The Responsibility (and Fear) of Telling the Extraordinary Life of Anton Yelchin

Garret Price on how he transitioned from editor to director to work with the Yelchin family on the intimate documentary portrait Love, Antosha.

I’ll never forget when I received the phone call from Irina Yelchin telling me that she thought I was the person that was always meant to make a film about her late son, Anton. I was on vacation with my wife and two young sons in the desert when she reached out and gave her emotional pitch. I had never had the fortune of meeting Anton personally, had no previous relationship to his parents and definitely never had considered directing a film before. And that’s when the fear set in. Who was I to have the right to step into Anton’s past, read through his journals and letters, dig through his personal photo albums and listen to his home recordings? I was a complete stranger who was going to potentially insert myself into the history this young man left behind that was never intended to be shared, let alone be used to make a movie out of. But before going too deep into my psyche at that moment, I’ll step back and explain how I found myself in this situation …

Garret Price with his #1 fan

More than a year and a half ago, I was approached by a close friend, filmmaker Drake Doremus, who’d made a movie called Like, Crazy that co-starred Anton and Felicity Jones, about potentially making a documentary about Anton. Like Crazy always held a special place in Anton’s heart along with his relationship to Drake, so when the Yelchins started to explore the idea of finding a filmmaker to tell their son’s story, Drake was inevitably their first choice. He, however, regretfully declined, feeling himself too close to the subject; he was a firm believer that an objective eye would be best to do Anton’s story justice. That’s where I came in. I’m a film and TV editor by trade and have cut a number of feature docs and narratives. I’ve been fortunate to work alongside some amazingly talented storytellers in both the documentary and scripted worlds. Editing is what I love doing. Sitting behind the curtain, collaborating with a director, playing with pace and rhythm of footage to tell story and evoke emotion, all while trying to support a vision. So when Drake reached out about the possibility of directing this film, I immediately turned him down. I had no desire to come out from behind the curtain of the edit bay and step in the director’s seat. I did, however, agree to meet Anton’s parents at their home with Drake to see if we could help find the right person to do this because of my documentary connections.

What I didn’t know as I was driving up to meet the parents the next day is that Irina and Viktor Yelchin live in the house where Anton lived. As I entered their home, I noticed that their son’s presence was everywhere. The house was a shrine to him, with photos, movie posters and memorabilia displayed like a museum. It had been over two years since Anton died, but Irina could hardly speak about him without being overcome with emotion. She explained she and Viktor visited him daily at the cemetery and that they’d pledged to dedicate the rest of their lives to honoring his memory. The thought of ever selling this home, which he’d cherished so much, never crossed their mind. And then the stories started … one after another about his curiosities, his love for cinema, photography, music and on how he’d accomplished everything while he was secretly living with the chronic illness cystic fibrosis. While sharing all of these experiences they had with their child, glimmers of happiness poked through their recollections. I was mesmerized by the impact they had on each other’s lives. Everyone loves their children, but no one loved their child like they loved Anton; and that’s when I started to realize maybe making this film was what I was always meant to do. I had the opportunity to create something for these lost parents that could help them do the only thing they found any joy in – talking about Anton.

When I received that phone call from Irina during my vacation, I was laying in bed with my two young boys. Irina explained that something deep inside convinced her after our meeting that I was supposed to make this film about her dead son. I let this soak in while staring at my own children, trying to imagine how I would feel if I ever found myself in her situation. At that moment, it clicked: this was what I was meant to be doing at this time in my life. I accepted the offer. I promised this broken mother that I would do the best possible job I could to tell Anton’s story. Was I scared as hell? Of course! But with this opportunity, I knew I would be able to share with the world this incredibly unique and inspirational individual who forever has changed my life like every other person that crossed his path.

Garret Price is a Los Angeles–based filmmaker who received his MFA from the American Film Institute. As an editor, he cut the feature films The Director and the Jedi, Janis: Little Girl Blue, and About Alex, along with the drama series Nashville. He is currently editing Drake Doremus’s new film. Love, Antosha his directorial debut, is released in select theaters on August 2.