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Filmmaker Spotlight: A Chat with Director Nguyen-Anh Nguyen

The filmmaker behind entertaining sci-fi short films TEMPLE and HYPERLIGHT (both featured on Recursor), Nguyen-Anh Nguyen took time out of his busy schedule to chat with us about his love for sci-fi and his latest work on HYPERLIGHT.

RECURSOR: What inspired you to make Hyperlight?

Hyperlight by Nguyen-Anh Nguyen Q&A on Recursor.TV

FTL vessel from HYPERLIGHT

NAN: My Director of Photography Simran Dewan and I are both huge space nerds, and we always dreamt about making a film set in space! At lunch one day, we discussed an article I had read about Lockheed Martin prototyping a fusion reactor in the near future. That sparked the idea of having an almost limitless source of energy that could one day power faster-than-light (FTL) space travel. The idea of making a film about FTL that would take the viewer in different directions—an action film, an alien film, then a multiverse drama—gave life to HYPERLIGHT. 

The story of HYPERLIGHT was written by Nicolas Billon. How did this collaboration come about?

I helped produce a short film on which Nicolas acted as screenwriter. I loved his writing style, and I told him about the idea for HYPERLIGHT. It turned out he was a huge science fiction fan, and we had a blast discussing all the stories, theories and films we loved. He really helped shape all the theoretical concepts about fusion energy and FTL speed into a cohesive story arc that was dramatic enough to carry a film.

Tell us about the actors and how you chose them. (They’re great, by the way!)

Hyperlight by Nguyen-Anh Nguyen Q&A on Recursor.TV

Goossen in action (HYPERLIGHT)

I knew Peter (Shinkoda) from the online world after I had done THE AKIRA PROJECT, as he was a big fan of the film. We spoke about doing something together for years, as I am a big fan of his work. He finally agreed to it once he read the script for HYPERLIGHT. He convinced his friend and colleague Jeananne Goossen to come on board. 

We also wanted to do a film that was proactively Asian in casting, but also in the creative team. Most of the key creatives (director, DP, production designer) are of Asian descent. Jeananne really believed in the project as well and came on board as an executive producer to help us finish the film with as high a quality as possible.

What did it take to create the stellar visuals/FX in HYPERLIGHT?

My production designer Laura Nhem really worked miracles on this film. She has been working on most of my projects for the past 6 years. My DP Simran Dewan and I scaled down the ideas and tried to shoot smartly with our resources — reducing coverage, getting tighter shots, and putting the energy and budget into the most important scenes. 

Poster for HYPERLIGHT by Nguyen-Anh Nguyen filmmaker Q&A on Recursor.TVAs for VFX, I had a very small but world-class team. Concept artist Alex Figini and generalists Santiago Menghini (a friend who has been by my side for years), Greg Ng and Michael Christophersson did most of the film’s effects in their free time. It took over a year to go from conceptualization to finished compositions for the VFX.

Finally, I also co-own a camera/postproduction house in Montreal, CineGround Media, which was instrumental in achieving a high production value. Our colorist, Simon Boissonneaux, did wonders and really helped smooth out and merge all of the many different visuals into a cohesive film.

What draws you to the sci-fi genre? Who are your sci-fi filmmaker influences?

When I was 12, I discovered Tome 1 of the manga AKIRA and requested that the library lady order the remaining 12 tomes just for me. She did, and my mind was scarred for life. It led me to watch the anime AKIRA, which showed me how immersive and beautiful a film could be. 

But I didn’t really know I wanted to be a filmmaker until much later in life. I became a dentist in 2004 and worked in the U.S. one year before going back to university to study film production.

The most influential directors for me would be Katsuhiro Otomo (creator of AKIRA), who opened up my mind to the hard cyberpunk genre; Stanley Kubric (2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY, A CLOCKWORK ORANGE), as a pure genius who reinvented every genre he touched; and James Cameron (AVATAR, THE TERMINATOR), who led sci-fi from being B-movie fare into one of the most revered forms of cinema nowadays. I hope I can be a mix of all three someday!

Nguyen-Anh Nguyen sci-fi filmmaker Q&A on Recursor.TVWhat are you working on next?

I’m currently developing my first feature film, based on my short film TEMPLE, supported by Telefilm Canada. I’ve also been busy writing a number of other sci-fi projects.

Canadian director, filmmaker and futurist Nguyen-Anh Nguyen completed a Bachelor’s degree in Film Production at the Mel Hoppenheim School of Cinema in 2008. He is known for his work creating the live action fan trailer THE AKIRA PROJECT (2014), the cyberpunk short thriller TEMPLE (2016), and the space thriller HYPERLIGHT (2018). You can find out more about HYPERLIGHT on its official website.