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An Interview with Timothy Troy, Director of Abi

by Mike Haberfelner

March 2018

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Your upcoming movie Abi - in a few words, what is it about?


Abi is about a scientist named Vincent Forrester, who has created an organic computer with the help of his assistants Julie and Abi. As they race to clear a catastrophic virus from their system, the virus mutates from computer to human, and infects Abi. Now her violent madness puts more than their careers at risk.


How did the project come into being in the first place?


Dan McGuire, a friend of mine since college, wrote Abi years ago. We both loved the organic computer concept, but didn't pursue it at the time, being too expensive and complex. We put it in a drawer, but never forgot about it. After the success of my previous horror film Ding Dong, we decided to try and tackle the much more ambitious Abi, and spent months refining the complicated narrative till it was as tight and supsenful as we could make it.


What can you tell us about your writer Dan McGuire, and what's your collaboration like?


I've known Dan since college. I was a directing student at Columbia College Chicago, and I was looking for a script to direct for one of my classes. A mutual friend passed his script to me, and a lifelong friendship, as well as a student horror film, was born.


Dan and I collaborate very well, because we have a solid foundation of trust and respect for each other's opinions.The most important aspect of the relationship is that we are never afraid to pull punches on critique or push back on the occasions that we're not on the same page. Neither of us have a lot of ego about what we do, either, which is critical. The motto is and always should be "story first". If the story isn't working, what good does it do anyone, right?


With Abi being a sci-fi/horror movie, what can you tell us about your movie's approach to either genre, and what do you think makes it stand out of the crowd? And are these genres favourites of yours in the first place?


I've been a fan of sci-fi and horror basically since I understood what a movie was. I was born in '83, so it was the perfect era to fall in love with genre films. I grew up wearing out video tapes of Star Wars and Jaws. Abi wears those influences on its sleeve. The production design is intended to show audiences something they've never seen before, and the story is constructed to grab you and not let go, ratcheting the tension tighter and tighter with every scene. I think good films depend on the characters being relatable and smart. They need to make decisions that make sense in the world they live in. That's all the more important in a genre film, where you're already asking the audience to buy a certain level of fantastic, unbelievable elements. Characters being believable and understandable are what allow an audience to accept the strange visuals they're seeing.


Sci-fi/horror movies demand a certain amount of special effects almost by definition - so what have you planned in that department?


Well, for starters, we're aiming for all practical fx. I think CGI has its place, but if it's at all possible I much prefer to do everything in camera. It's better for the actors, and that makes it more believable for the audience. The main effect of the film is the production design, specifically Vincent's organic computer. We're really trying to make something weird, wild and unsettling with it. That's the main focus of the crowdfunding campaign. Aside from the nominal fees we're paying the actors, our planned budget goes nearly all to fx and production design. We want every Dollar to be up on the screen.


What can you tell us about the film's intended overall look and feel?


Abi is highly dependent on the relationships between the characters, and those relationships reach some very intense levels. We want to keep the lens fairly close to actors to increase that feeling of intensity. That will be heightened by fast tracking shots and the more frenetic element of hand held camera work. The characters will move a lot during the course of a very traumatic evening, and so will the camera. There's definitely a DIY element to all of the computer equipment. This isn't the kind of thing you can pick up at a BestBuy, so its going to have a bit of a piecemeal aspect to it, like the work has spiraled out far beyond the scope that was originally imagined.


Do talk about Abi's projected key cast and crew, and why exactly these people?


We've got a phenomenal cast and crew for Abi, all drawn from Chicago. All three principals are veteran actors of both stage and screen. I like to cast actors that are collaborates first, people that are really bringing a lot of ideas to the table.


Clare Clooney plays the title role of Abi. She wowed us on her very first read of the role. She projects the intensity that Abi needs when the virus takes control, but also can pull it back to the most subtle of facial expressions. Her understanding of a very tricky character seemed almost innate. She's a fantastic filmmaker in her own right (her short film Runner is on the festival circuit right now), so I guess that shouldn't be a surprise.


Rom Barkhordar plays Vincent. He was the hardest role to cast, because it's a very nuanced role. But we're really lucky to have found him. Watching Rom act, you can see him making decisions (as the character) that are totally understandable in the moment. He totally nails the right mix of command and restrained desperation that Vincent finds himself in.


Emily Berman rounds out the cast, playing Julie. When we were shooting the teaser video that you find on our campaign site, we were all amazed at her ability to bring intense emotions to life. Julie is a strong, smart, active character, but she's also put in some very scary situations, so a versatile actor was key for this role, and Emily brings that.


Our crew is all drawn from the professional ranks of the Chicago film community. I work on the Chicago PD TV show, and a lot of the crew either work with me every day or I've met them on other shows I've done. One of the best things about indie filmmaking is seeing everyone step up and show their skills in jobs they don't get to do as often as they'd like.


Your film is currently in its fundraising stages - so do talk about your campaign for a bit!


The campaign launched on February 27th. We're looking to raise $14,000 for the budget, which sounds like a lot, but it gets burned through fast for a story that's very fx- and design-heavy, especially one with stunts and professional talent. Working on a network TV show on a daily basis sets a high bar for professional quality we want to meet in our own projects, especially for the design work.


Once the budget's in place, what's the schedule? And even though it's waaay too early to ask, any idea when and where the film might be released yet?


We're going to shoot four days in April. Hopefully we're through picture lock sometime in June, setting us up for post sound to be done by end of summer. The film will be started on the festival circuit. We're researching some of the marquee horror fests for submission, but we'll apply to plenty of other fests to get the film screened as widely as possible. One of the most rewarding parts of my festival experience with Ding Dong was getting to meet fans of the genre and see how they experience independent film. Festival audiences are there solely because they love film, and genre audiences are even more devoted. If you can make them jump or scream, you know you really have them. And once its festival run is over, it will be made available online as well.


Any future projects beyond Abi?


I'm about to start a festival run with a non-genre short I did last summer, a Civil War-set comedy called Hold My Horse. Beyond that, I've got a couple more short scripts in my back pocket that are ready to start prepping, including a very Lovecraftian story about a man kidnapped to be sacrificed to an ancient god. We're also working out some ideas for features. I'd like to make a feature within the next five years. Hopefully Abi will be part of a body of work that I can leverage into getting one off the ground.


What got you into filmmaking in the first place, and did you receive any formal training on the subject?


I got into filmmaking based on a love of movies. I was always fascinated with the behind the scenes tricks of making movies - I watched The Making of Star Wars or Jurassic Park almost as much as the movies themselves. It was almost inevitable that I'd find my way to film school. I went to Columbia College and studied directing, picking up lighting theory along the way and turning that into a good career on major production crews. But my heart will always remain with making my own movies.


You have worked as a dolly grip on many a big production for both film and TV - now how does that compare to directing indie shorts, actually, and how has it prepared you for this? And of course, feel free to talk about some of the projects you worked on!


My career has spanned from tiny indie short films to $300 million dollar studio features. It offers me a phenomenal opportunity to study and learn from a variety of different directors and apply those lessons to what I do. One of the biggest lessons is to remember that all movies are made the same way: one shot at a time. It all comes down to storytelling, and what pieces are needed to tell that story. Of course pushing dolly 60 hours a week or so tends to influence my shot design. I love seeing the camera move and stay fluid, especially in the more formal steadicam or dolly modes. Though handheld cameras still have their place - we'll have some in Abi, for sure. It's all about what tool creates the right feeling for the audience.


Do talk about your previous shorts Echo Chamber and Ding Dong for a bit?


Echo Chamber was a short that we made for next to nothing mostly for fun. It got a couple of festival acceptances, but we never really pursued a festival run. I still like the Lovecraft-lite vibe it has, though.


Ding Dong started much the same way, as a film that I wrote just to stretch my muscles. But the movie ended up getting a much bigger and better response than I ever thought it would, picking up a couple of Best Horror awards on its festival run. It taught me a lot about the industry, especially about what I didn't know. I've still got plenty to learn, but making Ding Dong really gave me a lot of confidence to try something bigger and more intricate.


How would you describe yourself as a director?


My directing all comes down to planning. The movie is made in preproduction, as far as I'm concerned. I do extensive breakdowns for the characters' arcs and for the technical side of things. Sometimes you get to set and toss it all out the window, but if you come in with a plan, you know you've done your homework on what the scene is supposed to accomplish. On set, I try to foster a lot of collaboration. I come in with a lot of things planned out, but I want to hear what the cast and crew have to say about what they're doing. As an indie director, everyone on set has more experience doing their job than you have doing yours, so it's wise to listen to their ideas. Hire smart, good people, both cast and crew, and they make the film better.


Filmmakers who inspire you?


Spielberg is always my go to. It doesn't matter how many times I've seen one of his films, I can always notice something new if I sit down and study it. I especially like the really efficient way he shoots films, moving the camera to produce a master shot that you don't even notice is a one because you're too wrapped up in the story. Jaws is full of those. I also really admire James Cameron. Aliens is a perfect movie, and the first two Terminator movies aren't far behind. Of more recent directors, I've liked pretty much everything Mike Flanagan [Mike Flanagan interview - click here] has done, and any time he puts something new out, I make sure to catch it.


Your favourite movies?


Star Wars has always been my favorite, but I could watch Alien, The Thing ('82), Jurassic Park, or Jaws pretty much any day. I also really like Last of the Mohicans, and of course The Princess Bride is simply one of the best movies ever made.


... and of course, films you really deplore?


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Anything else you're dying to mention and I have merely forgotten to ask?


No, you're a pretty thorough interviewer! Thanks so much for talking with me!


Thanks for the interview!


© by Mike Haberfelner

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A Killer Conversation

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directed by
David V.G. Davies
written by
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Ryan Hunter and
Rudy Barrow

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