Your new movie Shifter -
in a few words, what is it about?
Shifter is 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
You wrote the story of Shifter
together with Zachary Burns (any relation by the way), who also produced -
so how did that story fall together, and what was your collaboration like?
Zachary is my brother, and we’ve been making movies together since we were
in elementary school. We started out making short films using an old VHS
camera many many years ago, and we just kind of never stopped making things
and over the years our films just got bigger and (hopefully) better with each
story of Shifter evolved over a couple of years, but it started with just me
being a fan of time travel movies and hoping I would be able to make one
someday. But I wondered if there was a unique angle or unexplored aspect of
time travel. So I started thinking, “Well… what’s the horror of time
travel?” I called Zachary up one day and just said “time travel and horror,
what could that be?” - and the two of us began brainstorming what a time
travel horror film could look like. It was through those early sessions
that we realized that to travel through time, a human’s body has to be
ripped apart and then put back together again… that sounds painful. And then
we came up with the idea of it being random, that a time machine wasn’t
necessary and that it could happen at anytime and you wouldn’t be able to
control it. Those two ideas felt like a really rich opportunity for some
unique and complex storytelling. Once we had those ideas locked down, we
started thinking about what kind of character would most benefit from this
type of story. And it all took off from there!
What were your sources of inspiration when scripting Shifter?
actually avoided most time travel movies while writing the script. I love
those movies, but I didn’t want to fall into a trap of just “remaking”
the films I loved. I wanted to try to bring other aesthetics and styles to our
film. So the three films I looked at were Another Earth, David Cronenberg’s
The Fly, and No Country for Old
Men. Three very different films, but each had
aspects I wanted to bring to our film. I looked to Another Earth for
character, and how they deployed their fascinating sci-fi concept through the
use of a small character drama.
The Fly was useful for the “body horror”
aspect of course, but also how they handled exposition and revealing
information to the viewers. And I mostly looked to No Country for Old
how they shot the film and how they use the camera and blocking to reveal
information without the extensive use of dialogue. All three are great films
and were a huge help as I was writing.
being a movie about time travel - did you do any actual research on the
not much, ha! We didn’t want the film to get too bogged down by the
“science” of time travel, so we focused more on the character and tried to
build our sci-fi logic from that. We wanted the mechanics of time travel to be
an extension of our character’s mental, physical, and emotional states
throughout the film. So we did do some research, and built our own internal
rules for how time travel works within our film, but just enough to help give
us a clear road map for the character.
Do talk about Shifter's
approach to science fiction?
was definitely a delicate balancing act! We wanted this to be a character
story first, a sci-fi movie second. We also knew that with our low budget,
large scale VFX sequences just weren’t going to happen, so in order to best
utilize our resources, we needed to keep the story small and laser focused. So
every sci-fi related decision we made was based on what the character needed
most in that moment. We also wanted the film to have a very raw feel to it, so
we avoided sleek and sterile locations. For instance, our laboratory was just
an old barn and our time machine was built from old oil drums. Giving the film
a very unique texture and setting, especially when compared to most other
What can you tell us about
your overall directorial approach to your story at hand?
was actually one of the most difficult projects I’ve ever directed, ha! The
fact that there’s so little dialogue and one actor who is in almost every
single scene, and often times the only actor in any given scene, provided a
lot of interesting challenges. But how I approached the film was as if I was
directing a character drama. Everything is an extension of what she was
experiencing. That went for everything from the script, the production design,
locations, sound, props, VFX, and camera. For instance, I wanted to be very
purposeful with the camera and the framing and movement. Rather than shooting
the whole thing on a dolly or steadicam, I chose to keep things very still. I
felt that the character was kind of “stuck” in her life, so I wanted the
camera to reflect that as well. Once she uses the machine and things start
going wrong, the camera starts to get a little looser and move more. I also
did a lot of rehearsing with Nicole Fancher, who plays the lead in the film. We talked
a lot about her character and her motivations. So any time a question came up,
I tried to refer to the character and what would best serve the story from
that angle. We never treated the film like a big, slick sci-fi film, it always
felt like we were just filming a quiet drama when we were on set.
talk about Shifter's
key cast, and why exactly these people?
were incredibly lucky with our cast, because not only were they all great
talents, they’re also just great people and just plain fun to be around. We
found them all through and audition process. Nicole Fancher plays Theresa, we
had met her years ago in college, but she wasn’t an actor then, but she got
into it later. She had been in a short film I directed called Broken Boy a
couple of years after college, and then she moved to LA for a bit and we lost
touch. Once we released the casting call for Shifter
and saw her name on the
audition list, we were excited because she is just such a natural talent. Why
we cast her was we really felt that she had a unique connection to the
character, she related to her in a deeply personal way that really translated
to the screen. And it was the same for all the supporting cast as well. Each
actor brought a unique energy to their characters and really helped add
dimensions to them and to the film overall.
A few words
about the shoot as such, and the on-set atmosphere?
was a very interesting and challenging, but fun shoot! So we actually shot the
film in two different phases. Phase 1 was two weeks just filming everything at
the farm. Phase 2 was two weeks of filming all the other locations. So in a
way, it almost felt like shooting two different movies because 90% of what we
shot at the farm only required one character, and everything in phase 2
required multiple characters, extras, and sometimes up to three locations in
one day. So each phase had its own energy. But we had an amazing cast and
crew, so it was always a blast hanging out on set. When going into making a
film, one of my hopes is that the crew will gel together well and really feel
a sense of camaraderie and companionship as we battle the elements to make
something cool together, and this crew was one of the best. Film sets are
always incredibly stressful, so having a cast and crew that feels a sense of
ownership in the project and truly wants it to be great goes a long way in
making things easier.
you can tell us about audience and critical reception of Shifter?
due to the pandemic, Shifter
hasn’t been able to have very many theatrical
screenings other than our world premiere at Cinequest in March, but we’ve
been incredibly fortunate that the reception has been great! At the deadCenter
Film Festival, where the film screened virtually, Shifter was awarded
Oklahoma Feature Film, which was a huge honor as we were up against a bunch of
other awesome films. And now that the film has been released wide on VOD,
we’re starting to see more and more reviews and they’ve been mostly
positive. We knew we were making an unconventional film and knew that it
wouldn’t be for everybody, but we’ve been pleasantly surprised to see that
people are really connecting with it. We weren’t sure how people would
respond, so it’s been so great to get so much positive feedback.
future projects you'd like to share?
definitely working on things, but nothing we can talk about yet!
What got you into
filmmaking in the first place, and did you recieve any formal education on
dad was a big movie buff, so he introduced my brother and me to a wide variety
of movies when we were growing up. Things like the Marx
Brothers, Buster Keaton [Buster
Keaton bio - click here], and the Universal Monster movies left a huge impression on me. Plus I
loved all the typical things kids love at that age, Ninja Turtles,
Power Rangers, Back to the
Future, etc. The more I watched the more I noticed
things, and questioned how they were made. Once I learned that there was a
“director” and that they were in charge of making movies, it was game over
for me, ha! I even told my elementary school counselor that I was going to be
a director when I grew up. After spending years making short films with my
brother, I did eventually go to film school at Oklahoma City University.
I’ve been incredibly lucky that my family has been very supportive through
it all. My mom even let me turn the living room into a spaceship for a Flash
Gordon-eque short film I made in college!
What can you tell us about your filmwork
prior to Shifter?
at OCU, I met Vinnie Hogan who at the time was a Music Composition major. We
clicked and started making movies together, so he, Zachary, and I produced a
bunch of short films together throughout college and beyond. Not long
after we all graduated, we produced a horror/comedy/musical feature film
called The Fable of Shannon Cable that Vinnie wrote and directed, and I
was cinematographer. A couple of years after that, I wrote and directed my
first feature film Electric Nostalgia, which was a sci-fi thriller about
a young woman who experiences visions of a faceless man after she is brought
back from the dead in a body that is not her own. It’s currently on Amazon
Prime for those interested in checking it out! Zachary and I also co-directed
a documentary called Fleeting Light, which was nominated for a Heartland Emmy
in 2018. Beyond all that, I’ve also done a lot of work as cinematographer on
films such as You People, which is a soon-to-be-released on DVD and VOD
social comedy directed by Laron Chapman, and She’s the Eldest, which is
a dark dramedy with witchy undertones directed by Cate Jones and had its world
premiere earlier this year at the deadCenter Film Festival.
would you describe yourself as a director?
Tough question, I think I’m still trying to figure that out! I just love it
all. The process of creating a story and the collaboration with others to make
something cool and unique, it’s all just so magical. And any time I get to
be a part of that is when I know I’m where I’m supposed to be.
who inspire you?
Feeling lucky ?
any of my partnershops yourself
for more, better results ?
The links below
will take you
many! Hitchcock, Spielberg, Coen Bros, Orson Welles, Billy Wilder, Bong Joon-ho, Greta Gerwig, Ari Aster, Terrance Malick, Jeremy Saulnier, Sam Raimi,
Karyn Kusama, Lulu Wang, Mickey Reece, Steven Soderbergh, Jean Pierre
Melville, Werner Herzog, Seijun Suzuki [Seijun
Suzuki bio - click here], Cronenberg, Agnes Varda, Lynch,
Jennifer Kent, and of course John Carpenter, just to name a few!
Your favourite movies?
man… Fargo, Dog Day Afternoon,
Evil Dead II,
Frances Ha, Tokyo
Drifter, The Thing,
Blue Velvet, Do the Right Thing, The Invitation,
Under the Skin, High and Low,
Night of the Living
Dead, First Reformed,
The Phantom of the
Once Upon a Time in the West,
High School, Vivre Sa Vie, and so many more!
and of course, films you really deplore?
of the short films I made pre-college, ha!
movie's website, social media, whatever else?
You can find both Shifter and my production company
Planet Thunder Productions on
Twitter (@shiftermovie and @planetthunderfilms), Facebook, Instagram
(@shiftermovie and @planetthunder) and our websites
PlanetThunderFilms.com! And you can find me on both Twitter and Instagram
(@boomdiggadown) and my website
else you're dying to mention and I have merely forgotten to ask?
lot of amazing people shared their time, energy, and talent to bring Shifter
to life, so thank you so much for helping spread the word about the film!
Also, I’m very grateful to The Horror Collective for taking a chance on our
unconventional film, and I'm very excited for people to see it!
for the interview!