Monday, September 8, 2008
"It's a sci-fi stalker thriller, if you had to put it in a genre," says Alec Joler of the feature-length film he and Ethan Shaftel filmed in and around Lawrence. That pretty effectively sums up "Suspension," a moody little exercise in psychological dysfunction about a man who discovers he has the ability to stop time and the woman he comes to obsess over. What helps set "Suspension" apart from most other independent films is the decidedly non-independent quality of its special effects, using seamlessly clever techniques to help you believe time really has crawled to a halt. Suspension of disbelief, if you will. Alec Joler joined us to discuss his film.
lawrence.com: The tag line is, "What would you do if you could stop time?" Did you guys have to fight the urge to make something really depraved?
Joler: "We could have gone in a lot of directions with the ability to stop time, but we wanted to keep it grounded. We wanted to treat it like a character drama rather than as an exploitation film or a sex romp. From the get go, we treated it like a character story rather than as a sci-fi genre piece. That way, if the characters were real, it would just happen to have a sci-fi element that would bring the conflicts to the foreground-and make it a little more exciting for the viewer, obviously."
You guys are both in L.A. now. What brought you back to film in Lawrence?
"Well, Ethan and I are both from Lawrence. There were a lot of factors-one was money. It was going to be cheaper and it was going to be easier to get permits since we know people in the community.
Also, people have seen so many independent films shot in the Los Angeles and New York area, but we wanted to have a different setting. We don't specify in the film where it takes place, but it's obviously in the Midwest. We wanted to take advantage of how beautiful Lawrence looks in the fall, and use that regression from green to barren trees to sort of mirror the protagonist's descent into madness."
Where all did you film?
"One of the big locations was the abandoned mental hospital that the protagonist holes up in. The Kansas Film Commission was really instrumental in helping us lock down the Topeka State Hospital, which has a bunch of buildings that aren't in use anymore. That was a big one. We shot at West Junior High-both Ethan and I went there. We shot at the Merc. We did a few exteriors in Kansas City and Topeka to broaden the scope and give it an Every City, USA feel."
"Suspension," by Alec Joler and Ethan ShaftelWatch trailer
Was shooting in the mental asylum just creepy as hell?
"Yes. It was very creepy. We did some location scouting during pre-production and went around there with some flashlights and a camera. Let me tell you, when it's just you in the basement of that place, it doesn't matter how brave you are. The creepiness permeates your body. I immediately came up with a horror movie idea when I was down there."
How were you able to achieve that level of sophistication on special effects with an indie film budget?
"A lot of it was planning, a lot of it was limiting our visual language and making sure we adopted a more sober style than what our other films have had-eliminating lots of dolly shots and fast moving cameras. It has more of a lock-down, traditional style, and that gave us a lot more leeway with the composite effects. We did a lot of tests on digital video for key scenes to make sure we would be able to do it. From the get go, we wanted to make sure what we had recorded was as much as we could possibly do on set to create the illusion. That way, in post production, we wouldn't be getting in over our heads. We had various techniques, ranging from people just standing still to freezing frames and compositing elements. It was a learning process and it comes down to planning. And perseverance-it took almost two years in post to get it finished. Principal photography was only about 28 days. The ratio was leaning heavily on post production, that's for sure." Â»