We've talked about this before,
but bring us up to speed: Your new movie Abi - in a few words, what is it about?
Abi is the story of a team of scientists working to save Vincent
Foresterís prototype biological computer from a virus taking over the
system. When the computer virus jumps into lab assistant Abi, she is
driven violently insane, attacking both Vincent and his other assistant
What inspired you to make a movie about the horrors of
artificial intelligence, and your personal thoughts on the subject?
always been fascinated with the dangers of artificial intelligence, both
in fiction and in real life. Weíre currently seeing the ways that A.I. can
affect the real world in the form of social media. Those effects will
become both stronger and subtler as time progresses.
makes for a great source of danger in fiction precisely because itís so
alien to us. Humans simply arenít equipped to think in a purely logical
fashion. So itís partially fear of the unknown - but itís also the
Frankenstein idea of being overtaken and destroyed by your own creation.
There are a lot of deep-seated psychological fears to explore in stories
about A.I., and I donít think Abi has even scratched the surface there.
isn't the first time you've worked with screenwriter Dan McGuire - so what
can you tell us about the man, your previous movies together, and your
collaboration on the movie at hand?
Dan McGuire and I have
been friends since college. We met while loading out gear for a thesis
project we were both volunteering on (a legendarily tough shoot among our
crop of Columbia College alumni), but the funny part was that a mutual
friend had actually just brought me a script of Danís a couple of days
prior, to use for my directing class. So weíd been planning to meet
anyways, and fate brought us together before weíd even had a chance to
schedule the meeting.
Since then, Dan has been a part of
virtually every movie Iíve directed in one way or another, and heís
become my trusted storytelling partner. Heís edited six short films for
me in the last five years, and I always value his input on all aspects of
my productions. We have a great collaborative relationship based in blunt
truths. Neither of us have much ego about our work, but we both care a lot
about the projects we take on. Our discussions often can get passionate,
but they never get personal. It really does become the best idea
And it was definitely a good thing on the
development process for Abi. Dan did all the screenwriting, but we batted
around different concepts and ideas for the script for about a year.
Somewhere he has a file on his desktop with dozens of drafts of the
script. Working together to tighten the story for Abi was a great
experience both because it taught us a lot about storytelling but it also
helped to deepen our friendship.
was done on a modest budget - so what are the challenges of bringing a
sci-fi horror movie to the screen with the funds you've had?
Doing sci-fi on a small budget, especially for a short film,
is largely about trying to imply rather than outright show the sci-fi. We
had to figure out how to make a biological computer and entire tech
lab that looked convincingóon a short film budget. The best way I know
is to embrace the limitations and make them work for the story.
of the first things production designer Colin Bach and I discussed was the
idea that this computer system is a prototype, and that itís been
cobbled together over the course of years and years. We tried to use
real-world tech as often as possible, modified only enough to make it seem
hard to place. The lab was similarly not a sleek and perfect environment.
It's meant to look like a college lab, possibly even a shared one, where
these characters are working. Since we were shooting in a practical
location - and borrowing most of the set dressing from the location - that
again was a choice that was practical as much as thematic.
What can you tell us about your approach to both science
fiction and horror?
I look at science fiction and horror as
a way to examine basic questions of human nature: hubris, fear, and
ambition, even what it means to be human. The great thing about genre
filmmaking is that it allows us to really focus in on these concepts, but
in more of an allegorical way. You can take one element of real life and
exaggerate it far beyond what we experience on a daily basis and watch its
effects on the characters.
Genre stories often find their
characters in extremely heightened emotion states, and those are often
where the most interesting - and true - insights are found. When people
arenít given time to plan and carefully consider their actions, and must
simply react to stressful situations, it's where we learn the most about
them. Sci-fi (and especially horror) gives filmmakers the opportunity to
really make those situations as difficult as possible. Thereís nothing
more stressful to a human than being in a totally alien environment or
trying to protect your own life or that of a loved one. The stakes in
these kinds of films are automatically higher.
Do talk about your overall
directorial approach to your story at hand!
Abi, I wanted to make sure that the actors all seemed like real people who
were going through this situation. Even though you want the events of the
story to be heightened far beyond what we would usually encounter during
our lives, itís important for the characters not to be equally
heightened. You never want the audience to stop empathizing with your
We also had to be very careful about what was
said when and how, because the story has some twists and turns that we
needed to be very careful to protect. I donít believe in giving actors
only partial information or trying to manipulate performances in that kind
of way. So we had a number of very open discussions about just how some
beats of the story should play in order to both be true to the reality of
the characters but also to preserve the experience for the audience.
the technical side, Iím generally pretty hands-on in all aspects of
production. Coming from a background of working in film and television,
Iím very comfortable with the technical side of filmmaking, so I was
pretty involved with the way the camera moved and the look of the film in
general. I do a lot of prep for my films, so we had a very firm idea of
how we would cover each scene.
But Iíd be remiss if I
didnít mention my frequent cinematographer, Jamison Acker. He and I
spent a lot of time revising the initial shot list and improving it. My
single favorite shot in the whole film is very different from how I
originally conceived the moment, and it was Jamisonís alternate
suggestion that really made the moment sing.
What can you
tell us about Abi's cast,
and why exactly these people?
Abi was cast through the
connections of producer Corey Gilbert and his company P3Mediaworks.
We had a few rounds of auditions drawn largely from Coreyís experience
working with Chicago talent.
Abi was the easiest role to
cast, because Clare Cooney came in and absolutely nailed the part from the
very beginning. Sheís a gifted actor, and a brilliant filmmaker in her
own right, as her short film Runner shows
Berman played Julie. She was the one who found the right mix of
independent spirit and vulnerability that would offset Abiís
Rom Barkhordar played Vincent, and his role
was the toughest to cast. We saw a lot of actors come in for Vincent, but
it wasnít until Rom came in that everything clicked. Vincent needed to
be authoritative and driven, but also sympathetic. Heís the catalyst and
the emotional core of the film, and arguably had to show the most range.
Iíd gladly work with Rom again in a heartbeat, as would the entire
All of the castmembers are incredibly dedicated
people and theyíre kind, thoughtful human beings. Character and
temperament are at least as important to me as an actorís talent. I want
my sets to be fun and light-hearted, because the drama belongs on the
screen, not the set.
A few words about the
shoot as such, and the on-set atmosphere?
The shoot itself
was a ton of fun. It was very exciting to direct a film with so many
different elements going on, from stunts to practical effects to
relatively complicated acting. Those things made for a lot of challenges,
but it was generally a very positive experience for me, and I hope for
everyone. There was a light and positive atmosphere as far as I could
The hardest part of the shoot was working in a functional
server room. We were very lucky to be given access to the location (thank
you, Brian Armstrong and AccessBB!), because weíd never have been able
to afford to build the set. However, it was small, loud, and hot, and it
compromises half the run time of the film, including the complexly plotted
climax. We started the shoot with two days in that location, and the
challenges of those two days had me a bit worried about how it was all
going to turn out.
But the next two days of the
production we had a lot more space and it made a lot of difference in my
morale. I do have to shout out again how phenomenal this crew was, because
the solved a lot of tricky FX, camera, lighting and sound problems, all
without a hitch. Thereís an infectious energy to a set when things go
right. People get more invested in the film and more excited about the end
product. I learned a lot about directing on this film, and not just in
terms of the actors, but also in terms of how to manage morale.
$64-question of course, where can Abi
Abi was recently picked up by
DUST, and premiered
online to October 1 -
will also be available on some other platforms soon, including out own
Anything you can tell us about audience and
critical reception of Abi?
reception has been very positive. We had a very successful festival run
including awards for directing, editing, FX, and an audience choice award.
It all culminated with acquisition by Gunpowder & Skyís DUST
platform, where the film can be seen right now. We also got a number of
very positive reviews for the film, including from this very site, if
Iím not mistaken. Iím both humbled and grateful for the response that
the film has gotten, and it really did make all the hard work worth it.
future projects you'd like to share?
Feeling lucky ?
any of my partnershops yourself
for more, better results ?
The links below
will take you
Weíve got a sci-fi
drama thatís play a few festivals so far, but Covid has thrown a wrench
in all those plans for a while. Weíve also got a short film shot during
the lockdown which weíre going release on Halloween. If you want to
check that out, drop us a line here:
website, social media, whatever else?
Our website is
We can be found on Facebook under crazy little monster. You can
also find me on Facebook
you're dying to mention and I have merely forgotten to ask?
just want to thank you for you for this interview and for spreading the
word. Iíd also like to thank your readers for taking the time to read
this. I hope you all enjoyed it, and enjoy Abi.
for the interview!