An intergalactic war steals the show in special effects showcase Shockwave Darkside, out January 5 from Uncork’d Entertainment.
We spoke to writer-director Jay Weisman about the film, which has received pleasing reviews from the sci-fi community.
What makes a good science-fiction movie?
Moxie! I think a good science fiction in general needs to understand what it is, set up its own rules and then deliver on its concept in a satisfying and surprising way. This is true in all literature, but because science fiction has a speculative nature about it – I think there are far more ingredients that it has to get right. The technology, the world, the back-story, the science – all has to be credible on its own and be right for the story that it’s trying to tell. One wrong note and the whole thing can fall apart.
In cinema there’s the added burden where you have to make all this stuff real. Even with what you can do with CG, you still have to have someone come in to design and even build it, so you’re constantly dealing with real-world limitations like money, time and talent.
Now this is also the fun part – so I think a good science fiction movie takes everything I said into account. But like anything, you have to start with story and character – but also keep in mind that environment is a character as well in a way that can visually telegraph a wealth of information as only a movie can.
Why do you think Shockwave Darkside works as well as it does?
One of the things that I am most proud of is the acting – the quality of which has regularity been cited whenever anybody talks to me about the film. Our characters spend most of the story in space suits in a very alien environment, so our actors needed to perform through all that to keep the audience engaged and sympathetic.
The shoot was very demanding for the actors, but they still took their roles very seriously. I think it was their performances that actually allowed us to get the level of support that we did when we were making the movie. The vibe was that we weren’t making a cheesy little low-budget science fiction movie – It was trying to be something with a bit more substance. I really believe that the quality of their performances helped morale, and in turn, pushed the entire company to work as hard as they could because everyone believed in it.
From the outset we also wanted to make something a little different. Something more akin to the classic science fiction of The Twilight Zone or Star Trek, so I think that really appealed to people because we aspired to be a little more thoughtful. We still have space ships and zap guns, because, well, they’re cool – but alongside we also try and dig a little deeper and I think people really responded to that.
Because of this, we received a a fair amount of favors, volunteers and support throughout the project which really allowed to stretch our production dollar. So from all sides, trying to be unique really helped us and I think it payed off.
In the evolution of the script, did you change much?
Honestly, the spine of the movie didn’t change all that much once I felt like it was ready to go out and seek financing. That said, being an independent film, I had things in mind that I could add or subtract depending on how much money we could raise, so I knew we had to have a little flexibility. I kind of wrote down the middle knowing that I could adjust later if need be.
There were notes from our producers that I incorporated into a final shooting draft. We also made some tweaks during production if we felt like a scene was running long or felt ungainly, so we all kinda huddled around and made some changes once we had a chance to rehearse a bit. All in all – nothing substantially changed, but kinda sharpened as we went along.
What about in the editing room? Were you forced to let anything go?
If anything we added a bunch of stuff! Along side of the edit, we were developing our visual effects. Nobody really ever tried to do in 3D what we were attempting to do at our budget level, so as our various tests came in we were getting more confident as to what we could do. We then started to bump out certain sections to give the movie additional scope.
As we were editing, it became apparent that what worked best was going from intimate shots where we were closer to the actors to then super wide to show scale and how isolated everybody was. That dynamic gave an interesting tension to the film, so I dusted off some old story threads that I deemed too expensive and started to weave them back in with our awesome editors Eric Dow and Doug Fitch as well as our VFX team headed by Wayne Johnson.
This is pure sci-fi thrills but do you feel this might also fall into another genre. If so, which?
I would say Shockwave, Darkside edges toward drama more than anything else. We always thought of it as such while we were making it. I think it helped the entire production as we treated the characters and the situation that they were in as seriously as possible. We spent as much time as we could on character behavior and development, then layered all the sci-fi elements in that worked best for the story. Being a sci-fi fan, connecting those dots was really the fun part because it felt like an extension of world-building through character.
I do think most of the best science fiction movies are hybrids anyway in that they have some sort of relatable dramatic core which is then transformed through the prism of sci-fi.
What filmmakers did you admire growing up? Any of them inspire some of the choices in Shockwave Darkside?
Growing up, I made my monthly pilgrimage to my local comic shop and gobbled up issues of Starlog, Fangoria, Cinefantastique and Cinefex to catch up on the latest from Ridley Scott, George Lucas, Steven Spielberg and James Cameron. But then as I got older, I discovered Kubrick and Hawks and Pal – so I’d consider all those guys as my cinematic godfathers.
More recently, obviously J.J. Abrams and his cohorts, but I’d also say Neill Blomkamp is someone I also really admire. His short “Alive in Joburg” was one of the inspirations behind Shockwave, Darkside – so he is someone I’m always keenly interested in seeing new stuff from. I really hope he can do his ‘Alien’ movie.
How difficult was it doing the film in 3D? Are you disappointed it won’t be in 3D on DVD?
3D was alternately terrifying and exciting. It was hard in that we’ve never done it before – so there were always surprises, but at the same time, because I had a background in interactive production and visual effects, it felt like a giant puzzle. So once we could wrap our minds around the process it became easier.
That said, it was very labor intensive – from shooting on location in the sand pit to the final alignment. We frankly couldn’t afford state-of-the-art camera rigs and 3D software, so we had to improvise a lot of the times. It all took a bit longer with a fair amount of backs and forths from the various teams to get everything right. Our on-set stereographer Andrew Parke and Adam Natrop – who did our alignment, did an amazing job in keeping everything looking great and moving through the production pipeline. It really was amazing work.
I do hope at some point it will be available in 3D so audiences can see their work. We optimized the story for an immersive experience, and I do have a feeling that we’ll one day release that version. It really has to do more with the adoption rate of 3D televisions than anything else. But then if you look at the emerging virtual reality market with Google Cardboard and Oculus/Facebook – I’m sure 3D will find a home. It’s just too cool of a technology not to.
If you get to do a sequel, where could you see it going?
In my mind, the war over water will escalate. And as wars escalate, so does technology – so I see the battles expanding to wherever ice is available in the cosmos. I think there are a lot of cool backdrops out there that would make for some really fun and interesting stories.