Today’s budding sci-fi writers and sci-fi filmmakers have an empowering creative outlet through technologies that make shooting film and creating VFX more accessible than ever. And financing through crowdfunding is more popular than ever in helping sci-fi short films make the jump from imagination to indie sci-fi short film reality. Of course, Tim Hewitt knows this as well as anyone. He’s crowdfunding his sci-fi film, ANGELINA:10, an artificial intelligence thriller, right now. And he chatted with Recursor about his love for the sci-fi genre, filmmaking, and the concept behind his new film.
RECURSOR: How did you become interested in filmmaking? What films have inspired your work?
TIM HEWITT: Films have been my main passion as far back as I can remember. I grew up on a huge mixture of the old black and white films, mainly starring Humphrey Bogart or Cary Grant — the Howard Hawks and John Huston films. Then there were the ROCKY films, Laurence Olivier’s Shakespeare films, CHITTY CHITTY BANG BANG and the usual kids films; I mean, a big cocktail. But those films, along with greats of like JAWS, THE GODFATHER, and TAXI DRIVER initially made me want to be an actor.
Then when I was 17, I saw RESERVOIR DOGS, and it changed my perspective on cinema. I knew about the ‘writer’ and the ‘director,’ but with this film, I became aware that there was no line between them. It was one vision from the very beginning until the very end. Now, writer/directors had obviously existed before — auteurs like Truffaut, Godard, Fellini, and Woody Allen — but I suppose this new voice carried so much weight, it cemented my yearning to put pen to paper and actually make what I wrote.
Who/what are your science fiction influences?
Science fiction has to start with 2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY. I saw it with my Mum and brother, but I was too young to understand what it was all about. Maybe that didn’t matter though, because it’s a film you’re meant to experience. And to this day there really isn’t anything like it. It proved and still proves that formula isn’t always necessary. Formula is necessary for people who are trying to make a name for themselves, or you won’t get money, but if you’re an auteur, it isn’t. (2001 wasn’t terribly well received by critics on first release, let’s remember.)
BLADERUNNER has to be up there as one of the best. The simplicity of the plot is what I find so great about it. ALIEN, although a sci-fi horror, has to be the best in tension and ensemble acting. Those three are the main influences and because of them, ANGELINA:10 was born.
What has it been like to create your own films? What has been challenging/rewarding about it?
My first short was an experimental horror in the found footage genre called THE DEVIL’S PUNCHBOWL about a true murder case in the 18th century. I wanted to see if I could create something entirely scripted that came across as real (as opposed to things like the BLAIR WITCH PROJECT, where the scenario was presented and scenes came out that). I think we actually pulled it off, although the budget was microscopic.
I followed that with an adaptation of a Graham Greene short story called A LITTLE PLACE OFF THE EDGWARE ROAD, which starred Paul McGann (Dr Who, Alien 3, Withnail and I) and Ronald Pickup (The Crown, Darkest Hour). It was a neo-noir thriller. That was tricky to put together, mainly the funding. That’s the main challenge really. When things aren’t certain, you’re having to improvise constantly.
Now, that film we shot on 16mm, which is expensive in low budget filmmaking. When there was a fluffed line or something went wrong during a take, I would immediately have to shout cut as, for me, the sound of film running through the camera actually became money running through the camera. That and, also as a result of financing, not enough time to truly deliver what you had planned was another challenge.
So, so far in my experience, the main challenge has always been financing. But ultimately, when you finish it all, put it all together and then screen it — that’s the reward. You realize why you did it.
What inspired you to create ANGELINA:10? Why are you drawn to tell this particular story?
I wanted to address an issue that’s important to me, which is our use of technology and the lengths to which we are willing to go at the expense of the environment and nature. And I wanted to do it in a highly visually way, with a lot of tension. Something ominous. Playing with fire.
The film is about a new form of artificial intelligence that becomes self-destructive due to the presence of emotion in the programming, something completely unexpected to the creators. And I wanted to explore that slightly differently than other AI films. A lot of robots develop emotion through interaction with humans. They learn, I suppose. I wanted to have a film where the very fact that they’ve created a program that projects humanity unavoidably has an emotional component already. Humanity and emotion are inseparable, deep down.
Being drawn to a particular story or idea is organic; it sort of takes over you as opposed to the other way around. Something compels you to carry on and makes you want to investigate further, see what direction it can go in, and then you find yourself hooked on that idea. Then I realized the potential in the storytelling, the visuals, the themes — it all came together in the writing.
Artificial intelligence is a hot topic in sci-fi these days. What do you think of our pursuit of developing rudimentary AI and how it might affect us as humans?
James Cameron said it’s not AI he doesn’t trust; it’s the humans making it. It’s a good point. If AI is kept at bay (we must know the limits, we mustn’t blindly steam ahead just because we can!) and controlled, then it’s part of what humans do best — science, creation, exploration. We’re pioneers, remember. Putting rockets into space and probes on other planets is where we excel, and AI is another part of that.
But where it’s just for the sake of it, is where we go wrong. We need to be aware of our pitfalls. But there’ll be the pros and cons. A bit like social media. It easily connects us, we can see what a friend is up to on the other side of the world in an instant, but also it creates a blinkered, cocooned existence to some. AI may have similar pros and cons, make things easier, make us lazier.
How did you connect with Nick Ainsworth, whose visual graphic style is driving the look of the film?
Nick and I met years ago. When I wrote ANGELINA:10, I thought it was going to be the sort of film that most certainly needed concept art because the look of it is really the main ingredient — especially if we were going to be crowdfunding. It was the new approach to AI that interested him initially, I think. And then, having done so many medieval style concepts in GAME OF THRONES, he was really keen to do something clinical and slick. So his art is the springboard for the design team.
Creating a visually strong sci-fi film is a challenge on an indie budget. How are you approaching the VFX?
Well, our aim is to build the set. We want the actors to actually be there. There will be a little bit of CGI work, a little bit like the gesture-based interface they used in MINORITY REPORT (a seriously underrated sci-fi film, in my opinion!). For that, we have a great pro called Shervin Shirazianso, who’s onboard to design and create that for us.
You’re doing an Indiegogo campaign for ANGELINA:10 right now. Once the campaign ends, what next steps do you have planned?
Our hope is to film early next year and have it completed by June 2019. This year will be the design and build stage. We’ll see how the Indiegogo campaign goes — we still have over two weeks left; there may be no need for further fundraising. It’s all preparing for the shoot, which will only be two days. That sounds surprising, but the great thing about this film is that it’s set in one place — one self-contained space that is going to look absolutely stunning.
What other projects are you working on right now?
I’m always writing. Every day. It’s a matter of keeping in practice; that can’t be underscored enough. Any craft needs constant work. I have two completed feature film scripts that I’m trying to develop. They’re ready to go.
One of these scripts recently reached the Quarterfinals of the Academy Nicholl Fellowships, which was an absolute shock. It’s the screenwriting competition run by the Oscars. 349 scripts got to the quarterfinals out of 6,895 submissions, so I’m happy with just getting through! It’s the competition every screenwriter wants to win.
My other script is a real-time thriller that takes place over the course of 90 minutes during a terrorist attack — another really hot topic right now (other than AI). That one, I wrote really to be my feature film directorial debut.
Tim Hewitt has written and directed two short films. His first was a found footage horror The Devil’s Punchbowl, revolving around the tale of the Unknown Sailor’s murder in 18th Century England. He followed this with A Little Place off the Edgware Road, which starred Paul McGann (Alien 3, Withnail and I, Dr Who) and Ronald Pickup (Darkest Hour, The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel, The Crown). Angelina:10 is Tim’s third short film, in pre-production. He has also written two feature film scripts, one of them having recently reached the Quarterfinals of the prestigious Academy Nichols Fellowship.