Directed by: Boris Vesselinov
Cast: Ben Holtzmuller, Erik Scilley
Synopsis: As they pilot their submarine down into the world's deepest point, two researchers must debate pressing on when a crack in their window port grows.
You sent this film to me the day before the submersible “The Titan” was reported missing. Can you believe the timing? Because I can't.
The timing was incredibly uncanny; we premiered just days after news of the Titan came out. At first, I was somewhat surprised that the world found the true story so gripping. It seemed like all we could talk about was the unknown fate of these divers. Then, I realized that the news provoked people for the same reason I made the film -- the deep sea is a uniquely unsettling place, and that fear I thought was personal to me is in fact universal.
When I see a short film I love, I say to myself, “Oh, I want to watch that again”. I love this film but I cannot watch it again, I found it hard enough to watch the first-time round. Why do you think that is?
Nothing scares me more than tight spaces, open ocean, and large-scale machinery. This film includes all of that. I'm thrusting my characters into the most psychologically challenging scenario I can imagine, and that's why I think this can be an affecting piece. On top of all of that, it was very important to me that my characters willingly chose to take on the danger. The story's not happening to them. Instead, their ambition to make history, their willingness to gamble, their white-hot ambition -- that's what escalates the tension.
What has been the reaction been like in cinemas that have screened the film?
Silence. Groans and uncomfortable shifts. One of my favorite memories was at our film's premiere. We were at the beginning of the story where the submarine's window first cracks, and the divers are debating what to do. As soon as one of them said “it's superficial”, I heard an audience member in the back of the theater go “oh no…” That's when I knew this particular screening would go well.
Your two actors Ben Holtzmuller, Erik Scilley play off each other perfectly throughout the film. How did you cast them? And had anyone in the crew ever been on a submersible before?
Erik was actually an alumni of Loyola Marymount University, the school I attend (this film was my junior thesis). We found Ben off an open casting call, and it was immediately obvious that both he and Erik were right for their roles. It's an immense challenge to perform in such a confined space, especially when 95% of our coverage was close-ups. On top of that, our tension was entirely in the sound design, which was not present on set. Yet somehow these two performed hauntingly. And no -- none of us had ever been on a submersible because we're terrified of them!
The third presence in the submersible is sound design. Who is your sound engineer and what other films has s/he done?
I ended up sound designing the film myself, because I find that process to be an immense joy. It was the first thing I did. Before we had shots planned, casted, or designed the set, I created a soundscape for the film. Sound was more important to me than the visuals. The groan of the ship's walls, the vast echo of the open ocean, the hiss of the cracking glass -- that's what would put audiences on the edge of their seat. At times, there are dozens of sound layers mixing together in a terrible cacophony. And those are my favorite moments.