Unknown State Screening at Circle Cinema
We posted the trailer for Christopher Long's short film Unknown State a while back. The science fiction thriller was filmed entirely in Oklahoma and used all Oklahomans for cast and crew. We were really impressed with the footage in the trailer and have been anxiously waiting to see the final cut of the film. The wait is over - Unknown State will be showing before the midnight screening of Beyond the Black Rainbow at Circle Cinema this Friday. Our hope at The Tulsa Egotist is to inspire you, the artists, the creatives, the media professionals, to utilize the incredible resources our city and state have to offer. Who says you have to settle for mediocre work from the Middle? We sure as hell don't, and neither did Christopher. We caught up with the film's writer/director to talk about why he chose to shoot such a high-concept film in his home state.
How did you come up with the concept for Unknown State?
I was at SXSW a couple of years ago with my friend Matt Leach, whose music video had been accepted into the festival. We attended a lot of film screenings and panels, one of which was led by David Gordon Green. Someone asked him about the importance of short films, if they were worth doing. He said absolutely! Short films help you keep crafting stories, they're great practice because you can keep doing them consistently since they require a lot less than features, and they help you learn how to refine stories. He talked about doing large concept ideas on a small scale and without a big budget. I started thinking about how much I love the genre of science fiction and playing around with the idea of a short about teleportation. We could film it in Oklahoma and keep it really simplistic.
Shooting Unknown State in Oklahoma was a very conscious decision. We wanted to prove we could shoot something unique like this here, something that was more tonally and visually appealing rather than a dialogue driven story. Oklahoma is so diverse. Drive three hours in any direction and you can see plains, fields of grass, semi-mountainous regions, even a desert - a legitimate desert, and all within a few hours from Tulsa. I don't know of many other states that offer that kind of variety and that kind of proximity. And I'm from here. I've worked on a lot of projects with different filmmakers in Tulsa and thought if I was going to do this, I wanted to do it with people I trusted and enjoyed working with.
What was your process for writing Unknown State?
I actually wrote it all in one draft. I sent it to a couple of people and took their notes, made a couple of changes, and that was the final script. I generally don't like to start until I know what I want to write. I'm lucky to go through two revisions of a script, not because I don't like to sit down and rewrite but because I've already thought through it so much and know what I want. The biggest change was eliminating dialogue from the script. I had a couple of scenes where minor characters would come visit Bennet (the scientist and main character), and everyone who read the script said that those few lines distracted from the film. So we cut it and now there's no dialogue, and I think it helped simplify and streamline the film so the focus is on what's being shown instead of said.
How did you fund the film?
Well I had originally planned on financing the film through investors, people who had ties to Tulsa and would want to invest in what was essentially an "art project." I started a Kickstarter page as sort of a back up, but was pretty quickly amazed at how much people were donating through the Kickstarter site. That became our main source for raising money to make the movie. We surpassed our goal by over $1000. It felt really good to see so many people show their support and to know that people were really pushing for someone to create something.
I'm currently submitting Unknown State to film festivals. The hope is we will be able to screen it during next year's festival circuit. Since finishing Unknown State though, I've already shot a feature film in Tulsa with Charles Elmore, who was my director of photography on Unknown State. I'm working on editing that film right now actually. I've started some preliminary work on a western short film that I wrote after location scouting for Unknown State. We drove across so many really cool Oklahoma landscapes that would just be perfect for a western. And I'm also working with Charles and Chelsea Davey (who was my production supervisor on Unknown State) on another high-concept science fiction film. This one is a trilogy of sorts, three short films connected into one feature. It has some pretty heavy story lines and will require some research. It's going to take some significant funding too, but again we're looking forward to proving that this kind of film can be made in Oklahoma. We love living here, we know we can make stuff here, and we want to show other filmmakers and creatives that you can make it here.
What would you say to these filmmakers and creatives living in Oklahoma? Just keep making things. Don't ever stop making things. Even if you don't know what it's going to do or think it won't do anything, keep working. Always stay busy, working on your craft, then you'll be ready when it's time to make something real.
Unknown State will screen at 11:45 p.m. on Friday, Sept. 28 at Circle Cinema, and is included with the price of admission to Beyond the Black Rainbow. Head out to help support local film!