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Future Imperfect: An Interview with 'Defective' Writer/Director Reese Eveneshen, Actor Colin Paradine and Cinematographer Isaac Elliott-Fisher

October 19, 2017Ben MK

Think RoboCop meets Judge Dredd, and you can kind of get a feel for the tone writer/director Reese Eveneshen is going for with his debut feature, Defective. A sci-fi thriller set in a near-future run by a burgeoning authoritarian regime called the State Enforcement Agency, the film follows Rhett Murphy (Colin Paradine), a man with a mysterious past who must rescue his sister, Jean (Raven Cousens), an office worker who has fallen into the SEA's clutches. A government-run organization, the SEA has a mandate to deploy its cyborg-like soldiers — dubbed Preservers of the Peace — in every city across the country. But as Rhett soon discovers, they have a much more sinister agenda in mind than just maintaining law and order.

The movie was also lensed by Isaac Elliott-Fisher, whom Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles fans might know as the cinematographer for the documentary Turtle Power: The Definitive History of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. And I caught up with Eveneshen, Paradine and Elliott-Fisher ahead of Defective's world premiere at Toronto After Dark to talk about the ideas behind the film, the production design and more.

Defective harkens back to the sci-fi/action cinema of the 80s and 90s. But do you feel like this type of film is perhaps even more relevant today, given the political concerns of our current day and age, not to mention the leaps and bounds technology has taken in the last couple of decades?

Eveneshen: Inevitably, it's kind of unavoidable nowadays, and I think we felt that when we were making the movie. It was never written with that intention, because like you pointed out, it was definitely meant to be more of an homage to [movies] like RoboCop and Terminator — that sort of thing, with a new age feel to it. But I think as we were making it, especially after post [-production] and now given the new political climate, it's unavoidable that it sort of takes on that kind of commentary, if you will.

Elliott-Fisher: I don't think we knew that it was going to become this relevant that fast. Because I think it was something that we had talked about at the beginning, like it seems relevant or it seems like it [would be] on the horizon. But I don't think we knew that it was like, "Oh man, this is going to be taken more seriously down the road."

Speaking of harkening back, there seemed to be shades of everything from Judge Dredd to Star Wars in the film. Reese, can you tell me how the story came about and what kind of films did you perhaps draw upon for inspiration?

Eveneshen: Well, the story came from desperation, because I was trying to get another film off the ground. And it just wasn't happening, and I thought, "I really gotta make something fast." And I wanted to do something cool, and I've never really tried to do a sci-fi thing before. The movie I'd done before was sort of a smaller-budgeted zombie movie. And I grew up watching all those sci-fi films like Star Wars, RoboCop, The Terminator, Logan's Run and Soylent Green with my dad. And I remember saying, "Well, they're not really making movies that feel like that anymore." So that's where the inspiration came from; it was to try and make something like that again.

I also saw some similarities to how The Force Awakens dealt with the Stormtroopers and the humanity underneath the armor.

Eveneshen: Yeah, I think that probably came more to light as we were shooting.

Elliott-Fisher: Well, it was in the design process. Originally, the idea for the Preservers of the Peace was more like a SWAT idea, but then when we started bouncing the concept back and forth, it was like, "Why don't we design something with a silhouette that actually gives you — like a Stormtrooper — something that's instantly recognizable." You have an opportunity there to have that iconic sci-fi character that you can play with.

Your turn, Colin. Are you a big fan of this kind of sci-fi, and is that what drew you to the project?

Paradine: Absolutely, yeah. Like everybody, I grew up with Star Wars. So, Reese actually came to me, and one of the things that he said to me was, "What haven't you done in a movie?" And one of the first things out of my mouth was, "Something sort of action/sci-fi." And of course, when I said that, I'm thinking Star Wars. [laughs] Because who wouldn't want to be in Star Wars?

Now, with all of you being from Toronto, and with the movie being filmed in the surrounding area, the city itself is in a way one of the stars of the movie, even though it's not featured too overtly. Can you tell me more about what locations viewers should look out for when watching the movie?

Eveneshen: Funny enough, we didn't shoot a whole lot in Toronto. We actually did a lot of studio location [work]. We made a studio in Brantford, which is about 30-40 minutes away from the city. It was just cheaper to rent out a warehouse space and build most of our sets in there, so you probably won't see any overt references to Toronto.

Elliott-Fisher: I think some of the exteriors are Hamilton. And then those were augmented too.

Eveneshen: But for any of the Toronto things, we were mostly indoors. [laughs] So you probably won't see much of it. Because Toronto, to me, plays a lot of [other] cities in movies, but it's got a distinct Toronto look. We're trying to go for a you-don't-know-where-this-might-be sort of location.

Elliott-Fisher: That was the whole idea, to leave the city as ambiguous as possible. I think for exteriors we had Kitchener, we had Guelph, we had Hamilton. So there's a little bit peppered throughout. [But] it's not consistent on purpose.

Regarding the production design, how did the overall visual aesthetic of Defective come about?

Eveneshen: Isaac, as well as being the cinematographer, ended up taking on a lot of the production designer duties. But for the Preservers of the Peace and the drone, a lot of it was him and I just bouncing ideas back and forth. Isaac is a phenomenal artist; he actually painted the poster. But he would send me drawings of the suits and the drones, and for about a year we would bounce the ideas back and forth.

Elliott-Fisher: Yeah, it was a role that kind of evolved, because we had more of an art director/co-production designer who was going to be handling sort of the on-set stuff. [But] because I have a background in building and art, I immediately started sketching ideas and sending them to Reese. Because I think I latched onto those characters of the suits as being something you could put on a marquee or on a poster. So it was back and forth with different ideas like [having the Preservers be] organic and biomechanical, and kind of looping back to something that really worked to the themes of the movie — that the suits had lenses on their faces, so that it had the [idea of a] surveillance state kind of built right into the design. But the drone became a natural extension of the design of the suit. And then from there, it was designing the sets that we could shoot, and then what we would do at the end to expand the scope of it.

Eveneshen: And there was definitely an added benefit to being the director of photography, as well as the production designer, because the two really go hand in hand to get the optimal look. The important thing to stress here is that we really didn't have much money to work with. I mean, we never shot with a full budget, so we really had to put our heads together, and kind of go, "What's the most we can get out of everything?" And that's where [we had] the added benefit of [Isaac] coming on as production designer. And Colin was one of the producers on the movie. By the time we were done we were pinching pennies.

Elliott-Fisher: Oh yeah, we employed as many tricks and tactics as we could, right down to even doing models on the fly to try to add scope and make it bigger and bigger. But really, knowing how to build the stuff added the bonus that we could actually go, "How far can we push it, knowing that we can build it ourselves."

Eveneshen: And in fact, even on one of the last days of shooting, it was literally just the three of us: Isaac on camera, me holding lights, and Colin doing the acting. It got down to that some days, like, "We can't pay anybody, so it's just gonna be the three of us." [laughs] And Colin carried stuff too! Colin was there every day of the shoot, even when he didn't have to be.

So, that ties in with my final question. The initial premise is fairly self-contained, but the scope of the film is opened up quite a bit by the end. Is that your way of having some fun with genre fans?

Eveneshen: Well, the idea of the scope kind of opening up — I like that in movies, where you think it's going one way, and then it just gets bigger and bigger. There's a positive and a negative to this, because it builds and gets more grandiose and more action-heavy, but at the same time you kind of sacrifice — especially with an independent film — the idea that we'll pay this off, but you kind of have to sit with us. Because the movie was sort of staged to be like the first half is more of a drama almost, and then the second half is kind of like a political thriller, and then the third act we just go, "ok, drones, explosions." And the idea was just to build the thread, because I hate when you do it all in the first 10 minutes, and there's nothing to connect to and it's just not interesting.

Elliott-Fisher: I think we were playing with budget, is what we were doing. [laughs] Like, "How big can we go with no money." [laughs]

Does that mean that you already have some ideas for a sequel?

Eveneshen: We could do a sequel, but there's no immediate plans for sure. It seems pretty definite of an ending in my mind. But I think if we put our heads together we could probably think of something pretty cool.

Elliott-Fisher: I think the cool thing about stories like this one is — like a lot of our favorite genre, sci-fi stuff — are that they are kind of open. It's like it's not tipping our hats, but at least at the same time it feels bigger than it is. It feels like this is part of a bigger picture. I mean, when you watch the original three Star Wars, it was the idea that there were these other planets, and there was this other stuff. You don't see it, and it's probably better that you don't, like it was cooler when you think this is a bigger world than what you actually can see at the moment.

Eveneshen: And I mean, it would be fun to do more. Lots of stuff got cut from the script for budget reasons. We had bigger set-pieces. There was a really cool scene on a bus that was supposed to be in the opening of the movie. We just ran out of time and money. I'd only want to do a sequel if there was a reason to do it, and not just, "Well, let's just do a sequel because it'd be fun." There'd have to be a cool story to tell with it, one that doesn't quite do everything that we did again.

Defective is receiving its world premiere at Toronto After Dark 2017.

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