Gren Wells was born in Louisville, Kentucky, and raised in Greenwich, Connecticut. After attending Manhattanville College in Purchase, NY, Wells moved to New York City, where she starred in six indie films over a two-year span, one of which, Man About Town, won Best Short Film at the 1997 Sundance Film Festival. After moving to Los Angeles, Wells became a stand-up comic and wrote her first feature script, which was sold to 20th Century Fox. That script, A Little Bit of Heaven, later found a home at The Film Department and starred Kate Hudson, Gael Garcia Bernal, Kathy Bates, Whoopi Goldberg, Rosemarie DeWitt, Lucy Punch, Romany Malco, and Peter Dinklage. (Press materials)
Wells’ directorial debut, The Road Within, will premiere at the Los Angeles Film Festival on June 18.
W&H: Please give us your description of the film.
GW: The Road Within is about Vincent, a young man suffering from Tourette Syndrome, whose mother (and primary caregiver) dies at the beginning of the film. His estranged father, Robert, is then forced to step in, but he’s running for political office and doesn’t want his son on the campaign trail. So Robert puts Vincent in a clinic that’s run by the unconventional Dr. Mia Rose. Once there, Vincent falls in love with an anorexic woman named Marie and, together, they steal Dr. Rose’s car (and end up having to kidnap his OCD roommate, Alex, when he threatens to tell on them). So with Robert and Dr. Rose in hot pursuit, Vincent, Marie and Alex go on a life-changing road trip to deliver the ashes of Vincent’s mother to the ocean.
W&H: What drew you to this story?
GW: I saw the trailer for the original German film and immediately knew I wanted to adapt and remake it. I was drawn to it because I was anorexic and bulimic from age 15-21, so I’m intimately aware of the struggles of that disorder. I also have some pretty strange OCD tendencies — my friends joke that I curse so much that I might as well have Tourette’s. So I found myself relating to all three lead characters, which is essential when you’re going to live with a story for several years.
W&H: What was the biggest challenge in making the film?
GW: The biggest challenge was making our days. On any low-budget film, you’re fighting the clock, so I implemented a three-take rule for every set-up. I was lucky that I had a great crew and my amazing actors were so well prepared. We ended up averaging 2.5 takes per set-up!
W&H: What advice do you have for other female directors?
GW: Look, I’ve gotten jobs because I’m a woman, and I’ve lost jobs because I’m a woman. So just do the best work you can. It won’t go unnoticed.
W&H: What’s the biggest misconception about you and your work?
GW: That I can only do R-rated material. But I sold a movie to Disney for fuck’s sake.
W&H: Do you have any thoughts on what are the biggest challenges and/or opportunities for the future with the changing distribution mechanisms for films?
GW: As a filmmaker, you want your work seen by the widest audience possible. And because audiences all over the world can now see an independent film almost anywhere and anytime, these new distribution outlets have opened a door that is revolutionizing the movie-going experience. Day and date, VOD, and SVOD releases are freeing indie films that were previously weighed down by exorbitant P&A, making it possible to reach more people with less money — and thereby turn a profit sooner.
W&H: Name your favorite women directed film and why.
GW: Jodie Foster’s Little Man Tate is a perfect movie. Jodie got such amazing performances out of all of her actors and told a beautiful, funny and emotional story. That’s what I want out of a film — to be moved.