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Interview: The Crew From GRIND MIND Spill Their Guts

Shane Mills, Francois Van Zyl, Justin “Buddha” Wiseman are the founders of GRIND MIND

GRIND MIND is a collective of four friends dedicated to summoning horror in the Canadian province of Newfoundland and Labrador. Through film, events, and community collaborations their mission is to foster open and inclusive filmmaking while establishing our fog-covered island as a premier genre destination in Canada and beyond.

Shane Mills, Francois Van Zyl, Justin “Buddha” Wiseman, and John Carter are the founders of GRIND MIND and since 2017 they have made many gore-filled takes on local folklore. Their 2021 breakout was the short film Mummering Legends, the story of an elderly woman recounting the disturbing history of Mummering in 1920’s Newfoundland.

Their shorts have received acclaim from many horror film festivals while back home they continue to create bold, creepy, effective, blood-soaked films and now, TV series. The principle members chat with us about how it all came about — and what’s next.


Can you start by sharing your inception story? What prompted all this? 

Shane: Back in 2017, we realized if we didn’t chase being filmmakers then, we weren’t going to do it. We all committed to essentially learning how to make films. We are all creative people between being musicians and artists, but not really accomplishing anything. So, 2017 came and we hit this point where we’re like, all right, we have now dipped into our 30s. If we’re not going to do this, we’re not going to.  

So, we submitted a film to the Nickel Independent Film Festival’s 48-hour horror film challenge as one of the first things we did. I stole a camera from where I was working at the University and we had a bit of sound gear on us so we made a film in 48 hours, and we won the Audience Choice award, which lit a little fire in us. We then thought well, maybe we can do this. 

We took that 48 Hour challenge and decided we’d learn how to be filmmakers by doing a 48 Hour challenge ourselves every month. And we did that for two years, writing, shooting, editing, and releasing a short film online every month. We wanted to build an audience in the community because we knew we weren’t going to get into film in the traditional way. 

The film industry always felt far away. It always felt like it was like Hollywood versus us here in Newfoundland and Labrador. We weren’t even privy to how much the film industry was starting to boom here but we did our no budget films for about two years. 

And that kept us busy until we got the Picture Start with NIFCO (Newfoundland Independent Film Co-operative) which gave us 60K, but you must realize that a lot of that is in equipment and expenses. So, in reality, it was probably somewhere more around 20K in actual funding cash, but that opened us up to the real industry. We felt like we were scraping our way through the door for a long time. But once we had that experience, people saw we had a great shoot and enjoyed working with us. 

Buddha: Another thing was, we broke a few boundaries when it came to that grant, because a lot of people were saying nobody local has attempted this caliber of a film. But we just went in there like into a burning building.

Shane: Even the process to get Picture Start, usually you must go through the first-time film program with NIFCO, but we had churned out 25 plus first-time films at that point on our own. It was a combination of the audience that we had behind us, the energy that we were coming into it with, that got us that development. Once that was done, we proved that if we had money, we could make things. I like the euphemism that we broke in the back door of filmmaking and the film industry in Newfoundland and Labrador. But since we did Picture Start, there are a lot of doors that have opened. Now I feel like we are legitimately part of the film industry in Newfoundland. But it all started with just five guys in the backyard making 48 Hours films, not great films. A lot of them, I will absolutely say, are shitty. But it was in the process of making them that you learn, okay, let’s not make a shitty one next time, because here’s what went wrong and here’s what went right. And it has been that been that way for five plus years. We managed to stay friends and keep doing it. 

Francois: We never had this dream of being the next Quentin Tarantino or something like that. It was just, let’s just make a cool movie, the end. And we kept doing that repeatedly. And the money came later, which I think is like part of our success. There was no pretense or attitude behind it. It was let’s make a cool movie. And when it was done, we kept doing that over and over and over and over. 

Shane: Even when we had our interview for Picture Start, we said if you all don’t fund this, we’re going to make it anyway. We would have done it for $0 begging our friends to come help us for a weekend. 

Are you all still together?  

Shane: Yes, we’re all still together. But we do have one member who is living in Saskatchewan. The core of Grind Mind is Buddha, Francois, myself, and John. That’s the group that came together to make these films. But it’s since expanded. Now we have our friend Blair, who does most of our sound on production. There’s Paul Warford, the host of Deadflix and has become our script supervisor, and he’s helping us write and do everything in the world. 

It’s hard to put a number on how many people are in Grind Mind, but we’re the four that worry about if we’re going to go in debt or not, everybody else is part of Grind Mind, but they aren’t financially stuck to it like we are. But we wouldn’t be able to do shit without them, that’s for sure. 

Who were some of your inspirations or influences going into this? 

Shane: I can say I’ve always been a fan of Kevin Smith and as a filmmaker, I always admired how he managed to build a universe with just his friends. Like Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back, Clerks, Mallrats. I always admired how he made films with his buds and had a fun time. That’s been a big inspiration for me because I truly believe that the group as a whole is the entity. It’s not one person. It’s all these friends that are making these films. I’ve always had a lot of respect for that. As we mentioned earlier, we’re all weird horror fans. We’ve all been watching horror movies since we were too young to watch horror movies. So, a lot of influence comes from filmmakers we adore, and obviously films that we’ve enjoyed and watched throughout the years. And Newfoundland is obviously a giant influence because the culture, the community, it’s filled with spooky locations across the island, you can’t help but be influenced by something that is so deeply ingrained in your veins. 

Francois: Back before we even started, I was taking a course at Memorial University which was a Newfoundland studies kind of thing. We were talking about resettlement and thought that would be a cool movie idea. And that was inspiring as a filmmaker. That kind of helped spur us on where we said, well, we’re not filmmakers, but this is a clever idea for a movie, so let’s just go off and see what happens. 

Buddha: I grew up listening to old spooky stories that people would tell, folk stories, stuff they’d make up, stuff people would claim was true and happened. A lot of spooky, creepy stuff all centered around Newfoundland. There’s so much lore on this island that it’s very hard to not have that be part of your system and the way you operate. Someone like me, I like to see these things in reality. So, the story is cool and all, but what if that thing’s chasing you down the woods? So that gives me inspiration, hearing those spooky things and showing my interpretation of what that is to me. 

Shane: You can have no money but here you can point your camera anywhere and still have a million-dollar location. Between the community and the folklore, we’re big on representing Newfoundland as a genre. And it’s not just local talent filming here now. We got Disney shooting bits of Peter Pan and Wendy here and we have Ben Stiller currently filming Severance. It was all going to explode at some point. And we’re just going to keep pushing that. Horror is where it’s at here. 

Mummering Legends. 2021. Directed by Shane Mills. Screenplay by Francois Van Zyl.

How do you use social media to connect with your audience? 

Shane: From the start, we knew we needed people to watch our films, or we wouldn’t have the motivation to finish them. Making a short film is cool, but if it’s only you are watching it, you don’t feel the juice to want to make another one. So, we knew that social media was as much of a boom as it was when we started. It’s much harder to reach people on social media now. 

Buddha: We came in at the tail end of that. 

Shane: It’s harder now without advertising costs or boosting posts or whatnot. We did a grassroots campaign saying, hey, this is who we are. It was never about the films per se. It was more about we are trying to make films. If you’d like to follow along and join us, we’d really appreciate it. While we were making those films every month it wasn’t about them. It’s about gaining an audience because that audience and that community will support us when we do have the opportunities to make or to chase development here and whatnot. 

Buddha: We were inviting everyone to come grow with us. 

Shane: I can say we’re a little different than a lot of crews because we can raise money by merchandise. We try and sell shirts with Deadflix art by other artists or our own. And I think that’s different for filmmakers. I don’t think there are a lot of crews that sell shirts to try and raise money. 

And people are buying the shirts not only because they look cool, but they’re also buying the shirts to support us and because they want to see us make another thing. We’ve managed to build a big enough community and audience that there hasn’t been a time yet that nobody got involved.  

FogFest for us was a huge financial risk in a lot of ways. It was bigger than anything we’ve ever done. And we were hoping people would show up. And people did show up. I feel it’s because we’ve been putting ourselves out there online through social media because we want people to see that there’s real faces behind this shit. We’ve been very transparent about everything that works and what doesn’t work. 

A lot of filmmakers use social media to tease some projects they’ve got coming five years down the line. We use social media to say, here’s what we f-cked up today and here’s what worked. People are attracted to that because so much of what you see online is a projection of what everybody wants to be, where we’ve been trying to be as transparent as possible. And we’ll continue to do that. 

And it’s attracting other like-minded local creators.

Shane: You learn that it’s a small city and once you start saying, I’m a creative person, you start connecting with other creative people. That’s kind of everything. It’s extremely easy to become a family in this whole thing. An extended family. That’s why I caution when I say Grind Mind has four core members because it’s one big collective.  

Buddha: And even down to the fans, we have some people that are there every time we have a merch sale or if we need help, those people have never been in a film but have helped us create films. The family extends past that crew.  

Shane: The bigger you get, the more you evolve, the more help you need. And it warms the old cold, dead heart that people actually care and want to get involved. When people say we’ve got a certain amount of fame, to me it cringes inside me. Because it all comes down to that support. It’s not fame that we have, it’s support. And that’s what I’d like to clarify. 

What is the best part of your work?  

Buddha: For me it’s showing people our work and them going, ‘holy f-ck, how did you do that? I didn’t see that coming.’ Just the comments of people enjoying something you make. Not everybody will like it, but when they say, ‘hey, that was cool,’ they really like that. Anytime we can make someone scream, that’s always super. Hearing a gasp, that’s always a good one. And old ladies getting up and leaving (laughs). 

Shane: I know for me I find it creatively fulfilling. And that’s a thing I’ve been chasing for a long, long time. I feel like out of all the creative gigs I’ve had in my life, film is like the ultimate combination of everything between just sound, visual, thought, everything just comes together with film. So, I just find it more creatively fulfilling than any other path that I’ve gone down to. Creatively, there’s nothing else in the world like making a movie. 

Francois: It’s chasing a high, being creative and doing stuff is its own self-fulfilling thing. We never had this plan of like, oh, we’re going to be these industry titans, there was never any of that. It was always about making cool shit. And that comes with a high and this nebulous feeling of, what do I do if I’m not doing this? So that’s what it is for me. As long as we’re making cool shit and chasing that feeling of bringing something into the world that didn’t exist before, that’s really the gas that keeps this machine running. 

Is there a toughest part? 

Francois: Well, long hours. Long, long hours. And things going wrong.  

Shane: There’s a lot of things that aren’t always as fulfilling as you want them to be. You’ll spend six hours shooting a teaser and it will get three likes on Facebook. You must be able to separate that immediate bit of serotonin from social media, especially now. And I would say a challenge has always been to remember that we’re all friends first. The films, the production company, none of it exists if we’re not all at least semi happy and functioning and not as a team challenge.  

We always have to loop back and be, let’s make sure we’re all cool with that, make sure everybody is on board. I feel like you don’t get that in a lot of production companies. I don’t believe in the hierarchy of film per se when it comes to creatives. If any of us had a falling out, it just wouldn’t exist anymore. The heart of this company wouldn’t exist. You could split off and start new production, but it just would never be the same. 

Francois: Being in a production company is a high stress thing and we have five different visions trying to coagulate into one vision. And we have heard comments like oh, I don’t know how you are still friends but it’s because we’re friends before we’re filmmakers. 

Shane: We’ve all been through way worse (laughs). We’ve all seen each other in the worst states of mind and worlds. So, disagreeing about story choice, that shit is nothing when you’ve been friends for 15 years. It’s the secret sauce, man.  

Francois: This goes back to that Kevin Smith thing. He’s hanging out with his buds, making movies. That’s the dream, man. 

Some of the Creations made by the team of GRIND MIND
A few of the creations by the team of GRIND MIND. Photos by Jason Sheppard

How important is the role of festivals to your organization? 

Shane: I will say that before Mummering Legends, I didn’t really care about submitting our films to festivals. We weren’t trying to reach an audience necessarily beyond YouTube. But when we did Legends, we had 50 people who contributed to this film and the budget was there to bring it to festivals, I can say that it has opened a lot of opportunities for us. There are a lot of festivals that are predatory. But do your research, do your vetting, and you can find like-minded great people who are running festivals like Blood in the Snow in Toronto. I cannot stress how amazing of a festival that was. When we went there, we were treated like royalty. Local film festivals like Nickel support local filmmakers. Our first film was shown at the Nickel.  

Buddha: That was the only reason we started making films. That was what lit the fire under us. 

Shane: Once we had a film at a festival and you were in a room with a packed house watching a five-minute short about a werewolf and a vampire and their relationship troubles. It was not great, but it’s part of Nickel’s prerogative to put out and inspire filmmakers and in a huge way now we work with Nickel regularly. We mentor filmmakers with the 48 Hours Horror Challenge, every year. When it comes to festivals, you just need to find the right ones. That’s the key.  

You all have been doing this for six years. Do you have any advice for budding filmmakers? 

Buddha: Find a good crew. Be friends with the people that you’re making the movie with. Find people who are creative in the same way that you are creative or even a little more creative than you. Stay humble. And don’t let the mistakes ruin your day. 

Shane: Yep. Find your people. And persistence over perfection. That’s the name of the game. You can boil everything in Grind Mind right down to that. It’s the only reason we are successful. Yes, we’re talented, yes, we’re creative but there’s a lot of people who are as talented or as creative as us. It’s just that we haven’t stopped. Just persistence has been it. I don’t think that we are some savants of horror in Newfoundland. I feel we’ve just continued to do it, and that’s been the key. And I would say that to any filmmaker who’s starting out or trying to find their way in the industry, just start and keep going. Just make it a thing that every month you’re going to find something to do with film, whether you’re going to be joining somebody’s crew as a trainee, or whether you’re going to take your own cell phone and your friends and go shoot something on a weekend. I would just say just persistence over perfection. Because if you get bogged down in trying to make the perfect film, you will never make it. Simple as that.  

What would you like to say to the people who supported you?  

Buddha: We are nothing without them. I say that at every opportunity I can get, at any event we do, we wouldn’t be here, honestly, if it wasn’t for you folks and the fans and it was fucking true. Even down to the critiquing of our films. The good things and the bad things people say, it’s all very appreciated. 

Shane: I can’t tell you how deeply sincere I am when I mean that if it wasn’t for our community and our audience supporting us even during Hag, there were times I was like, I don’t know if I can do this, I don’t know if I want to keep doing this. But it’s been the community and the audience that has just proved to us that, yeah, what we’re doing has worth, what we’re doing has value. And now I feel like I sincerely can’t thank everybody enough. I mean, it’s simple words, but we’re going to keep doing it. We tell everybody they’re part of our graveyard now. 

Francois: If we were in Toronto trying this it wouldn’t work but because we’re here in Newfoundland and Labrador with so many people supporting us who genuinely care about what we do. And it’s because of that support that we keep going. If someone came here and told us we’d never get funding again we’d be like, well, that sucks, but we’re still going to keep going.  

Any future projects you might want to talk about or cool stuff you got working on?  

Shane: We’ve officially shot two episodes of Deadflix season two. We’ve done all our development funding for a Hag docuseries that’s going to be a four-episode series about sleep paralysis in Newfoundland. That’s going to be coming to Bell Fibe TV in 2023. And we are in the development of, at this stage, our script for our first feature film, which we’re hoping to find the right funders and the right people for this year. It’s come to the point where we are building out years into the future at this point and we’re just fucking lucky to be able to do that. 


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Written by Jason Sheppard

Journalism graduate from the College of the North Atlantic in Canada. For four years I have interviewed filmmakers, actors, actresses, composers musicians, fashion models and more. I love sitting down and having someone tell me their life story which I then get to tell to the world - and they don't sue. Horror movies are awesome but none has ever frightened me as much as Scorsese's Cape Fear. Only thing I find more frightening are bees and online dating. Click links to follow me.

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