Houstonian Pavan Grover is pretty successful as far as doctors go. The Memorial Hermann Southwest Hospital pain specialist had his own television show, Asian Network, while he was still a resident. His pioneering surgery involving a pulse-driven simulator was broadcast on network television and got him an invite to the White House. He even made Larry King Live after he accepted Jack Kevorkian's public challenge to cure the arthritic pain of a nonterminal woman. (Kevorkian snuffed her before Grover got there.)
But what Grover really wants to do is make movies. He agreed to fulfill his mother's dream that he become a doctor only after she promised to help fund a film project when he finished medical school. And fund it they did -- to the tune of $7 million. "I had to put everything on the line," Grover says. "This was either the gutsiest or stupidest thing anyone's ever done."
His younger brother's death from pneumonia at the hospital where Grover was doing his residency provided the final push to risk everything on one shot at stardom. "Unfortunately, I coded him," he says. "It makes you realize life is short."
He wrote six screenplays and selected the one requiring the smallest budget, Unspeakable, a creepy thriller about a superhuman serial killer who inexplicably survives his electrocution. With the finances already in place (a rarity for independent films), Grover was able to hire a casting director who got his script into the hands of Dennis Hopper, who loved it. With Hopper on board, the rest of the cast -- Dina Meyer (Starship Troopers), Lance Hendrickson (Aliens, Millennium) and Jeff Fahey (Lawnmower Man) -- came easily. X-Files director Thomas Wright agreed to helm the camera, and Grover gave himself the lead. "We had 160 people working for us," Grover says. "It was a full Hollywood film."
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And Grover already had learned to play the Hollywood game. The casting director told him he had to bring in known names to rewrite the script before actors would even look at it. But Grover thought the other screenwriters were ruining the story. Union rules require writers to revise a certain percentage of a script to get credit, so rather than fixing problems, writers will often completely revise a screenplay, creating new difficulties. Finally Grover rewrote the script himself and got the director to claim he had written it. Suddenly everyone thought it was a work of genius.
Grover could afford to hire Hopper, who's in three-fourths of the film, for only four days of the 28-day shoot, which left no room for delays. Being a doctor certainly came in handy in that regard: When Grover developed a hernia during one action scene, he reduced it himself and continued shooting.
So far, the film has no distributor, and it's unclear whether it will ever find an outlet for audiences. (Hopper has agreed to show up for Grover's self-produced Houston premiere later this year.) Grover's not worried about getting back his and his mother's savings and retirement, though. "If I lose it all, it doesn't really matter, because I did the dream," he says. Even if the movie's a success, he plans to continue practicing medicine part-time.
If nothing else, it looks like this leap got his foot in the door: Hopper has already agreed to act in and direct Grover's next project, this time on the studio's dime.