Greg Gentry ll

He is the filmmaker of Night Surf.

SKSM: Could you start with telling me a little bit about yourself? Who are you and what do you do?

Greg Gentry II: My name is Greg Gentry, and I’m a 24 year old high school English teacher. I’ve loved reading, writing, and movies since I was a little kid, and have wanted to do something in either film or writing since about that time, too. A lot of my teaching is focused on storytelling, and my main goal is always to try to find ways for high schoolers to connect their lives to art, and to really think about the media they consume and how it correlates to the world around them.

SKSM: When did you know you wanted to become a filmmaker?

Greg Gentry II: Pretty much since I was a kid. I think I was about 12 when I really “decided” that was what I wanted to do someday. That was also around the time I got my first computer and really started diving deep into YouTube, and watching fan films and movie reviews and things like that really made me realize that film was something I wanted to do. At the time, the MCU was really hitting its first stride, and Warner Bros. was about to launch their own universe with Man of Steel, so it was really easy for me to get swept up in the actual fimmaking world, given that the movies and characters I liked were so accessible and popular at the time. The Harry Potter franchise also really had me thinking about the people behind the camera, because I was always trying to figure out why THE DIRECTOR, which I only understood to be THE PERSON IN CHARGE at the time, was constantly changing on those.

When did you make Night Surf? Can you tell me a little about the production? How much did it cost? How long did it take to film it?

Greg Gentry II: We shot Night Surf in the fall of 2020. It was one of the shortest productions I’ve done- I think we filmed it all in about two nights and a day. It was like a Friday night, Saturday, Saturday night type thing or something like that. It was a pretty short script, but me and all of my actors were also in college at the time, so I figured we could bang the whole thing out in one weekend and not have to worry about matching up everyone’s schedules. Unfortunately, when you’re shooting at a really amateur level like this, the biggest enemy and obstacle is always time. Time and scheduling.

However, I think that short time frame kind of helped us, in a way. When you don’t have much time to sit around or think about things, you’re forced to sort of innovate on the spot, and it’s actually a lot easier to get lost in the world of whatever your’re doing. For like two days, our whole life was Night Surf, and it can be hard to capture that kind of intense passion, and maintain it, over a longer shoot. On the flip side of that, it’s also really easy for people to start getting irritable and upset when everything has to move so fast. The nice part is that there’s also no time for people to be mad at each other- instead, it’s just a lot easier to capture actors/characters looking sad, or tired, or angry, because that’s probably just what we were feeling at the time. Not that I enjoy when people are upset, obviously- the first goal of making movies is to have fun- but it can add to the atmosphere.

We were also really lucky with the weather. We had two gloomy autumn days of grey skies and light rain, which really added to the look and atmosphere of the movie. I don’t think it would have worked if everything had been bright and sunny. The only scenes we didn’t film that weekend are the sunny ones, which were actually reshoots because the original footage from that weekend weren’t usuable. I think there are only like 1-2 reshot scenes in the film, and they’re some of the scenes when my character (Bernie) is hallucinating or dreaming about his girlfriend, Maureen, and it’s sunny above them. That was just luck, but it worked really well to help separate those scenes from the setting of the film’s main story. It was kind of cold, though, which I think also added to nerves at times, but again, it worked. The water was especially chilly.

As for cost, it was so negligible I don’t even remember. We pretty much had all of the equipment and costumes on hand. The only thing I think I actually bought were some electric tea lights, which I taped to a spatula so I could hold them up to the actor’s faces and make it look like they were near a fire. I know I had to buy food for the cast while we filmed, and that was probably the spendiest part. I pretty much had zero dollars at the time, so the film had to pretty much cost zero dollars.

How come you picked Night Surf to develop into a movie? What is it in the story that you like so much?

Greg Gentry II: In the summer of 2020, I started working on this script called Radio Girl. I really wanted to make something where music, and specifically music on the radio and radio hosts, were a big part of the film and basically drove the story. I also knew that I wanted there to be some sort of fist fight in the water at the end of the movie. And, finally, I knew that I wanted loneliness and isolation to be a big part of the film and its emotional center. Keep in mind that this was during the first few months of COVID, because I essentially wanted to make a “Covid” movie, or at least something that dealt with the emotions of Covid.

I was also in college at the time, and college can be a pretty lonely place. I know that’s not exactly the repuatation it has, but that’s what it was for me- especially given that right at the beginning of my second semester, everything on campus was just shut down, and everyone went home. The town just emptied. I was renting a house right next to campus, though, so I stuck around, and would sort of just wander around the town listening to music and hoping something interesting would happen. That’s when I started really thinking about Radio Girl, but I couldn’t figure out what the actual mechanics of the story were. I also didn’t think I had enough people able to do it at the time, but I knew that I wanted one of my roomates, Heather, to play the main character. I don’t know if Heather even knows this, so if she reads this, shoutout to Heather- but I just thought she would fit that role and embody what I was looking for. Anyway, I tabled the Radio Girl ideaand decided to look somewhere else. Radio Girl actually turned into the film we made after Night Surf, which was called Our Last Lonely Summer, but that’s another story.

Anyway, my girlfriend, Abbie (who plays “Kelly” in the film) was reading Night Shift at the time, and she stumbled across Night Surf, which is really short and bare bones. I think she suggested it to me as something I could adapt for our next film, because she wanted me to do something short and small scale, it had the right amount of characters, and we lived right by a perfect setting.

So, I read through the story and pretty much immediately decided it would work. I’ve been a huge Stephen King fan since I read The Shining in eighth grade, and my first film (if you want to be generous and call it a ‘film’) was based on The End of the Whole Mess, from Nightmares and Dreamscapes. I had also been wanting to adapt The Raft from Skeleton Crew since I was in high school, but run away from it because I had no idea how to create a convnicing oilslick monster. Meanwhile, The Stand was and is my favorite book, so there was an obvious draw there, and Night Surf fit my whole COVID and loneliness frame really well, so I was pretty much instantly able to sort of transplant my ideas for Radio Girl onto Night Surf.

As for the story itself, I just remember being sucked in by how raw and almost unfinished it felt, and the way that writing style sort of perfectly summed up the lives of the teenage characters. I don’t know if that’s what King’s goal was, but that was what stuck with me. There were also just all sorts of these little glimmers of characterization packed into those four pages or whatever that I really latched onto, especially with how the characters talked, and Needles in particular. I just saw a lot of potential to make an interesting weird little freak of a guy out of him, and of course, the radio announcers gave a lot of life to that story. Every time I show a group our film, people laugh at the “KUNT radio” line, and I always have to tell them that I can’t take credit for that.

SKSM: Was there any funny or special moment when you made the movie that you would like to tell me about?

Greg Gentry II: The most special moment from filming is defintiely when Abbie and Jordan’s characters (Kelly and Corey) truck me into the water before drowning me. I had never filmed a stunt or a fight like that, and I was really nervous because I’m a huge baby about cold water, but it was amazing. It was so fun, but it almost got screwed up. I don’t really remember what the issue was, but I remember standing in the water, still mostly dry, and my friend Alex (who also plays Alvin) recording from the shore, while Jordan and Abbie charged at me with murder in their eyes. I threw my hands up and yelled “waitwaitwaitwait!” And got them to stop just in time so that I could adjust whatever it was needed adjusting, probably some important direction I didn’t give Alex, and then tried to blame him for later.

Another special moment from filming was when we shot the scene between Corey and the radio. It’s one of the weirder scenes in the movie, and it’s not in the story, but it’s one of my favorites because it riffs on Lord of the Flies, which I feel is one of the greatest novels ever put on paper. Anyway, this was a fun scene because it was pretty much just Jordan and I, as everyone else had went home. Alex might have been there for part of it, too, but my focus is/was on Jordan because, well, he’s just such a handsome devil, but also because I think he’s just so dang good. His lines weren’t very easy, considering he’s hallucinating a conversation with a radio, but I was really happy with what he was able to do, and he’s just always a really fun actor to work with. He has a confidence and attitude not everyone has, and it makes shooting a great time. Also, every shot in that scene has a crazy lens flare, and there’s nothing more important while shooting than having crazy lense flares 😉
Really, though, there are two moments that stand out to me most, and they were both from after we were done shooting the film.
Since she’s my girlfriend, Abbie always gets to watch the first cut of my films. Still to this day, I don’t think I’ve ever seen her so impressed, or felt so proud of her response, to something I’ve made as I did when I showed her Night Surf, specficially that final scene. Since my first movie, I’ve always wanted things to be BIG and EPIC and DARK and SAD, but the problem was I sucked at making movies and everything was always funny, instead, because I had no idea how to actually convey action effectively. I’m not saying Night Surf doesn’t have goofy moments or flaws, because it absolutely does, but it has a lot less than usual. The final scene in particular was the first time that how I pictured a scene in my head actually matched the way it looked on camera, and I’m just really proud of that and happy with how much my girlfriend liked the scene. I pretend to make movies because it’s fun, but really I’m just always trying to impress her.
Then, finally, I remember when I got all of my roomates together (they were also the cast) in our living room to watch the film once it was complete. During the opening scene, Heather said somehting along the lines of “That gave me chills. Seeing us there like that is so weird- I have chills. This is so cool.” Obviously she’s kind of biased, but it’s always extremely rewarding when whatever you’ve made makes a person feel something, even if it’s a cast member. Because, believe it or not, there’s not always a gurantee your buddies or your cast members will like, or even watch, the film. I had an actor in one of my movies skip out on the theatrical premiere because “it wasn’t his type of movie” and he “didn’t understand it.” That type of thing really sucks, so I think it’s important to recognize that sometimes the low hanging fruit isn’t as low hanging as you might think. I know I’ve had a lot of actors not like or not care about the movie, so to actually get a reaction is always extremely special. I guess it just makes me feel like I didn’t let that person down or waste their time, which is how I’ve felt before.

Night Surf short story is about a global pandemic and your film was filmed during the Covid year. Tell us about the experience of shooting during that time. Were there exceptional security measures?

Greg Gentry II: Honestly, there wasn’t anything we did differently due to COVID. This isn’t because we didn’t take it seriously- I feel like we did- but because it just wasn’t really necessary. We pretty much all lived together, with the exception of Chris and Alex (Needles and Alvin) who drove up and stayed with us while filming. We also filmed the whole thing outside, and in a public space, so it’s not like we needed to mask up or things like that. Because the weather was cold and rainy, there also weren’t ever very many people at the beach, so we didn’t have to worry about social distancing. There is one shot where I think you can see a car with its lights on the background, and there was a little kid driving around an RC boat at point, but otherwise we were pretty much isolated the whole time. And then, obviously we wear masks in the film, but that wasn’t due to necessity- it’s something that I felt made sense for whenever the characters were out and about, but the imagery is also pretty obvious and timely. I felt like it was sort of an important thing for us to include.

I think the biggest influence COVID had is on the final shot, or theme of the movie. Through the whole thing, there’s this recurring line of “just the flu,” which Heather’s character (Susie) says in a monologue towards the end of the film. She’s in an argument with Bernie, and he asks “what happened to you, Susie?” and she answers with

 “You did. You’re my Captain Trips.”

My idea with each character was that they all had their own thing that made them “sick,” and that they were the real villains, not Captain Trips. This isn’t a new idea- it’s very in line with the original story, and The Stand, and Lord of the Flies, but I loved the dialogue in the story which lamented how easily all of humanity- both literal, tangible humanity, and “humanity” in the empathetic sense- were wiped out by something so simple, rather than by a grand finish of our own design. But, really, I think that my version of Night Surf is a story of self destruction, and that’s really what I saw during COVID. It’s amazing to me how many of our problems during that time happened because we just didn’t do things right. People panic bought toilet paper, and people didn’t take it seriously, which got them killed. They self destructed. A lot of this was a result of people downplaying the severity of COVID, in particular, saying it was “just the flu.” So I think that final shot- where “Just the flu” is written in the sand- serves a dual purpose. Not only is it a very obvious, ironic commentary on COVID, and the fact that it wasn’t just the flu, but it’s also a reminder that what we let destroy oursevles isn’t always something big. Sometimes it’s just the little, simple things, and we don’t get the grand spectacle of an ending we think we deserve. Bad things just add up over time. Relationships end. Sometimes there is a big thing, but not always. Sometimes it’s both. Sometimes it’s… Just the flu. Point being, we all have our Captain Trips. Right?

What “good or bad” comments have you received on your film?

Greg Gentry II: Oh boy. Actually, there aren’t many comments on the video where it’s uploaded, which is YouTube. It never really popped off the way I wanted it to, but I’ve also had the video unlisted for about a year, so it can only be found if you already have the link. I did this with all of my films once I started my teaching job, just in case someone gets mad about the swearing, but also so that teenagers can’t bully me as easily.

There are a few comments on it, though, and they’re mostly negative. One of them just says “worst acting” ever, another says there’s better versions available, there’s another making fun of one of Alex’s lines. It is what it is. They make me laugh. You can’t really get mad about it- it’s not like I expect to win Oscars, or anything, and it’s all just for fun. Now, I would be mad if, say, someone was really specific and mean towards one of my actors in a personal way, but as for general comments that aren’t trying to be constructive, who cares?

I mean, obviously you want people to like what you do, and people do say nice things, but I think it’s damaging to get offended, because it kind of assumes you don’t think there’s anything wrong with your work. There’s a lot wrong with Night Surf, and all of my films. That doesn’t mean I’m not proud of them or keep trying to improve.

 As for the other Night Surf movies out there, I have watched them- at least, all the ones there were as of 2020- and I liked them. I thought each one had different strengths. They were all fun and I took some notes. With that said, I tried to do something different with mine, and I don’t expect everyone to like that approach. I just made the version I wanted to see.

As for people who I’ve actually shown the film to, Night Surf  actually gets a lot of love. Again, I know there’s a bias from people you know, but I’ve had a lot of misses over the years, and people tell me that. Night Surf is a lot of people’s favorites out of all of our films. I usually get the most compliments on the cinematography, music, and final scene. I think people also like this one because it’s reasonably well paced, unlike a lot of my movies, and the characters are fun. Night Surf is also my girlfriend’s favorite, and she always has the right opinion on everything.

Did you know that King sold the film rights to some of his stories for only $1? If so, why did you decide to film Night Surf without taking advantage of the Dollar Baby program?

Greg Gentry II: Yes, I did. If I remember right, Night Surf wasn’t available for purchase at the time. I know I looked at the list, and poked around at some other stories that were available, but nothing grabbed me like Night Surf did. I think this was another point where I considered The Raft, but that wasn’t available then, either. I don’t know exactly how the rights for that work- if someone had already bought Night Surf, if it just wasn’t available, etc.

Are you a Stephen King fan? If so, which are your favorite works and adaptations?

Greg Gentry II: Yes. Massive. If I hadn’t read The Shining when I was 13, I would not be an English teacher right now. I don’t even think I’d be doing this interview. Like a lot of kids, I read a lot in elementary school, then fell off in middle. My reading level was above the type of content available in YA books at the time (luckily, YA has “grown up” as a genre a TON over the past ten years) and I was just bored. I picked up The Shining from my public library (God bless librarians) and was blown away because it was the first time I read a book that felt real- that had people who sounded and acted like the adults I knew. Remember, I was 13 years old, not exactly a genius. However, The Shining was just accessible, but complex, enough that it hooked me back into reading, and I hardly touched anything other than King for like three years. His books still work for me as an adult, mostly, but I always share this story with my students, because I think it’s an example of why so many teenagers latch onto King and never quite let go.

I’ve read almost all of his books- in fact, I just finished Rose Madder last night- and you know, he has some misses. I haven’t loved anything from him since Revival. With that said, he’s always going to occupy a huge place in my heart, and The Stand in particular is always going to be my favorite, or at least one of my favorite, books. Not just by King, but, like, ever. It’s defintiely not the best book- but you know, it’s pretty good, and it’s my favorite. I won’t digress into why too much- this is already way too long- but here’s a quick story about it.

When I was a little kid, I remember my grandma reading The Stand, and just being… amazed by how this book looked. She had the uncut edition hardcover, and as a child it seemed like the only thing that could make a book that big were the secrets of the universe. The two guys fighting on the cover mesmerized me, and something about the blackness around them drew me in and made me wonder what hid in that darkness. All that, and the title- The Stand- just had me concinved this had to be the most epic book of all time, and tell the most epic story of good and evil ever. That’s the type of magic that I think books should, and can, hold- even if it makes me sound childish or stupid. Sometimes I care about pretending to be literary and serious, but it’s a lot more fun to get lost in those dark spaces. I just love reading. I get called pretentious a lot and I’ve also been called stupid a lot. I don’t know what I am. But I know I love that book.

As for his adaptations, I’ve had this obsession with Stand by Me since I watched it with my friend at the very impressionable age of 11 or 12. I think it’s pretty obvious why that one would click. I just think it’s clearly one of the best films based on his books and there’s nothing new I can say about it here.

One that I do have a soft spot for which you don’t hear as often is Christine. I mean, it’s still Christine, a John Carpenter film- but no one talks about Christine like it’s Shawshank or The Green Mile. Probably because, well, it isn’t. But it is pretty awesome- the score alone is one of the best in any King film, bar maybe The Shining- and while not particularly scary, just like the book, I love the weird way it explores teenage romance and obsession through cars. I’m sure if I reread it now I could find all sorts of complex commentary about the auto industry, fetishization of machinery, and perform a Marxist feminist critique of the patriarichal systems which compare women to machinery, or something, but thinking about it now I just get a kick out of a bully stabbing yogurt through a paper bag. I don’t know, call me stupid.

If we’re wanting to get into true high quality content, though, it would be a crime to neglect Gerald’s Game, Doctor Sleep, and Dolores Claiborne. Doctor Sleep in particular really impresses me because I didn’t really care for the book, and I actually think the film is better. Flanagan blew me away, and I can’t wait for his Dark Tower series. Gerald’s Game is, for me, both the scariest King novel and film, and I just think Dolores Claiborne is beautiful. It looks beautiful, the performances are amazing, it sounds great, it’s uncomfortable, tense, yeah. Good stuff. The Mist, obviously, is another one I’ve always really liked. I think that’s the movie which started my obsession with “people are stuck in a place and they all turn out to be animals” trope. Not that it’s even close to the first movie to do that- it’s just the first one that I probably saw. Another honorable mention is 1922. Why don’t more people talk about that movie? It’s so darn creepy, and Thomas Jane is awesome. Did you know he hates wearing shoes?? I learned that on the Mick Garris podcast.

SKSM: If you could choose one Stephen King story to film, what would it be and why?

Greg Gentry II: Wow, what a question. There are so many options.


If we’re talking short stories, I would love to adapt The Raft, like I said earlier. Kind of like Night Surf, it just has this great intensity and raw, visceral quality that is specific to its time and characters. It’s a pretty simple set up, and even though there are only four people in it, I always got the impression King was trying to say a really specific thing about relationships and how specifically young men treat young women. Or maybe it’s just supposed to be exhausting because they all suck and get eaten by an oil slick. I don’t know. But if I adapted it, I would love to flesh out those characters and relationships more. I might still adapt it. Who knows! But it’s sad and weird and kind of pathetic, by the end, and I just love stories where everyone deterioriates the way they do in that one.

If this question were to ask about whole novels, I have two answers.

First, Revival, for a few reasons. The top one is that it hasn’t been done yet, and I think that it would translate really well if done properly. I know that Josh Boone was working on it before he did The Stand, and there’s some amazing concept art, but I doubt we’re ever going to see that movie. I think he’s in director jail after New Mutants, which is too bad because he seems like a nice guy and that movie had more wrong than just him. But, anyway, the setting of Revival is just so alluring, and I’m also a big True Detective fan, so I would really love to write a version of Revival that dives into the psychological, slow burn character moments of the book. There are just so many great visuals in that one, too, and themes that really resonate with me. I don’t know who has the rights to that book at this point, but if Mr. Boone is asleep at the wheel, they can call me. I’m unqualified and desperate, but I’ll do it for free.

My greatest pipe dream of all time, though, is The Stand. I know it’s been done twice, but- and no hate to Mick Garris or Josh Boone, I think they’re both awesome- someone has to do it better. It hasn’t been nailed yet. And look, I don’t actually think I’m that guy. I’m not him. But I’d love to try. One of my favorite passtimes is coming up with the ideal cast, and my ideas are either met with absolute horror and disgust or unbridled praise. I’m just saying that we only have so much more time before Harry Styles is too old to play Larry Underwood.

And lastly, we need Roadwork. That would be a fun one to tackle.

SKSM: What are you working on nowadays?

Greg Gentry II: Film wise, nothing seriously. We just released our newest film, Nothing More Than Ghosts, this fall, and that was something I worked on for over a year. I’m really proud of it, but I’m still on a break/recovering. It was our biggest project ever, in a lot of ways, so all me and some of my actors have really been doing is kicking around some general ideas of where we might want to go next, sort of like the process I mentioned earlier for Radio Girl. All I know right now is that I want a scene where someone is sad and alone at a gas station at 3 a.m.We’ve also kicked around the idea of doing another King adaptation, but haven’t even started looking yet.
What I’ve been dedicating most of my time to is a re-edit of a film we made in 2019 called Roses of the West. I was really rushed in the editing process for that one, and I had to trim 3.5 hours of footage down to about 2.5, and didn’t really do a great job. There were also a ton of mistakes in the film, so I’ve been reworking the entire thing from the ground up, recoloring it all, and adding back some of the stuff I had to cut. It’s just about finished, coming in at just under three hours, and I’m really excited to get that new version up on our website this spring. I only mention it because I think my next side project will be doing the same thing for Night Surf. I don’t plan on re-editing the whole thing, but it’s good enough, and close enough, to what I want that with a few tweaks I would be a lot happier with it. There are some really awful export settings I didn’t know about at the time I would like to fix, such as removing motion blur and improving some of the color. In that “Just the flu” scene I mentioned, Heather and I also have this awful blue glow around us that makes us look like force ghosts. I want to fix that.

SKSM: What one thing people would be surprised to know about you?

Greg Gentry II: Probably that I’m kind of a hermit. As a teacher, and someone who has to rely on a lot of people for filmmaking, I really don’t think I’m much of an extrovert. I’m totally fine staying home alone for an entire weekend. I feel like my job and hobbies are very much what you would expect of an extrovert, but it turns out there are lot more people in those fields who enjoy solitude than you might think.

SKSM: What is in the top 5 on your bucket list? (Everything is possible and nothing is too strange)

Greg Gentry II:
-I have to visit the ruins of a medieval castle someday. That’s one.
-Second, I would love to direct some sort of big adaptation of like a book or comic or something, just so I can read the Letterbox reviews, even if everyone hates it. Just sounds fun.
-A road trip with my grandma. Her and I talk about it every year and I think this summer we might finally do it.
-Read a published book, buy a vinyl/record of, or go to the theatre to see a movie made by one of my students. I teach a lot of talented kids who I hope never give up on their dreams.

SKSM: Thanks for taking the time to answer my questions. Is there anything you want to say to the fans that read this interview?

Greg Gentry II: Thank you so much for reading! You’re the best. I hope when you’re done reading this you go out and shoot something of your own.

Would you like to add anything else?

Greg Gentry II: I really appreciate you reaching out, and your dedication to filmmakers who probably wouldn’t have their voice heard any other way. Reading through the other interviews on your site was awesome, and if I can ever be of help or support, please let me know!

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