It’s been almost one full year since Shane Abbess’ Science Fiction Volume One: The Osiris Child made its world premiere at Fantastic Fest late September 2016. We recently caught up with Shane to talk about his film. We discussed everything from production design to music to the economy of the film, notably the team’s efforts getting shots both done in budget in a timely manner. However, aside from a handful of scenes, you’d expect that he had the luxury of resources to build this fascinating world.
Culled from favorite childhood experiences/films, cherry-picked tropes from specific genres, and aimed at giving the audience things they’ve never seen before , the result of Abbess’ work is one of the most impressive sci-fi films this year. A long time coming for those of you who missed it on the festival circuit, but the ambitious sci-if gem that is The Osiris Child is finally making its stateside theatrical debut on October 6.
We’re glad to finally be speaking with you. It should be no surprise to you that we’re huge fans of the film.
Shane Abbess: Oh, I know! [Laughs] I remember your review of it very, very well. Your Fantastic Fest review became a bit of a theme for us. After you do a film, and everyone sees it, you think, “I hope someone gets it because it’s literally been years of our lives working on it.”
You just hope someone understands what that was. We saw your and others’ tweets about it at the world premiere, and we were thrilled. But shortly after that, your review went up and I was sitting at Shake Shack reading it with Dan MacPherson, and he got very emotional because of all the work we put into it. It was your review that really told us we did our job right and you really, really got the film. It was amazing, so thank you for that!
You and the team have shown us how great you are at world building, but you still keep the focus of the story small and relatable. One of the more noteworthy components is the dynamic between the three leads. What did you want the focus to be?
Well, a lot of our choices were based on money and time. It was a great challenge because the budget was tight, and so was the schedule. But I always knew I wanted to focus more on the characters and the moments rather than the spectacle.
So even though we have some really cool things in the film, I spent a lot more time than other films would just focusing on these characters to find out who these people are in the truth of their moments. And all the actors were very committed to wanting to pull that off. It was tough to juggle that across the course of the film because of the chapters, and because we shot things out of order.
Things were all over the place, but my fantasy was that when you got it on Blu-Ray, you could literally watch it in ten different ways, and get a different experience each time.
Christopher Nolan and Nacho Vigalondo had done that, respectfully, with Memento and Timecrimes. But they also believe that audiences are smarter than we get credit for, so spelling things out for them isn’t entirely necessary.
True, but we really chopped it up, and when we showed it to audiences they thought it was too crazy. They couldn’t get their heads around it, so [laughs] we made a more streamlined version like it is now. It’s still in chapters, but it’s a lot easier to digest.
When you’ve gotten to the core of a character, you get to the meat of their moments, and you’ve identified them down to their connective tissue. You know who these people are and you can jump around with them without fear of losing the audience. You don’t have to follow them from point A to point B – you can go from A to G to Zed in three chapters – and that was helpful for the actors as well because we would have to talk a lot about what would happen between the moments and hope that the audience was smart enough or invested enough to fill in the blanks.
I was really surprised by Sy’s arc. Kellan Lutz brought a whole different level to the film. His reason for looking after Indi was so emotional. How was it working with a first-time child actor among all these adults?
Kellan grew a lot as an actor, and we wanted his character to be his own. We pushed him a lot, and it was very confrontational at times, but he responded very well. By the time we got to the end, he was a very different actor. He was very raw, and very spontaneous. The process changed him for the better.
For about 99% of the film, Teagan is not acting. She’s 11 years old and she’s just reacting to what’s happening. She’s not drawing from years of experience, so everything is in the moment and responding to what’s happening in front of her.
It’s difficult for her because she’s not an adult who’s made the choice to become an actor. The scenes with her at the end are so raw that we have to talk with her after each scene – and her Mom was there, too – just to make sure she understood there was a big difference between real and not. But when you get to a moment of truth like that, it’s beautiful. It’s the art form at its best when the character owns you completely and it reacts for you.
There’s a scene in the film where Kane (MacPherson) escapes from the floating military base – the Floatilla – and we go right from him needing to escape to, boom, he’s already escaped and now he’s in a spectacular aerial dog fight. You really cut this down to essentials which help the pace of the story.
I really wanted to get on a track and just keep going without dragging things on or making unnecessary stops. What we’re trying to do with films over here [Australia] that are off the radar – and you see a lot of those types at genre festivals – is that you do things that are familiar. I’m doing things that are based on the types of films I grew up with – the types of films that are now are extinct. But I also do things that have enough uniqueness to them so that you can discover something new and exciting with them. It’s a good balance.
So if a 12-year-old kid were to watch this [The Osiris Child] for the first time, I’d want them to feel like there’s something dated about what they’re seeing and have them wonder, “Ok, that’s cool, but what did this come from? I have to go back and discover things that I probably overlooked or missed out on.”
You look at Paul Verhoeven, who is an amazing filmmaker in his own time, but kids today will likely see the remakes of RoboCop and Total Recall. When my kids are old enough, I’ll send them back and tell them, “You have to start with the original.” I want them to get to the heart of where things they like or love today come from. Especially my films. [laughs]
The entire production, for me, was like eye candy, and the “solitary confinement” cells are one of the most innovative and original things I’ve ever seen in sci-fi. How did you come up with that?
On any film, you’re always trying to figure out how to keep things entertaining when you’re on a schedule, and a budget. The solitary cells were something that I really wanted to keep in the film, and every time the budget started shrinking that was always a question of whether it was needed or it could be cut. But I told them that we needed to see that – we needed to see the punishment because it was also important to the story. So it had to be interesting enough to stay in the film. We only had enough budget for one little tube. Our storyboard artist drew an octagonal shape for the prison tunnels, but I saw that and said that it should be the solitary cells instead.
My thought is that if you’re on a prison planet, you get worked to the bone – that’s the job. Solitary shouldn’t be a break. If you got put in solitary, traditionally, it would be quite good. You’d go, “It’s peaceful, I’m by myself, I can get some rest, and it’s dark, but I’m getting fed.” It’s not a hassle, but that’s not the right kind of punishment for these guys. It would have to be something more.
So I thought about what kind of environment you could have where you couldn’t stand, you could never sleep or rest, and it was this ever revolving cylinder. Now even though we had a cool idea, we only had one day to shoot it all, so we did it like we did in my earlier film, Gabriel, and used forced perspective to make everything appear bigger. I had one corridor built, one cylinder, and we had changing lights and a revolving camera move that makes it seem like one sequence when it’s really one little part of a set constantly used over and over again. It was necessity vs creativity.
Brian Cachia is the co-writer and the composer on The Osiris Child. When John Carpenter shoots a film, he’s said he doesn’t even think about music until he’s editing. How does Brian work, and how much time do you two spend on the score?
On our earlier films, like Gabriel, we usually had an idea of the palette we wanted to use. When we got to this one, we wanted it to feel adventurous. But nothing we started with really worked. So it’s the first film I’ve done where I couldn’t use a temp score because nothing was able to hit the right tone – it was either too contemporary, or not enough.
We’ll talk about and discuss why something does, or doesn’t fit a scene or an edit. When he has something ready, I’ll go for a day, and we’ll drink a whole bottle of wine and listen to the score. Then I’ll go away again, keep working, and then we’ll spend the last few months together – almost every day – refining those moments.
But I love working with him. He’s the kind of creative I can just let go, and for any film I’ve directed, it’s really Brian’s voice; it’s not me giving him another piece of music to try and sound like. His music is his interpretation of the vision which is the best way to do it I think.
What is your favorite scene, and what made it special to you?
For me, it’s the scene at the end with Sy, as The Ragged, and Indi on the ship. It completely busted me emotionally. I didn’t expect it. It was Teagan’s last day as well as Dwaine Stevenson’s last day. He plays The Ragged, and was stuck in the suit the whole film, and he really wanted to make a great performance because he’s not just a performance artist, he’s a great actor. When he and Indi sat quietly on that ship together, and I watched them do that sign language, and then put his head in her lap. It was beautiful, and it all evolved from what this story was originally all about.
That manifestation of that monster within the man and how it emerged from all the hardship it took to get there just meant so much to me. It was so emotional to me, and I know it was to Brian as well. As a scene itself, it wasn’t crazy emotional in the movie, but it was for me while I was shooting it because it just felt like all this the darkness inside was now on the outside of that character, and so this little girl who, all she has left is The Ragged, is able to move on.
I don’t like the fun stuff, like the ships and guns, I find the really turbulent and emotional stuff are the best things for me. [laughs]
I’m sure you have plenty of heartfelt, funny and memorable stories. Any that really stand out?
This might be the first time I’ve told this, but we were on the shore shooting the first scene with Sy and Kane. Sy, played Kellan Lutz, starts to walk away, and Kane, played by Dan MacPherson, stands up and says that he has to save his daughter. It was late in the day, and everyone was tired, and it was the first time I didn’t have anything for Dan to help him really nail his line. I said, ”I don’t know what to tell you. We’re not getting it, but I can’t find the thing that’s not working. I don’t sense the desperation of having to get your daughter.”
So we talked about it, but couldn’t figure it out. We played music, and tried a number of things, and then when we got down to the shore, I told him, “I’m out of ideas.” All of a sudden, he picks me up and throws me over his shoulder, and I go right into the lake.
I’m 6’-3”, but I went right over and under the water. I cut my back on a rock, and as I was under the water I saw Dan over me, and I started punching him in the ribs. I knew what he was doing: he was trying to get the energy out of a true confrontation. I remember thinking, I’m bleeding, I’m drowning, and I’m wailing body blows on one of my lead actors, but I realized that this is exactly the level of trust I’ve built with my team over many years…this is what’s needed.
As soon as he jumped off me, and my head cleared the water, I pointed to my DP on the hill and gave him the “roll” signal. Dan walked to his spot, squatted down and then, with cameras rolling, stood up, did his line and that was perfect! [laughs] Now you can’t do that everyday. The thing about those shots is that they have to be real and unrehearsed. But it changed us, and Kellan, too. He was like, “Ok, so that’s how far these guys will go to find a moment.”
What film was most influential to you?
Die Hard is what made me want to make films. Apocalypse Now influenced me as far as process, but Die Hard for the fact that I watched it in awe asking, “Did a bunch of people actually make that? How do you do that?” I really wanted to know how you got to be part of something like Die Hard, and I didn’t care what department. I couldn’t believe how that someone specifically did the writing, and editing, wrote the music, someone directed it, someone set explosives, etc. But however I could work towards something like that, I wanted in. And I want to try to give that back to someone, because that experience I got out of Die Hard was so rewarding. Man, what a gift if I could give that to someone because it changed my life!
If you have time off, or need a break, what do you watch or try to catch up on?
South Park, Game of Thrones, and House of Cards. They are the three things I have to watch. I just watched Ozark and think it’s amazing, and now I’m so much more excited about TV than I am the cinema. I still get pumped for Star Wars and the like. But as far as my time, and getting invested in watching things, TV has won over films for me, which is sad because I’m still in that game. Yet it’s a reason I’m supporting more of the serialized movies because if you don’t come to this movie until years later, you can get a whole body of content out of it.
Look at Star Wars. You’ve got books and games and movies and TV shows. If you want to invest in it, you’ve got a whole world. So it’s got me worried that if you’ve got all this great TV out there, if you just have one movie, you’re no longer an event; your movie could be something that comes and goes in a weekend. We’re working on these smaller features, but the goal is that the body of work leads up to one big thing. So we’ll see how it goes! [Laughs.]
The Osiris Child is now available on DirecTV and will be in theaters and On Demand / Digital HD on October 6th. Read more of the interview at Go See Talk.