the future?
The Grey Matter short film is actually a truncated first act of a feature film script by the same name. We are currently in the midst of getting the feature version of the film off the ground. It’s our hope that we’ll start production sometime this year. The screenplay is actually currently hosted on The Black List - http://www.blcklst.com and available to read if you’re an industry insider. We’re super excited with where the feature film takes the story. Our goal is to make a film that defies categorization and reexamines the genre. Needless to say, it’s going to be one hell of a gruesome, hilarious and downright bizarre little movie.
Any advice to filmmakers?
Keep making films. Nowadays the tools needed to make a professional looking film are accessible to everyone. No longer do you need to have a rich uncle with access to a 16mm camera and second cousin that has access to a Moviola… you can shoot a movie on a DSLR, cut it on a laptop, and post it on the internet for the world to see. Any computer program you want to learn, I guarantee you, it already has a bunch of tutorials on YouTube. It’s incredible the amount of resources young filmmakers have access to if they’re curious enough to seek them out. For example, I taught myself After Effects out of a sheer necessity to create new types of FX and imagery that were previously unfathomable to me.
Also, you need to look for inspiration in everything. Watch old films, foreign films and animated films. Read nonfiction, fiction, photography and art books. Travel abroad. Goto museums, galleries and parks. Go on hikes and road trips. See concerts and shows. Have conversations about it all with like-minded people… or debates with people of opposing opinions. And take notes! You never know when an idea will strike you… and before you know it you’ll have a book full of great ideas that relate to you personally. Eventually you’ll be able to draw from those ideas to create a film that’s rooted in experience… regardless of whether it’s nonfiction, fiction or total fantasy.
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