In this deadCenter Film Festival Q&A session, the team behind the time-travel thriller, Shifter, talks about their feature film.
1. Tell me a bit about yourself and your role in the film.
JLB: My name is Jacob Leighton Burns and I am the writer and director of Shifter, along with being one of the co-founders of Planet Thunder Productions.
VH: My name is Vinnie Hogan. I wrote the score for Shifter and served as a producer as well. I was raised in Oklahoma City and started producing and scoring short films for Jacob and Zach Burns back in 2007. I now live in Austin, TX, and was shooting a sci-fi feature (until COVID-19 crashed the party).
NF: I play Theresa Chaney, scientist and inventor. I’ve been acting on-camera for about ten years—one of my first films was actually Planet Thunder Production’s ‘Broken Boy,’ which also screened at deadCenter in 2011 or 2012. I have a Bachelors in Vocal Performance from OCU, recently produced my first short, and most importantly, have a cat named Jasper to whom I refer as “my son.”
AM: My name is Ashley (AJ) Mandanas, and I’m a non-binary, Asian American actor. I play Blake Douglass in Shifter. Blake is a visual artist/librarian who strikes up a strangely intimate relationship with Theresa, even as she begins to literally fade away.
2. How do you personally describe the movie to people?
JLB: Shifter is a time-travel horror film about a young woman who experiences painful and gruesome side effects after an experiment with time-travel goes wrong and causes her to shift through time at random.
VH: I describe it as your run-of-the-mill time travel/body horror/character drama with a sprinkling of 80s flair.
NF: I play a scientist who invents a time-travel device, and then things go very, very, wrong. And there’s a cat.
AM: Shifter is a Time Travel, slow-burn horror that brings a new and terrifying meaning to the term “ghost.”
3. Why should one see it?
JLB: We did our best to make something truly unique that maybe people haven’t seen before. As a long time fan of the time-travel genre, I didn’t want to just remake the films I loved, I wanted to create something unique and approach it from a different angle. We asked ourselves, “what’s the horror of time-travel?”, so I hope people will be interested to see what we came up with!
VH: Because it takes two very familiar genres (time travel and horror) and creatively smashes them together in a really fascinating way. Because it brings characters that you’d not normally see in this type of movie. Because it is an incredible example of what a time of creative and smart working Oklahomans can do on a low budget.
NF: Although it’s a sci-fi horror, it has elements of comedy and romance as well. Also, the cat.
AM: In this time of isolation, it’s especially difficult to find/keep/cultivate connections with other humans. This film explores all sorts of missed/jumbled/awkward connections as we follow Theresa warily navigate a world of others’ expectations versus her own. One of the searing horrors of this film is abject loneliness. Like, am I really completely alone in this vast, chaotic Universe? Does anyone understand me really? Will anyone ever truly see who I am and what I can do? What if I disappeared? Anyone can relate to that. Also, there’s a pretty dope cat in a few scenes. That never hurts!
4. What are your thoughts on the deadCenter Film Festival?
JLB: I love deadCenter! Not only is it an amazing showcase of work from around the world, it gives me an opportunity to meet and discover new, talented, and awesome people. I’ve been attending every year since I first heard of it, and it’s always a highlight. Can’t wait for what this year has in store!
VH: I love the deadCenter Film Festival. The more I am able to travel to new cities and new film festivals, the more I realize what a gem deadCenter is. It is marvelously well organized and has supported OK based filmmakers like us for decades. I am particularly grateful that the festival found a way to not even let a global pandemic stop them!!
NF: It attracts a lot of talent and I’m grateful they’re screening our film.
AM: I’m ecstatic that the festival is still happening! I love the virtual options, as well as the outdoors, socially-distanced options for pass holders. Even if we can’t gather together closely in person, we can still collectively celebrate the amazing cinematic art this festival has to offer!
5. What was the most challenging aspect you had during production?
JLB: We shot the film in the middle of winter so it was FREEZING. We even got shut down one day due to an impending ice storm, so that was pretty rough. Luckily though, our cast and crew was amazing and we were able to make up any lost time without hurting the quality of the film.
NF: Like Theresa, I was in pain. I definitely identified with the character because of that. I was in a series of accidents that led to neck and brain injuries, and so was dealing with that pain, along with residual side effects such as dizziness, balance issues, migraines, etc. I don’t often say this about myself, but I’m proud of what I accomplished given my physical limits at the time. So the screams I do in the film are real (jk)
6. What was the best part about filming in Oklahoma?
JLB: The people for sure. I’m so grateful that so many talented and awesome people shared their time, energy, and talent to help bring this film to life. It wouldn’t have been possible without them!
VH: The willingness of the local people to help us with our micro-budget passion project.
NF: A tight-knit film community that values indie productions, and talented crew and cast. Also, shooting some scenes at my alma mater, OCU!
7. What were some particular scenes or locations that were enjoyable to film?
JLB: My absolute favorite thing to film was the opening title sequence. It’s inspired by both “The Thing from Another World” and “John Carpenter’s The Thing.” It looks CGI but we filmed it practically in my mom’s garage with the help of some poster board, a fish tank, trash bags, and fire. It was amazing.
NF: My scenes with the other characters were all fun to shoot for different reasons, but I think the most fun would be a date scene in a restaurant (you’ll have to see the film to find out who it’s with!) It was a lot of fun seeing how many different ways we could play that conversation. Also, all of my scenes with Cleo the cat were fun. It was also fun to learn how to solder. Can you tell I had fun? (I apologize. I’ll see myself out.)
8. What do you do to recharge your creative batteries?
JLB: I try to step away and look to other outlets, like reading, music, or exercise. Watching movies outside of my normal viewing habits helps too, if I see something new or unique that I haven’t seen before, that can be a huge morale booster.
VH: I watch classic films, go on walks, and try new skills. When I get stuck in writing, I switch over to video editing, when that gets stuck, I move on to writing music, etc…
NF: Meditate, listen to music, exercise, talk with my creative friends about what inspires us.
9. What do you think should be placed as a marker for the dead center of the universe?
JLB: A time machine.
VH: The deadCenter Film Festival.
NF: A bulls-eye.
10. Anything else you wish to add or share?
JLB: I hope all the deadCenter attendees enjoy it!
VH: Thank you for interviewing us and supporting local filmmakers!
deadCenter has added a pass holder only outdoor screening on Friday, June 12, at 9:00 pm, at the Tower Theater parking lot (425 NW 23rd St, 73103). Pass holders are allowed one guest each (or their family) and should bring their own chairs. Pass holders will be asked to present their digital pass for admission. Spots will be marked off for each guest/group, in accordance with social distancing recommendations.
ALL-ACCESS PASS INFO: You can buy an All-Access Pass, which is half off their normal price this year, at deadcenterfilm.org and this will give you unlimited access to all the films online and entry into the Outdoor Screening.
The 2020 deadCenter Film Festivals runs from June 11-21. Read more Question and Answer sessions with other deadCenter filmmakers, past and present, here.