Right after our interview with filmmaker Francois Ferracci about his film Lost Memories a whole world of smart sci-fi short filmmaking was opened up to me. People are doing amazing things with readily-available computer software and cameras. One such person is filmmaker Dennis Liu, director of Plurality, a 14+ minutes short film that is another piece of intelligent sci-fi.
Plurality has already gone viral with over 38 thousand views on Vimeo and more than 213 thousand views on Youtube (in two weeks!). For a film that long to gather a quarter million views online is proof that nothing is ‘too long’, if it is engaging.
Watch it here, and then scroll on down for my interview with the director.
Tell us a little about yourself: Where are you from? How did you become a filmmaker? How long have you been doing this?
I was born in Saskatchewan Canada, of Taiwanese descent, and raised in Watertown, Connecticut. In the town, there was this incredible boarding school called Taft. Every year they take a couple public school kids from the town, and I was fortunate to attend. There was this video room called the Treehouse, and they had all of this awesome video equipment. I was hooked. It was some of the best years of my life in there, falling in love with filmmaking. I would sit there and edit for hours. Girls, grades, nothing else really mattered, it was crazy. I’d drag all my friends in, and we’d make these really stupid movies. I give all the credit to my teacher, Rick Doyle, for letting us do whatever we wanted. Blood, chase scenes, whatever! I think my senior movie had a chase scene in it, which helped for the film. My first movies had like a hundred f-bombs in it — it was great. It’s just such much fun I mean you’re making fucking MOVIES.
You are listed as a director with Radical Media. Is that your day job? What kind of work do you do in your day job?
Yeah, I’m a director with @radical.media, and I shoot mostly commercials and music videos. It’s awesome – the people are really nice and everyone there just wants to make really great work. Some for big clients and artists, some small. Jerks aren’t really tolerated at the company.
What is a day like? No one tells you what happens when you’re signed as a director. But basically you have to write and come up with a shit ton of ideas. That’s all your worth, your ideas. So much about directing is about writing! You’re freelance too. For some idiotic and naïve reason, I thought that when I would be signed to a roster, I would be hanging out with all the directors somewhere talking about movies. I was such an idiot. Instead, it’s like intellectual acting – your brain is your instrument. You also really have to know everything – camera, editing, acting, writing. If you don’t know everyone’s job, then why should the crew respect you?
Is Plurality your first fiction short? If not, how many others have you made?
Plurality is the first short I’ve made since college. Life gets in the way. You have to fit it in. I made a short in college as my thesis, which has never seen the light of day. Everyone has one of those. Some friends of friends made features already. I don’t know how they do it, they’re amazing.
How did you come up with the idea of Plurality?
From Ryan (the writer): It all started with Stephen Hawking’s logic for why time travel is impossible. If it were, he says, we’d be inundated with tourists from the future. My counterpoint to that argument was, “well, what if they didn’t want us to know they were here? Why would they be here and how would we find them?” The Grid became my sci-fi answer to this conundrum and the rest of it evolved from there.
How long did it take to take the film from idea to finished film?
We finished in a year and a half. I guess if it was a full time thing, with a budget – it would’ve been way less than that. But, even if you’re directing commercials full time, it’s really hard to fit a short film in. Especially something with this sort of size and scope. And this was really a no budget effort, so it was over everyone’s free time.
Tell us a little about your process behind making the film: how long in pre-production? How long was the shoot? How much time did you take in post-production?
We spent a couple weeks tweaking the script and then just ran out the door with it. Ryan would re-work things as we went along. There were so many locations. We shot 3 days in the interrogation room, 4 days running around the city, 2 days to do the opening montage, and another day in the ISIU control room. So about 10 days. Then we had to cut it. And then do all the VFX. Post was months. Making movies is not like making a commercial.
How tough (or easy) was it to get your actors to understand the programs and ideas they were interacting with, since they couldn’t see them on set?
That was actually pretty simple. We had solid actors and they really just imagine it. We let them just do whatever and work the VFX to their natural movements.
Tell me a little about the Apple device that makes a brief appearance: what does it do?
I have a real soft spot for Apple. My first music video, Apple Mac Music Video, got me signed. I made it for literally like a hundred bucks. Lee Unkrich from Pixar wrote me this really nice encouraging email from that video, and I just loved everything about those two companies ever since. Plus, part of what makes sci-fi fun is playing with the advertising/culture of the future. It’s been done since Blade Runner, to Minority Report — so of course Plurality just had to do it. iHolo is like Facetime, but a 3D hologram. There’s also a Playstation 8 in the beginning as a billboard. It’s like the ultimate gaming chair. That was Jamie’s idea (he was the UI designer). If you pause and look carefully there’s so many cool little nuggets everywhere.
Why did you decide to undertake such an effects heavy film like this one? Is this the space you want to inhabit in your future filmmaking endeavours?
Sci-Fi just seemed like a fun genre. It sounded like a challenge. Ryan’s script was awesome. I read it without stopping. That’s my barometer. I’ve read a bunch of scripts, but none like Ryan. He’s a master. I also love all movies, but sci-fi/action/thrillers are probably my forte, sure.
Tell us a little about the world of 2023. Did you develop a ‘bible’ of sorts about what the world would look like eleven years from now?
As for 2023, I’ve decided holographic glass tablets are a little bit more science fiction than reality. Try reading this interview on a patterned floor on a glass tablet. Or any busy background. You can’t do it. It’d be hard to read the words. What if the background surface was black/white? The text would have to change to the opposite color. We had to shoot these glass tablet scenes with solid color deliberately so that people could read the text we did via VFX. But the elimination of cash will probably happen at some point. It’s already happening. Why do you need it? Credit cards are so convenient. A move to thumb scan and then DNA really seems plausible to me.
What cameras did you shoot on? In post production, what software/hardware did you use?
5D and Final Cut Pro. After Effects, some Cinema 4D/Maya. Tracking software, I’m sure all the VFX readers are nodding their heads. Basic package stuff.
How much of your vision for 2023 were you able to get on screen with Plurality? What would you do differently if you had more time/money/resources?
Ryan’s original script calls for 2050 actually, but it turns out the further into the future you go, the more expensive your movie gets. Cars start flying and shit. Robots start being made. Then you’re in trouble if you’re an indie filmmaker. Plus, it’s been done to death before. Honestly, it’s cool to do a movie in the near, near future, and still be sci-fi. It’s slightly less escapist and more relatable that way, since you’re dealing with contemporary issues like giving up your privacy for the sake of security. (Look at CCTV in London, etc.) Obviously the movie is a hyperbole to our current situation since 9-11, but it is an interesting discourse to talk about how we are literally giving up all of our private information freely. I like issues movies. They’re fun both in and out of the theater when you go with friends.
Did you send the film to any festivals or did you choose to put it directly online? Why?
We went directly online. We just thought our audience would be more technology and sci-fi friendly. Festivals seem to cater more towards dramas sometimes than action and sci-fi films, in my opinion, although I could be wrong.
The film clearly looks like part of a bigger story. Was this designed as a calling card? Or were you hoping to raise financing to make a full-length feature based on this short?
We are really hoping to do either a feature or TV series from this. The next chapter is really cool — we get into the Plurality black market, Foucault facing himself, and even Alana (present day, Alpha) … questioning the reality of her detainment after she has been released.
If Plurality becomes a feature film will Foucault still be a central character? Or do you have a different plan for a feature version?
Foucault will be the main character still, yes. But there are other versions where we break off and see different points of view from other citizens in this new dystopian New York City.
Fourteen-plus minutes and it’s nearly been watched a hundred thousand times. How does that feel? Is life changing yet? Have the big studios come calling?
It feels awesome! Yeah you hit it on the head — it’s fourteen minutes, and anytime you’ve got a video going over 3 or 4 minutes, people are gonna shy away. That was a big worry of mine; I always thought PLURALITY would be great for anyone who sat down and actually took the time to watch it. But you have to be willing to watch it first!! I know it’s a very good film, so I’m happy with a small, passionate following. As for the big studios — well, whatever happens, happens. That process, is a lot of luck, and patience.
What’s next for you?
I just finished a cool spot with the Charlie bit my Finger kids in London, last week, and I’ve just landed in China and am shooting a series for the NBA. It’s been a pretty incredible run recently; the scripts and ideas are all pretty great. I really can’t complain; I’m incredibly lucky to direct for a living! I can’t wait to show you guys some of the new work!