Check out our interview with Martin Grof, the director behind the new mystery thriller, Sensation, which will be available on digital download on April 16 from Amazon Video! Learn about his career, the inspiration behind Sensation, upcoming films, and more!
PopHorror – Thanks for talking with me, Martin. How is your 2021 treating you so far?
Martin Grof – Covid has changed everything. We had a contract for a cinema release in April 2020 for Sensation, but it was canceled since the cinemas got closed down for an unknown period of time. So at the beginning of 2021, I decided to distribute the film online. I wonder how I will answer your question by the end of 2021. 🙂
PopHorror – Haha deal! What inspired you to become a director?
Martin Grof – I grew up in the corridors of the largest television in Czechoslovakia, as both my parents worked there. The presenters and producer were taking care of me, while my parents were working in a studio. About that time, it was written into my DNA I guess. Whenever there was a chance to work on TV production, I did not turn down the offer. I started pulling cables and became quite fast a director of several TV shows.
PopHorror – Your first film, Excursion, was written and produced within 7 months. That’s a pretty big deal. How did you manage that?
Martin Grof – I was preparing my first feature film in Slovakia but the story was about the current political situation in 2017, which suddenly changed and so the story wasn’t interesting for me anymore. It was very frustrating for me since I worked on the script for several years while working for several TV stations and studying at the university. So I had to make a plan B.
I have to admit that Excursion was more of an experiment and my first step into filmmaking as a producer. I simply wanted to know if I would be able to put the whole production together and produce a proper feature film with such a small budget.
I had some contacts in London since the Olympic games in 2012 where I worked as a robotic camera operator, so I told myself that I connect with these great people again and try to make a film in London. We had a very small budget so we couldn’t effort any big-name actors and also we couldn’t rely on the moody UK weather. So I decided to make a story with a handful of affordable but enthusiastic actors and crew members and at maximum 2 indoor locations. We shot the film in 14 days, went straight to the editing studio, and since we did not have any CGI in the film which could slow down the post-production, we went straight to festivals.
PopHorror – That’s very impressive! You’ve already touched on this a little bit, but with COVID and the state of the world, how did filming and getting everything ready different with your second film, Sensation compared to your first feature?
Martin Grof – With much more experience, the beginning of the Sensation production was great. I met many new great people who were also enthusiastic about filmmaking. We were lucky that we shot the whole film till October 2019. So few months before the Pandemic hit Europe. From then on we only worked remotely which wasn’t a big issue. But as the Covid situation got worse and I saw that big movies such as James Bond have moved their premiere because of the lockdown, I started realizing that the distribution of Sensation will be harder than expected. With Excursion I traveled the world and visited many festivals and talked to many distributors in person. With Sensation, I can only check emails and see if Sensation was selected and …. you know the rest. Showbusiness in general got hit by Covid very hard.
PopHorror – Yes it has! What was the inspiration behind Sensation?
Martin Grof – I always say that the smaller the budget, the bigger the story must be. Simply because as a director I have to catch the interest of the audience no matter what. DNA is a topic today. In this world where everybody is losing privacy to online media, and DNA is the last part that is private for everyone.. but for how long? You see how many hoaxes are out there since the covid vaccination was announced – Don’t get vaccinated, your DNA is going to be manipulated, misused, etc. When we wrote Sensation, nobody knew that Covid was coming and all these DNA questions will be open, but I guess Sensation is going to be released at the right time.
PopHorror – Very true! Can you tell the readers what the film is about in your own words?
Martin Grof – DNA and personal information. When you give your personal data to anyone, be careful. You don’t know who is on the other side. Andrew simply wanted to know who he was and where he came from. He only lived with his mother and she never wanted to tell him about his past or his family. So he decided to find out through a DNA agency. This is a common procedure these days and he thought that would be usual routine work for the agency. Suddenly weird things started to happen to him and he has skills he wasn’t aware of he had before. Was his DNA manipulated.. so he could become a superhero and work for someone? Is this someone good or bad?
PopHorror – How did the casting process come about?
Martin Grof – The initial casting process was quite challenging. Obviously, we needed a good actor who could transform Andrew Cooper from a regular postman to a superhero. A little of a naive boy and a little of a serious man. I immediately wanted Eugene Simon from Game of Thrones. But at that time he wasn’t available and I had to find someone else. The agency suggested Staz Nair. He also played a character in Game of Thrones. I met Staz in London, we had a few drinks, we went for dinner and we spent many hours together. The chemistry was perfect, he was perfect for the role. He is exactly that boy, turning into a superhero. He was excited I was excited, we signed the contract and we were planning the scenes together. Suddenly, 2 weeks before the first shooting day, I got a call from London. Staz got another big offer from DC, obviously, they needed a superhero as well. I knew that everybody wants to be a part of a bigger production. So I told Staz, that I understand his situation and we can cancel the contract and we made a promise, that we shoot a different movie later together. So, suddenly we didn’t have the lead character, Andrew. 14 days before production. We called the agency and told them that we might cancel the contract with Staz Nair, but I want Eugen Simon instead. After a couple of days, Eugene Simon contacted me and said he loved the script and he is in. That was destiny I guess. 🙂
PopHorror – Awesome seemed like everything turned out perfectly! Without spoiling anything, do you have any favorite scenes?
Martin Grof – I love all the scenes when Eugene is becoming a superhero and vice versa. If you watch the film twice, you can see from the beginning, when he is actually a normal human and when he is changing. I think Eugene is a great actor and he understood each and every situation very well. As we discussed the scenes we were always pretending that it was really happening. Imagine such a thing would happen to you in the real world. You’d be confused and sometimes maybe even hysterical because suddenly you can’t tell what is real and when exactly you have control about your own thoughts and actions. I would go crazy. You?
PopHorror – Pretty much the same! Both of your films have been mystery/thrillers. Is this a genre you enjoy and plan to do more of?
Martin Grof – Yes. Mystery, Thriller, Sci-Fi. These are ingredients, which belong in every good movie in my opinion.
PopHorror – Can’t argue with that! Do you have any favorite thriller/mysteries/horror movies?
Martin Grof – Yes, definitely.
Mystery: Shutter Island from Martin Scorsese
Thriller: Body of Lies from Ridley Scott
Horror: The Blair Witch Project from Daniel Myrick and Eduardo Sánchez
PopHorror – Any anything else you’d like to talk about? Upcoming projects?
Martin Grof – Enjoy Sensation… with an open mind. I hope as an independent filmmaker I can inspire more filmmakers to shoot movies. It isn’t easy, I know. You will sweat blood at every scene, ask yourself if everything is ready on time, if everything will work out as you wanted and prepared weeks ago, or if some important actor will not get sick, whether the weather will go wrong or some prop will get lost. But just as everything can go wrong, sometimes things can work out and succeed beyond expectations. And if Sensation entertains at least one viewer and the film motivates him to talk about it while drinking a glass of wine with friends and philosophizes about the film… then all of the hard work was worth it. No doubt.