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The Elegant Clockwork of the Universe
2013, 142m, drama, sci-fi, thriller
When Muhammad's lover, Mala, abruptly disappears, he finds himself the unexpected target of a criminal investigation. Muhammad's desperate search for answers propels him into the heart of bizarre mystery whose truths lead him to question not only the sanity of the woman he loved but his own.
Produced by: Malik Isasis and Olga Vazquez
Cast: Nikhil Melnechuk, Patricia Gil De Rubio, Teresa Stephenson, Vern Tremble
10 questions with The Elegant Clockwork of the Universe director, Malik Isasis at the half-way mark.
Wednesday, March 9th, 2016
1Hi Malik! Thanks for sharing your film with us. Would you mind telling me what was the initial seed that made you want to make The Elegant Clockwork of the Universe? I had just read Ficciones by Jorge Luis Borges. The density of his writing, the breath of his knowledge, and his fascination with mirrors, libraries, and time made me fantasize about his being a time traveler--which germinated into the question: What would it be like to be a time traveler?
2This story is a romance, a mystery, a bit of sci-fi/supernatural, and an art film. What made you want to mix all these genres and what was your writing process like? I wanted to tell a story of what it would be like to be a time traveler. The isolation, and the mental health aspects of being unable to form long term relationships. I imagined that starting one's life over and over again, and piecing back memories would be pretty detrimental. I think the explorations of those things resulted in the stew of genres.
3The cinematography is so great in this film. How did you meet Olga Vazquez (the cinematographer) and what was it like working together and what films did you use as inspiration? The film had a micro budget, and I needed a crew . I marched into the New York Film Academy building and spoke with an instructor about candidates for the project. He connected me with Olga, who had just graduated from the cinematography program. Olga came to the project very prepared--lighting diagrams and all--whereas sometimes I didn't know what I wanted until we were on the set. She was very patient with me. We are opposites in that way, but it worked out, especially on those twelve hour days. The film that inspired me was the Turkish film Kosmos by writer/director Reha Erdem. It is insanely beautiful and incredibly strange.
4To get a bit nerdy, your color correction was also fantastic. What camera did you shoot on and what tools did you use for color correction and how important were those considerations for you? We use the Red Scarlet with compact Zeiss cp2--28mm, 35mm, 50mm and 85mm lenses. I edited the film in Final Cut Pro X. I used Digital Film Tools to color grade the film. I took my color grading cue from the sets. The apartments we filmed in were very vibrant. I spent a lot of time finding nice looking locations, which I think helps with the look. I believe locations are the best production design, when you can't afford a production designer. It was important that the film looked nice.
5You probably have some of the greatest opening and closing titles I've ever seen for an indie film. Who did them and why did you decide to give such big titles to an indie film? Thank you. My friend Tiffany Laine DeMott is a motion graphics designer and an instructor at the Cornish College of the Arts in Seattle. I'm from Seattle, and when I moved to New York eight years ago, our collaborations continued. Tiffany designs all of my opening sequences, and she also does my special effects. I had the idea of an ode to Stanley Kubrick's 2001 Space Odyssey. She took the idea and ran with it. Once we settle on an idea, I tend to move out of her way and let her do her thing.
6What's the film that made you want to become a filmmaker? Spike Lee's School Daze in 1988. When I was fifteen I would cut out pictures of Spike and put them into a scrap book. It was a bit obsessive, and that's when I knew I wanted to be a filmmaker.
7I really love how your perception of Muhammad (played by Nikhil Melnechuk) changes as the story unfolds. Nikhil has to walk a very fine line in order for you to believe him and question him. How did you navigate that line and how difficult was it? It was very difficult. The character is pretty morose. We had to find the beats in the text that would give him a bit more depth. I had to be particularly aware. The performance could have easily slipped into a one-note performance. I thought Nikhil did a good job of walking that line, trusting his instincts, and he was willing to try new things. We rehearsed for several weeks, and ironed out most of the kinks there.
8I also love how diverse your cast is in this film. How conscious was that decision and why do you make that choice? It was a very conscious decision. I am a man of color who lives in the New York City. Diversity has become somewhat of a divisive term, but it has always been an important part of my projects. New York City is technicolor. It's the world I live in, and I make sure that the projects that I'm involved in represent people of color, as well as women outside of the typical tropes.
In addition to the diversity you see on screen, women made up most of the camera crew for this film.
9Can you share a war story from the shoot? Microbudget filmmaking...ahh, where to begin. None of us had a car. We moved hundreds of pounds of equipment from location to location. We ended up taking eighteen cabs around the city. We had to trek up three flights of stairs in a Brownstone for eight of the eighteen shooting days . I pulled a muscle in my back and spent the rest of the shoot in incredible pain.
10What's next? I am directing an experimental opera film, How I Screwed Up the Future, which will be screening at the Anthology Film Archives in April 2016.
Also, I co-created a short-form digital series called Department of Paranoia, and am currently seeking to finance the production of the first season.
About the Interviewer: Ben Hicks
Ben Hicks is a writer/director and co-founder of Fandependent Films. Ben is currently working on making Fandependent Films awesome and is finishing up his first feature film entitled Kids Go Free to Fun Fun Time which was selected for the 2017 IFP Narrative Lab.
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