Every once in a while I catch a movie that I cannot stop talking about. For me this year that film is TIME LAPSE, a brilliant Hitchcockian suspense film about three roommates who discover a giant camera aimed at their window which spits out a Polaroid of what will happen (in that window) twenty-four hours in the future. The film is a triumph because it manages to tackle a very heady topic (time travel) in an incredibly simple and understandable form, and because it delivers a true genre film with none of the expensive trappings that those undertakings usually require. There are no special effects in Bradley King and B.P. Cooper’s film; in fact, the entire film takes place in an apartment complex, about as un-SciFi as you can get. However, the film succeeds in building a very distinct world with its own particular rules and logic, as all great Sci Fi films do, as well as a great mix of comedy and thriller with a standout cast.
Bradley King directed the film, and co-wrote the script with B.P. Cooper, who also produced. Time Lapse made its world premiere at the Brussels International Fantastic Film Festival before making its North American premiere at Seattle International as part of the very cool Catalyst program. Shortly after, I had a chance to speak with King and Cooper, not knowing then I would have the opportunity to present the film as the Centerpiece for the inaugural Other Worlds Austin Sci Fi Film Festival in December. However, a majority of our conversation revolved around doing Sci Fi on scale and the special problems of time travel.
“It’s cliché at this point, twenty years cliché even, but Star Wars was my childhood,” writer/director Bradley King admits to me, “all the toys I got. I think my fifth birthday was the Millennium Falcon on through my twelfth there were Star Wars figures.” But King’s childhood was as affected by Science as Science Fiction. “I grew up in Los Alamos, New Mexico, where the Manhattan Project was, so I was surrounded by PHDs,” he says, “It didn’t stick in a way that I got into science as a career, but I think it flavored my media tastes.” Time Lapse, like most time travel films, deals with science fiction in a very practical way. Once you buy into the possibility, the film deals with the inevitable issues of the technology. “I remember being scared by Close Encounters of the Third Kind – hard core alien stuff I wasn’t that into,” King confesses, “but time travel, the Back to the Future films, Twelve Monkeys, and more recently Time Crimes, always engaged me and I read a lot of Philip K. Dick. Total Recall we watched so much at work we would say ‘Hey what’s on the Total Recall channel?’”
Writer/producer B.P. Cooper also was anxious to make a Sci Fi film. “I spent several years writing screenplays that were unproduceable because they were too expensive,” he says; “it takes a lot of time trying to find something in the genre that is doable when you are just starting out.” The making of Time Lapse is as much a story about finding an idea that worked within their means as it is just putting a film together. “We went into it knowing we had to create something that manageable in terms of scales but that obviously directly correlates to our budget, and we went about trying to create something that we could make on our own and not get permission from the powers that be,” Cooper says. The limitations often proved equally inspiring and frustrating. “I think location is always the filmmaker’s first go-to choice for how to make something low-budget,” he says, “like they say ‘we have access to our apartment, Bob’s garage and these three surfboards, so let’s write something about that’ – but, unfortunately, the films that Bradley and I like have nothing to do with people just sitting in a room talking all the time, unless it’s about murder or science fiction.” King’s idea to set the entire film inside an apartment complex certainly limits the dreaded ‘company move’ when shooting in multiple locations, but as the team put together the film they quickly realized it was going to have to be an abandoned apartment complex. Cooper explains: “there is no existing apartment complex in the world that would let a film crew take it over for five weeks and shoot at night, all night, non-stop. Unless you paid them tons of money. Which we didn’t have.”
Setting the film in one location adds to the paranoia and the insular feeling the characters have as they are messing with something very dangerous but also very addictive. One of the roommates, an artist suffering from ‘painter’s block’ receives the images of canvases he has yet to create, almost like an assignment. Another sees himself holding up the winners to the next day’s races. All of it plays out as if they are spying on themselves. “I’m a huge Hitchcock fan,” says King, “we just started kicking out ideas and, in that first week of outlining, Rear Window came out of my mouth. We’re looking out of this window and getting a voyeuristic glimpse. And voyeuristic themes fascinate me.” The suspense-master’s style informs most of the film, right down to the score, which is somewhat of an homage to Bernard Herman. King continues: “we definitely referenced North by Northwest asking ‘how can we attain that vibe?’” The filmmaking brings the audience back to a simpler time when anxiety could be created by situations and great characters. “It was really hard to create a Sci Fi film without any special effects or any cool things that you just naturally gravitate towards because you just like them,” admits Cooper, “but at the same time it was a fun challenge. And there are obviously other films that have done that and we used those as a jumping off point. I mean Primer and I wouldn’t shut up about Time Crimes for like a year after I saw it.”
These films, and some bigger budget time travel hall-of-famers, helped the duo craft exactly how they wanted their world to work. “In particular one of the rules we talked about was ‘are they allowed to change time?’” says King; “really, if you look at most time travel movies, they either never break the time loop or they break it at the end with like negligible results.” Back to the Future, of course, makes the most convincing argument for being able to change your present, 12 Monkeys less so. King explains: “he does manage to change things but it’s just a change from Brad Pitt being the guy releasing the virus to the other guy with the long hair releasing the virus” – sorry for the spoiler – “and for whatever reason that’s satisfying. It would feel really frustrating if you were just all of a sudden able to change everything, all the time.” Another issue that arose was how much to let the audience in on the mechanics of time travel. “I remember us debating ‘do we do the explanation, drawing the chart sitting on the wall,’” says Cooper, “we didn’t want people to end up being over confused – it’s confusing enough.” Bradley agrees: “I love Primer for example, but we made a conscious choice,” he says, “we didn’t want people to walk away, super confused about what just happened.” Of course, like any great suspense film, there are still many surprises along the way, especially a great whiplash ending which make you, Memento-style, want to watch the entire film again immediately. “I’m fine with at the last moment ‘wooh that was crazy I think I need to watch that again,’” says King, “but we certainly didn’t want them to watch it again and say ‘wait a minute, does this even make sense? I don’t get it.’”
In fact, King and Cooper spent hours tracking exactly every moment of their film, and how time loops affect the characters. “We charted on a wall exactly where everything started and stopped for all the different timelines and the three main characters, says Cooper “that’s the one defensible thing we can say. Someone can totally not like the movie, but what they can’t say is that the timelines don’t match up.” This work became essential not just in writing the script, but in explaining it to potential cast. “We got this wall stretched out with a zillion note cards and yarn going everywhere and it just took over three walls of our office,” says King, “and it was kind of by its nature impressive to look at, so we had our casting meetings in that office.” Part of their pitch to actors was to get them to believe in the movie and to show them this wall and explain how the timeline worked (and obviously as well that they were not crazy or lazy). King believes this was a big part of the actors becoming enamored with the project. “I remember one point when we were shooting,” he says, “and there was a really little moment where it was like ‘wait a minute, is that the right painting for this photograph?’ and then we all started arguing ‘how could that painting be up?’ and the actors were like ‘I gotta know so I can be properly motivated, the only reason I got involved in this movie was because I believed in the timeline’ and so we marched into the room and looked at the cards again and got it all worked out.”
Part of their success is that the film is not just a great genre film, but it is a great film, and a great example of indie filmmaking. This was readily apparent to everyone but Bradley King when the film was selected to screen in the Catalyst Program at the Seattle International Film Festival. Programmed by Brad Wilke, Catalyst is an initiative that seeks to remove some of the barriers that exist between filmmakers and their audience by paving the way for the next generation of storytellers. I’ve been keeping an eye on it and the films coming out of it because I was trying to do something similar at Austin Film Festival with the Write/Rec section (sadly eliminated this year). I’ve said this many times but in this day and age of studio domination of the cineplex and the over-saturation of the VOD market, it is increasingly becoming the film festival’s role to identify and celebrate the next great and ground breaking filmmakers. Says King about their Catalyst experience: “Brad [Wilke] is awesome, we felt really grateful to be there but it was interesting in a sense in that I felt like our film, not that it didn’t fit, but was very different from the five other films there.” King describes the panel on which he partook with the other filmmakers, remembering, “the guy to the left of me was like ‘oh we made our movie for $6,000’ and the guy next to him was like ‘we didn’t really have a script all the time, sometimes we were adlibbing’ and another guy was like ‘not all my actors were real actors, some of them were actual gang members’ and then the guy on the other side was like ‘we didn’t have a schedule, we’d just wake up and shoot whatever.’ You know real intense indie attitude and I was like ‘wow, all of you are way more brave than me.’ I storyboarded every single shot of the movie, Cooper had us scheduled very, very tightly.” Of course, doing a genre film with no special effects and at this budget level, and having it turn out as well as it did, to me, puts King and Cooper in a class of their own. Wilke told me “It’s tough to make a good indie film. It’s even harder to make a good SciFi flick about time travel (indie or otherwise). So, as a programmer, when you see an indie film about time travel, produced on a small budget, crammed full of interesting ideas… and that actually works, you want to share it with as many people as you can.” From the moment I saw the film, I knew that this was one I wanted show, if given the opportunity, at Other Worlds Austin; it is the perfect mix of indie sensibility and fantastic story-telling. Although the film may have been a bit of different take on ‘indie’ in comparison to the rest of the SIFF Catalyst selections, Time Lapse has done exactly what you would expect a film given a springboard like that to do, it has leapt across the world playing, by my count, 49 festivals. King admits, “I went to Brad [Wilke] afterwards and I was like ‘what are we doing here, and I meant that in the best way, because you know for me, we wanted this to be a great movie and we wanted everyone to love it but we wanted to make a genre movie. I wasn’t thinking too much about art or my place in the indie world or anything like that.”
King and Cooper’s TIME LAPSE plays Zinema Zombie Fest in Bogota Columbia this weekend, Napa Valley Film Fest and NYC Horror Film Festival November 13-16th and makes its Texas premiere at Other Worlds Austin as the Centerpiece Film on December 5th. And an even more shameless plug, wristbands are still available here.