Director Torey Byrne and screenwriter Mahogany J. Slide, who made the new scifi short film Extract: The Ghost Complex earlier this year, did a video interview together this Fall since my webcam was on the fritz. Many thanks to them for taking the time to do this. (Due to length and some audio problems, parts of the interview transcript below have been truncated.)
UPDATE: Byrne’s film Extract will be taking on a new form soon (work is currently being planned), and news about the direction the film will be taking will be posted on the film’s Facebook page at the beginning of 2013.
The entire interview can be viewed on the Her Film YouTube channel or by clicking on the video below. (Total running time about 33 minutes.)
[I]f you ever want to work with me,
you have to watch ‘Firefly’ first.
Extract: The Ghost Complex tackles a huge philosophical question: “are we really only defined by the things we know?” And the main character is under existential threat! Can you give a brief background on the story and talk about what inspired you to write the film, MJ?
Slide: [Inaudible] Well, I guess it was one of these things where I have this thing, it’s basically a library of ideas I’ve come up with that I just haven’t had any time to be able to do anything with, and — long story short — Torey wanted to direct something and she was like, ‘Oh, I need a writer,’ and I’m like, ‘I’m a writer.’
Byrne: Are we really gonna talk about this? [laughs]
Slide: I’m a writer. So, I basically gave her access to the dropbox folder with all the ideas and she picked one she really liked, and we went from there. I just have a crazy obsession with information and data. I think it was sort of the concept, that we were both captured by the idea that society has gotten to a point where everyone and everything is defined by their digital footprint in one way, shape or form, and it doesn’t even have to be just your digital footprint. Information in itself is everything because it also is who you are, and the things that you choose to do and your personality, and all of that. And is there a way to take that and simply strip it down to its rawest form and it just be data and things you know about you and things you know about other people and the world around you, because everyone and everything is sculpted by one’s interpretation and perception. That’s why I found it interesting.
Byrne: I wanted to, I had a campaign, that I wanted to direct my own short film, and we had a plan and that sort of fell through. So I was on Twitter one day and I was like, you know I really kind of want to direct something, I need a script. And that was the whole ‘I’m a writer’ thing from MJ, and she asked me a stupid question, and she was like, ‘Okay, do you want scifi or drama?’ What kind of question is that? Of course I want scifi. So, I don’t know, we made a scifi film. It was awesome.
Slide: She’s just so darn eloquent, folks.
Byrne: Shut up.
Slide: [laughs] So, yeah, that’s pretty much — I wanted an excuse to finally get to cut my teeth on writing or seeing one of something — [groans] speaking of eloquence! I wanted to be able to cut my teeth on something that was science fiction based because that’s the genre that I love the most and it’s one of those things that’s relatively hard to tackle in a short film and just in independent film in the South. We chose something incredibly high concept which has been an entirely interesting journey in itself. So that’s been a fun process.
How did you become involved in the project, Torey, and how have you approached the material as a director?
Byrne: I met MJ on Twitter, was it April? Not too long ago! [both laugh] We haven’t known each other for as long as most [people] think. We just sort of clicked. I stepped off of the bus in South Carolina and it was like we were instantly best friends, it was weird. But I wanted to work with her for a really long time and I finally got the chance to fly out there and meet them about a film that was called Those Lighter Fluid Days and I was cast in that. So, we’d been working together and we had a couple of really awesome opportunities for that, so it [Extract] was pushed to the next spring. So, we have been trying to film and we decided that we were going to make another film! [laughs] We had originally planned on making this back to back with Lighter Fluid Days when I was out there which would have been insane.
Slide: Just a [inaudible] [laughs]
Byrne: That would have been crazy. We were exhausted by the end of the two or three days. But, I don’t know, [inaudible] it was really this small couple minute-long short film just to give me the chance to direct something of my own. And after Lighter Fluid Days was pushed, we decided this story and the universe that the story takes places in — we needed to give it the chance to be what it could. We needed to give it a chance to grow and become something that we originally hadn’t planned, because everything was there, all this information was there, so we had numerous really long phone calls. [laughs] We were up until five in the morning, six in the morning, and we’re in two different states. So there was a time change…
Slide: And then you were in California.
Byrne: I was, I did go to California for a couple of weeks for a couple auditions and to go to Comic-Con, which was awesome. And so that was — is it three hours?
Slide: Three hour difference.
Byrne: So it’s already difficult for us to find time to do this ‘world-building,’ as we called it, but that was even more difficult. But we did it! We did it. This story is its own world. It’s just really insane, it’s really awesome what we did. [laughs] I’m really proud of us because we turned something that was, well, just an idea that you had into a living universe.
Slide: Yeah, and I think it’s deliciously ironic with the whole concept of the film, and I don’t want to give a whole lot away, but the fact that we’re doing, like, predominantly, most of our collaboration has taken place online, is — you will understand the irony once you see the film and see how it all comes together. But it’s been a very, very interesting process. It’s just something that any writer or any person who has a massive love for scifi understands and has the desire to be able to create a world from the ground up.
Sci-fi’s such a popular genre, but the production of a sci-fi film isn’t typically considered an affordable process. How have you put together this film to portray the world and characters of the story in a way that you feel is believable, working with a less than astronomical budget? What were your biggest challenges?
Byrne: Am I taking this one, or are you taking this one?
Slide: You’re the director.
Byrne: Obviously, it was difficult. MJ is so talented that any time that she writes — [laughs] — and I’m [inaudible] to do this now and I’m quite proud of myself, but any time that she’d write something I would want to film that. I don’t want to change anything, I don’t want to do anything to it. I just want what you wrote. And that’s not possible a lot of the time! [laughs] So I’ve started in this next film we have on the docket, I started to [inaudible] to do that, but we basically went line by line and was like, what do we need for this? Do we need special effects for this? Is it something we can do in wardrobe? Is it something we can do in the art department? Which was us! By the way, if any of you are wondering —
Slide: We had a fabulous art department.
Byrne: People were like, who did you have for costuming and art, and, that was us! Basically we went on Etsy and found everything cool that we could.
Slide: Pretty much.
Byrne: There was a little more planning.
I’m really proud of us because we turned something that was, well, just an idea that you had into a living universe.
Slide: [inaudible] The thing about it is this is where the seven plus hour conversations every couple of days came in and everything that we decided that the characters ended up wearing and that were portrayed was very, very purposeful because the two leads are, like, they’re polar opposites physically, but there are so many things about their characters that are oddly similar that we wanted to sort of create that contrast but let the audience pull together the similarities to how they actually are as individuals and how they play off of each other. So that was all very purposeful. Like any indie film, you spend the money you have and you make it happen and you make it work. There are always sort of surprising expenses, but we had a movie on our hands, and we had a film that we absolutely adored and we wanted to see come about and happen, so we made it happen. It was cool because there was like — we needed bikes — so we had a local bike shop, we called them up and were like ‘hey, what can we do to get a bike for free?’ And that all worked out and people were being incredibly supportive of the film, and I think they’re kind of surprised with, like, by the way, two 19 year old chicks and we’re just doing this film for it, and there’s just something refreshing about the whole situation and there have been a lot of people who’ve just signed on simply because first of all, they love the genre, they love our take on it, and they want to see cool films happen.
Byrne: And that’s my favorite part about the whole, the entire indie film community, and I’ve said that from day one, the fact that everyone is so incredibly supportive. It doesn’t matter who you are or where you are, if you’re making an independent film, another person from the independent film community will come and help. That’s how our entire crew — I talked about this in my director’s statement — we didn’t know each other. With the exception of you and I, and you and Rebecca, none of our crew knew each other, we just, we talked with them on Twitter all the time.
I’ve seen more than a few mentions of “world-building” and creating a “world” for this film on your film’s facebook page and MJ’s blog. What does that process entail and how are you going about tackling such an enormous task? You also have to create a world of the film in terms of social media — for fans — so how are you going about doing that for Extract?
Slide: I think, hilariously, now, I think part of it we do unconsciously because we’re so darn excited about the story. So many people ask me ‘what’s your mentality for promotion?’ And I’m like, ‘Um, I just think it’s really exciting so I tell lots of people about it.’ I say that, but it’s obviously a lot more complicated. But as far as the world-building goes, there aren’t any questions that you don’t ask. That’ where we got, like half, wow, more than, more like three-fourths of the things that we concluded will never end up on screen.
Byrne: Oh my gosh. We know way more about this world than we should.
Slide: And scenarios, and it’s sort of, I actually posted an article on Extract’s Facebook page about sort of, Steven Spielberg did an ‘idea summit’ for Minority Report, and Tim…our graphic designer actually linked me to it. I read the article… and basically he just got a bunch of intelligent people in a room and started asking them questions about what they felt the future would be like. And that’s pretty much what me and Torey ended up doing, where fashion, art, culture, how would the [inaudible] of the McGuffin in our storyline affect…world economics and all of that jazz. Those were the kind of conversations we had, and we started off with a very large view and then pull it down to how does that affect the characters’ mentality, the leads and all of that? So it was really like, as a writer, it was really the greatest process ever. They were these ridiculously long conversations and there goes all of my sleep, but I was okay because my brain was happy.
MJ stated in a video posted on YouTube about the production, that “a lot of the inspiration for the process and the approach has come from Joss Whedon’s ‘Firefly,'” Can you explain what you mean by that?
Byrne: When you watch something that is done, you don’t question the universe that he created, and the universe that the characters live in. And it’s because of all those details that normally people don’t think about, you know what I mean? Like the fact that they speak another language, because that’s probable. That’s probably going to be the case in the future that there are brands everywhere, things that you don’t pay attention to, it’s all art department and things like that, but it brings that to life. And we tried to do the same thing, so we created brands, not that would exist in the future, but that would help us bring that to life. We had slang that people would use.
Slide: That was fun.
Byrne: We talked about culture a lot and where we are headed in the future. We actually, originally it was in 2097, [but] we pushed it back to 2067, just to close that gap. That would give us —
Slide: Primarily because technology moves so quickly, I was just just thinking about, 1957 was the technical birth of the internet, and what, it’s 50, 60, 70 years later and we have all of this. So it was, it was one of these things, like I tried to talk Torey into bumping it to 2036 but we had already, like, made stuff official. It just is the opportunity to interpret something that is, that doesn’t exist but could. I think that’s the allure, playing with the familiar and making it unfamiliar but approachable at the same time. And it was empowering, it was a lot of fun, because who else goes to work, serves ice cream and then comes home and builds a world on the phone with some person in Oklahoma? It’s like, we love our lives and we love our jobs because it’s absurd and fantastic… Joss Whedon is kind of my hero. It’s funny…if you ever want to work with me, you have to watch ‘Firefly’ first.
Byrne: I had to do it.
Slide: She did.
Byrne: It was great.
Slide: She did.
Byrne: Really good.
Slide: Yeah, and just to sort of gather the mentality, because it’s really, it’s why I write. Like, ‘Objects in Space,’ final episode of ‘Firefly,’ probably one of the best hours of television ever. And it’s like, I just sit around and I’m like I’m just gonna write that good one day, like, that’s the goal, to get to the ‘Objects in Space’ level.