Often, sci-fi and low budget indie productions go together about as well as chocolate and onions. The high budget demands on special effects eventually hamper the entire story. Clone Hunter is indeed [ ... ]
The film begins on an ominous note. Eerie strings play as the film fades to white. Soon, a ship appears out of the fog. Cut to a gumshoe, looking and speaking as if he has stepped straight out of a [ ... ]
In a distant future full of intelligent machines, the wealthy and powerful live their lives to the fullest, without limits, without restraint, and seemingly without end. But what happens if the artificial intelligence that makes this ìperfectî world possible wants to share in it? David is a former planetary cop who resigned in disgrace. He is a freelance clone hunter now, a glorified gun for hire. He and his junior partner, Rachel, are hired by Montserrat, a brutal Oligarch, to track down a murderous clone that threatens the stability of Montserratís private planet. The more David and Rachel delve into the case the more corruption and rot they discover, until they come face to face with their own darkest secrets and must decide which side they are on.
That's the synopsis of the new cult Sci-Fi Hit, CLONE HUNTER directed by Andrew Bellware. IFC recently had chance to sit down and talk with Andrew about his latest directorial effort...
IFC: Clone Hunter is the fifth science fiction film produced by your company, Pandora Machine. How did you ever resist the urge to make a fine piece of navel gazing mumblecore and do such a mainstream genre film instead? Andrew Bellware: We resisted by the fact that with as little money as there is in genre films, thereís even less in art-house pictures. Ha!
Truthfully, thereís more artistic freedom in making a good ìgenreî picture -- I mean as long as you have the appropriate amount of spaceships you can basically make any kind of picture you want. Really, nobody makes as strongly political pictures as George Romero. His movies are subversive, man! The zombie proletariat rising up against the bourgeoisie? Youíd never be able to do that in an art-house flick.
Besides that -- my first two pictures were a Hamlet we shot on a toy Pixelvision camera and a movie based on John Miltonís Paradise Lost. Nobody but nobody can sit through either of those movies. If Iím going to do an art-house film itís going to be a day in the life of my cat. Itíll be mostly about sleeping.
IFC: I have to ask you about your company logo sequence with the naked woman at the beginning of the film. Who came up with that one?
AB: You see, itís Pandora -- the mythological character who opens the box which contains all human misery -- but in our world when she reaches into the box she finds a laser gun and blows you away with it. Right? Get it? OK, yeah, that was my idea. It amused me at the time. Heck, it still amuses me.
IFC: Please tell us a little bit about Pandora Machine and your own background.
AB: Like a lot of people, I started out as a pretentious art-film maker [laughs]. I have a theater background -- Iím one of the founding members of Manhattan Theatre Source here in New York City. But then one day a friend of mine, actually one of the other founders, said something to the effect of ìI heard an unsubstantiated rumor that if you made a movie with a monster in it you could actually get distribution.î That was good enough for me and I formed a company with my partner Laura Schlachtmeyer and we made a tiny little erotic thriller called Pandora Machine.
IFC: And thatís where you got the name.
IFC: How does Pandora Machine finance its productions?
AB: Thatís simple -- we donít! [Laughs.]
I mean seriously, we spend as little money as humanly possible. We basically spend the money from the last movie on the next one. And that buys us lunch.
IFC: What was the process that led you to produce Clone Hunter? What did you respond to most in the screenplay?
AB: I really enjoyed the screenplay -- itís written by an English fellow Iíve never met actually, Eric Ian Steele. I loved the way the story just kept barreling on -- things getting worse and worse for the protagonists -- just like all good stories.
IFC: The acting in Clone Hunter is remarkably strong across the board. How did you go about assembling such a strong cast?
AB: Honestly thatís one of the great advantages of being in New York. You know, I used to think that whole ìthe best actors are all in New Yorkî was just New York snobbery, but itís true. Thereís so much awesome talent here, and so much talent who practice on stage, which is really the place to practice. Iíd worked with both Ben Thomas and Angela Funk before and theyíre such great people and talented actors. It doesnít hurt that theyíre great looking too.
IFC: One of the things that leaps out at me every time I watch Clone Hunter is the ìstate of the artî quality of the sound and audio. Most indie releases suffer with mediocre sound. How were you and your team able to get such distinct and clean audio?
AB: I maybe forgot to point out that my original background is in audio. I used to be a theatrical sound designer. Plus I did a lot of corporate broadcast -- mixing shareholderís meetings for big corporations, that sort of thing. I canít knock it -- it paid for my first couple movies -- but the content isnít really that interesting. So then I went into sound for film. All the while still doing theater sound design.
In any case, the little studio I have in the back of Manhattan Theatre Source is our ìEdit and Mix Suiteî. Although Iím usually the cinematographer when weíre shooting, Iím in charge of the dialog edit and mix in post.
IFC: Clone Hunter feels like a movie that was a lot of fun to make. Was the breezy attitude that seems to inform the film written into the script or did that evolve out of the production?
AB: We worked with a lot of fun people, so yes, it was a lot of fun to make. As long as everyone has a positive attitude and weíre all making the same movie itís fun. One trick to the fun though is actually having a tight script -- complete with conflict in every scene and such. That way the focus of the scene is clear to everyone, directing is just about making a couple suggestions and then getting out of the way. But the details of the movie can be enjoyable to shoot too. Fight scenes, for instance, can be a lot of fun. David Ian Lee, who plays one of the bad guys, was the fight director and he did a fantastic job with the action.
I mean for me -- I get to shoot a couple people beating one another up all day long. What could be more fun than that?
IFC: How long was your pre-production process for Clone Hunter? How long was the actual shoot?
AB: You made me cheat. I had to go back and look at a call sheet to find out how many days of shooting there were. The call sheets say there were 16 days -- but I think we had another half-day of shooting a pickup. The days themselves were quite humane though. I think we had two 12-hour days but the rest of the shoot was just 8-hour days on set. Plus travel time of course. Donít ask any of the actors to verify what I just said about how long our days were. [Laughs.]
The pre-production? Man, it must not have been more than a couple months. Not that we really have a big crew of designers building stuff for all that time. Our costume designer, Carly Hirshberg, probably had two or maybe three weeks to do all the fabulous costumes. And Brian Schiavo, our art director, had like a week to build the outside of the spaceship and the robot. Well, maybe he had two weeks to build the robot. I think a lot of our ìpre-productionî was going on during production.
IFC: What are some of your favorite science fiction films? Did any of them influence your choices on Clone Hunter?
AB: Obviously Blade Runner was a big influence but you know every low-budget sci-fi guy tries to make something look like Blade Runner and we just donít have the money. But any sci-fi pic with a hard-boiled detective dude in it has to at least pay an homage to Ridley Scott. I think overall though I was thinking about the sort of joyously unhinged way that a lot of those Roger Corman pictures worked. Theyíre just fun. You know, movies like Death Race 2000.
I didnít actually see the movie Spacehunter until we were mid-way through shooting Clonehunter. But I did enjoy the feel of that picture too.
IFC: What was your favorite part of the production process?
AB: Lunch! [Laughs]. I enjoy working with actors to create a scene. Itís always fun when people come onto set with decisions about their characters -- decisions I wouldnít have thought of or guessed at in a million years. And then we work the characters in the space and make it all work for camera. Thereís this kind of groovy thing you get going when a scene just works and everyoneís feeling it. Itís like getting a pickup jazz ensemble with new players each day and seeing what kind of music they make together because itís always different and you always learn something more about the story. Or at least thatís what it should be like! [Laughs.]
IFC: What was your least favorite part of the production process?
AB: Being transportation captain! After a day of shooting, being responsible for getting people from set back home can be exhausting. Of course, itís also fun to be with the cast and crew in the car on the way home, so thereís a bit of give-and-take there. All in all Iíd rather someone else drove.
IFC: Please share one war story from the set that you and your cast/crew were able to overcome.
AB: Well you know that as a scrappy low-budget production we take all the gift horses anyone will give us without looking them in the mouth. For instance, my dad has an architectural metals company and he ended up renting a warehouse he only needed half of. So he told us we could use the back part of the warehouse as a soundstage for the duration of the shoot as long as we shot on weekends when his company wasnít working.
Well, weíd just started shooting and suddenly his company got the most important job theyíd ever gotten -- building new handrails for the stairs going up to the crown of the Statue of Liberty. And it absolutely had to be completed by the July 4th reopening of the Statue.
Hoo-boy. Suddenly they were working 7 days a week in every inch of space they could find. Including on our sets. Weíd be shooting a quiet dialog scene while guys are banging away on steel frames and jigs not 30 feet away. I wouldnít even be able to hear the actors sometimes -- as theyíd start a line and someone would kick on an electric grinder or start welding behind us. There would be smoke everywhere. It was actually so bad that we just found it funny. It wasnít like ìoh, we have to wait for another airplane to go awayî it was just all the time.
So after we shot a take, weíd have the actors and the sound guy run back to the office (where it was quieter) and re-record all the dialog ìwildî. We do that a lot actually, recording what we call the ìradio playî of the scene. That can really help if you have a scene in post - production and you find youíve lost a line or two of dialog. You can just find the line in the ìradio playî take and put it in the timeline. Itíll usually just go right in -- lock right up to picture -- without any problem. Itís like doing dialog looping but while youíre still in production.
Sometimes we used the dialog with hammers banging in the background and incorporate that into the score. But not that often though!
IFC: Best meal on the set was?
AB: We shot for two days in Forked River, NJ and we had this Portuguese food. Mmm... that was excellent.
IFC: With so much turmoil and dislocation in the independent film scene, what advice can you offer to would be filmmakers?
AB: Donít do it. We donít need the competition! [Laughs.] Oh, real advice? Keep your budgets down. Learn how to do at the very minimum 3 things very well. Like lighting, sound, and writing. Or editing, directing, getting good lunches. It would be better if you could do 5 things very well.
And surround yourself with people who actually want to see you succeed in making feature films, not people who secretly want you to fail to make up for the fact that they canít do anything. [Laughs.]
IFC: What is Pandora Machine doing to cope and adjust to such a volatile market for independent films? Do you plan to keep producing films?
AB: Oh man, thatís the million-dollar question, isnít it? Or maybe nowadays itís only the thousand-dollar question. [Laughs.] I have to make movies, I canít help it. So yes, absolutely weíre going to produce more films. What are we going to do now that weíre in competition with these independent movies made for 60 million dollars which didnít get theatrical distribution and are vying for a slot in Blockbuster just like us? Gee. I donít know. As far as I can tell, nobody knows. There are a couple indy producers out there like The Asylum who are able to get customers, weíll keep chasing after them. Weíll keep making movies better and better, with better special effects and sell them on the street corner if we have to!
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