How to Craft a Diverse Spoken Word Short with “Night Swimming”


This post is by Logan Baker from No Film School

Written by Andrea Grant

For a long time, I believed success was a mathematical calculation. I was convinced I would achieve all my dreams if I found the key. Believing in manifestation, I was superstitious enough never to express doubts aloud. However, I found that expressing my enthusiasm for my projects inspired others, who in turn supported me. Appreciation has been the most rewarding aspect of my work.

How to Craft a Diverse Spoken Word Short with "Night Swimming"
Andrea Grant in “Night Swimming”

Regarding the trajectory of my spoken word films, I began recording them in 2003, when I recorded an album in Canada called Want Some Scratch? This was right before I moved to New York City and while I was starting to create a graphic novel series called MINX, starring a half-Native superheroine, among other book and multimedia projects.

Flash forward to 2020, when I created my spoken word audio track and corresponding short film, “Modern Native”. It is about storytelling and the emotional duality within Native Americans of mixed blood who have grown up learning traditional myths and Western fairytales equally. It’s about honoring your tribe and where you’re from and finding empowerment within your origins as you face life’s challenges and take control of your destiny, realizing why you ended up on a specific mythological journey.

It’s about how tribal myths are taught and learned throughout the generations. In many ways, the current shift from print to digital media reminds us of how many First Nation stories have gotten lost in the transition from oral history to print. There’s an urgent need to share those narratives with the world in a contemporary, accessible format, such as film.

How to Craft a Diverse Spoken Word Short with "Night Swimming"
Andrea Grant in “Night Swimming”

“Modern Native” was nominated for Best Music Video by the 45th Annual American Indian & Indigenous Film Festival and premiered at the Annual American Indian Film Festival, L.A. Skins Fest, Dam Short Film Festival, Venice Shorts Film Awards, Chicago Indie Film Festival, Berlin Movie Awards, L.A. Sun Film Fest, Santa Monica Shorts, Austin Film Festival, Amsterdam Short Film Festival, Toronto International Women Film Festival, Toronto Indie Shorts, San Francisco Indie Short Festival, Dubai Independent Film Festival, New York International Women Festival, Cannes Cinema Festival, Washington Film Awards, Paris International Short Festival, and Vancouver Independent Film Festival. The film won Best Experimental Short at the Arthouse Festival of Beverly Hills and L.A. Independent Film Channel and was a Finalist in several other festivals.

My latest film, “Night Swimming” (circa 2024), is based on a spoken word poem written from my perspective as a mixed-blood First Nations woman of Coast Salish ancestry. The various elements of water are an allegory for the emotional range of the divine feminine. It’s about feeling an intense connection to the power of the ocean, the rain, and storms and appreciating how Mother Earth bestows her gifts when we need them most. It’s also about how we heal. How swimming in the ocean can be cleansing, or how a thunderstorm feels incredibly satisfying when one is going through a romantic break-up. It’s also about the exhilaration of dancing in the rain, listening to your intuition, and honoring the voices of the ancestors that speak to us.

We filmed at various locations, including an obscure beach in Laguna, California, famous for a mysterious castle tower on the shore’s edge. The rest of the time, we were at the futuristic California Scenario by Isamu Noguchi, Indian Alley in Downtown LA, and a lovely swimming pool at night after a hot summer day. On the last day, we shot in a rain room, where I was soaked through to the skin and felt vulnerable. This project conjured powerful emotions and was like a baptism.

Water is so accessible. Almost everybody loves to be on a beautiful beach, and some people love rain and a storm. I often stand in the rain and get wet when it’s pouring. Water is healing—it is so cleansing that even a hot bath takes you to a different level of consciousness. Water seems very feminine to me.

How to Craft a Diverse Spoken Word Short with "Night Swimming"
Andrea Grant in “Night Swimming”

When I’m writing a spoken word film, I think about on-screen visuals later. When I’m writing, I tend to write individual scenes. For example, I’ll get an idea for “there’s always a rainstorm inside of me” and what that looks like. Then I start putting the pieces together, cutting things out, moving things around, and then it starts to take on a life of its own.

It took a long time to write “Night Swimming”. I had images of rain, storms, tsunamis, and being at the pool or the ocean. Once the poem starts to take shape, I begin to make a shot list and turn it into some visual; I’ll create a document in two columns. It has the poem on one side, and in the other column, I break down every couple of lines into a scene idea. Then I think about where we could physically do it location-wise. What time of day will the place be crowded or isolated? It’s an extensive process.

I’ve always enjoyed collaborating with Haida Gwaii filmmaker Cassandra “Kaas” Cross and was thrilled to have her be a part of “Night Swimming”. In addition, Susana Clark of Vestige Photography came on as co-producer, and she helped tremendously with locations and BTS pictures.

I was fortunate to have James Goudreault of Studio G compose the music. When it comes to filming, if there is a smaller number of people on set, there will be a longer-standing, stronger alliance within the core team and a greater alignment on edit drafts. Of course, someone must have the final say, and that’s me.

I love fantasy, surrealist writers, and poetry. I’ve always read graphic novels and written stories paired with illustrations. I’ve always been interested in mixing things that are only sometimes supposed to go together. For example, I’ve intertwined aspects of a Grimm fairy tale with a Native American story modernized or reimagined so that it feels current.

The greatest challenge with film is always funding. I’m very fortunate to have won many First Nations arts grants I’ve applied for. The budgets are tight compared to what you end up spending, but with creativity, you can always find a way to make it work.

“Night Swimming” is currently making its way through the film festival circuit. So far, it has won 3 Awards of Recognition in The Best Shorts Film Competition for On-Camera Talent for my performance, Native Peoples, and Women Filmmakers. It also won 2 Awards of Merit in The Best Shorts Film Competition for Music Video and Experimental.

“Night Swimming” was a Finalist at the Prague International Music Video Awards, received a Special Mention from the U.K. Animation and Music Video Festival, and won Semi-Finalist Awards at the New York International Women Festival, Seattle Filmmaker Awards, San Francisco Arthouse Short Festival, and Tokyo Shorts in the categories of Best Short Film on Women and Best Music Video. The film was shown as an Official Selection at the Berlin Lift-Off Film Festival and L.A. Sun Film Fest.