An aging inventor attempts to prevent his wife's murder. His method: a 16mm film projector.
Interview with Writer/Director Michael Lippert
Congratulations! Why did you make your film?
I had two objectives. First, I had a desire to play with genre conventions, and to tell a time travel story that wasn't too bogged down on over-explanation. It was almost an experiment in simple visual narrative, with dialogue "only where necessary" (to paraphrase a better filmmaker). In a short film, you only have so much time to get your ideas across, and I wanted the viewer to understand the mechanisms at work just by watching, without having to spend many valuable frames on exposition. I also liked the idea of telling the story out of order, while getting a sense of repetition, to feel the turmoil in our protagonist's (Frank's) mind.
Second, I had some themes I wanted to explore. I didn't want to approach Reversal as just a "time travel movie" with some genre twists. Yes, there is a time travel element that happens to be the narrative catalyst, but this is also a story of loss, about a desperate longing to retrieve something from the past. The story of Sisyphus, the Greek king who is damned to push a rock up a hill for eternity, was a major inspiration. (In my film, instead of a rock, Frank uses a 16 mm film projector- a somewhat obsolete technology in its own right- to "develop" a literal re-rendering of the day his wife, Emma, was murdered. The film reel plays and he transports himself into the projection. But no matter how many times he tries to save Emma, the celluloid begins to burn, and he must escape before he is destroyed.)
The question on my mind during the entire writing process was: what if there are things in life that simply cannot be accomplished the way you'd like, no matter how much you suffer to achieve them? It's dark territory, but it also ignites a lesson in acceptance, which is the internal challenge our hero faces in the film.
Imagine I’m a member of the audience. Why should I watch this film?
Imagine you could go back, if only for a couple hours, and alter a regretful moment in your life. Would you go, even if you might risk your own life? That's essentially what Frank has to ask himself each time he tries to go back and save his wife. Reversal is all about the limits of love inside the trappings of time.
How do personal and universal themes work in your film?
I think we can all relate to a feeling of nostalgia, particularly nowadays. A lot of recent pop culture phenomenons have gained traction in large part because they capitalize on a longing for the way things were, a la "Stranger Things" or "Mad Men." Heck, we even have a "Saved by the Bell" pop up restaurant modeled to look exactly like The Max in Chicago now! We like to look back, even if the past wasn't really all we've made it up to be in the first place. And so I think audiences can relate to this notion and the pressure Frank is putting on himself to revisit a waning youth.
I certainly took nostalgia into account with regard to props in the film. The idea of time travel through a film projector alone is a bit of an allegory for an unwillingness to get on board with changing times. But I also felt there was a certain romantic irony in Frank using antiquated technology in pursuit of an antiquated cause. Plus, I think new technology, amazing as it is, has made storytelling too easy; if you don't know where someone is, just text them; if you don't know how to find information on a subject, just reach in your pocket. By intentionally omitting computers and anything beyond a landline phone in the film, we created a feeling of the past that hopefully permeates the entire film. And my amazing art team, Manuel Perez Pena and Adam Kohr, pulled this off beautifully.
How have the script and film evolved over the course of their development and production?
Man. In the original script, Emma is visited by Frank's double, which meant that we were dealing with "Back to the Future-esque" time theory, wherein you can actually go back in time and fight yourself (Like Looper). But that proved a little confusing in short form, so I decided that Frank would just reassume the way he was in whatever moment he returns to. Plus, that supported the notion of nostalgia: reliving things just the way they were.
The other thing that changed was the order. There were so many avenues to tell the story, and I probably ended up with more than 30 versions of the edit at some point. And of course, scenes had to be cut. Some of the heavy dialogue sections had to go, and unfortunately that meant some really great performance work. The flashbacks to young Frank and Emma (Tyler Smith and Karisa Bruin) were originally much longer, with their own intriguing backstory, but it made the overall scope too large. The murder scene with Donna Steele and Dave Steiger, also included more dialogue, but when we cut it out, Dave's character became much creepier (to our benefit!).
The first cut was over 20 minutes, and a friend said, "I know you love it, but it's not going to do well with festivals if you don't cut it down." This was my first real foray into the film festival arena, and that has turned out to be some of the best advice. It's not even that length is a detriment to your story all the time, but even if it's good at 21 minutes, it has to be that much better than the four other 5 minute pieces that a programmer could easily slot in its place.
What type of feedback have you received so far?
People have had some great positive reactions, and almost everyone can emotionally connect in some way. They love the performances, too. Bill McGough, who played Frank, brings such an emotional fragility that pains you to watch, and that's precisely what we needed to carry the narrative forward.
People also comment on the art direction, as well as the cinematography, by Austin Rink. Without his careful eye, we would have been lost! Some people leave with questions, and they want to view it again, but I think that's okay. I realize I've said a lot into 15 minutes, not to mention out of order. And of course, you take the reactions people have into account on your future work. But if the general public, especially your target audience, seems to react in a way that is in line with your personal intention, I'd say you're doing okay.
Has the feedback surprised or challenged your point of view?
The most surprising, and positive, is when people tell me the end brought them to tears. I certainly went for an emotional ending, but I didn't expect people to be sniffling in the theater. They tell me it makes them want to go home and hug their wives or cat, or whatever it is they hold dear. That, to me, has made the whole thing worthwhile.
What are you looking to achieve by having your film more visible on www.wearemovingstories.com?
I want people to know about it and watch it (once it's available to the public outside festivals)! And of course, I'd like the piece to serve as a sort of calling card for future collaborators to take interest.
Who do you need to come on board (producers, sales agents, buyers, distributors, film festival directors, journalists) to amplify this film’s message?
If you buy short films, now you know where to find me! And if you review short films, a good write-up never hurts. ;)
Would you like to add anything else?
You can find more about Reversal at our website: reversalshort.com
Follow us on Facebook here: https://www.facebook.com/ReversalChicago/?fref=ts
Twitter here: @reversalmovie
At this point, we've screened all around the world, including Montreal, Chicago, London, LA, and in October we'll be screening at Sci Fi festival near Sydney, Australia.
What are the key creatives developing or working on now?
Most of the production team from Reversal has collaborated again on a new short called Miriam's Going to Mars, about a schizophrenic woman attempting to join the first mission to the Red Planet. We shot in March of 2016, and are hoping to start submitting to festivals by the end of this year. You can follow us on Facebook here: https://www.facebook.com/MiriamsGoingtoMars/
Our Instagram handle is Miriamsgoingtomars.
Interview: September 2016
We Are Moving Stories embraces new voices in drama, documentary, animation, TV, web series and music video. If you have just made a film - we'd love to hear from you. Or if you know a filmmaker - can you recommend us? More info: Carmela
An aging inventor attempts to prevent his wife's murder. His method: a 16mm film projector.
Director: Michael Lippert
Producer: Brittany Wagner, Adina Kwasigroch, Brett Sechrist
Writer: Michael Lippert
About the writer, director and producer:
Michael Lippert (writer/director) is currently in his eighth year at Cutters Studios in Chicago. He has worked on several major commercial campaigns and multiple documentary and narrative films throughout his time there. His web series, Funemployed, won the 2012 Chicago Pilot Competition. The series has been viewed by thousands of subscribers around the world since 2009. Michael recently completed production on his next film, Miriam's Going to Mars, and hopes to release by 2017. He lives in Chicago, Illinois with his wife, Kate, and their dog, Duke.
Brittany Wagner (producer) is a Chicago-based producer with experience in independent & commercial filmmaking + a background in marketing/ advertising. From award-winning independent short & feature films (like Reversal), music videos, parodies and web series to commercials, corporate branding & animation videos; Her work has garnered attention from all over the world by way of film festivals and online publications/ viewing. Her most recent noteworthy project, Miriam's Going to Mars, - a dramatic short film about mental illness - is currently in post production soon to be released.
Adina Kwasigroch (producer) has worked for years in the Chicago film and commercial industry. Her credits include the web series Funemployed and the recent Ky Dickens documentary Zero Weeks. She has also been a board member of Women in Film, and currently works as an agency producer at Escape Pod in Chicago.
Brett Sechrist (producer) Brett Sechrist has been with NV Talent since 2011. A powerhouse in animation and interactive media, Sechrist was previously employed at AVO Talent in Hollywood, where he represented such notable talent as Kath Soucie (“Rugrats”), Marcia Wallace (“The Simpsons”), and Bill Farmer (“Goofy”), to name just a few. Sechrist also worked with producer Mario Kassar (“Terminator”, “Rambo”) and various producers at Paramount Pictures before moving into the agency side of filmmaking. Mr. Sechrist is a Seattle native and graduated from the University of Redlands in California with a degree in Creative Writing and Film Production.
Key cast: Bill McGough (Frank), Donna Steele (Emma), Dave Steiger (Killer), Karisa Bruin (Young Emma), Tyler Smith (Young Frank)
Looking for (producers, sales agents, buyers, distributors, film festival directors, journalists): buyers, distributors, film fest directors
Funders: Kickstarter, self-funded
Made in association with: Action Couch Films
Release date: November, 2015
Where can I watch it in the next month? You can see us at Sci Fi Film Festival in Randwick, Australia October 19-23.