Written by Glenn Triggs (Director):
I had just finished a feature horror film in 2009 called Cinemaphobia which was about a group of young adults that are slaughtered at a horror movie marathon by a killer who wears a mirror as a face. It was a two year process and heaps of fun with around eleven lead character spots that we shot around the schedule of a running cinema after hours. Fake blood, arcade machines, film reels, popcorn and a lot of late nights – we all had a blast making Cinemaphobia!
I was keen to get onto another project soon after we wrapped, and in my head at the time I really wanted to make a film in a much quicker way. I had been talking about a few different ideas I had with friends over the years. One of them was a large sci-fi film (which I still want to make now) and the other was a small time travel drama. I would have conversations with friends at parties who would commonly ask ‘what are you doing next?’ and I would always seem to rant on about this time travel film – as all the scenes seemed to flow in my head. On a particular day I must of spoken about the film for over 30 minutes straight with a friend and had a light bulb moment that I should probably get the script happening!
One of the main driving forces came from a silly thought – what if I did die tomorrow? What film would I be happy to leave behind? For a multitude of reasons, a slasher film full of comedy kills with witty dialogue wasn’t one of them. I knew I had to make this personal and more about myself than any other film I had made in the past (and I had already made a lot of indie movies).
The script was written over the course of around 9-10 months. It was a very complicated piece of work, dealing with the fundamentals of time travel in an original way. The key element I knew I wanted the film to have was ‘the hole in the floor of a local motel that leads to yesterday’. This simple time travel device is what interested me about making the film independently in the first place. The script was full of drama about a young man trying to let go of the past at the same time as getting another chance to do it all over again, an idea that has intrigued me for years.
It wasn’t an easy script to write by any means and I remember days when I would write myself into a cliché of the time travel genre and then have to delete 3-5 pages sometimes to back track and make the script more true to myself. For example at one point some bad ‘time travel agents’ try to stop the lead from travelling, and it was falling into ‘Jumper’ territory, which I never wanted.
I really wanted to deal with time travel elements in a basic and realistic fashion. No special effects or flashing lights. I used Field of Dreams as a template for the tone of the script – as I thought it was a perfect example of dealing with something supernatural in a raw and believable way.
Once the script was mostly finished I went along to a script reading seminar called Cold Reading Series in Melbourne and had the script read aloud by 10 or so actors on stage to a room full of writers. The session went extremely well considering I hadn’t really had many other people look at the script and within a few days after that I had started casting. I always find if you jump into something like the Cold Reading Series or casting, it moves things along as it gives you a deadline to have the script ready for public viewing, rather than plodding along with no end in sight.
Casting was fun as it always is for me. We saw just under 80 or so actors for the roles and most of them were filled very quickly as all the actors were pre-researched and shortlisted. Which is something I didn’t do for ‘Cinemaphobia’ and we ended up seeing far too many actors to find the best.
The most difficult role to cast was the lead ‘Aidan’. He had to be a multitude of different things all at once, an everyman, focused, sensitive, educated etc. I think we saw around 10-15 or so actors and no one was really sticking. So back to showcast and starnow – I went to plough through the depths of the acting community. I came across of photo of an actor ‘Chris Gibson’. He looked the part and his showreel was great. The only issue was his credits were pretty decent, and in my humbled beginnings I thought, we’d never get him on a no-budget production for 25 or so days.
But I went for it anyway and emailed his agent. That afternoon I got a call while I was out walking my dog ‘Rex’. We spoke for about 20 minutes – he loved the script and wanted to come in straight away. I had a good feeling about this guy and booked him in and hoped for the best. And that’s exactly what we got! Chris was great! We were chatting for about an hour after the audition and I was showing him supporting cast members head shots and asking who he thought he might get along with. I knew pretty much then and there he was our ‘Aidan’ and he was!
Everyone was cast and we were ready to start shooting. I assembled a small team to help with production. Gillian Lee would do sound recording. Fiona Eloise Bulle would produce and a small array of friends and family would also help including Adrian Straton (effects), Grant Salter (Camera), John Erasmus (sound) and Bethia De Groot – my now wife Bethia Triggs.
This was around the time of the DLSR revolution was starting so I had done a lot of research of the cameras and lenses I thought would be best to shoot the film with. I opted for the Canon 5D mkii and a kit of prime lenses (50mm f1.4, 28mm f1.8 and a few other cheaper lenses), plus a HDMI monitor to sit on top of the camera, a rhode directional mic and zoom h4n recorded with a bunch of cards. Plus a 4 bank fluro kit and some other smaller lights. Pretty much your basic bottom of the range indie film kit!
Obviously there are many draw backs to shooting on the DSLR, but if you’re willing to work with it – you can get some pretty amazing looking shots. There were a few rules I set myself to shoot the film. Always shoot flat, keep the camera as stable/still as possible and try to get as much depth of field in the shots. Because I knew the film would be a very cheap production I wanted to do whatever I could to make it look as pro as possible.
Then we started shooting.
The shoot consisted of around 25 days spanned over just under a year. Our lead actor Chris was based in Geelong and I was living around Berwick, so his travel time for the shoots was excessive to say the least.
One of the most complicated scenes to shoot was the ‘hole in the floor of the motel’. We used 3 different hotels to play off as the one location (signage, ext. and int.) and then three different locations to show off the bathroom of the motel where our lead character time travels. One of the cast – Shane Lee – doubled as set builder and he built a corner of the room in a theatre storage shed for the close ups where ‘Aidan’ opens the floor to escape through time. We then shot in a normal hotel bathroom for the wider 16mm shots and then in Chris’s hallways for his close up 50mm shots to bring the whole sequence to life.
‘A hole in the floor of a local motel’.
Another interesting element to the film was having different actors play younger and older versions of the characters over time. So we had cast Aidan’s grandmother as an older women (played by Anne Cordiner) then we cast the younger version of herself (Loz Wade). Loz was great to mimic some of Anne’s mannerisms to help sell the character.
One of the most complex parts of the shoot was the opening sequence. I really wanted to explain a mythology to time and show all aspects of life on earth over hundreds of thousands of years. I knew this wasn’t going to be easy. We shot a war scene, a time-lapse of space, a baby being born (for real), a caveman in the snow, kids jumping from a pier, a kid’s birthday party and footage from Vietnam and many other shots to eventually finish the sequence – that was over the period of at least a year.
As the shoot was happening I was constantly adding it to the editing project and forming the film as we went, which I think is always great to see what you have and get everything done faster. Some stuff was re-shot, but nothing major.
Once the film was finished I laid down a temp music track from composers that matched the mood of the film and passed off the file to Tasmanian music composer Heath Brown and he started making the music for the film.
The ending sequence of the film ended up being a mash of 3 different ending ideas all put into one because it really needed to wrap up each story. Everyone that saw the film had ideas of how to make the ending clearer, as I always like to make my films pretty cryptic and not really explain to the audience ‘exactly’ what is happening. And this was definitely a film that needed to be explained, but not given away, if that makes sense.
I was and am extremely happy with how the film turned out. The pacing keeps the audience interested. The story was far more emotional than I thought it would be. That was proven when we had elderly audience members at the Las Vegas Film Festival leaving the cinema in tears. We went on to play at some pretty cool festivals all over the world and we picked up a theatrical distribution in the States after winning at the Rhode Island Film Festival (Flickers). I’m very proud of the film. Would I change things if I could? Of course I would. But it is what it is and I’ll be happy to leave it behind…
Glenn Triggs, Chris Gibson and Dark Epic Films went on to make ‘Apocalyptic’ in 2013 – out now on DVD Australia Wide and ‘The Comet Kids’ starts production next year.
‘41’ screens at the Made in Melbourne Film Festival – Saturday Nov. 29th 8.30pm at Revolt Art Space. 12 Elizabeth St, Kensington. Tickets on sale now (here).