When Belleville’s Andrew Gray saw how inspired older brother Adam was with his new interest in filmmaking, he knew that’s what he was also going to do with his life – preferably alongside his sibling. That was in the early 1990s, and what has grown from that initial spark of inspiration is a successful, respected and unique filmmaking company known simply – and logically – as Gray Brothers Films.
“I was doing a diploma in theatre arts in Ottawa and started directing plays when I was there in the early 1990s. That’s also when Quentin Tarantino was breaking through and so was David Lynch, and there were a lot of really good independent films coming out. It was just an exciting time and decided when I was directing plays and acting that film is where I wanted to go,” said Adam, who is three years older than Andrew.
“When Adam was directing plays and acting, it was all new to me and it was suddenly very encouraging because he was getting some really good responses from his theatre work. And, for me, if you want to go all the way back, I remember being really taken by the old Bruce Lee movies and Batman comic books. That’s where it all started as I began drawing and sketching. But as a kid there was no thought of film school growing up, I never heard of it. So it didn’t really become an opportunity until big brother took the initiative and went off to school and started doing really well. And then it became the only thing I wanted to do,” said Andrew.
After Adam finished his diploma, both Gray brothers enrolled at Concordia University in Montreal for various film programs. They returned to Belleville in the early 2000s and that’s where Gray Brothers was formed and continues to thrive to this day.
Very early on in their careers, Adam and Andrew realized that they had a common vision for their films and for the company, one that has truly set them apart and created a calling card for Gray Brothers Films within the film industry.
“We’re in documentary television and film production, but we do whatever interests us and that usually has something to do with these larger-than-life stories that delve into something that really happened but broadened to become part of modern mythology. There has to be an unknown that we’re exploring at the heart of each project, something inexplicable,” Andrew explained.
“We also do things on the side and are hired by people to do videos. We just did one for the Belleville Hospital Foundation and some mini-documentaries for television.”
What started the proverbial ball rolling and cast the direction for which the Gray Brothers would spend the bulk of their career was an otherworldly experience – on a very personal and profound level for Adam – that led to the first documentary they did, and one that would typify their approach and their style – The Nightmare.
“That was something that happened to me, so we just expanded from my experience into looking at it as a worldwide cultural and spiritual phenomenon. From that point, we just became even more interested in the paranormal and supernatural, and we were lucky enough to have the venue of a television series to explore that [Supernatural Investigator],” said Adam.
“It just went from there and we did that for a few years and then we got more interested in outlaws and folk heroes and true crime and we have focused a lot more on that lately. When it comes to determining what our next projects are, with a lot of reading and research you come across a story that hasn’t been told, one that you have a unique take on, and then we go for it.”
Gray Brothers Films has been a mainstay in the Bay of Quinte film scene for many years and has racked up a number of impressive accolades and accomplishments.
“The biggest thing we have done was Fly Colt Fly, a feature-length documentary that we did in 2014 after doing a bunch of the Supernatural Investigator shows. For us it was a big leap forward because we had a budget of nearly one million dollars and it was for The Movie Network and it also ended up playing on The Sundance Channel and at The Next Wave Festival at TIFF and the Seattle International Film Festival. It was a number of years work and it was kind of a big deal for us,” said Adam.
“It was especially cool to be at the Seattle festival because, of course, the story we based it on took place in the Washington State area and people in Seattle were very knowledgeable about the story. It was actually quite nerve wracking because it was a very controversial story. But it actually packed the theatres during the festival and it turned out to be one of the warmest audiences we have played a movie for,” added Andrew.
The biggest challenge faced by Gray Brothers Films is one that is shared by many of the filmmakers and technicians within the Bay of Quinte region – isolation, whether real or perceived – from the main filmmaking hubs in Canada, especially Toronto.
“You are kind of isolated from the rest of the industry. It’s tough to believe in yourself and to see yourself as part of the industry even though you are living it every day. So through our partnership, Andrew and I keep each other inspired and keep each other excited about our ideas. We feed off each other’s energy and that sort of helps battle the isolation from the rest of the industry, so that by the time we go up to Toronto to pitch an idea, we are all jacked up, we’re confident and we’re ready to go,” said Adam, who also talked about his observations of the nascent, diverse and growing film community in the area.
“Out here it’s more about individuals who are working with the advantages of a rural community, where living is cheap and you can still use the internet to stay in touch and stay relevant. I think out here it’s more of an artsy kind of filmmaker community, where we know each other and we can help each other when it’s called for. I think we have worked with pretty much every other person in the area; either hired them or rented gear off them, and vice versa. It’s all these wonderfully diverse artists, and we’re trying to encourage each other and help,” said Andrew.
“I think, in this industry, there is so much value that can come from learning from other people who are working in the industry. Where do you get our funding? What kind of equipment are you using? What problems have you had? Sharing all that information is crucial to success, especially when you’re working on your own for the most part.”
At present, in the mid-summer of 2017, there are a few new projects in the pipeline. One of those most worthy of note is a documentary on a mass disappearance from an Arctic village and another is about people who are still obsessed with San Francisco’s so-called Zodiac Killer.
For more information, visit www.graybrothersfilms.com