“Every person has a good and evil inside of them. I think anybody can relate to this character even if they aren't necessarily going out there and killing people,” Amariah Olson told Syfy Wire in an exclusive interview about his new sci-fi thriller, The Shadow Effect, which he directed with his brother, Obin.
The character is Gabriel Howarth, played by Cam Gigandet (Pandorum), an ordinary man whose life is turned upside-down when he has vivid dreams that he's killing people. His violent dreams begin to blend with reality when Gabriel discovers that real political assassinations mirror his dreams. But how is it possible that he's assassinating people with robotic precision, and yet he's just a guy who owns a small town diner? And are the people he trusts most, his psychiatrist (Jonathan Rhys Meyers), the local sheriff (Michael Biehn) and perhaps even his wife (Brit Shaw), somehow involved in a huge conspiracy? With his life on the line and time running out, Gabriel begins investigating and uncovers the shocking truth.
The Shadow Effect is being released by Momentum Pictures on On Demand, Digital HD and DVD today, May 2.
Obin and Amariah Olson (Operator) chatted with Syfy Wire about incorporating “The Matrix effect” for their film, about working with Michael Biehn (The Terminator, Aliens) and about what happened when the entire cast and crew left the set on the last day BEFORE the filming was done.
Why did you want to make this film?
Amariah Olson: It was an interesting movie because of some of the character dynamics. I wanted something more challenging to direct than the previous movies, which I think are more popcorn kind of films. And this, it was a challenge of having some character moments and situations and scenarios that were very intense. I wanted the opportunity to direct that, and also a cast that could really pull it off, and I think that was my primary draw. Other than that it has to meet all the boxes. It has to be an excellent film. It has to have all the right elements to be marketable. It can't just be art. It has to be art with commerce in order for us to make a film.
Obin Olson: We like the mystery of the movie. The script, we really liked. [It held] our attention all the way through with the mystery, and the genre of it is interesting. We felt the actors would respond to it as well because of the depth and complexity of the characters. They definitely like to find projects like that. So that all these things add up and it green lights itself.
This isn't just another action film. You have a very compelling science fiction element at the core of the story.
Amariah: I've always been a fan of science fiction. However, this is a very cool science fiction element. To add the layers of dimension and intrigue and mystery to what could be a generic action film. So for me that's what I liked about it. It was much more of a psychological thriller. That gave something interesting for the actors to do and also as a director to be able to think about the psychology. We studied a lot of the videos on YouTube and you got to figure out how would people act that are put under pressure who are very confused like our main protagonist is. I think those elements combined made it interesting and intriguing. It brings a high concept layer to the script that adds another element of suspense and creates that secondary story line in your mind of, “Okay. Here's what's going on but what's really going on?” I call it The Matrix Effect because the Wachowskis obviously did that film very well.
You have a challenge with this film because your main character is killing people, at least in his dreams, who also has to be a sympathetic character. What's involved as a director when you try to bring that out with your actor?
Amariah: It's definitely one of the very challenging things about the script, but if you have somebody who even if they are killing people, it's not really driven from their internal core motive, which it isn't for Gabriel. Gabriel just wants to know what the heck is going on and he's not really a killer, except for when they cause him to be a killer. And I think having them open up that wound inside of him creates the likability, because I mean, let's face it, every person has a good and evil inside of them... They can understand what it's like to have a wound and what's it like to be doing things that you're not okay with and how he has an internal conflict about that. And I think that actually helps him make him relatable.
Whereas if Gabriel we're just a generic guy going out and killing people, you wouldn't like him at all. You wouldn't like the movie at all and nobody would watch the movie. So it's definitely a delicate balance, but I think that it's motivated from his internal desire, and we understand the plight that he is in because of what the bad guys are basically forcing him to do. We worked on that in the script. We were thinking a lot about what likability and relatability is. It's such a fine line. It really is.
Duality is something all the main characters face in one way or another.
Amariah: What we learned from making movies is if you handle your scenarios correctly and they make logical sense and create natural tension then your actors are really be able to act and they'll go to bring it home. But if you create false situations, no matter how great your actor is, they are going to have trouble finding the foundations in the face of that emotion. So we were very careful in crafting the scenarios in the script to thinking about the psychology of a person in that situation. The scenario is going to cause what the character's going to do, or do I have just a guy yelling and screaming randomly for no reason and nobody believes it because a real person wouldn't behave like that in that scenario.
Amariah: So there are a lot of questions to be asked in the development of the script. My goal as the director is to push it as far as we could here with the script. To create and enhance the scenarios. To create more drama, more tension, but at the same time you have to balance it with believability. You can't have an actor overacting for no reason. At the end of the day I think the cast really supported that line and Cam is believable as being the bad guy. He's played bad guys before, but at the same time this character allowed him to touch on the duality within himself. He isn't just a bad guy. There's the person in there that's trying to escape.
I'm always happy to see Michael Biehn on screen. What was it like working with him?
Amariah: Michael Biehn, he's a really, really great guy. We had a fantastic time working with him. He loves movies. When he turns on and comes into his moment, it's great. We really like that end sequence of the movie with Michael. I wrote that sequence there for him going on about the bad stuff that he did in the past. His final lines there at the end of the movie, he just really nailed it. He brought it home and brought so much character to the lines.
What challenges did you face in making this movie?
Odin: Every movie's a challenge, but some movie's are bigger challenges then others and this is definitely our biggest challenge. It's the sum of its parts. You've got a million cats you're herding and in a movie like this we we're definitely reaching, reaching pretty far to be honest (laughs). We really wanted to have a vision on this movie that would bring it hopefully to a theatrical-type level ... and along with that comes challenges of time and resources and everything else you can stack on it. But at the end of the day, like we always tell each other, there's 14 ways to achieve the same thing in a movie 'cause it's always a magic trick, and there literally are 14 ways to achieve things. We feel reasonably confident in our ability when it comes to the different ways and to understanding the processes whether it's an action sequence or an effects sequence or an amalgamation of two, we need to actually put it inside that letter box frame to make people believe that this is really going on. You just roll up your sleeves and get it done.
What surprised you guys most about this film?
Odin: I guess just how difficult it was to change locations every day, for one thing. We had a lot of locations in this movie and we were literally changing location every single day and how much of a total cluster does that become when you've got 70 people that you're dragging around with you every day and all their vehicles and all the trappings that go along with that. That definitely caught us off guard a little bit, but we managed to get through.
But it was kind of hell for sure, especially towards the end when it was raining. It was muddy out. We had production trucks all stuck in the mud. It was 3AM. It was the last day of the movie. The actor was walking home and fell on the street. We didn't know what happened to him. The crew, they all left because they were just tired and all of the vehicles were stuck in the mud in the middle of nowhere.
Oh no! At the end of the filming everyone left?
Odin: That was the last day of the movie. Everybody was like screw this and everybody just left. They got Ubers home. Everybody just disappeared. "You can have your movie. We are out of here." (Laughs)
Luckily you and the movie survived that ... Of all the stuff that you've done in your careers, what does this film mean to you?
Odin: To me this movie means if I never make a movie again for as long as I live it's the movie I'm proud of. If I go back and watch it right now after not having seen it for months ... I literally did that not too long ago in our theatrical setting, in our little studio. I was just like, "Wow!" Yeah, that would actually be okay if I never made another one after watching this. This is as close to a legitimate movie as I feel like I would have to make, that I really wanted to make. So, does that mean the next one will be even bigger and more awesome? I don't know. But I'm definitely proud of this movie and happy that we got it all way through and out the other side. It feels like an achievement.
Amariah: Hopefully the audience likes it. We have no clue.