By James Lindorf
In 2012, writer and director, Andrew Bowler received an Academy Award nomination for best live action short film for his movie, Time Freak. Now after six years, he is back, and he has partnered with Lionsgate to release a feature-length version of Time Freak. Stillman is living the good life. He is a physics prodigy, has a best friend, and met the love of his life, Debbie, but when Debbie ends their relationship, Stillman’s world begins to crumble. What’s his only possible solution? Invent a time machine, grab his best friend and fix every wrong move he ever made with Debbie. Sophie Turner, Asa Butterfield, and Skyler Gisondo star in this romantic comedy that will be released to select theaters and On Demand Friday, November 9th.
With the premise of the film, there is the possibility to go too far and come out melodramatic or sappy by making Stillman’s transgressions over the top or sickly sweet. Lucky for viewers, Bowler was able to walk the conflict tightrope by having Stillman actually make mistakes, but not come across as a monster that doesn’t deserve Debbie. He wouldn’t have a hope at completing his mission if it wasn’t for his best friend Evan, who starts off as a bit of an annoying pothead, but develops into a useful foil, letting Stillman know when he needs to try again or when it’s time to move on.
Every member of the cast turns in a quality performance. Asa as Stillman is just awkward enough and sweet enough to make it believable that he would obsess over the tiniest details of the relationship. Sophie Turner as Debbie has a more difficult role to play, as she bounces back and forth between a fully fleshed out person with goals and dreams, and as merely an object for Stillman to win. The real scene stealer is Gisondo as Evan. He is bold and outspoken, compared to the more reserved Stillman, and doesn’t miss an opportunity to try and improve his own life as they hop around the past. Evan was easily the highlight of the film for me.
The ultimate point of Time Freak is to teach the lesson that you can’t live your life mistake free and you can’t micromanage your way to love. Bowler is able to do this in a way that is both unique, and yet connected to the time traveling portion of the Sci-Fi genre. Hopefully, the partnership with Lionsgate will get this low budget film the attention it deserves.
In addition to reviewing the movie, I also had the opportunity to sit down and chat with Director Andrew Bowler and discuss his return to Time Freak.
Time Freak is an extension, or even an adaptation, of your short film Time Freak, which was nominated for an Oscar. Did you feel a lot of pressure returning to this project after a few years and the nomination?
AB: I didn’t feel pressure as much as I found it challenging to get to the heart of what the feature version of the short would be. The short gets a lot of laughs, and people connect with the idea of someone reliving a day, making mundane neurotic changes to things by using a time machine. But no one wants to watch a full-length feature of someone wasting their time. So, once I came on the idea that it would be about a guy reliving a relationship, it all started to work from there.
What was the writing process like getting it from the short to feature length?
AB: Writing is hard enough, but writing a time travel story can make your brain hurt. I spent a lot of time laying out the logic of what our time travel rules would be. It’s a little easier to make time travel rules for a 13-page script than for a feature because you really start testing the logic as the story unfolds. Time travel/sci-fi fans don’t mess around with time travel logic, so you need to make sure your stuff is straight and in order or they will call you out.
How did you decide to age down the characters and make it more or love story?
AB: Well Asa’s interest in the project was the thing that kicked the production into high gear, so we obviously had to adapt it for him and then cast accordingly. It was not a conscious choice, but we sure were thrilled to hear he was interested.
You and the casting team put together a great young cast. When you were going through that casting process, did you know right away that the roles would go to, Asa, Sophie, and Skyler or were there others in the running?
AB: After Asa signed on, Sophie came pretty close on the heels of that and then the big search was for an Evan, the part played by Skyler. We looked at a lot of people for that role, across a wide spectrum. One of our producers, Matt Rhodes, knew Skyler and got him on tape. I was already in Salt Lake City prepping the film when I saw the audition, and I was blown away. It was pretty much a done deal at that point.
Going in, I expected the film to end one of 2 ways and it doesn’t really do either of those, which is great. However, I was picking up a vibe that maybe Evan would end up with Sophie, was that ever a consideration?
AB: Ha! No, we never considered that Evan might end up with Debbie, but I like it. Maybe we should have. But I will say without giving anything away, audiences expect twists in a time travel movie. I am proud to say that I think our movie does not go in the direction people expect and we are pleased with how that plays out. I should be careful and not say any more.
Did you have a favorite mistake that Stillman was trying to fix, whether it was the most fun for you to write or direct?
AB: I personally love that he shows his favorite, super dorky, sci-fi movie to his girlfriend and he just doesn’t like his reaction to her reaction to the film. It feels so personal and specific to the character that I was kind of afraid the moment might not play once we started cutting it. But it works really well, I think, and it creates the intimate relationship to Stillman’s regrets that I really wanted to get at when I was writing the movie.
How did you decide on the look of your time machine and its use of harmonics?
AB: I feel like if you make a time travel film, you have to do something new with the time machine. No one wants to see a Ferrari that goes ninety-eight miles an hour. I came up with the idea with my Director of Photography, Luke Geissbuhler, who also shot the short film. We thought there was something to the idea that maybe harmonics could cause a rift in time and space. And the more we thought about it, the more excited we got. The concept opened up a lot of cinematic possibilities for us and was something we had never seen in a movie before.
I imagine with so many scenes being done repeatedly, there were a ton that didn’t make the final cut. Will there be a lot of outtakes on the DVD?
AB: Actually no. We only ended up cutting two or three whole scenes from the film, which was a surprise to me. And anyone who saw the scenes would just think, oh yeah, good cuts. They are mostly just redundant information, and you never want an audience to feel like they are ahead of a movie. That’s death, so you have to keep moving and giving new information or laughs so they stay engaged.
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