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Tony Elliot - Director of ENTANGLED

Writer/director Tony Elliot’s short film Entangled was a real revelation for me in terms of clean sci-fi. What I mean by that is: the film features an alternate reality/parallel universes concept that lines up perfectly. Whereas a certain type of filmmaker endeavours to leave narratives unfinished, I like complete stories. Which is why I was very impressed with Entangled.

Sure there are questions to be asked, and implications to the actions the lead character has taken, but within the parameters of the short film, Mr. Elliot has told a complete story. If you didn’t catch it in our latest Weekend Watching selection be sure to watch it below before reading the rest of the interview with Saskatchewan-born, Toronto-based Tony Elliot.

Where did you study and practice your early attempts at filmmaking?
I got the movie bug in film school. I studied film theory and production at the University of Regina, as well as screenwriting at the Canadian Film Centre in Toronto. And while it was helpful to be in a structured environment, I found most of my learning by doing. By writing and making films.

Where did the idea for Entangled come from?
Stress. I was in the middle of writing on a show called Orphan Black, was overdue on a pass for one of my feature scripts, needed an idea for a new short film for an upcoming deadline, and had regular life demands imposing on my time. I wished I could do more than one task at one, be in more than one place at once — that was a eureka moment for me, and the idea was born. I took a scientific rational approach to the story rather than a supernatural route.

How long was the writing process?
I laboured over the script over a couple of months. While the idea came fast, the story did not. While I love sci-fi and spectacle, what really matters is what happens to the people involved in the story. I’m interested in how we exploit technology for our own personal wants and desires.

A still from the short film ENTANGLED

What was your actors’ first reaction after they’d read the script?
Excitement. Christine Horne, the lead, read the script and rushed to do a self tape audition. I didn’t know her before, but as soon as I saw her tape I knew she was the one. It’s a bit mythic how sometimes you just know. Christine is so very good.

How did you manage to synch the actions and dialogs during the split screens?
It wasn’t easy, but it was fun. Prior to the shoot I talked extensively with Daniel Grant, the Director of Photography, on how to shoot the synchronous split screen, both in terms of technical logistics but also in visual style. We shot the barn sequence first, and the next day we shot the basement scene. On the second day, in between takes, myself, the DP and our lead, Christine, would rush back to video monitor to see what we had just shot and compare it to the footage we shot the day before. We would then fine-tune camera movements, the character’s movements, and her emotional through-line. It was a mad rush but loads of fun — and it worked out really well.

How many days did you shoot for?
It was an ambitious two-day shoot.

The film looks amazing, what did you shoot it on? Any insights/anecdotes about the camera/shooting process?
We shot it on the RED One camera. I have an AD background so I know my way around a set. I knew the huge workload we had ahead of ourselves in such a short time, but even then we were scrambling by the end of day 2. My simple advice: don’t waste too much time on sequences that aren’t so important (i.e.: someone walking into a house) and instead give yourself lots of time for the complicated and emotional scenes.

How long was the film in post production for?
Less than six weeks. It came together rather quick. I think we locked picture in about two weeks. My editor, Adam Locke-Norton, showed me his assembly, and I was, frankly, in awe of how excellent of a cut he did. We worked together over the next week fine-tuning before we quickly locked picture. The score took a little longer but the composers, Keegan Jessamy and Bryce Mitchell, were very patient with me as I expressed to them what I wanted in terms of emotion and tone which they translated into music. And boy did they deliver.

How long did it take from the time you had that first spark of an idea to the moment you were satisfied that this final cut was the actual final cut?
It took less than five months from conception of idea to picture lock. We shot in December and locked picture in, I believe, April.

A still from the short film ENTANGLED

What was it like, having your film in a major festival like Toronto?
Being an official selection at TIFF was an honour, and very exciting. It’s a big fest, and they only accepted 42 short films of some 840 submissions, so I also feel humbled to be a part of it. Entangled was my first film as director. Last year, I wrote a sci-fi short (Wakening, directed by Danis Goulet) that premiered at TIFF and went on to play at Sundance. That was rightly awesome, but it’s a different fest experience being the director and not the screenwriter.

Any tips/insights on what is the best way for a short filmmaker to get the best out of a slot on a major film festival?
Publicize and network! It’s really important to let the world know about your achievements — you need to self-publicize. Post it on Twitter, Facebook and every other site or platform. People can’t support you if they don’t know about it. Get business cards for your film that have your contact info and screening times. Some people also include a link to view the film. Give them out to everyone. Be prepared to talk about your film, but don’t be a narcissist! Ask other filmmakers about their films, and try to see them. Attend every event and screening you can. Show your face, meet other filmmakers, producers, financiers and programmers. Meet everyone and anyone you can. You’ll be the richer for it, and you’ll start to develop a network of colleagues. Filmmaking is a tough business, but the filmmaking community is friendly and supportive.

Why did you decide to participate in Vimeo’s day and date program to showcase your film alongside its festival showing? How do you think it benefited you/the film?
Our goal was to get as many people to see the film as possible. The response has been startling. As I write this more than 17,000 people [Ed. Note: at the time of publishing the film is up to 22,000 views.] have viewed the film — in only three days. Amazing. We’d never get that no matter how many festivals we played.

What was the best reaction you received from a total stranger who watched the film?
Actually, your response has been the best: you said you wanted to stand up and applaud because you thought the film was so beautiful. I’m going to put that quote on the BluRay!

Has the prestigious festival slot benefited your career already? If yes can you tell us how?
Yes, yes, yes. I’ve had the good opportunity of meeting several LA financiers and producers interested in the feature version of Entangled, which I’m well on my way to writing.

And finally, what’s next for you?
Writing Entangled the feature version. I also have two other feature films I wrote and will be directing. We’re in the financing and casting stage — one is a crime thriller, and the other is, unsurprisingly, a sci-fi.