Hello and thank you for agreeing to the interview. Firstly, I’d like to ask what the writing process for the film was like given that the concept could easily fill a full-length Hollywood film were there elements you had to cut out or things you wish you could have put in, to elaborate on the story?
It was always intended to be a short film. Those elements you refer to are intended to be provocative as unanswered questions. Back when the screenwriter, Terry Rossio was in college, he came across a newspaper article in which some rich guy offered $100,000 to anyone who could prove the existence of a soul.
Terry thought, wow, there’s a great concept for a film, because of those provocative questions. So, you can say it is ‘based on a true story.’ Interestingly, it was the first screenplay he had ever written, and it didn’t have an ending. Two decades later, we took a tour of my old medical school. We were underground in the tunnels that connect buildings and house the darker necessities of medical schools, such as the cadaver lab, when Terry was suddenly struck with the idea for the ending. He pitched it to me right in the tunnel, next to the morgue.
The set design is stunning and gives a feeling of science fiction films from the 60s and 70s – was there one particular film that inspired it or was it entirely original?
Yes! Thank you! For the set design, we channelled our passion for classic, mid-twentieth century science fiction horror anthologies such as The Outer Limits, Twilight Zone, and One Step Beyond. That era informed our choices regarding so many aspects including chromatic tone, colour balance, wardrobe, vehicles, and temporally ambiguous technology.
Given that the type of film screen plays you normally write, was it enjoyable to work on a project that has a much darker tone?
Keep in mind Terry wrote the science fiction thriller Déjà vu, starring Denzel Washington, directed by Tony Scott, which is also a science-based thriller. But yes, this was a chance to explore a topic that might not be considered standard four quadrant fare.
What was the casting process for the film like?
We really caught lighting in a bottle with our cast. We had a fantastic casting director in Michelle Lewitt. In addition, our agent at CAA Brian Siberell endorsed the project to talent and put the weight of the agency behind us. You make lists, of course, send out the screenplay — and then we were shocked to land our first choice for each role. I’m sure it came down to the material, essentially, each actor saw a role on the page that they wanted to play.
Given the obvious influence the film takes from works like Frankenstein and The Divine Comedy why do you think human beings constantly want to tell stories about bringing the dead back to life?
One of the universal questions of life, perhaps the fundamental question of life, is where we came from and what happens when we die. If I were running a news outlet, every day would feature the same headline: PEOPLE CONTINUE TO MYSTERIOUSLY DIE! SCIENTISTS STUMPED!
What has the reception to the film been like?
It has been accepted in just about every festival we entered, in the United States and overseas. The film has won numerous awards, such as Best Short Film at the Pasadena International Film Festival, Best Science Fiction Short Film and Best Short Film overall at the Independent Filmmakers Showcase, Best Cinematography for our DP Ben Kutchins at the Oregon Film Festival, and Best Short Film at Worldfest, and many others, I hope our producer is keeping track.
Was it easier to integrate the special effects into the film because they were kept in one specific, closed off location?
Yes, part of the initial planning was to keep the themes and topics of the film big while staying modest in the production parameters. Big story, limited budget!
How important do you think it is that the audience goes away from the film having felt their moral perceptions have been challenged?
Our goal is for the audience to stay interested in the story, start to finish. Rather than challenging their moral perceptions, we hope to challenge their reality perceptions. Figuring out what the real world is like is step one, you have to do that before you can start to discuss morality.
How does the film compare to other films you’ve directed? What future projects have you got planned?
This is the first dramatic film I’ve directed. Terry, Joe and I are currently working on two features, unrelated to Laboratory Conditions. One is a romantic comedy called Dashboard Jesus and Hula Girl that celebrates the open road and country music. A bit of a departure to be sure, but tell me you don’t want to go see that film, just from the title!
You can read my review of Laboratory Conditions here.