About five years ago, there was a new phenomenon in the online gay dating world. That phenomenon would be Grindr, an app that uses geolocation to show the proximity of your potential matches. One can look at another gent’s photos, view a brief profile and even start a conversation (although not always intellectually stimulating) using a chat function on the interface. The gay community’s best kept secret would later be exposed when — two and a half years later — a hetero version would be launched under the name Blendr.
A few years back, lyricist Selda Sahin approached her friend Zac Halley and expressed interest in creating a musical short film. I sat down with Halley to talk about the project and how it came together.
Initially, Halley was reluctant about the idea. “I grew up doing musicals,” says Halley. “I went to Carnegie Mellon. I was a music theatre major. It’s not like I’m against musicals per se, I just think there are a lot of musicals right now and people don’t know how to do them very well.”
When Sahin revealed that she wanted this musical to be about Grindr, Halley was even more dissuaded. Although she had a fascination with this gay hookup/dating software, Halley was not certain that it would make for a strong story on film. “I probably shouldn’t even be admitting this, but, basically, she would chat with guys as me,” Halley confesses. “It kind of became this game. The point for her was to get them to come to the restaurant we were at or whatever bar we were hanging out in. So, it really was like ordering in! I admit I definitely, definitely did meet some boys that way.”
It’s all fun and games until someone gets hurt, right? No, seriously.
While off in Moscow performing a concert version of “Wonderful Town” back in 2012, Halley recalls an event that would change the way he would look at the popular app. “So we’re in Moscow and I’m Grinding and thinking that it’s so awesome and Google translating into Cyrillic. I’m just thinking that I’m incredibly clever. I ended up chatting with somebody who spoke English and he was a student at the conservatory where we were performing. He said, ‘You need to be careful, because there is a serial killer in Moscow who is targeting men off of Grindr.’”
Oh shit…and BINGO.
When Halley got back, he was finally ready to do the film, but he insisted on creating something crazy. After extensive research into the alarming world of psychopathy, a short story was penned before eventually completing the musical script. After the creators called in every favor they possibly could, a now completed creative team would then move forward with the project. Producer and casting director Steven Tylor O’Connor would assemble a fantastic cast led by Anthony Rapp (“Rent”), Claire Coffee (NBC’s “Grimm”) and up-and-coming Pasha Pellosie (“The Carrie Diaries”) under the company Chemically Altered Productions. Just how altered are those chemicals? Watch the trailer to get a small taste…
The soundtrack of “GRIND” is comprised of addictive, sing-them-all-day pop songs that are cleverly designed to stand alone. Cast member Danny Blu — who is also a singer-songwriter and all-around badass — would agree. “It’s kind of like ‘Spring Awakening,’” says Blu. “The songs can exist without the story, but also serve to further the plot points.”
When asked about working with current “If/Then” star Rapp, Blu had nothing but positive comments about the stage and screen veteran. He also mentioned how Rapp was once a patron at a café he works at in Hell’s Kitchen, NYC. A few weeks later, Blu would be cast in the film alongside him. When the two first sat down together at Halley’s apartment, Rapp immediately recognized his new castmate as his server from the restaurant.
See? You don’t need an app to meet people!
Or do you? If you walk into any gay bar on 9th Avenue in Hell’s Kitchen, a large percentage of the crowd will be on some kind of dating app regardless of who is around them. I mean, Channing Tatum could be stripping and it still wouldn’t prevent callused fingertips. Believe it or not, Grindr has reported that millions of their members use the app on a daily basis. Fuck whoa.
Before you judge a book by its fabulous cover, though, I encourage you to have a watch when the film becomes available for online download. “GRIND” is not a punch line during an incredibly tacky drag show and it explores a whole lot more than sexual promiscuity in the gay scene. “Ultimately, it’s about people trying to connect with each other,” Halley adds.
And we can all relate to that.