When Josh Granovsky was 11 years old, a girl asked for a photo of him in a bathing suit and he kind of freaked out. He was a scrawny kid, maybe a little awkward, and embarrassed about his body. So he did what any logical prepubescent child would do: he downloaded a free version of Photoshop and tried to paste John Cena’s abs over his own.
It didn’t work. “I realized you cannot put the abs of a 300-pound wrestler on an 80-pound Jewish kid,” Granovsky, who’s now a 21-year-old film student at Queen’s University, recalls over the phone from Kingston, Ont. “I just felt like if this girl was gonna have a photo of me that she was gonna look at for the rest of time, I wanted it to be the best photo of myself as possible.”
He wound up settling for a standard post-production teeth whitening and tan, embarking on a self-conscious journey that would last the better part of the following decade. By the time he finished high school, he stopped feeling the need to Photoshop himself – partly because he grew to accept his body, and partly because the rest of the world had caught up, posting selfies skewed by artificial light, soft filters and deliberate angles.
“Filtering yourself has become the norm of my generation,” he says, “to the point that if I see a picture that’s unfiltered, that stands out to me.”
Granovsky explores that subject in his debut short film, wyd?, which is Internet slang for “what’re you doing?” Granovsky’s four-minute short is exclusively composed of screen-captured footage of him working with Photoshop, with a webcam box in the corner, reflecting his insecurities back at him. The result is a grainy, intimate, unsettling portrait of a young man consumed by body issues.
Granovsky completed the film in 24 hours, inspired to enter a local film festival after learning about it just one week before the deadline. Using only what was available in his bedroom, he pulled from his own history, quickly wrote a script on a cold December morning and filmed it later that night.
“If it was something I was going through now, it would be harder for me,” he says. “But I’m very lucky that now I’m in a place that I can look back and laugh at how ridiculous it was and open up to it in this way.”
So far, three film festivals have accepted his movie, including the Kingston Canadian Film Festival, plus festivals in London, England, and Lisbon.
The film is sharp yet simple: Granovsky is clearly commenting on social expectations, but the experience is loose enough for audiences to interpret it differently. Most viewers react with shock when Granovsky audibly cracks his neck onscreen, but it elicited a different response from one viewer, who told him it seemed “symbolic of how you’re breaking these norms.”
Over the phone, Granovsky sounds a little surprised by all the attention. At the Kingston screening, wyd? appeared alongside polished shorts that employed sound mixers, colourists and camera operators. Granovsky made this whole thing himself (his end credits are a joke).
The film’s gritty, unpolished aesthetic wasn’t a deliberate medium-meets-message choice, but the correlation isn’t lost on him. “I definitely do like the fact that there is a very amateur quality and it’s not perfect,” he says.
Not that he hopes to stay an amateur for long. He uploaded the movie to YouTube and is submitting it wherever he can, hoping more for exposure than money, aiming to leverage its success into a real video-production gig. As he puts it, “I just wanted to show the world a little bit of what I’m capable of.”