Sorry, that pun was too easy. As part of its year ‘round screening series, Other Worlds Austin SciFi Film Festival is proud to present the Texas premiere of THE ANSWER on May 19 (9:00pm) at Flix Brewhouse with writer/director Iqbal Ahmed in attendance for a Q&A after the screening.
Winner of “Best Sci-Fi Feature” at Shriekfest (Los Angeles) and the Rhode Island Intl. Film Festival, THE ANSWER is a SciFi thriller about an introverted young man, Bridd, who after being attacked must follow clues left by his dead parents in order to figure out who is after him – and who he really is. Programmer and Associate Artistic Director Jordan Brown got a few answers of her own out of the director in preparation for the screening.
JORDAN: You talk a lot about identity with this film - what made you want to tackle this theme in a genre setting?
Iqbal: Some of my favorite films have been identity movies embedded within a genre structure. In fact, I'd even argue that every superhero origin story is exactly that — an exploration of identity within a sci-fi/action/thriller world. In these cases, identity is explored in a larger-than-life reality. For my film, I wanted to explore identity at an intimate level — something I hadn’t seen recently. I wanted to talk about family and identity from the perspective of a character who has quietly suppressed his past and who lives his life day-to-day almost like a ghost. A character living in a small and anonymous haze. That felt like an interesting scope for a genre film — something purposefully small and unadorned. Something that resembled my own normal life, and quite possibly the lives of audience members who watch the film.
JORDAN: THE ANSWER does a great job of creating a believable story and characters in a really limited runtime. A lot of science fiction stories can get bogged down in exposition - how did you go about creating that balance of world-building and keeping the action going?
Iqbal: I always knew that the strength of THE ANSWER would be in taking a normal character and throwing him into a situation he wasn’t prepared for. Just like Bridd, my protagonist, I want the audience members to piece the story together as they progress through it.
I’m a big fan of engaging with a viewer and saying “hey, I think you’re smart, so I trust you to follow along.” I don’t love exposition. That’s partially why I set this movie in a world that we could all recognize. I wanted it to feel real and relatable. And I wanted the story to move quickly. The characters don’t get to sit around brainstorming every possible plan of action. Their lives are at stake and they need to move quickly. The exposition we get comes in small bite-sized pieces along the way — at the same time the hero learns them.
JORDAN: The actors, particularly the two leads, were fantastic and have great chemistry. (I read that Austin, who plays Bridd, is actually based in Texas and has his own country band! We can always appreciate these things here in TX). How did you go about finding your cast?
Iqbal: I hired a casting director and had a really specific idea of what I wanted from the performances. For a reserved, thoughtful character like Bridd, I wanted someone who could engage us in his closeups. An actor who could show both his weaknesses and strengths in quiet ways. I knew Austin Hebert was my Bridd the moment I saw him. He had a silent confidence and a glint in his eye.
For the Charlotte character, I wanted a distinct contrast. I wanted someone boldly expressive, someone whose body was an extension of her personality. From her boisterousness, to her big laughter, to her curly hair, I knew Alexis Carra would be perfect. She was so genuine in her enthusiasm, and she had a rare ability to go from big to small when I needed her to.
JORDAN: How did the aesthetic and design for the bad guys come about? Our team all agrees on how effective they are!
Iqbal: For a story in which so much hinged on story revelations and twists, I wanted my villains to feel ambiguous. I wanted them to feel menacing, but I didn’t want to give too much away. So I played with modifying what a Special Forces or S.W.A.T. officer might wear. Are these guys good or bad? Are they paramilitary?
JORDAN: Could you talk more about making such a stellar SciFi film on a limited budget? It's amazing what you were able to accomplish with THE ANSWER. Films like yours are what get us excited at Other Worlds Austin!
Iqbal: Thank you so much! You know, movies cost a lot. The tiniest movie you can make still costs enough that the money would generally buy you a decent house. So if you have an ambitious story, like THE ANSWER, it’s vital to stretch every dollar. So I worked backwards.
I had a movie concept. But before I started to build the story or write the script, I took a tally of every resource I had at my disposal — locations, props, gear, extras, labor — everything. And I realized that if I filmed in my hometown of Danville, Virginia, then I’d be able to both showcase a place I loved and enlist my fellow Danvillians into helping produce the film.
So I went home and chatted with everyone I knew and asked politely for small and large favors — for locations, for services, for housing. And thanks to Danville being so awesome, everyone said yes. So I built my story around things I could count on. So by the time I needed to make the movie, everything was lined up for me. Well, not everything, but enough to get us started in a really fundamental way.
THE ANSWER screens May 19th - get your tickets here.