An Interview with Drew Hall (Part 2) – By Philip Smolen

I was very fortunate to review writer/director Drew Hall’s thriller “ Convergence” last year for Rogue Cinema (for my review, please go here). The film is about Detective Ben Walls (Clayne Crawford) who is investigating a recent string of bombings in Atlanta in the early1990s. Ben and three other officers are sent to sweep and clear some buildings. While checking out one of them, a bomb goes off near Ben. He wakes up in a local hospital with his superior (Mykelti Williamson) watching over him. Ben soon realizes that everything in the hospital is not right and he begins to realize that he is trapped and must act in order to stop the continuing horror that is threatening his family, friends and city.

“Convergence” has some powerhouse hooks and I had to talk to Drew to find out how he got to make this wonderful movie. So here is Part 2 of my interview with Drew Hall He also fills us in on his newest project – the sci-fi blockbuster “Aether.” To read Part 1 of my interview with Drew, please go here.

RC: Drew, “Convergence” has one wicked left turn about an hour into it, but it really does work. Why did you think it would work and not turn the audience off?

DH: I didn’t, but I knew that something like that shot/sequence had never been done, so I was kind of excited to see it myself. Luckily, I have a few friends who I let read things early and they all came back with the ‘holy shit! How are you gonna do that?’ response.  All good stories should have some level of risk in them. They should challenge the production crew/creatives equally to the audience. At least that’s what works for me.

RC: What I also loved was that you put out some crumbs for the audience for the audience to pick up on as the story develops. You ask your audience to pay attention. You don’t spoon feed.

DH: Sometimes that works, sometimes that doesn’t. I will admit that Shane, the editor did a wonderful job of picking just the right amount of crumbs. There are more and some are more obvious than others, but finding the balance in post was crucial. I don’t think modern audiences are lacking intelligence, in fact I’d argue the contrary.  Today’s audience knows so much more – the real issue is cutting through all the distraction options. The best way I know to do that is to challenge the audience.  Keep them invested by actively asking them to participate in the exploration, not to just sit idly by.

RC: Where did you film because it’s tough to recreate a hospital setting.

DH: I believe in providence. So that was a REAL functional hospital that stopped operations 6 months prior to us coming in. The building was kept up to hospital code/standards and we were able to set up there for the month of filming. It was weird living in that place for so long. The first few days the crew was lost and we had to put up signs to direct everyone around. Inside the hospital I was able to have full run, so I mapped out the entire film and sequences there. We swapped floors around based on colors. We made hallways join that weren’t there, etc. I had driven by that complex so many times but because it was so well kept I had no idea that it was just waiting to be explored as a movie set.

The biggest triumph was at the chapel. That was on our sound stage because we needed to control the lighting for that fully practical shot that you referenced earlier (save for the shadow things). The wallpaper they used in the actual hospital isn’t made anymore, and what we could find was super expensive, so Mark Terry (PD) hired a young lady named April to come in and faux paint the walls, thus allowing a seamless cross cut (even over days) between two locations. It was a real testament to the gifts of actors, artists, crew and editors for making that work so well.

RC: Now that’s “Convergence” is finished, would you have done anything differently?

DH: I love the movie. There are little nitpicky things, but the best most honest answer is that I should have stuck to the original plan. This will only make sense if you’ve seen “Convergence”, but I wanted to release two films with the exact same point (52 minute mark onward) in time, but from two different perspectives leading up to it. One would go out on VOD and one would go Theatrical. Either way you get two amazing experiences, but told from two very unique perspectives.

RC: Tell me about any festival activity for “Convergence.” What makes you proudest about it?

DH: It’s been a wild festival run thus far.  At the Big Easy Film Festival we won both Jury and Audience awards. We get nominations and all that stuff, but what’s really important and more awesome – is that audiences enjoy it. They connect to it. They end up in discussions after the screening and some of them are a bit heated. I wanted “Convergence” to not be a typical horror movie, or thriller, or genre film. I wanted it to be what I love most about good movies – a conversation starter.

RC: What are your current plans for “Convergence”?

DH: It’s a fun movie on VOD and Blu-Ray, but it’s really, really fun in the theater.  The sound design from Jerrid Jones and the Mix from John Frost really immerses you in the world, so I’m hoping that we can get a shot at pushing it out to theaters, either through a chain or indie sometimes soon. In the meantime, we’re making the rounds at any festival willing to give us a shot.

RC: Where can we find out more information about “Convergence”?

DH: Well I’m awful at social media, but you can find stuff on the website, twitter @frame29films, my twitter @teslapunk or on the Facebook pages.

RC: Now Drew, tell me a little bit about your ambitious project “Aether.” It looks fantastic!

DH: So I’ve been working on versions of “Aether” for roughly ten years. It all started with a short called “Lightning in the Bottle” and kind of took off from there. “Aether” is a sci fi epic that is steampunk inspired, but NOT set in an alternate time line.  Akin to “Star Wars”, we don’t really say where or when we are, the Aether’verse just exists. It’s pretty dense in the characters, design, and concept, which is awesome and somewhat tricky to get outsiders to look at. Original properties are often overlooked because they don’t have a fan base from the get go. Here is the plot synopsis:

“In the struggle over the mysterious and addictive power source, Aether, a group of outcasts are brought together to defend their homeland from a power hungry political saboteur, violent assassins and a ruthless chancellor obsessed with keeping his floating kingdom airborne at any cost.”

We decided to step out and try something different. We were able to raise funds outside of crowd funding and made an eight and a half minute proof of concept film that show cases the Aether’verse.  It leaves a lot of unanswered questions, but that’s kind of the point.

Since we are looking to pitch to studios we decided not to heavily cast the film, but instead assembled a team of creative legends to assist us. Our DP is an Oscar winning VFX artist named Alex Funke. He won Oscars for his VFX work on “Lord of the Rings”, but if you read his credits – it’s like my entire childhood is to thank for his work. The same can be said for David L. Snyder, our production designer. He was nominated for an Oscar for his Art Direction on “Blade Runner”, but his films after that are equally design impressive. Robin Mathews, our makeup department head, won an Oscar for “Dallas Buyers Club.”  She is easily one of the most impressive artists I’ve worked with.  She just gets it, and knows how to push the boundaries visually. Sound in sci-fi/fantasy is super important, so we were lucky enough to connect with Chris Ward (Oscar nominated for “The Hobbit”) who really made the world come alive.  The Airships were designed by again, another childhood influencer, Kim Bailey. He designed the first Borg ship, the Stargate, and the ships in “Space Above and Beyond” (personal favorite).

The producer, Scott Robinson, and I have worked together on two films so far. He’s so incredibly awesome at his work that he makes it look easy.  He’s kind of like Tony Hawk, effortless with precision.

RC: From what I’ve seen, “Aether” looks like its blending some movie genre’s together. What genre elements were you aiming for?

DH: Yeah there are a good bit of influences in the film.  It is very much sci-fi, but we did lean somewhat on Steampunk as a design influencer. The world of “Aether” has a caste system so we decided to make each caste have a style of its own. Wavelinde is the most classical steampunk influenced portion. There’s clearly a strong taste for the opulence that I have always associated with Victorian wealth. It feels grand like a mix of period and fantasy. Specter is the primary town on the Island of Deos. The people here are sort of the middle class, but their style is very much western influenced. Lots of low riding gun holsters, dust, and patchwork clothing. The last group is the Bruewen who are a post apocalyptic looking bunch. They live underground in a series of mines, but their dress and style is very much made up from what they can scavenge. The only rule was that it couldn’t be something totally like Mad Max, since we don’t have cars or modern 21st century bits in our world.

RC: What stage are you at now with its development?

DH: We have just finished and released the short proof of concept film. Here’s where you can see it:
Now comes the hard part as we reach out to studios, investors, and decision makers.  We have an amazing fan base (I prefer to think of them as family) who have supported us thus far, but now we must venture out on our own.

RC: Is this a project that’s near and dear to you?

DH: I love all of my films, but this one has been my dream for so long, it’s kind of scary.  In addition to seeing a world I helped created come to life, it also marks the first project I’m co-directing with Horst Sarubin, who’s been one of my best friends for over 15 years. He gave up a job working for WETA in New Zealand to come back and help make this film a reality. He’s gotten to see the world via big movies like “The Hobbit” and “Fast Seven”, but now he’s back here to help make a brand new one. I’m just excited to see something that is new and fresh, not just in style but in story as well.

RC: How was the world premiere of the “Aether” short received in Phoenix?

DH: Phoenix was MIND blowing. It’s a great con and we were treated so well it was nuts. The crowds were receptive and asked questions so relevant we joked that they sounded like they were planted. I also got several of the biggest compliments I could ever receive as people described seeing “Aether” and it reminded them of how they felt watching “Jurassic Park” or “The Last Crusade” or “Star Wars” for the first time. I don’t even know what to say to that other than ‘Thank You’. Then I go to the bar and have a shot as to not freak out over the pressure!

RC: Well thanks for talking to us Drew and good luck with “Convergence” and “Aether.”

DH: Phil, thank you for letting me ramble on and thank you and Rogue Cinema for all the support.  It truly means the world to me.