Film: Santa Barbara International Film Festival: 2009: His Good Will

Cayman Grant’s Good Will

Cayman Grant’s His Good WillBy Madelyn Ritrosky and Jared Winslow

I couldn’t believe it.  There were almost tears in my eyes as His Good Will faded off the screen.  Jared and I were watching the family-friendly short films at the 2009 Santa Barbara International Film Festival.   
 
A half dozen short films were in this particular program, and 9-year-old Jared and I were both very pleased with our choice of screenings.  It was a nice mix of cute, funny, poignant, animation, and real people.
 
Only two of those six shorts were completely live action films, Alex’s Halloween and His Good Will.  And it turned out that we not only liked both films but talked to those filmmakers afterward. 
 
One of the filmmakers was Cayman Grant, writer and director of His Good Will.  She was there with Terry City of Terry City Productions, one of her production partners, with whom we also spoke.   
 
His Good Will is an 11-minute film about an 8-year-old boy named Will.  He has no family but is looked after by good folk like Mr. Cooper, played by James Avery (The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air).  This little boy quietly touches the lives of others in the pre-Civil Rights South.  

Cayman Grant’s Good WillPhoto right: Cayman Grant

His small but significant gesture toward a less-than-sweet waitress is not only touching but is the climax of the film.  And it’s also where the film ends.  We can imagine this moment as ultimately a transformative one for the waitress, played by Ashley Jones (The Bold and the Beautiful).

Originally from New Brunswick, Canada, Cayman Grant moved to the U.S., to Nashville, to pursue an acting career.  She now lives in Los Angeles. 
 
As a writer-director, Cayman has made three short films, Leap of Fate, Soup Ladle, and His Good Will.  She will shoot her fourth short film this spring.  She has her own production company, KIAP Films.  I wondered what the name meant and discovered that it references her involvement in Tae Kwon Do.  It’s the sound used when exerting force during sparring.       
 
With His Good Will, the force or power of the film definitely comes from subtlety and the poignancy of small moments.  Let’s find out more about His Good Will and how Cayman Grant came to make it. 
 
Jared:  How did you cast the part of Will?  
 
Photo left: Donis Leonard, Jr., as Will

Cayman:  When I met Donis Leonard, Jr., I knew immediately. I actually wrote this script with Ashley Jones in mind. She plays the waitress at the diner who is so touched by Will’s kindness.  She read the script, loved it, and sent it to her publicist, who in turn sent it to James Avery – who was onboard within 4 hours.  I held a casting session for the part of Will.  When I met Donis Leonard, I knew immediately.  He was perfect.  Donis was 8 years old when we shot the film.  He is now 9 going on 10.
 
Jared:  In the diner, what exactly does it mean when the man nods at Will?  
 
Cayman:  It is a sign of encouragement for the little boy. It demonstrates that that man knows what he is up against and that he is there to support him.  The film shows how the black community takes care of him, like Mr. Cooper and his wife getting him new shoes and giving him the money in his pocket.  Is it supposed to affect what the boy does?  It just reaffirms that he will be fine.
 
Jared:  In the street scene when a white mother, father, and boy walk by Will looking in a garbage can, are there several meanings for that scene?

Photo left: Donis Leonard, Jr. (left) as Will and James Avery as Mr. Cooper

Cayman:  It shows a happy kid with a loving family – something Will doesn’t have.  Also, it shows how that particular family didn’t want their empathetic and curious son to pay attention to the little black homeless boy.  And it shows the times and how race affected people’s actions.

Jared:  Where was the film shot?  

Cayman:  It was shot in Sun Valley and Piru, California.  It was a 4-day shoot.

Madelyn:  Tell us about your script and planning the shoot.
 
Cayman:  I wrote the script 6 weeks before I shot it, in August 2007.  I wanted a period piece.  I had the opportunity to shoot my script almost immediately after writing it, so I booked my director of photography, first assistant director, and brought on fellow producers.  We met right away and nailed down the schedule.  The following week I held the casting session for Will.  Simultaneously, I was working on getting Ashley scheduled.  I got all of my volunteers together for costume, props, craft service, etc.  And 95% of the crew worked on this film for little or no money because they believed in it.  I am truly blessed to have this production team.   

Photo right: Arita Trahan (left) and Ashley Jones as the diner waitresses

Madelyn:  Can you tell us something about the echoing singing early in the film?  It works so well.   

Cayman:  It’s “World Goin’ Down,” which my music producer thought really worked in the scene.  I absolutely agreed.  I really love the music in this film.  It reflects the gospel & blues of that time period.  I feel everything we chose worked well to progress Will’s story.

Madelyn:  Has the film played at other film festivals?  

Cayman:  It has played at over 20 film festivals.  We’ve won several awards, and we were an official entry for the 2009 Academy Awards’ “Live Action Short Film.”

Madelyn:  How would you describe your festival experience?

Cayman:  This is my third film and I am well versed in film festival activities.  I very much enjoy being part of an independent film community.  I prefer the festivals that are less commercial; however, the larger ones are just as important.  I’ve met so many like-minded filmmakers and a lot of industry people who have become good friends.  I am truly blessed to participate in such wonderful events.  I love talking about the film, and I really enjoy it when other cast and crew attend the festivals.  It’s been a wonderful year.

Madelyn:  What are your ultimate goals with this film?

Cayman:  I believe His Good Will is a perfect family film.  I would like to see it distributed to schools and churches, because I believe its message is important.  Ultimately, like any filmmaker, we want everyone to see our films.  It should be up on itunes soon.  That’s a start.  We hope it will end up on IFC and HBO.  Shorts International has purchased the film and has big plans for it.  

Madelyn:  What are your other current film projects?

Cayman:  I am working on shooting my final short film in May.  Commitment is the title.  It’s a very dramatic piece about a moment in the lives of a couple, where their lives have been torn by reminiscences of the Iraq War.  It is very different from His Good Will.  I am also writing what I hope will be my feature directorial debut, titled Return to Sender.   

Madelyn & Jared:  Thank you, Cayman!

Photos are courtesy of Cayman Grant.

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