We’re watching Ilana Rein assemble her new film Ellipse

19 Mar

As SciFiLondon assembles post-production funding for her new sci-fi film, Simon Ings talks to NYC director Ilana Rein

SI: Ellipse is shot in Greenwich Observatory and at the Queen’s House – did the film evolve around the building, or was the opportunity to film there a happy accident?

IR: The evolution is interesting. Last year a friend suggested that I check out the Royal Observatory as a possible location for my feature Alignment Project, since, in a sense, it’s where time began. I was standing in the centre circle on the floor of the Queen’s House, and I was struck with a powerful vision that I was going to make a film on that very spot. I wrote a rough scene but it didn’t really resonate with the story and the location ended up getting written out, but the idea never left my mind. Then, last May while screening a short at SciFiLondon, Louis Savy asked me to come up with a story that would take place at the Observatory and the Queen’s House for a film he and Marek Kukula – the Observatory’s public astronomer – wanted to create. That story is Ellipse and 14 months later, the vision from that day is becoming real. To say I’m grateful for this doesn’t even begin to cut it.

SI: What were, for you, was the stand-out moment of the shoot

IR:On the day of filming in the Great Hall at the Queen’s House we hung our RED EPIC camera from a jib – hanging over the priceless floor to get a series of shots from overhead. Bruce, our AD, was beside himself with nerves. He wouldn’t let anyone under it or anywhere near the priceless artwork that was behind the crane – and we got the shot! I was actually never worried. That moment for me was great. It was high tech blending with the past – a real time travelling moment that fit nicely with the theme of the film.

SI: Christopher Priest has recently written us a long essay on the relationship between literary science fiction and cinema. He thinks science fiction film is undergoing this weird and sudden change – that it’s becoming intellectually rigorous, while the traditional sci-fi blockbuster is hiving off into a genre of its own. So can you identify yourself as a sci-fi filmmaker? Does that term makes any sense right now?

IR: It makes sense in that smart, edgy, story and character driven sci-fi is perhaps the most powerful medium we have to explore the sorts of complex ideas we’re wrestling with in this point in our evolution. Many of us are co-evolving with technology and I’m deeply interested in the psychological, moral and spiritual implications of this process. Am I a science fiction filmmaker? I don’t know what else you’d call me: certainly I use sf and my encounters with actual scientists as the springboard for my films

SI: I remember, years ago, William Gibson bemoaning that fact that Johnny Mnemonic was a grand script for a lo-fi, low-budget film, comprehensively ruined by having too much money spent on it. There’s something in this, I think: low-budget science fiction has to focus on the ideas, the scripts have to find ingenious ways to pack strange meanings into ordinary surroundings — it’s quite a discipline. How do you get a crew to buy into that way of working?

IR: Ellipse is a passion project for so many of us, and that’s very motivating. I think that’s one reason we’ve drawn such top talent. Working on a thoughtful film engages people in a special way. While you’re working on a project like that, as a part of that special process, there’s an energy and a perspective you don’t get from business as usual, however well paid that might be. The experience transforms lives.

SI: Come on…

IR: Really! I had 39 on my crew. After we wrapped, several women on the set came up to me and said they had never worked with a female director before, and seeing me do it, they felt like they could do it too. That’s moving to hear – and part of the mission

SI: Ellipse is crowd-sourced, and it struck me this is a really counter-intuitive approach to financing. Aren’t films to do with individual vision and folly? I’d have thought the wisdom of crowds would stop them investing in something as crazy as a film

IR: Well it has been a lot of work! And it’s taught me quite a bit about people and their relationship to money. For many, it’s crucial that they get a return. That’s hardly surprising, and it’s easy enough to think up satisfying incentives. But donors come with much the same mindset – and how do you quantify the tangible, immediate result of a donation? Is it enough to say, we bought this many books, or this amount of equipment? How do you quantify inspiration? And that’s what really matters: will Ellipse inspire people? It can take decades before any potential “return” can be seen from an encounter with a work of art

SI: Where is Ellipse at right now? What still needs to be done?

IR: We’re officially in post-production – the timeline and workflow are being sorted between the editor, VFX, composition and sound department. A primary cut will be assembled and I’ll be working remotely with Ben Nugent, our editor, so we can get something to Luke Corradine who is composing. Luke’s already been working on some test cues which pick up on how the characters travel through centuries and across galaxies – it will be a very cool mix of classical and electronic and have very cinematic sound. I’m also quite excited to see what Territory does with the FX. They worked on Prometheus so collaborating with them is thrilling since they do such gorgeous work. I’ll be flying to London in April to attend the last sessions and be there for final output and the premiere on May 3 at the NFT1 at the BFI. Oh, and Louis Savy – the film’s amazing producer – crucially, also has to work on the post-premiere party. We were in pre-production for months because of all the required permissions, so I know it will be a well deserved one.

Get involved: visit Ellipse”> http://www.sponsume.com/project/Ellipse

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