Local film student Grant Carsten gives autism a spotlight
‘Sanctuary Dream’ is his first feature
Grant Carsten, a 2015 Park City High School graduate, is in the midst of making his first feature-length film.
“Sanctuary Dream” is about an autistic teen who battles to escape a lifetime of physical, financial and verbal domestic abuse, and learns about self-growth.
“My goal for ‘Sanctuary Dream’ is to make sure that autistic people will no longer be considered as desensitized vegetables,” Carsten told The Park Record. “That’s a too-simple and over cooked version of what I’m trying to do, but I don’t know how else to say it.”
Carsten, who is studying filmmaking at the University of Utah, has a unique perspective about the story he wanted to tell, because he has autism.
“I know, as an autistic person, that the world can go by extremely fast,” he said. “While it’s not hard to be observant, it is very hard to go through the minutiae of daily life. So I thought something like domestic violence would portray that very well.”
“Sanctuary Dream” emerged from a script Carsten had originally involved three characters. His friend and uncle, after reading the script, advised him to only focus on one of the characters, because it was too complex to be condensed into a movie, Carsten said.
The second reason was the story.
“It was about the conflicts of what masculinity really is and how to outdate misogyny, and it wasn’t well written enough to address a hot-button topic,” the filmmaker said.
The third reason was because there seemed to be no direction in the script.
“It was an episodic three-and-a-half hour movie, and that’s not what I wanted,” Carsten said with a laugh.
So Carsten rewrote the script and set the main character in a completely different world.
“I started writing the script March 17, and I ended up writing 14 drafts between then and May 14,” he said with another laugh. “Then I decided to look at the script as a director would look at a script written by a scriptwriter and make some changes.”
By changes, Carsten meant he rewrote half the script. He finished it on June 2.
“[It] was very difficult to write,” he said. “I didn’t want to be linear, but at the same time, I didn’t want it to add up to nothing, like several art-house films that I don’t understand.”
Principal photography started June 17 of this year and ended Sept. 8.
“We filmed most of our scenes in Park City, and when I say that, I mean we filmed all around including Jeremy Ranch and Trailside,” Carsten said.
Some were filmed in Salt Lake, including Pioneer Park and the South Salt Lake Police station.
Another location was at on the Stewart Falls Trail at the Sundance Mountain Resort, Carsten said.
“Sometimes a shoot would take only an hour, and sometimes a shoot would last 16 hours,” he said.
Throughout the filmmaking, Carsten wore several hats. He was not only the scriptwriter and director. He was also unit production manager, payroll accountant and director of photography.
“Making ‘Sanctuary Dream’ was an experiment of whether or not I could make a feature film,” he said. “That was probably why I had so much drive to do it.”
Carsten said he has come a long way since he was diagnosed as a low-functioning autistic child as a toddler.
“How I went from low-functioning to high-functioning autism was my mother, Cheryl Dejno,” Carsten said. “She’s gone through a lot in order to get me to where I am, and helped me get from low-to medium-function. I owe her quite a lot.”
Carsten said he worked hard to get himself from medium-to high-functioning autism, but he had a hard time escaping the bullying.
“When I was younger, people were very judgmental, and they thought I was a walking vegetable,” Carsten said.
While he now aspires to go from high-functioning autistic to a high-functioning human being, Carsten recalls junior high school as another challenging time for himself.
“When I was in seventh grade, I was starting to have an interest in how to genuinely love a woman,” he said. “So I started reading young adult novels about female characters. Unfortunately, I was persecuted a lot because people thought I was gay.”
At the time, Carsten didn’t know what the slang gay meant.
“I thought it was a way to say, ‘Hapless, dumb person,’” he said.
The taunts were so severe that Carsten said he contemplated killing himself, but the thing that stopped him was a memory.
“A friend of mine had once told me that I needed to look at things from multiple perspectives,” Carsten said. “That thought that stopped me from striking the knife in my stomach was since there are 7 billion individuals in the world, there are 7 billion versions of appropriates. And since there are 7 billion versions of appropriates, I can’t cater to everyone’s demands like I thought I would in order to become intelligent. So I decided to act like a stress-ridden straight-A student and really figure out what life really is.”
Still, those experiences weren’t what inspired Carsten to explore filmmaking. He got into film because he liked going to the movies.
“Movies, I think, taught me how to see emotions,” he said. “I have watched movies ever since I was a little kid, when I was considered 2.5 standard deviations below normal in expressive and receptive language.”
Carsten said a film’s sound is what he focuses on.
“I think it was because I was very sensitive to sound and the sounds of the movie, especially the music, helped me understand complex feelings,” he said.
Carsten, however, didn’t decide to become a filmmaker until he was in his late teens.
He made two short films prior to “Sanctuary Dream.”
One of those short films is “Emotion.”
“‘Emotion’ is about a student who wants to be an actor, but literally couldn’t express anything through the face,” Carsten said.
“Grade Camp” was about an avant-garde painter, who happens to have the second-worse grades in the most competitive high school in the United States.
“Because the principal wants his status to continue to go up, he makes a rehabilitation camp called Grade Camp,” Carsten said. “The whole point of the film was to balance academics and passion.”
When he got into college, Carsten decided to study animation.
“I found out quickly that even though I love animation, I didn’t know enough how to draw simple shapes,” he chuckled. “I like to draw, but have never practiced the techniques. So I scratched that and asked what I really wanted to do.”
“Sanctuary Dream” is the first in a series of films, Cartsen said.
“I have also written enough material for two sequels,” he said. “The first is about self-growth, and the second is about brotherly tolerance.”
The common theme that will tie the films together is how the characters learn their self worth.
“What’s most important is that they are all about rising their belief in themselves,” Carsten said. “At the same time, you can see in these films how hard it is for these characters to earn their dreams and goals.”
Carsten plans to finish “Sanctuary Dream” before or by May 14.
For information about Grant Carsten’s film “Sanctuary Dream,” visit the GoFundMe page.
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