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CONTACT(S): Shooting Sci-Fi in Hollywood & Spirituality in the Mexican Desert

Eric Mark, a co-producer and actor on the upcoming BROKEN ROAD audio drama, just returned to Los Angeles from La Paz, Mexico, where he was shooting the horror–thriller short film QUAAYAYP with fellow Canadian Brian Fleck. Days before Eric and Brian went down to Mexico, they shot the near-future sci-fi dramatic–comedy short CONTACT(S) — which they cowrote and star in — with director and former Disney executive Bill Sarine. 

Eric Mark

Recursor.TV caught up with Eric to discuss CONTACT(S) as well as what it was like shooting a film in the desert of Baja California Sur.

RECURSOR: We know there’s been a lot of talk about CONTACT(S) and that you’re keen to keep some of the key plot points under wraps. What can you tell us about the film?

ERIC MARK: Thank you for taking the time to chat with me about CONTACT(S)! We’re excited to spring it upon the world. The basic premise of the short — that social isolation has exacerbated the reliance on technology as a substitute for genuine human contact — was inspired by the global pandemic, though we don’t explicitly reference COVID-19 in the movie. Instead, we focus on a protagonist who has cut himself off from the world and replaced virtually all of his relationships with online activity.

It seems like you’re covering ground that is top-of-mind for a lot of people right now. Is there something that differentiates CONTACT(S) from other content that is emerging from the late Pandemic Era?

EM: Absolutely. From the start, we wanted to comment on a near–universal circumstance in a manner that is both very specific and, hopefully, hilarious. What we’ve come up with is a somewhat adult story that leverages technology to help the protagonist take care of almost all of his needs, by himself. Again, though we don’t mention COVID, we do establish that he hasn’t been out of his place in a couple years.

Brian Fleck, my cowriter and fellow actor on this project, has an interesting background. He was formerly the chairperson of the Department of Mechanical Engineering at the University of Alberta, and he was an occasional host of THE NATURE OF THINGS, a very well-known science show in Canada that has been on the air continuously since 1960. Brian made sure that the science in our science fiction had a high degree of verisimilitude to it, which is crucial since it’s the science that underpins the twists in the story.

Eric Mark, transfixed by what he sees, in a night scene from CONTACT(S)

I notice you’re being a bit coy about discussing what actually takes place in the movie.

EM: Ha! I’m usually accused of being a bit verbose! I am definitely not trying to be coy… I just don’t want to give away any spoilers about my own project since I’m the kind of person who won’t tell people the endings to films that came out decades earlier. I will say that during the course of the film, Tom Caudell, does venture out of his home for the first time in two years, which sets up the climax of the short. And I will say that I did give a hint to one of the surprises in the film through the discussion we’ve had so far.

Okay, thanks. That response seems like the definition of “coy,” but I understand about spoilers! Now CONTACT(S) was shot in Los Angeles, but you just got back from shooting QUAAYAYP in Mexico. Before I let you go, can you tell me what that experience was like?

Image from CONTACT(S)
Eric Mark and Brian Fleck demonstrating that it doesn’t matter if you have a ton of hair or no hair at all in a scene from CONTACT(S)

EM: One of the great things about CONTACT(S) is that we brought Bill Sarine on as director. Bill worked on the first three PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN films, both the NATIONAL TREASURE movies, and, most crucially, the PRINCESS DIARIES films, and he’s currently shooting a lot of content for several major studios. Having him and a top-notch cast and crew involved made the CONTACT(S) shoot, which took place in a house some describe as a “castle” in Hollywood and in a well-appointed hotel suite, an extraordinarily efficient and fantastically fun affair.

QUAAYAYP was quite different. For one thing, it was a considerably smaller-scale endeavor. For another, Brian Fleck directed and shot most of the film. And he had never directed or shot a film before. For a first-timer, he was incredibly organized and incredibly bold… But, as per usual on a film set, we ran into a number of unexpected situations that made this shoot take much longer than CONTACT(S).

The desert can be an inhospitable spot. Incredibly hot, full of prickly plants that want only to stab you, and remarkably full of large swaths of animal scat. Shots did not go as storyboarded. The winds were unfriendly. When we were shooting near more inhabited spots, we had locals learning about the movie through word-of-mouth and trying to nonchalantly sneak into frame.

Cinematographer Neil Watson setting up for a shot overlooking the Hollywood skyline for CONTACT(S)

And even after we’d break for the day, we had to deal with issues that typically do not arise on bigger projects, stateside. Twice during the week we were down there, we got stopped for speeding by the police. We had heard that bribery was the way to take care of these situations, but Brian was leery about attempting it. However, the first officer wanted cash on the spot — or he’d take Brian’s driver’s license to the station in town for pickup the next day — so we scrambled to give him everything we had on us, which he gladly accepted. Which made us the first people to inadvertently bribe a Mexican cop for about 80% of the amount he claimed was actually required. When the next cop also threatened to take Brian’s license to the station, Bri said in Spanish, “¡Sure!” and called the officer’s bluff. The cop smirked, handed Brian back his license, and said in Spanish, “¡Have a good day, Brian!” So at least we learned something along the way.

All-in-all, our Mexican experience was fantastic and eye-opening, but it came with a lot more scars, both physical and emotional, than shooting in L.A.

Eric, I want to thank you for taking the time to speak with Recursor.TV, and I wish you great success with both CONTACT(S) and QUAAYAYP!

EM: Thank you so much for giving me the chance to speak about both films. We can’t wait to share them with you… and the world!

Main image: Brian Fleck, Bill Sarine, Cinematographer Neil Watson, and Gaffer Veronica Smith on the set of CONTACT(S)