In this Creator Conversation, several members of the cast and crew of Shifter share their stories and insight into the time-traveling horror film.
Tell me a bit about yourself and your role with Shifter.
Zachary Burns: My name is Zachary Burns, co-founder of Planet Thunder Productions, and I was a producer on Shifter.
Jacob Leighton Burns: I’m a filmmaker based in Oklahoma and the writer/director of Shifter.
Nicole Fancher: I play Theresa Chaney, an awkward young scientist who invents a time travel device and uses it on herself.
Ashley Mandanas: My name is Ashley J. Mandanas, or AJ for short, and I play Blake Douglass in Shifter. I’m a non-binary, Asian artist: actor, singer, dancer, aerialist, yogi, ukulele strummer, writer, and cat mom.
Leesa Neidel: My name is Leesa Neidel. I’ve been married to my husband for 21 years and we have two daughters!! My oldest shows cattle and goats and my youngest is in cheer and soccer! My husband is an OKC firefighter! When we aren’t at livestock shows and games, you can catch us at the lake! I’ve been an actress for six years and I’m a member of SAG-AFTRA. My role in Shifter is the warehouse manager. Felicia is a no-nonsense supervisor that has very little patience. She just wants everyone to do their job. When she feels Theresa is slacking she definitely gets on her case about it!
If you could painlessly travel anywhere in time and space for a visit, when and where would you go and why?
ZB: Time travel anywhere and anytime without consequence? I love movies too much so I might go back to see some of the world premieres of some of my favorite movies haha. I’d hit up the big ones like the original Star Wars in 1977, but I’d also love to check out the premieres of Gojira in 1954, and the original silent version of The Phantom of the Opera in 1925. I just think it would be fascinating to see these iconic movies with their premiere audiences within their historical context. Like I said, I love movies too much haha.
JLB: Similar to Zachary’s answer, but I’d love to go back and watch those films get made! To have a chance to hang out on set while filmmakers like Fritz Lang or Alfred Hitchcock or Akira Kurosawa directs and carefully watch how they made true movie magic? My god, that would be amazing!
NF: I think it would be fun to travel to the fifties and have a classic soda at a soda fountain counter, wearing a poodle skirt and saddleback shoes.
AM: It would be a dream come true to visit the moon. People say, “shoot for the moon, and you’ll land amongst the stars.” But I only want the moon. The moon, the moon, and nothing but the moon.
What’s your synopsis for the feature film?
ZB: Shifter is about a young woman struggling with the horrible and painful consequences of becoming unstuck in time.
NF: Lonely girl and her cat use time travel device she created. Shift gets real.
AM: Follow Theresa down a macabre rabbit hole of isolation, scientific breakthrough, and deep, visceral regret. This is a story of a love affair between what is real and what is impossibly out of reach. Recipe: Take time travel and body horror and blend them together, add cat.
Why do you think people should watch it?
ZB: I think there’s a lot people can get out of Shifter. Primarily I think we’ve come up with a unique take on the time travel genre that people may not have seen before. We approached it from a character perspective as opposed to a time loop or puzzle box approach that is maybe more common to the genre. Because of that we were able to touch upon some themes such as grief and isolation that you don’t usually get to explore in how it relates to time travel.
JLB: Because reviews have called it “a painful and poignant journey through space and time that is both harrowing and cathartic to watch”! But really, a ton of amazing people helped create this unique take on the time travel genre, and this is a great opportunity to support them and indie okie filmmaking.
NF: It’s a mashup of genres: sci-fi, time travel, horror, and romantic comedy. So there’s something for everyone.
AM: In the time of the current pandemic, it’s really hard to make meaningful connections with others. Theresa’s life becomes a series of jumbled connections that never really end up panning out. Playing Blake in the movie, I really got to play with what it was like to be ghosted by someone as (SPOILER) Theresa slowly disappeared into thin air. And the movie constantly stirs around the question of perception: was that a ghost, or was that a time traveler? It’s really interesting what people tell themselves to justify what horrors they’ve seen.
Where was the movie filmed?
ZB: Shifter was filmed entirely in Oklahoma, primarily in Guthrie and Oklahoma City, with tiny scenes here and there that were shot in El Reno and Midwest City.
NF: Guthrie and the surrounding OKC area.
AM: In good ol’ Oklahoma, babyyyy!!! Nowhere better to film! Make regional film! I’ll shout that from the mountaintops.
What were some of your favorite scenes and/or locations to film?
ZB: Personally I loved filming at our factory location. We were there for a day and a half, which was originally supposed to be two full days but an ice storm cut one of our days short haha. But I just loved the look of that place and the people there were so easy and fun to work with. And plus they had that excellent freight elevator, which was something we specifically wrote a new scene for just so we could use it in the movie!
NF: Definitely the scenes with the cat, Cleo! I also enjoyed all the scenes with the other actors for different reasons. Filming at the factory and using the metalworking machine was also really cool (albeit a bit intimidating haha)!
AM: I got to film an intimate scene that turned into a horror scene!! It was exhilarating and wonderful. It’s in my top 3 favorite scenes to have acted.
LN: My overall favorite scene of the movie is when Theresa is in the theater and starts to shift. They did this cool thing where it looks like the monster on the screen comes through Theresa’s disappearing body!! SO awesome!! My favorite scene that I filmed was the one on the elevator with Nicole Fancher (Theresa) where I’m basically chewing her up one side and down the other!! It’s just a cool shot! I also say a line during that scene that has become probably one of my most favorite lines I’ve ever had in anything! “…I might be small, but I can rip a damn arm off!” I sound so tough!!! Love it!
What was the greatest challenge you overcame in this production?
ZB: Well, remember that ice storm I just mentioned? We were filming what was supposed to be the first of two full days at the factory location, we had only been there maybe three hours, and then the executive director came up to me and said, “There’s an ice storm headed our way so we’re closing the place down and sending everyone home.” And very naively I asked “What does that mean for us?” to which she plainly replied, “You have to leave.” So here we are only barely having gotten our day started and we had to shut down production and spend the rest of the day paying very close attention to the weather and coordinating how to make up for our lost time. Thankfully the ice storm wasn’t too bad and we were able to return to the factory the next day and because we had the best cast and crew ever assembled we were somehow able to shoot a day and a half’s worth of scenes all in that one day. Definitely one of my most stressful and also most proud moments from this production.
NF: Like Theresa, I was dealing with my body betraying me–I was recovering from a series of accidents which had resulted in concussions and neck injuries, so had a pretty bad migraine and neck pain, and nerve problems. But at least it helped contribute to my portrayal of the character!
AM: So… I wasn’t the original Blake. I took over the role after the original actor that was cast moved away to film something else. The original Blake identifies as male. I was born biologically female and identify as non-binary. So obviously, the gender of the role changing had a huge effect on the film and the relationship between Theresa and Blake in general. I’ve heard some people say that the movie is trying to be woke and missing the mark by kind of demonizing men and making the most meaningful relationship with the female protagonist a female as well. But that’s really not the point. With everything having the potential to be politicized these days, I found it difficult to see the story change by accepting the role. I wasn’t sure if it was the right move. But I wouldn’t change a thing. I’m ecstatic to be a part of this film and the crazy journey it’s had. I stand by the story and my performance therein, and I stand by everyone who made the film what it is.
LN: We were all set to begin filming the first scene of the day. The cameras and lighting were ready, everyone was in wardrobe, and we had rehearsed! And then along comes what was supposed to be a big snowstorm! We had to stop everything, pack up and head out because the location we were using was closing due to the impending storm! We only had the location for two days, I believe, and now one of the days was ending way short! The most frustrating thing was that we ended up barely even getting a dusting of snow!! But, I’m glad the roads weren’t affected, because the next day we were all able to get to set and you better bet, we all came with our “A-game”!
Any behind-the-scenes stories you wish to share or things you learned from making this project?
ZB: One of the common sayings about filmmaking is to never work with kids or animals on set, and on Shifter I learned how true that is haha, at least when it comes to animals. We had quite the prominent role for a cat in this movie which we knew was going to be a challenge, and we had no idea how right we would be because, as well all know, there’s only so much you can do to “control” a cat. Thankfully we never needed the cat to do anything too challenging or specific on set so we were able to shoot everything we needed with her primarily all in one day. Any more than that and I might have pulled out all my hair by the end of production, haha.
NF: We shot through pretty cold weather including an ice storm–our cast and crew were badass and powered through. I learned that it’s amazing what can happen when a film of our size gets the support of the local film community.
AM: Oh man, I’m sure Nicole has a bunch of stories about working in the dead of winter in a literal barn. But whenever we filmed the scene outside the library when I ask her out, it was still super cold. Acting like it’s warm outside when it’s literally freezing is no joke. There are some moments in that scene where my character’s nervousness looks a bit like I might be shivering (don’t tell anyone; I’m a good actor, I promise!).
LN: That same scene (Elevator Scene) lends itself to this question, as well! In the scene at the end I have to pull the elevator door up so we could exit. Well, I couldn’t even budge it at first it was SO heavy!! I’m pretty sure I even ruined a couple of really good takes due to not being able to lift it! Jacob and the team were so cool and super patient about it though! Eventually I got my legs into it and put every bit of strength I had and we got the shot-lol!! Needless to say I got an arm workout that day on set!
Anything else you want to say or let people know?
ZB: I just want to thank all of our amazing IndieGoGo contributors. The entire budget for Shifter came from a crowdfunding campaign we ran in the summer of 2018, which means this movie literally would not have been made without the incredible and generous support of our contributors. It’s only because of them that we have a movie at all. I hope they like it! And to anyone just finding the movie now, I hope you like it too.
JLB: Oklahoma is the only place we could have made this film, and we are so so so grateful to everyone who helped make it happen!
NF: Please watch the film and leave a review on Amazon or iTunes–it would be super helpful!
AM: I’ve heard some people say in reviews that the women of this film are “odd looking.” If by “odd looking,” you mean we look like human beings, then thank you. That’s what we are. There’s a standard of beauty held by Hollywood that is incredibly exclusive, unrealistic, and damaging. And I’m glad to be a part of the “odd looking” crowd acting in movies that bring my “odd looking”-ness more into mainstream avenues. I’m proud to represent “odd looking” people, and I will continue to put myself out there so that every other “odd looking” person can see me, see themselves in me, and feel validated for once and NOT down-trodden. I fancy myself an advocate for the “odd looking” in all of us.
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