Infinity Chamber (formerly known as Somnio) is an intricate piece that marries the cyclical nature of Groundhog’s Day with the claustrophobic atmosphere of Vicenzo Natali's Cube. Writer-Director Travis Milloy (who also penned the screenplay for the sci-fi horror Pandorum) has set out to explore the essence of memory and it's relationship to the ever evolving landscape of artificial intelligence. Thanks to nuanced performances from Christopher Soren Kelly (Frank), Jesse D. Arrow (Howard) and Cassandra Clark (Gabby) and a successful crowdfunding effort, the project is able to truly delve into some interesting concepts and contribute to the pantheon of exceptional science-fiction.
The story is straight-forward and XLrator Media's plot synopsis simply reads:
“A man trapped in an automated prison must outsmart a computer in order to escape and find his way back to the outside world that may already be wiped out.”
The film is much, much more and is thrilling until the very end. Travis and his team has effectively utilized it’s setting to deliver a complex experience that should not be miss when it hits U.S. cinemas on September 15, 2017 and iTunes/VOD/Amazon on September 26, 2017.
I was lucky enough to get an advanced screener and speak with Travis about the release.
Prox: Let’s talk about the earlier stages of the film. How did you initially envision the project and what were some inspirations for it? Was the distribution, production, and writing an easy process?
Travis: I was looking for a story that I could produce at a low-budget, something self-contained, low number of actors, etc, and I saw a news story about how some prisons in America were saving costs by becoming automated. By having automated systems, it would require less guards and personnel and the notion of what would happen if the entire prison was automated and something went wrong. I found that a fascinating scenario and Infinity Chamber was born.
I’ve always been intrigued by our attachment to technology and what the relationship between humans and technology truly entails, how that can be tested, how far a relationship can go and what would happen if it’s the only relationship you have left. I believe we’re headed into a very intriguing era where computers are filtering and replacing relationships and I wanted to tell a story that explored those elements.
Every writer is different but what I do might be a bit unconventional. I don’t like to outline or essentially know where I’m headed. I’m horrible at writing treatments because I don’t want to know the ending when I begin. I like to dive in and see where it goes and see what happens. Obviously it’s a risky way to write because more times then most you’ll run into a wall or get stuck, which of course is why I have stacks of unfinished scripts but I like that kind of blind approach because when it does work, I think you can discover something unique and unpredictable. For Infinity Chamber I dove into the set-up, one man stuck in a prison cell with no one to communicate with except a computer. I had no idea where this would go and I tried to put myself in more of an audience member’s position to explore, okay, what am I expecting here, what wouldn’t I expect, what happens when I open this door, what’s going to happen if this happens, where will this lead, etc.
Making independent movies can be a difficult journey and it’s very easy to convince yourself it’s just not the right time to try it. Easy to say “when I have more money, when the timing is right, better next year, etc.” It can make a movie project last forever or never happen. Knowing this I decided to take a risk and force my own hand. Give myself a “no going back” scenario. I rented an industrial space and started building the set I needed for the movie, even before I finished writing the script. Paying for the rental space myself made me commit, knowing that after spending so much money, it would essentially paint myself in a corner, making it foolish to not keep going forward. Basically, it’d be too difficult and expensive for me to quit. And that’s exactly what happened. I spent a year building the set while writing the script and when both things were ready, I had no choice but to move forward without looking back. With my own time and money invested, I’d be the only one to lose if I gave up.
The actual production was the quickest and easiest part of the journey. When you’ve surrounded yourself with the right people who are passionate and talented and you’ve really prepared yourself, shooting the film goes pretty smoothly. Of course, we didn’t make it easy for ourselves, shooting in difficult locations, from the Mojave desert to the top of the Continental Divide in the Rocky Mountains. Physically it was challenging, but I count my blessings that we never encountered any serious issues. Having little money was actually liberating. We didn’t have a studio to answer to, a schedule we were committed to so creatively, there was a lot of freedom. Personally, I really enjoy the challenge of trying to figure out how we’re going to accomplish something and forced to be creative because we didn’t have money. We were essentially without post CGI to bail us out so we had to try and do everything practically. There’s just something about doing everything practically that feels more like real movie making. Don’t get me wrong, I love all the tools that are available, but there’s something so rewarding about having to make it all happen in front of the camera.
Editing is the beast of all beasts. I never intended on editing the movie myself, it just kind of ended up that way. I was planning on doing an assembly edit and then having a pro come in and make it work, fix my mistakes, etc. But we really didn’t have the money to bring someone in so I just kept going. It’s tough to edit your own work because it’s hard not to be biased, to use shots you knew we’re difficult to achieve, etc. I did everything I could to forget all that and just serve the story. My first few edits were a disaster. I showed them to people closest to me and hey, the truth hurts sometime. It wasn’t working. I stepped away, took a breather and went back at. I ended up changing the structure, taking a different approach, which was then working but then I “over-edited” which is also a pitfall. I had become so familiar with the material and was so intent on making it shorter, quicker, move faster, that I butchered it. Again, I stepped away and started again. In the end, I’m really proud of the final result.
The score of a movie is more important to making the movie work then I believe most people realize. The score can make or break a movie and I was blessed to have Jacob Yoffee agree to be part of this project. I’ve always been amazed by musical talent, since I have zero myself but I have no hesitation in saying Jacob is one of the most talented people walking the planet. He was gracious enough to donate so much of himself and his resources to bring us a million dollar score. I can’t even begin to describe what the movie was before and after his work was brought in. It gave the movie an emotional through-line. We were so lucky to have him.
Post production is always a long and difficult road for indie films with low money. Luckily we found the right man in David Emrich at Post Modern in Denver. He believed in what we were doing and gave us a home which was stunningly generous. He allowed us to finish a movie the way movies are meant to be handled, creatively and technically. We would not have a movie without him and his staff. I’m the kind of guy that could tinker with an edit forever, I would have been more than happy just moving into David’s office and living there for years to continue polishing this edit, finessing that sound design, etc. It’s the part of the process I truly enjoy. I still ask him on occasion if I could go live there.
Distribution is another animal that’s not easy to obtain or maneuver. It’s a very competitive field and trying to find a company that believes in your movie can be difficult. We were lucky enough to find a partner in XLrator. They believe in the movie and have been supportive and great to work with in building the marketing behind it. All I can hope for is that it finds an audience and that, that audience connects with the movie.
Prox: What are some things that we can expect to see thematically? How does a science-fiction backdrop enhance these themes?
Travis: What’s interesting about theme is, sometimes it can be a mysterious thing that changes and evolves during a film production. I had a pretty clear idea of what this movie was about thematically going into it, but as we made the movie, that started to change. Originally, this was a “prison escape” movie, it was about injustice and absolution. But as we made the movie, elements that I didn’t think were as important became more prominent and kind of took over the movie. For me, this is about friendship, real or artificial, and what true isolation does to the human condition. Being connected to the rest of the world, whether through love or devices or both. And using the sci-fi backdrop allowed us to more closely explore the notion of your only friend being synthesized and what that would mean.
Prox: I seriously love the look of the film. What were you and the team attempting to convey with the aesthetic choices that were made?
Travis: Well, two things. I was really striving to create a believable world, something in the future but not something too abstract or disconnected to our world. I tend to believe that twenty years from now, our world won’t actually look that much different from present day. Clothing, cars and hairstyles might alter but I don’t think the overall landscape would alter that drastically. I mean if you look at photos of cities and apartments from thirty years ago, they’re not that different. I just wanted to give a sense of the future but not too extreme. And secondly, I was trying to create something very inexpensive because we were so low budget. I scoured through scrap yards and dumpsters to find the pieces that would be in our world. Things that are considered trash but had an interesting look if modified. For example, I spent a year building the cell and struggled to find something that would give the walls an interesting aesthetic. I ended up using plastic trays used to carry 2-liter soda bottles. If you look closely you can see the Coca-cola emblem embedded on the sides. I found them stacked next to dumpsters in alleys behind grocery stores and I made the mistake of accidentally stealing them. I didn’t realize the grocery store re-used them for delivery so once the movie was over I returned them to the stores.
Prox: Could you talk to us about the cameras you decided to use and the color grading strategy?
Travis: We shot with the RED as our primary camera and I used a Canon 5D as a 2nd camera. I was surprised the footage inter-cut so well. Hats off to Canon for making a pretty amazing DSLR. I went for two looks within the movie, a colder, blue-steel, sterile feel for inside the cell and a warmer, sun-lit feeling for outside the cell. In the end it turned out to be more subtle then I planned, but I think the contrast between the two worlds adds some dynamic. Shooting 4 & 5k with the RED gives you so much flexibility and control with shooting on locations without lights and gives you the ability to enhance and amplify elements in post. Technically, it’s a fantastic time to be a movie maker. It’s amazing you can make a movie with equipment that fits in a backpack.
Prox: With this being somewhat of a locked room drama, what were some techniques you used to get the performances you did out of the actors?
Travis: That was on Christopher’s (Soren Kelly) shoulders. He literally spent weeks talking to himself on the set. He had to pretend to be having a conversation with a “living” entity and he did an amazing job. I did have Jesse (voice of Howard) on set so he could have a real conversation but with Jesse off camera or behind a wall, it was an amazing challenge for Chris to pull this off.
In the beginning, I knew this would be the challenge that would make or break the movie, how could we keep it interesting with one actor alone in a room, but I was put at ease when I met Chris.
He’s such an interesting actor, there just seems to be a lot going on with him, even when he’s just sitting and listening and I think that was key. Not only can he give you more than you expect on delivery, he’s interesting when he listens. Sounds easy, but that’s not easy to accomplish. I was convinced he’d be the person that could make this work.
Prox: Could you give us some tips for aspiring filmmakers?
Travis: There’s never the right time to make a movie. If you want to make a movie, start making it. There’s a million reasons why not to make a movie; just not the right time, maybe next year, don’t have enough money, can’t get the right cast, I’m just not ready, etc. It’s so easy to get caught up in all the reasons why not to start, but if you really want to make one, start doing it. You don’t need money to start. Momentum is highly contagious. Pick a date and begin, start storyboarding, start location scouting, build your props, your sets, start casting. Believe me, once you get the train rolling, things happen, people who are equally passionate will join you if they believe in you.
And the best advice I can give is to do what you believe in. You can’t guess what other’s may like, don’t try to appease someone else. You have to write and direct what you believe in. Make the movie you want to see. Even if it seems out of sorts with the rest of the world, if it seems unorthodox or untraditional, the only way someone else will enjoy what you’re doing is if you’re the first one to enjoy it. Trying to appease the masses, doing what’s safe or doing what’s popular, trying to appeal to what you imagine others will like, is a recipe for disaster. Don’t worry about going against the grain, the greatest films ever made all went against the grain in some fashion.
Prox: Please tell us something that influences your work that we may not know.
Travis: The musician, Prince. I was fortunate enough to work for him when I was younger and he had quite the impact on me. Not only as a musician, but as an artist, a producer, creator and the ultimate showman. Just being in his presence and watching him work was awe-inspiring, you knew you were witnessing someone very special. He was the epitome of creative fearlessness.
Prox: Who are some of your favorite artists, creatives, or intellectuals?
Travis: I’m really drawn to directors from the 70’s and 80’s, I imagine that’s because it’s they're movies I grew up watching and they all had such a massive impact. Screenwriters and directors such as Walter Hill, Peter Hyams, John McTeirnan, Brian DePalma, Michael Crichton, William Goldman and John Carpenter. They’ve all influenced and inspired me in everything I do. And currently there’s one director whose work I would go see, regardless of the story or cast and that’s David Fincher. A master technician and film maker.
Prox: Anymore information on other upcoming projects and releases?
Travis: I have a few scripts that I wrote that are being directed by other people that I’m excited about but they haven’t gone into production quite yet, so I don’t want to jinx ‘em. But I can say they are directors I greatly admire so I hope they come to fruition. As for myself, I’m taking steps to put together my next indie film which I’d like to shoot next year.
Prox: Final Thoughts?
Travis: Thanks for the interview.
Infinity Chamber will be in theaters September 15, 2017 and iTunes/VOD/Amazon on September 26, 2017.
Want to stay updated on new interviews and posts? Head over to the Inside the Rift Facebook page and leave a like or follow me on Twitter @insidetheriftx, Instagram @insidetherift, and Soundcloud @Insidetherift! You can also support me by Contributing or on Patreon!