A chat about time travel, indie filmmaking and geeking out over John Rhys-Davies with the director of new sci-fi flick 'Time Lapse'
If you had a way to see into the future, what would you do with that power?
Would you use it to make money, to spark artistic inspiration, or to fix your relationship?
All three happen in new indie sci-fi film “Time Lapse” when three friends discover a camera that can take photos of the future. They find the massive camera in their neighbor’s apartment, pointed directly at the living room window of their own Los Angeles bungalow apartment. Soon they figure out that “the machine,” as they call it, prints a photo at every day 8 p.m. of what’s happening 24 hours in the future. Roommate Jasper (played by George Finn) takes this opportunity to bet on dog races as the camera's Polaroids reveal the race results. Meanwhile, his painter roommate Finn (Matt O’Leary) breaks his creative block as the photos give him a peek at paintings he hasn’t yet thought of. What follows is a brain-teasing thriller that delves into questions of predestination and whether the future (and the past) can be changed.
Writer-director Bradley King some took inspiration from 2007 Spanish film “Timecrimes,” which features only four characters – not even any background actors – and takes place at two houses and in the woods between them. With a budget of his own savings and self-financing, King filmed “Time Lapse” entirely at one apartment complex in downtown Los Angeles on a 27-day-long shoot. Only nine characters appear onscreen, with the exception of one party scene that required several extras.
“Time Lapse” begins a limited theatrical release Friday, May 15 and is also available on iTunes and VOD, after screening at about 75 film festivals over the past year. The film is King's feature directorial debut.
Above, check out a HitFix exclusive clip from the film, in which Jasper's bookie threatens third roommate Callie (Danielle Panabaker of the CW's "The Flash").
HitFix chatted with King about the complexities (and the simplicities) of crafting a story that plays with time, about geeking out over John Rhys-Davies (who played the inventor of the future-capturing camera), and about the “indie-off” he found himself having with other filmmakers at the Seattle International Film Festival.
HitFix: What idea did you start with for the film? Was it the machine or the characters or something else?
Bradley King: It started with the idea of the machine, and I can’t take credit for it. We’re happy to admit that he was riffing off of the movie “Timeline” where they put a camera in a time machine and send it back in time to take a picture of the sky. [My writing partner, B.P. Cooper] was like, “Well what if the camera and the machine were the same thing?” I said, “Give me two days.” And I went away and came back with at least the characters and setting and everything. And then we wrote it together.
Some time travel movies briefly touch on the idea of using time travel to make money, but “Time Lapse” really lets that guide the whole plot. How much of the impetus for “Time Lapse” was asking that question, “what if someone used a time machine to strike it rich?”
It’s a sci-fi cautionary tale. We started it from the root of: How could this thing become so valuable that it starts to strain their relationships? For me, the money was second to the guy who was doing the paintings because that’s what I would do. If [I had the choice between] a million dollars or you’ll be able to see your next screenplay complete, it would be like, “Next screenplay complete, please!” Cooper was more, “What if the other roommate is gambling or trying to make money?” because it is more relatable, I think, for most people.
Now did you later learn about [“A Most Unusual Camera”] the “Twilight Zone” episode with a camera that takes photos of the future?
It happens – you write something and then all of a sudden you start telling people about it and then they say, “Oh, that’s kind of like –” and you panic every time. But yeah, the “Twilight Zone” one scared us because that’s such a popular show. I feel like I’m not a good nerd since I hadn’t watched them all. But at that point, the train was in motion, man. We had found the location, we had the budget, we were casting. And we just said “Well, it’s pretty different, and what are we gonna do? We still believe in the project. Let’s just keep going.”
With such a small cast for much of the movie, the day you shot the party scene did it feel like, “Woah, there are so many people on set!”
Yeah. It’s funny because I had the AD and some of the producers asking me, “Oh are you nervous about the stunts. We’re gonna have stunts on this day. Stunts. Stunts. Stunts.” Maybe I’ve watched enough action movies, or I did enough clowning around as a kid with sword sticks or whatever, but the stunt stuff I was not worried about. It was the party scene and any intimacy basically that happens in the movie. I just feel like those scenes for me always end up looking so fake in indie films or they can. And I was just so, so nervous, especially for the party scene though. I hate it when you see a party scene in an indie film and like yep, those are the director’s friends. You know, you just know immediately.
How much time did you and Cooper spend having those headache-inducing conversations figuring out how time travel works in your movie?
We did have a wall with yarn [and index cards to plan out] each photo and when they find it and what it’s taking a picture of and everything. We did need that for ourselves initially to keep track of it. But in terms of the mechanics of it, I feel like it’s actually fairly simple. No people are traveling in time. It’s just giving you a little snapshot of tomorrow every day. But it feels complex, which is nice. When the movie’s rolling, it feels like bigger than it is.
There is the bigger head-scratcher complexity of the bootstrap paradox – where does Jasper get those race results?
Right, the chicken or egg, how did this all start? I don’t know. I guess I hope it wasn’t laziness, but we just sort of took for granted that it would tumble, and the characters would kind of see it. One thing we tried to do with Finn’s paintings was always include some element that was from the day before. So theoretically, as an artist, his inspiration would have come out of that day’s events, not just the photo.
In “Time Lapse,” the characters have to figure out whether they can change the past. What do you think of how other time travel movies deal with that question and rebooting a storyline when they can change history?
It’s satisfying when it works – like the little bit that changes at the end of “12 Monkeys” or the big bit that changes at the end of “Back to the Future.” But in general, it can be really unsatisfying when characters actually change things. It feels like a rip-off. You’ve invested all this emotional energy into this two-hour thing, and then it’s “Oh, we changed that, so none of that ever happened.” It’s like the “Oh, it’s all a dream” or “it’s all a test.”
John Rhys-Davies plays Mr. Bezzerides, but he never appears on-screen, just in a framed photo. Was a scene of his cut?
Yeah, that was such a heartbreak. We had a scene written in where we flashbacked to Mr. Bezzerides basically discovering what we call the doom photo, the one that he thought showed his death. In test screenings, we realized a couple of things. As writers we basically screwed up. One, all the information in that scene you get elsewhere in the movie, so it was redundant. And it slowed down the movie at a point when we really needed to be picking up momentum. It was a flashback. I despise flashbacks. If I can get away with not using, them I won’t use them.
How was working with John Rhys-Davies?
Oh, consummate professional. The guy just gave and gave and gave. At one point, he had to fall down, and he wanted to do his own stunt, and I was terrified about that! On set, I was like, “Everybody, chill out. Don’t badger him for photos or autographs. But at some point, [Rhys-Davies] just said, “Would you like my autograph?” to someone. And then there was basically an autograph break. He took photos with everybody, and I resisted talking about “Raiders of the Lost Ark” hard until he broached it and started talking about it. And then basically, I warned him, “I just have to take off my director hat for five minutes and just geek out about this moment right now.” And so we just talked “Raiders” for a while and then we got back to work.
Tell me about the production design of the machine in “Time Lapse.” How did you figure out the look for that?
I approached a few artists I had been following on DeviantArt. The one I ended up going with was Howard Schechtman. He’s out in Philadelphia. He works for a big game company now. He’s an amazing concept artist, and I managed to grab him while he was still kind of hungry. I gave him my qualifications for the machine. I said, “It’s got to be retro. I don’t want to see any lasers or LEDs or computer chips.” I wanted it to feel like it gets built by a scientist who worked in a bygone era. I referenced like “Fallout 3” because I kind of like that future-retro look.
Now that you’ve made a low-budget sci-fi movie, do you plan to go back to some scripts you’ve written in the past that could cost more to produce?
We’ll see. Some indie directors are probably happy just continuing making any movies. I was on a panel in Seattle actually, the Catalyst Program with six breakout indie filmmakers. And I got profoundly uncomfortable on the panel because – I mean, I completely respect indie directors, and I am addicted to the amount of freedom I have on this movie. No one told me what to do. Every check came out of me, so I made a lot of decisions, and I was able to make my own mistakes and see what worked and didn’t work.
I respect indie directors, but on that Catalyst Panel, I felt so out of place because it was like an indie-off. The guy next to me was like, “Well, we didn’t even have a script.” And the guy next to him was like, “Well, we didn’t use professional actors. We used real gang members” or whatever. The guy next to him was like, “Well, we didn’t have a schedule.” And the guy next to him was like, “Well we only had two members of the crew.” I know the distribution models are getting sticky and crazy and weird, but I’m an optimist. Big sci-fi movies are still going to get made. They’re still going to need directors. Everyone still needs scripts. So I’m hoping we can go up, and I know I can climb that ladder.
More and more these days, studios are signing on indie filmmakers to direct big-budget movies, like Colin Trevorrow directing “Jurassic World” or Marc Webb directing “The Amazing Spider-Man.” Is that something that’s intimidating to you or exciting?
I’m so ready. Are you kidding me? I would leap at a “Star Wars” spin-off. Or one of these “Harry Potter” spin-offs. I think it’s great, but I have to wonder sometimes if they reach for indie directors because know they’ll be a little more malleable within the big machine.
I’m sure that’s part of why they hire those guys.
I guess naively I probably believe in my own ability to still sort of stand up for quality in the context of the big machine. So I would still go for it. But when I landed in L.A., I was terrified of getting lost in the big machine, and so I was obsessed with doing it all my own way indie style, on the fringe. I guess I don’t know what happened, but now I’m ready.
What projects are you working on now?
Two sci-fi movies. One’s a sci-fi detective movie we’ve been working on for years now. And [the other is] a sci-fi heist movie, and right now it’s pretty much an all-woman cast, which just sort of happened.
And we got approached by a company pretty about midway through our festival run about the potential of turning “Time Lapse” into a TV show. And initially I didn’t want to think about it because A) I had just done it. The last thing I wanted to do was delve into this mechanic again. And B) everything that was being pitched back to me by anybody we talked to about it were things that I wasn’t interested in. I loved “Quantum Leap” as a kid. I don’t want to make a do-gooder show. Right now I’m just not that guy. The idea of people using the machine to like fix things or help peoples’ lives, that’s all they’re doing with it – I’m bored. And I don’t want to make a procedural. So now as it stands, the idea would be to make it more like “Rear Window” where the camera can actually see ten apartments. That’s all sort of still in flux. At this point, Cooper and I would both like to make a movie again next because that’s what I’ve been studying and trying to do for years. But I get it – all the money’s in TV right now, so that’s another sort of route we might just end up going because we’re practical, and if we’re not funding it ourselves we have to kind of deal with the way the industry is on any given moment.
"Time Lapse" opens for a limited theatrical release on Friday, May 15 and is also available on iTunes, Vudu, Google Play and VOD.
Photo credits, from above: 1. From left, Danielle Panabaker, Matt O'Leary and George Finn in "Time Lapse" (Veritas Productions, LLC); 2. From left, "Time Lapse" writer-director Bradley King and writer-producer BP Cooper plan out the film (Joel Geist); 3. The machine in "Time Lapse" that takes photos of 24 hours into the future. (Veritas Productions, LLC)