Last month I reviewed “S.I.N. Theory” (2013) a fabulous kinetic indie feature that tells the story of college mathematics professor Dr. Michael Leimann (well played by Jeremy Larter) who attempts to develop an algorithm that can successfully predict every human being’s action on the planet. Part thriller, part sci-fi, “S.I.N. Theory” explores the potential devastating consequences of our dependence on technology. Curious about its creator, I telephoned writer/director Richie Mitchell, and we delved into the production and filming of Richie’s fabulous and fun first full length feature.
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PS: So, Richie, tell me a little bit about your background.
RM: Well I live here in Toronto, Canada and I’m from Prince Edward Island which is this little island just north of Maine. I initially went to school for engineering. But about halfway through I kind of realized that it’s not exactly what I wanted to follow through with…
PS: Well, suddenly it’s apparent where Dr. Michael’s Leimann’s intensity in “S.I.N. Theory” comes from!
RM: Well, yeah, at least in terms of talking about math. The stuff in the film is over my head, but I can grasp the overall logic to it.
PS: Come on. Do you know your differentials and your integrals?
PM: (laughs) Yeah, I do. I do.
PS: OK, then you’re cool.
RM: See what I’ve always been doing was film making on the side and kind of learning the craft of it. I’ve joined film centers that are more or less like communities. I ended up doing more of that at the university and the main reason why is that I’m from a small little island and if you’re going to be successful, you’ve got to be a doctor, lawyer, engineer that kind of thing.
So after I finished up school I made film my mission and I moved to Toronto and started freelancing. I was doing short films for festivals and I wanted to make a run at features. I thought that maybe I’d do films for a year, but one year turned into four years and I started making music videos. So I was getting used to this and I really wanted to do a feature. I had a couple of projects in development, but they really didn’t go anywhere. And it was pretty frustrating. It got to a point where I was actually unemployed and the freelance work started drying up so I had this small window to film this idea that I had (which turned out to be “S.I.N. Theory”). And suddenly it came together pretty quick, almost much faster than I would have liked. But I had a small window to do it and that’s how it happened. So I really did “S.I.N. Theory” while I was unemployed!
PS: When you were growing up, what films inspired you the most?
RM: The idea came from another script I was working on. I had a line in the script that said something like “wouldn’t it be amazing if in the future we could predict each others’ lives by mathematics?” It would be like this hidden layer to your life. I knew, of course, about “Pi” (1998), so I re-watched that. But I wanted to differentiate from it, but I didn’t want it to conflict with what I wanted to do. I mean I knew I wouldn’t have any sort of a large budget. I mean I was trying to be very practical with “S.I.N. Theory.” l knew that I wouldn’t have access to car chases or anything like that.
PS: Well, you have to work with whatever you have.
RM: Yeah, exactly. Other indie films I went back to were “Following” (1998), and of course “Primer” (2004). Those were a pretty big influence on me.
PS: The great reward of your movie for me was that emotional impact. You really succeeded in pulling me into the mystery. It’s this gradual process. All of a sudden Michael realizes what effect this algorithm will have on a personal level.
RM: I was really driven to make an independent film that would work. So I asked myself if I were to make only one film, what would it be? And I felt that it would definitely be a film like “S.I.N. Theory”, a serious role driven sci-fi.
PS: Do you know someone like Dr. Michael Leimann?
RM: (Pauses) In terms of what he’s been exposed to (being fired that kind of thing) I was going through that, so I sympathized with Michael from that regard. But in terms of the obsession and proving everybody wrong, I think that’s something that we all kind of go through. As a filmmaker I feel that I need to prove myself every day to people. But in terms of Michael’s character traits, a lot of them are Jeremy Larter’s. He’s really a comedy guy, and I had to pull him back a little so he could do something a little more serious.
PS: How long did it take to get the script to the point where you were comfortable with it?
RM: Two months, though we were tweaking it until the last minute. Not that that’s ideal but we had to roll with the punches.
PS: How did you find Jeremy Larter (Dr. Michael Leimann) and Allison Dawn Doiron (Evelyn)?
RM: Jeremy is a friend of mine. Allison is someone I knew, so when it came time to do the film she immediately came to mind for Evelyn. For the other actors, they were just friends of friends. We tried to have fun during the filming.
PS: I imagine then that the outtakes must be pretty funny!
PS: How long did it take to shoot the film?
RM: Since this was an indie film, it’s not exactly like I was paying everyone up front (chuckles). It was deferred payment, so I didn’t want to have a mutiny (which some film maker friends of mine have gone through). What I did was in May 2011 I shot for a week (Monday to Friday), but these weren’t long days (close to 8 hours). Then we took a week off. And then we went back and we did a second week. And then from the summer through September I did pick-up shots. So it wasn’t a painful, grueling shoot, which I’ve been through on other productions.
PS: What was the most difficult part of the filming?
RM: Just coordinating everything. I just kept moving things forward. Also, the after effects (such as getting the complex formulas on the computer screen) took some time.
PS: What was the germ of the idea behind X_Cut (the film’s hacker character)?
RM: When I had Michael trying to figure out how to make the algorithm work, I felt that that’s one component he needed. To get that part of the equation he would need to reach out to someone like X_Cut (who was played by Farid Yazdani). I don’t know, maybe it was just the geek part of me that came out. I found X_Cut appealing even though I’m not really part of that world. I find the concept of taking someone from common society and having them get caught up in underworld subcultures very interesting. And X_Cut legitimizes what Michael was trying to do. It adds another layer of conflict.
PS: Did you want Michael to put it all together at the end?
RM: That was something that we debated. And Jeremy and Allison contributed a lot on how the story should go. The one thing we did battle on as we figured it out was that the last shot should be of Jeremy. And we thought that maybe we should hear a car screech to a halt and end it on the notion that maybe Evelyn got hit by a car and died after all. That way you know that the algorithm worked. But that was something I was pretty dead set against. I enjoyed the notion that Michael had to trade this incredible tool, but ultimately he’s going to use it for good. I mean he does save Evelyn. But in the end he’s forced to pay the price, which is kind of bittersweet.
PS: During the production who or what was your greatest asset?
RM: I really leaned on Jeremy Larter. He’s a filmmaker in his own right, so he gets “it.” He understands everything from a filmmaker’s perspective. And he was always excited and available and always there to do whatever. Often after a take Jeremy would be my go-to-guy and I would always seek his input, so I gave him a credit for associate producer.
PS: Now I understand that you’ve had “S.I.N. Theory” re-edited? How did you come to that decision?
RM: I did that because having worked on it for so long (I wore too many hats in my opinion), I knew that once I released it, I wouldn’t be able to change anything about it. So I felt that I might as well get another editor (someone who hasn’t been involved) and have him really go over it with a critical eye. The editor was Luke Higginson, and he has edited some of my music videos. The trick for me was finding an editor who would do it for the same price as everyone else on the film (chuckles)! But Luke was totally on-board. And he didn’t completely re-edit it. He trimmed four minutes off. And he rearranged a couple of scenes all for the greater good.
PS: What about festival activity for “S.I.N. Theory”?
RM: So far it’s played at three festivals that were more sci-fi oriented. I’m still waiting on two others. I should also mention that “S.I.N. Theory” has recently been picked up for distribution by Continuum Motion Pictures. It’s very gratifying, and fulfilling. I’m very excited.
PS: Wow! That’s fantastic. But as I said in the review, I just hope Hollywood doesn’t get a hold of your film, because I’m afraid they’ll ruin it!
RM: Yeah, well. I’ll keep you informed.
PS: Richie, what’s next for you?
RM: There are a couple of projects that I have in mind. There’s one I’m developing right now about a depressed woman who volunteers for a trippy experimental self-help program, but that’s all I can say right now.
PS: Well, congratulations, Richie. I hope “S.I.N. Theory” works out great for you. I loved it.
RM: Thanks a lot, Phil.