An operation to harness energy from the sun has resulted in disaster. With the light from the sun now gone, humanity lives deep underground, attempting to reverse the damage before the world freezes completely. That’s the premise of the indie sci-fi short film INFINITUS, currently being made in Wisconsin by director Cameron Currin.
With a desire to fuse the style of classics such as 2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY with modern films such as SUNSHINE and INTERSTELLAR, Currin and his crew are going old-school, using practical FX like miniature scale models and paint reactions filmed with a macro lens. We caught up with Currin to talk about the film.
RECURSOR: How did you become interested in filmmaking?
CURRIN: I’ve been into filmmaking since I was very young. I remember playing with action figures and pretending I was making the next big sequel to BATMAN VS. TEENAGE MUTANT NINJA TURTLES. My parents bought me a mini-DV camcorder, and I would film my friends doing various silly things. I even made a spoof, SNL-style cooking show with my cousins once.
It wasn’t until 2017 that I decided to take this filmmaking thing seriously, and I began working on KUSHTAKA (my first short film). I wanted to do something different and unique to Alaska, the area I was living in at the time. While researching, I stumbled on a legendary book from the gold rush days, and I couldn’t get it out of my head. The film was a great learning experience, and I made a lot of great friends working on it.
Who are some of your filmmaking influences?
My major influences are nothing different from most people who love sci-fi. In the past, it was Ridley Scott’s ALIEN, James Cameron’s TERMINATOR 2, and other cult classics that inspired me. Lately, I’d say Robert Eggers is quickly becoming one of my go-to directors. The way he and his brother (Max) researched, wrote, and stylized THE LIGHTHOUSE had a lot of similarity to how I made KUSHTAKA. Even the time period is similar. After watching his film, I was able to realize what might have been if I was more experienced and had more money.
What drew you to doing something in the sci-fi genre?
Sci-fi is a look at things to come. We get transported to another world and see the unknown. Everything just feels so interesting. In sci-fi, even the way people drink or eat could be cool! You could put oatmeal in a weird looking container, have it spew out into a futuristic bowl. And I would watch that.
What challenges have you faced with making INFINITUS?
The biggest challenge is avoiding CGI and attempting to create low budget, convincing practical FX. I see now why low budget productions use so much CGI. You don’t have to physically paint, set up lights, construct with bulk wood or foam. When you do all of that digitally in post-production, you can use mostly one or two programs to construct an entire building or 3D model. Slap some digital texturing, and boom, you’re done. You can use whatever image you’ve got, and modify it. When using physical models, sets — the angle and focus of the camera really matters.
The only way to overcome a challenge like that is to find passionate and talented people. I could never make a film like this on my own. Robert Wagner and Ray Rider designed the space suit out of motorcycle pads and camping mat foam. Alex Lang made the spaceship using a giant hamster ball. Jeol Hartlaub machine-crafted the sets and props using old radio equipment and foam insulation. Stefano Livorni helped build and piece together the set. Andrew Dryer and his camera team are pros and use their vast knowledge and equipment to create a high-quality image. Actors Chelsea Murphy, Paul Morgan, and Alizé Lee bring their experience to the table and help me be the best director I can be.
Without all of these awesome people sharing their time and knowledge, this couldn’t happen. It’s always the people who make the dream become reality.
Tell us about the approach you’re taking to VFX, and why.
It has to be mostly practical. I feel like this is the only way I can get a realistic, lived-in feel on a low budget production. If I relied heavily on CGI with a low budget, you would definitely be able to tell. The graphics would look like an old ‘90s videogame, and the rooms wouldn’t have depth or breathing room. There would be a lot of blurry, out of focus panels/lights/gizmos. I’ve watched the Youtube tutorials. While there are talented people who know how to bring that stuff to life, I don’t have those skills, so I have to rely on making most of it happen in camera.
For the space FX, I chose to do MACRO film photography. I mix milk, water, soap, and acrylic paints to create interesting and crazy reactions in a petri dish. I film those reactions with a MACRO lens, basically like a mad scientist in his lab. Hopefully the experiment looks great and will enhance the overall experience of the film. If it doesn’t, I’d like to think it is still a unique take on the genre. It should create some breathtaking visuals on a big screen.
And then, we have a scale spaceship model to film on a green screen backdrop. I can’t believe I found Alex Lang here in Wisconsin. Before him, I was planning on kitbashing this thing with a disassembled NERF gun and some toy models. Now, we actually have a badass ship. Her name is Lucretia, based on the poet Lucretia Davidson (1808-1825) who wrote the poem “To a Star” featured in the film.
What’s the indie filmmaking scene like in Wisconsin?
Better than I ever thought possible. At first, you think of a place like Wisconsin… And you get images of beer, cheese curds, sports, and for some strange reason a lot of hospitals/dentist offices? But actually, they have a thriving film community here. The film festival is one of the largest I’ve seen, and they have multiple studios and rental houses.
What’s even better is how accommodating the film crews are. Even without a film tax incentive, everyone knows what low budget means, and they are willing to help anyway. I met most of the cast and crew through the various community Facebook pages. A lot of talent can be found up here. You just have to make your presence known.
What plans do you have next?
We are launching a crowdfunding campaign right now to help us fund the extremely hard-working cast/crew while also getting the gear needed to film the scale model spaceship. We have some pretty great prizes in store, including the scale model spaceship and the space suit itself! The film can be followed on its Facebook page @infinitusshortfilm or on its website www.infinitus.space.
After that, we will send prizes, market the film, and submit to festivals for awards. Festivals are a must for us. I need to hear feedback and get audience reactions so I can keep growing and building up future films. Once the festival run is done, the film will be sent to online streaming services. We hope you enjoy what you see when the film is released near the end of next year.
Cameron Currin is an award-winning director, writer, and cinematographer, known for the short horror film Kushtaka (2019) and Precinct 757 (2013). With INFINITUS, he is looking to create something unique using old-school science fiction techniques.