Short Film Corner 2022
May 13, 2022
All Jody wants is a healthy distraction from a bad breakup. But in a frighteningly near future where AI assistants cater to our every whim, she begins to fall for her virtual running trainer, who may have a more revenue-driven goal in mind…
Hello Edward, it’s great to get to talk with you, how have you been keeping after everything that’s been happening?
Great to talk to you, and thanks for asking. While I began my career in film, most of the last decade and a half has been telling stories in video-games, on franchises such as Mass Effect, Need for Speed, and Eon Altar. I decided to make the move back to film just a few years ago, and then BAM! Covid hit. It’s definitely slowed things down, but I’ve been fortunate and privileged to invest a lot of the down-time in my own projects, such as U.RUN.
Have you been able to remain positive and creative at least?
One of the silver-linings during the past two years has been how we’ve all changed how we connect with people. While in isolation, connecting with my writing partner Dan Roy, based in Sofia Bulgaria, both creatively, and catching up on our favourite TV shows together remotely, has been a new joy and a healthy connection. We even cook together online sometimes!
You have had a great run with Swiped (2021) picking up multiple awards and nominations during its festival run, did you imagine you would get this type of reaction for your film?
Thank you! Swiped began as a small side-project while waiting on actor availability for U.RUN pickups, and grew into something so much more. It’s a 4 minute sci-fi comedy, in the same world as U.RUN, and acts like a little aperitif teaser. Going on the festival circuit with it has been such an education. Unfortunately, after over 20 festivals, we could only attend in-person to a small handful of them. But we’re so grateful that people enjoyed the film. There’s nothing like knowing you’ve helped make people smile and laugh for a few minutes.
What does it mean for you to be in the Cannes Short Film Corner with U.RUN and what do you hope to take away from this experience?
It’s such an honour to participate in such a legendary event like Cannes, even in this small way. I’m hoping it will allow us to connect with new friends and collaborators, and help U.RUN continue to travel the world and find audiences
How vital are platforms like Cannes SFC in championing and supporting the short film format?
Platforms like Cannes SFC are so vital in championing and supporting the short film format. Shorts are the training ground for the next generation of filmmakers. We may know how to make a film and tell a great story, but so often the next steps of finding an audience and turning that film into new opportunities can feel illusive. Filmmaker-forward programs like this one are so valuable for filmmakers looking to learn how to take their careers to the next step, with a great project in-hand to demonstrate their craft and vision.
Can you tell me how U.RUN came about, what inspired your screenplay?
U.RUN was first inspired by producer Eric Belanger, imagining how futuristic virtual reality & metaverse apps can integrate into our lives. Co-Writer Daniel Roy and I put that through the story machine and merged it with our experience in video game development, seeing first hand how dangerous technology can be when it’s not governed by ethics and driven by capitalist greed. Combine that with a rom-com wrapper to give it its emotion core, Dan’s passion for running, and both our love of sci-fi, the story told us pretty quickly what it wanted to be.
You co-wrote U.Run with Daniel Roy, how important is the collaborative nature of screenwriting when working on a film like this?
Screenwriting isn’t a solo sport for me. With Dan and I it truly is a 1+1=3 situation. We never fight over who’s idea is better - any dispute culminates into a new third better idea. We become each others’ first audience as we jam on ideas and trade drafts back and forth. We were fortunate to meet at BioWare in 2008, and I’ve been so lucky to have him as a creative partner on so many projects since, between countless scripts and multiple video games. The only challenge now is competing with Disney for his time, as he’s deep in writing for the Ubisoft video game tie-in to the new Avatar movie.
As a director do you allow yourself much flexibility with your screenplay?
On any project that I both write and direct, there’s always the moment where I put away the writer hat, and put on the director hat. At that point I see the script as a blueprint for what comes next. It’s a guide for the cast and crew, but it’s not sacred. Things continue to evolve as we learn more about the story through the actors getting to know their character, what the locations teach us, what the rehearsals teach us, what the view through the camera teaches us, then ultimately what the edit teaches us. There’s a cliche attributed to Robert Bresson, that a film is written three times - once in the script, once during filming, and again in the edit. I truly believe that. Each phase is a new opportunity to know and redefine your movie.
The script is only a first draft, and U.RUN was no exception.
What would you say have been the biggest challenge you faced bringing a sci-fi short film to life and what would you say has been the most valuable lesson you have taken from this experience?
Covid became a huge challenge for us. While we shot most of the film before Covid, we missed a couple of shots. No problem, until the borders were shut down! We were a cross border team (Canada & USA), and a pivotal moment at the Act 1-2 turn was missing, and we didn’t end up getting access to the actor for over a year to finish it up! I’m not embarrassed to admit I learned how to do deep-learning face replacements and investigated the same technology used by Star Wars to recreate the MIA actor’s voice for that scene. But ultimately we got our shots, and finished the movie the old fashioned way. But I’ll never tell which shots they were!
My takeaway from that is to get everything you need on the day to make your film. Pickups can be a great tool for polishing and improving your film, but I’ll never rely on them again to get the movie complete!
The other challenge is that this film had 200 VFX shots in it (which I created myself). That’s a lot for a 24 minute short! The script ultimately came out a few pages longer than we had aimed for, which is always a good reminder to solve problems by reduction rather than addition.
Have you always had a passion for filmmaking?
When both my brother and I were kids, we made model airplanes with my dad. My brother wanted to make them for real, so he became a rocket scientist and is now involved in the American space programs. I want to make them look real, so I went into movies. By 8 years old I was gathering my friends to put on my own Star Trek plays and movies, and I’ve never looked back. And I’ve been so lucky to work on projects like the Mass Effect series that involved some of my childhood heroes from Star Trek.
"I’m excited to continue exploring stories of how people connect with technology and the world around them, and how technology changes us for better or for worse."
How much has your approach to your projects changed since you started out in filmmaking?
In so many ways my approach to projects hasn’t changed since I started when I was 8. I throw myself in as deep as I can, maybe a bit too deep, and give my all to make each project the best it can be. I’d say the two ways I’ve changed recently is I think I’m finally shedding the folly and ego of youth thinking I need to do it all, and being able to both invite in and support wonderful collaborators and friends into my filmmaking world. And I’m starting to let go of chasing what I think people want to see, and telling stories based on what feels authentic to me.
What’s the best tip or piece of advice you would offer a filmmaker or actor?
My advice to filmmakers and actors is to dig deep and know yourself, and to use that connection to create stories, art, or performances that only you can create. It’s that authenticity that audiences will connect with.
What themes are you looking forward to exploring with future films?
I’m excited to continue exploring stories of how people connect with technology and the world around them, and how technology changes us for better or for worse. I love sci-fi, but it’s meaningless without the people at it’s core. And to tell stories that remind us to be kind.
And finally, what would you like audiences to take away from U.Run?
Don’t trust apps who say they only want to help! Kidding.. but seriously - as technology grows in complexity, and the algorithms can predict and subvert our behaviour with ever increasing specificity, we’re all at risk. U.RUN took so long in post-production that we’ve been joking that it’s practically historical-fiction now, but the warnings are as relevant as ever. Technology is only as moral as the people who create it, and the problem often is that the designers don’t understand the implications of what they’re making. We need oversight and ethics in our technology. We need a Star Trek ‘Prime Directive.’ We need ‘Do No Harm.’ And read the Terms and Conditions, kids!