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Interview: Steven Grayhm on The Secret of Sinchanee

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Interview: Steven Grayhm on <I>The Secret of Sinchanee</i>

by Paul Hansen 07 October, 2021

Fans of atmospheric horror films should take note of the new film The Secret of Sinchanee, written and directed by Steven Grayhm, who also acts in the film.

Grayhm plays Willie Stark, an insomniac tow truck driver who returns to his rural childhood home after the death of his father. Stark discovers that the home and the sacred land on which it was built is being haunted by a paranormal entity. The chilling ambiance of the film is accentuated by the music of Gary Rugala and Rycky Ruke and the haunting cinematography of Logan Fulton.

ScreenPicks' Paul Hansen recently posed some questions to Steven Grayhm about The Secret of Sinchanee, his feature directorial debut.

ScreenPicks: What was the impetus behind the creation of the story of The Secret of Sinchanee?

Steven Grayhm: Having originally met my wife in her hometown in Western Massachusetts, and later getting married back there, I had spent a lot of time in that part of the country. I began to study the rich history that dates back centuries about the atrocities committed against indigenous people. During this time, I had reconnected with my cousin Katherine (on my father’s side) who is now like a sister to me. She taught me so much about our indigenous heritage (La Petite Nation from Canada). They say to write what you know, and thus, I began to write what would become a deeply personal story.

ScreenPicks: Are there any particular themes that the film is exploring?

Grayhm: Yes. I wanted to take on the challenge of tackling more difficult themes and motifs in the film; xenophobia against indigenous peoples, childhood trauma and mental health issues, to hopefully make a more meaningful film, outside the confines of the horror/thriller genre.

ScreenPicks: What do you think differentiates The Secret of Sinchanee from other horror films? 

Grayhm: We have all the scares and thrills that you would come to expect from a horror/thriller film but we also have a lot of heart. You could argue that our film is a character study that explores the themes that I have mentioned above. In early screenings of the film, I witnessed audiences jump out of their seats and then later appear emotional, truly connected to the story on a visceral level, some even in tears. I truly believe our film delivers on all levels!

ScreenPicks: Was there anything unexpected or particularly memorable that happened during the course of filming? 

Grayhm: Most of my supporting cast had never acted before. Many of which were locals, from small-town Western Massachusetts. I really encouraged them to be fearless in their performances, assuring them that as their director, I would catch them if they fall. The real surprises came when the camera rolled and their souls sang. I am so grateful for their collective trust.

ScreenPicks: Was it a challenge to both direct and play a leading role in the film?

Grayhm: You typically spend more time on other actors’ coverage and less on your own. Ben Affleck talks about this when directing himself in Argo and The Town. Directing yourself, you are more willing to move on from your own performance after a few takes. I had a really great 1st AD, Lynn d’Angona, who I trusted to let me know when I had the performance and when maybe I didn’t. I had also worked with a lot of really great directors over the years as an actor and learned to never be too precious. You have to make your days or there’s no movie!

ScreenPicks: The cinematography of Logan Fulton, enhanced by the winter atmosphere, I thought was particularly ominous.  Can you describe what it was like to work with him? 

Grayhm: Logan is originally from Connecticut, so it was intrinsic to him, if not in his DNA – to understand and truly feel the full scope and tone of our story. I was very specific with what I wanted in terms of the aesthetic with a feeling of impending doom and a cold dreariness that can be New England in the wintertime. From the inception of the project, we discussed having the camera always moving until the arrival of the paranormal entity in the film. This was a technique brilliantly utilized by director  Denis Villeneuve in Arrival leading up to the arrival of the aliens.

ScreenPicks: Is there anything, in general, you would like to tell audiences about The Secret of Sinchanee?

Grayhm: My co-producers, Nate Boyer and Lynn d’Angona, and I truly strived to create a safe, diverse, and collaborative environment for everyone on set. We wanted to ensure that everyone felt like they had a voice and was being heard. I hope all my brothers and sisters in both the indigenous and veteran communities feel that we did them proud. From all of us at Team House Studios, it was our honor to hire 10 Veterans and 1 Gold Star Sister on this film. This was written, directed, produced and acted from the heart. No studio. No executives. No money. Our film is going out to the entire world in its purest form. I hope we’ve earned your precious time and hard-earned money. Miigwech! (thank you).

ScreenPicks: Would you like to share with us what your next projects are?

Grayhm: We are going into pre-production on our second film in the coming months on the Untitled Steven Grayhm Heist Film to be shot on location in West Texas. Our third film will be Sheepdog, a film that tackles mental health issues and the plight of our veterans transitioning into the civilian world. We are aiming to be shooting in Massachusetts in late 2022.

The Secret of Sinchanee is available on October 8 on Digital HD and On Demand.