Now out on VOD, the stellar sci-fi short film COGNITION by director Ravi Ajit Chopra is a must see. At the center of this moving story is Abner (Jeremy Irvine), who was kidnapped from his father (Andrew Scott) and brainwashed as a child to become a soldier for an evil empire. Abner’s inner struggle and the outside world collide in a dramatic moment that underscores the trauma Abner has undergone.
The film is an emotional tale, with inventive cinematography and a superb score written by Samuel Karl Bohn and performed beautifully by the BBC Concert Orchestra. All of this adds up to solid entertainment.
Of course, it takes a lot of work behind the scenes to pull that together in indie fashion. The creators of COGNITION — Executive Producer/Director Ravi Ajit Chopra and Executive Producer Michael Demmerle — gave Recursor.TV a glimpse behind the curtains to talk about the making of their film.
“A few hair follicles were lost in the process,” joked Chopra about the experience. “I called in a lot of favors, that’s for sure.”
Chopra has worked behind the scenes at BBC Films, on a lot of different film sets, a distinct advantage when it came time to make COGNITION. “I learned a lot from the talent there,” Chopra said. “The ambition was always to mount this story on a big canvas like a Hollywood film, and in order to pull this off, we knew we were going to have to work with the big companies doing production. This was a passion project for me to put together something that is going to resonate.”
To make it happen, Chopra had to find funding, and that’s how he connected with Demmerle, who built a strong background in banking, industry, and sales before moving into films, negotiating international sales rights for films like Heat. Soon, he turned to working with indie creators, helping them structure their film projects to be more feasible for investors.
“I came into COGNITION initially as an investor,” Demmerle said. “Ravi pitched his project to me, and we had a nice, long chat. I didn’t need that long before I said, ‘I’m on board.’ Ravi’s drive, his ambition behind this really was so much more intense than a lot of other filmmakers I’ve seen. It was the hunger that he had specifically in this project that made me say yes. This is the kind of person you want when you’re producing or investing — someone who’s going to continuously push, be optimistic with what’s going on. Ravi is good at that.”
COGNITION’s heart is the emotional journey taken by its protagonist, Abner. Inspired by films like Solaris, Sunshine, The Fisher King and even The Manchurian Candidate, Chopra wasn’t afraid to work as hard as it took to get the script just right.
“We did around 40-50 drafts of the script,” he noted. “Within a short film, you’re so constrained with the actual time that you have, and we wanted to make it a self-contained story.”
Once the script was ready, the COGNITION team approached casting—and they went big. “Before we even approached the cast, I put together a 45-page document with concept, treatment, story, locations, visual settings, world, cast – what you would see for a feature film, even though this was short,” said Chopra.
“Andrew Scott (Moriarty in BBC’s Sherlock) was always our first choice, so we sent it to him, had a discussion for him. It was something different for him because he was playing a lot of villains at the time. He read the script and said yeah. That was the turning point for the film. If he had not come on board, a lot of other people would not have either.”
Playing opposite Scott is Jeremy Irvine, who turned out to be a big fan of Scott. It created great chemistry between father and son onscreen. “Irvine was able to bring great drama to the role,” said Demmerle and Chopra. “He was someone we’d always seen in the role of Abner because of the emotional depth that he’s able to display onscreen.”
That sizzle comes through in a climactic scene where Abner confronts his memories of his past with the person he has become. The scene was filmed at the famed Battersea Power Station, where classics like ALIEN, BLADE RUNNER, EDGE OF TOMORROW, and WORLD WAR Z have filmed on location.
“The location was amazing. They already had prison cells in those corridors. There was so much production value there. We just added some lights, VFX, and production design on set,” explained Chopra.
“I couldn’t go to sleep the night before that big scene. I was thinking over and over again, how are we going to film this? How can we capture that moment of emotion? We rehearsed with everyone else, but not Andrew. I told him, ‘We’re not going to bring you on set. We’re going to film this live as if it’s on stage.’ He loved it. He had an amazing performance that afternoon.”
The strategy paid off, resulting in a highly emotional moment that brings COGNITION to a strong finish.
When it came to the VFX, Chopra and his team went just as big as with their casting and soundtrack—using around 350 VFX shots in the film. “This was very much a detailed project. It was a real juggling act,” he said. “We had 50 different artists and VFX companies around the world working on the film, with several sequences progressing at the same time. It was our ambition to make the VFX as polished as we could do, and the industry really came together for us. They really helped us to iron it all out.”
Getting the visual look and feel of the film just right for science fiction fans was essential to the COGNITION team. “Although the story was very drama based, it still was in the sci-fi genre,” said Demmerle. “In the end, the only thing that’s going to bring people to look at the film is the drama, the genre, and the VFX. That’s your locomotive in the marketing. That’s what people are going to be looking for. So we just had to go that extra mile.”
So, what’s next for COGNITION? As you might expect from a film that’s done so well—it’s on the road to full-length feature development.
“The main feedback we’ve had across the board has been everyone wants to see it as a feature,” said Chopra. “We’ve been hard at work on expanding the project into a longer format, and it’s going to super exciting because there’s so much we wanted to put into the short film but we couldn’t do it. Now, we can explore the background, the father-son relationship, and more. We’re working on our ideas now and looking forward to that.
“It’s definitely going to be character-led—the same journey that we see in the short film, put into a long form,” said Chopra. “The relationships between the characters is the most important thing to me.”
COGNITION is available in 9 languages across 92 countries, on Apple iTunes, Amazon Prime Video, Google Play and YouTube Premium. For countries and viewing platforms, visit: http://www.cognitionscifi.co.uk/
You can see the trailer for COGNITION here on Recursor.TV.