GRUMMY is a dark, gothic fairy tale from writer-director Micheline Pitt and R.H. Norman about a young girl who escapes her abusive real world into an imagination filled with amber fields and long fangs.
Micheline took a deeply personal story about abuse to create Grummy. She worked with fellow filmmaker and husband R.H. Norman to craft the ten-minute, live-action short film. Violet McGraw (Black Widow, The Haunting of Hill House) stars as Sarah, the young girl finding solace in her imagination. Tom Degnan (King Richard, Limitless) and Alexander Ward (Army of the Dead, Westworld) co-star in the movie that also plays as a love letter to old-school practical FX, including animatronic creature effects from Kevin Yagher (Sleepy Hollow, Tales From the Crypt)
PopAxiom spoke with Micheline about becoming a filmmaker and making the short-film Grummy.
A Million Things
Micheline’s a woman of many talents and interests. “I worked behind the scenes in the world of filmmaking for most of my life.”
“My first real idol growing up was Jim Henson,” she says, taking us back to her early days. “To me, he is a multi-hyphenate. He can direct, build worlds, do animatronics, draw, and sing. There’s so much Henson could do. He used to have this thing on Nickelodeon that was a behind-the-scenes look at how he did everything. That fueled my fascination with storytelling and filmmaking.”
However, Micheline says she “gravitated toward the world-building. So when I moved out to California, I worked at an FX shop running foam, making molds, sculpting, paint, and all the basics.”
“It was tough being a woman in a male-dominated industry,” she adds, noting the harsh realities of the business. “It was a mixed experience, and I had to move on.”
Micheline moved on to animation, which she “enjoyed very much. But, at the time, it was also male-dominated. That’s changed a lot now.”
“I ended up in fashion design,” she continues, “because I’ve been making clothes since I was a kid. I am someone that loves to learn and do a million things. So fashion became a career for a long time.”
However, Micheline’s longtime love of filmmaking made it hard to stay away. “I was a little scared of going into filmmaking after my previous experience in male-dominated industries. How am I going to be treated? Am I going to get a seat at the table? Will people take me seriously? It’s scary.”
“Now, I feel it’s a great time to be a woman,” she says with a smile. “I feel so safe and comfortable in the space now. There are so many more women in filmmaking with creative positions within studios and production companies. So there’s a lot more space for specific stories to exist.”
Women in filmmaking go back to its earliest days. “So many women fought to get doors open that’s created the space in the industry that exists now. Now I can do it and commit to it and go after it 100 percent.”
“The world is such a diverse place with so many experiences,” Micheline says, noting how the growing inclusivity is only going to lead to great stories. “We’re at the helm of what I think is the most creative and interesting storytelling period in cinema since it began.”
Grummy is a dark fantasy short film that sends a heavy and important message wrapped up in a wildly visual and fantastical package. How did the idea get started? “When I turned 30, I had a lot of repressed memories come back and ended up being hospitalized. It was a traumatic experience. I was aware of certain situations in my youth and knew about specific stuff. But people tend to repress those experiences as a form of self-protection. As people get older, it surfaces.”
“I decided to start writing my experiences and memories down as a form of therapy,” she continues. “I told my husband about the writing and what I was going through. After a while, I showed him stuff, and he said, ‘why don’t we make this into a movie or short?'”
Micheline thought about it. “I was already working with RAINN at that time as an advocate. I’d come out about my abuse and was raising money for awareness. So I thought a film would be something good to help other people and for me to get closure. So that’s how it started.”
“At the time, we knew this would be an ambitious short because of all the fantastical elements,” she says. “We had money put aside but realizing we needed more; we did a Kickstarter.”
Micheline and RH never put together a Kickstarter. “That was a ton of work. You think it’s going to be easy, but there’s so much. We had friends help us out.
Grummy became the highest-earning, live-action Kickstarter campaign for a short film at the time. “We raised a good fraction of the money there.”
“We were lucky to get the film shot,” she admits, noting that the film finished shooting “right before COVID hit the US. It was about two months after we wrapped. After that, though, post-production saw a lot of delays because so many studios were shut down.”
Grummy features a lot of practical effects. “Most of the film is all practical, but we had to do some VFX stuff. A little cleanup of matte paintings or erasing a wire, that sort of stuff.”
Naturally, indie projects like Grummy often need to call in some favors from friends. “Our VFX guy was working on Mulan at the time and would take whatever free time that he could to do stuff for Gummy. So, it took some time to get the project finished.”
Grummy’s not only ambitious as a visual project but as a narrative as well. “At the time, no one had done a project like this with this subject matter in this landscape. Usually, when people deal with child abuse, it’s dramas. Instead, we used the genre, fantasy world to approach the subject matter and also show the importance of imagination as a sanctuary.”
So, how did they go about putting together the story before filming? “My husband and I sat and broke everything down together. Here’s the story, here’s what happened, and here’s how I reimagined that into something digestible for other people to experience. We do this dance where we work back and forth. We pass things between us. We do that with everything from an outline to treatment to the script.”
“The short was only going to be 10 minutes,” she continues. “So, we had to think about how to tell this story in such a time. How do we get viewers to care about this little girl? They have to feel and see her innocence then care that she’s losing it.”
As Micheline explains, they “tried to have things that were representations of actions without showing actions. We used those ideas as keys for people to understand what’s deeper and darker without showing that onscreen. Less is more.”
Getting Grummy out to audiences took some more work still even after post-production. “Because of COVID and how it changed the demographic of festivals, it was tough to figure out how to release Grummy to the world. What would have the biggest impact? But it’s hard when you make a fantasy short. There are not a lot of festivals geared toward fantasy or dark fantasy specifically.”
“Deadline loved the project,” she says with joy, “and wanted to release it, so we went in that direction. It was a great platform and a great opportunity for people to see the film.
The importance of Grummy and films like it cannot be overstated. “There’s a lot of stigma about CSA (Childhood Sexual Abuse). Too many people feel shame and guilt when they shouldn’t. There are 43 million people living in the United States that experienced abuse as a child.”
Thanks to Deadline and online support, more people will see Grummy. “Since Deadline premiered the short, we’ll be submitting to the Oscars for next season.”
Is Grummy on your watch list?
Thanks to Micheline Pitt and Marion PR
for making this interview possible.
Read more interviews from Ruben R. Diaz!