Despite being locked out of the cinema until nearly the exact minute the film ended, with the moderator also MIA - locked out of the building as well, as there are many entrances, but finding an unlocked one can be tricky late at night on a weekend) - the director and producer arrived in the nick of time and sat gingerly on the stage to hold a chat with the small crowd that stayed in favour of bolting out to the lively Montreal Saturday evening.
In the intimate chat amongst cinephiles, transcribed (and abridged only a smidgen), several of the questions, including the kick-off query, were mine, but several were from other audience members. The result is *Spoiler Free* yet full of insight into the process and results of this sharply written indie science fiction film on time travel and trust issues that is, I have no doubt, a calling card for bigger things to come.
ScreenAnarchy: Which one of you guys has serious trust issues in your personal relationships?
King: [Laughs] Too far, sir. Too far! I'd say there is more life and my relationships in the main character than Cooper.
Cooper: I used to be untrustworthy, and by default I don't trust now. I can relate, but Finn was extrapolated from King.
King: To be fair though, and I think this happens for a lot of artists, you start out writing and a lot of personal anecdotes get written into the script, but over time and over the refinement process, you realize that those were sort of placeholders for what really need to be going on with the characters. As we were editing, I realized there were a few literal quotes from my life, or things that I felt or moments, but all of them were cut out by the time we finished the script, maybe just the essence was there. I am still getting therapy.
Cooper: While we were writing, it was therapeutic.
Question: Can you elaborate what would be on the very last photo at the end of the film?
King: We shot a few versions of the last photo. This was a battle we had during post. Initially we let it sort of develop, is a photo you see earlier in the film anyway. On version it was me, my Hitchcock moment. In test screenings it created a lot of confusion. Our editor, Tom Cross, who also edited [a film called] Whiplash, which you should all go see, he pointed out an interesting thing to me: It is better to have ambiguity than confusion. We didn't want to ask questions we weren't interested in, so we left it to the imagination.
Cooper: I still like the thought of barely seeing something, but the director won that battle.
Question: Did you shoot with the Red? Did you use one camera or two? And was either the Epic?
King: We used two Red Epics the entire time. We knew going into it that we needed two because we had to be efficient in our shooting process. We also used a Canon 5D for the Polaroids. We could not actually shoot on Polaroid film, because for one, it comes out terrible when taken that far away, and also Polaroid film, well, they don't make it anymore. We used a 5D and we shot all of the photographs you see on the wall. All of the photographs you see in anyones hands for close-ups. We printed those out digitally and we cut them out with an XACTO knife and slipped them into the insides of an actual sleeves. We had to get those off of Ebay and pay three times the amount they are actually worth. I guess they are worth three times that now that they no longer make them. We had to photoshop every photo, I have a graphic design background and the art-department worked on them a lot, but we were often there at six in the morning on a shoot-day trying to make them look just right.
Cooper: You could not rely on what an instant camera would produce, you had to manipulate it.
Question: The script was rather complex, there are a lot of time and plot elements, and each character has different goals. How do you track that? A lot of post-its on the wall?
King: For the timeline we put note cards on the wall and we started from the beginning and it sort of ended up looking like a tree on its side. We will outline for a ways, then it will sort of trail off into garbage or boring, or doesn't make sense. Then we would find our way back to where it was working and we would keep going and the tree would branch off. And finally we get to the end, the version that works, and that becomes our timeline. But then we had to use yarn to connect the photos as in, here is the photo, here is when it was taken, here is what it is showing, and here is when it is found. It looked pretty crazy by the end. Someone made a comment like, oh, you guys have decided to become serial killers.
Cooper: And we had to move all of that to our set. We had our assistant take it all down from the office and set it all up so that on a shoot-day where we were short on sleep and we couldn't remember exactly how things were supposed to be going, we would troop everyone in and say, look, this is what happens here and we need this painting up today, and it was pretty vital to have all of that in front of us.
Question: How many of those pictures were there?
King: I think there was 300 or 400 altogether on the wall. I thought we would need 500, but it ended up being less. And then there were a dozen 'hero' photos [generated by the camera over the course of the film]. The hero ones were tricky. Someone suggested that we could just do it in post production we will just CGI in [the image]. But that was bullshit, as I wanted to see the reflection of the plastic. I insisted that we basically had to have the photo in the scene that was from tomorrow. So we had to shoot a lot of the script in reverse. You never shoot a movie in order anyway, but we had a very specific reverse-order to shoot things in, which created its own..
Cooper: It was like a hopscotch forward-back, forward-back for a few of those.
ScreenAnarchy: Could you talk about the design of the Time Machine itself, the Camera?
King: I had some specific ideas about it. I wanted it to be analogue. I did not want to see any computer chips or lasers or anything too high-tech. I felt like the scientist had probably been working through the 1950s and 60s and was a man of an older time, basically. I thought it would be more organic for it to all feel 'old' and analogue. I then recruited an artist off of DeviantArt, Howard Schekman from Philadelphia who had done some paintings who I thought were reminiscent of my ideas. We got in touch and he was really stoked and so he started turning in concept art and designs.
Cooper: I think he sent in three, and it was the third one is basically what you see.
King: We tweaked it a little. Once we had that, we used those images as pitch material to get actors interested, to get whatever resources we needed. I never really thought we would get that design. We did not have enough money to realize that.
Cooper: We thought we were kind of, not lying, but putting our best foot forward in how this is the machine would be. But knowing at the same time that it would never be exactly that.
King: And then, during the shoot, we got this fabricator named Dave Mendoza and his scenic painter, Thibault Pelletier, and they just nailed it. It was this really great thing in that they were building it on location in a garage in that complex, and every day we and the crew would come and hang out and watch them building it. It was kinda the beating heart of the backlot, as it gave us all a place to congregate and get excited about the movie. We shot all the machine stuff in the last three days, but it was there, in the background, being built the whole time.
Question: When you were writing the story, were you ever tempted to make it so that the photos would not be set in stone and could be changed?
Cooper: We do these passes on the script, and truncate the dialogue, we would do show-don't-tell passes. We do these passes to look at specific things to make it tighter and better. One of them was a plot hole pass. We had a couple of points where that device was working for the story. Good question, right. I guess our feeling was that most time travel movies that are satisfying... Wait. There are two parts to this answer. In most time travel movies, nothing gets changed. If anything there is only a little change at the end. We were enamoured with the idea that there is folly in trying to change the future, or at least obsessing too much about the future. And so, that would sort of drive the idea that it is all sort of inevitable. Once they realize that very bad things are coming, it is still that there is no way to escape. It is better to live in the present!