Director's Statement (in the form of a cover letter)

 

To the Selection Committee and other interested parties,

Thank you for taking the time to consider the feature film Unremembered for your festival, award program, or marketing venue. For the past few years, I’ve been working on this film project with the help of many talented individuals.

Since it's release to various film festivals beginning in June 2009, it has already received a favorable review and is now an official selection at the New Jersey Film Festival. A.G. Nigrin, Executive Director/Curator of the Rutgers Film Co-op/New Jersey Media Arts Center, Inc., calls Unremembered a "sinuous and riveting independent feature film in the tradition of David Lynch."

A few of the other important aspects of this film:

As for genre, Unremembered is a science fiction/mystery, and it's also been called neo-noir. If I were to categorize it in the science fiction realm, it's high concept, midcore science fiction -- midcore, meaning it's technical, but not hardcore technical. I am a huge fan of high concept science fiction, especially when it gets technical. But the science in science fiction should make sense -- fiction is acceptable, of course, but I require a reasonable degree of logic in the story, and it should follow scientific rules, even if those rules need to be tweaked for dramatic effect in the script. The problem with most science fiction, is that the rules they establish don't follow scientific principles or they violate the internal logic of their own script.

After spending a few years researching physics, structuring the scenes, and working on the script, I knew I was onto a good story, and definitely the kind of story that makes for a film that I like to watch. It's science fiction and also a detective story: a mystery in the vein of The X-Files, but instead of being a cop, the detective is a physics professor. It is non-linear, complex, and includes technical jargon (which is explained, fortunately!). I worried that I might have created a film for too narrow an audience, but with the success of films like Donnie Darko and Memento, there are people who appreciate this kind of complexity. The complexity challenges the involved viewer to consider what's happening and to keep guessing throughout the film, but there is enough situational humor, sexual intrigue and dramatic conflict to keep the non-geeks interested, too. It is a thinking-person's movie primarily, but it has received a lot of praise for the buddy-story, the drama, and the amazing acting by the leads Tim Delaney and Karla Mason.

This is also a rare science fiction film -- as far as I know it is the first and only time travel/alternate reality film that doesn't violate the causality paradox knowledge dilemma: in other words, when changes are made in the past, nobody can possibly know there have been changes, because they already happened. This film simultaneously explains this issue and solves the dilemma.This makes the film a rarity in its genre and a science fiction geek's dream! Many people who've watched it want to watch it again, and people really, really like to talk about it, too!

In Portland, Oregon, the fanbase for this film is growing. After seeing the film at a limited premiere in Portland, unsolicited fan reaction on Facebook (search: Unremembered) and elsewhere has been very positive, and yielded these quotes:

 

“thought-provoking and haunting”

“Wow!!! … if David Lynch made a movie from a Charlie Kaufman script, this would be it! Just great!”

“an insightful slant on the powerful potentials of the human mind”

“absolutely amazing… Memento meets Quantum Leap”

“an awesome film"

 

If selected for your film festival, I'll make every effort to attend and I'm willing and able to provide an informative, entertaining and time-conscious follow-up lecture or Q&A session if you so desire. I'm a skilled college instructor experienced with small and large audiences with a variety of delivery formats.

Please let me know if you require more information from me or additional copies of the DVDs or other formats.

Sincerely,

Greg Kerr
writer/director/producer

 

Written Answers to Interview Questions

 

Can you comment on how the plot of "Unremembered" interacts with the audience and how it is effective in holding the attention of the audience?

Unremembered grabs the audiences attention immediately by putting them in the position of the protagonist, John Outis (played by Tim Delaney). He literally appears with no memory or understanding of where he is. Like the audience, he has no idea what's going on.

The first scenes happen very quickly in rapid succession:

What's happening is John's past is growing, from only a few seconds, to an hour, then to a couple of weeks, then a couple of months, etc. As it grows, it alters his relationships with everyone around him. Eventually, we find he's been married to Penelope for about 10 years, and Anthony hasn't really been a part of her life.

The beginning is jarring to the audience, and I wrote it to be that way purposefully -- there is a big "what the heck is going on" factor here. This section of the film has been frequently compared to the film Memento. The big difference though, is that John's memory grows along with his past. As he learns more, so does the audience. But, even though John remembers more, nobody around him shares those memories, because the changes to his past alter their present.

It's really more like Memento, but in reverse. The main character knows everything, but the other characters can't remember him, or they can't remember their present interactions with him. It's also been compared to Ground Hog's Day, and there's a good bit of humor as he has to do-over his encounters with those around him.


The story comes into focus for the audience about 20 minutes in when John consults a physics professor, Tina Plantes (played by Karla Mason). The introduction scene with Tina was filmed at Portland State University.


I think this is a very unique idea in this kind of movie. In most alternate reality movies, the protagonists usually fumble through their problems, or do the dumb thing and tell their friends and family (who don't believe them) or go to the cops or authorities (who think they are crazy). John does what I would do in this scenario: when you are trapped in an ever-changing alternate reality situation, it's best to consult an expert. In this case, a physics professor. Who else would believe you, but a kind of "out there" academic?


It takes convincing though and Tina eventually agrees to help John. This is a fairly unique concept in film, too: a physics professor in the role of detective. She uncovers clues to the mystery of what's going on with John, how does the physics in it work, and why it happened in the first place. The answer, as she begins to learn, is complex and has unexpected and far-reaching consequences.


The Tina character is very useful for the audience, too. She explains the tough physics concepts and simplifies them for John (and the audience), and Tina adds some of the well-needed humor to the film -- a credit to the actress Karla Mason for turning what could be some dry physics discussion into an enjoyable romp through relativity! It also becomes a buddy story between her and John, which many audience members have found endearing.


Other than the warmth between Tina and John, the film is decidely dark. As John's past unfolds, we learn more about him, and he's not your typical protagonist -- he's an anti-hero. He's responsible for the death of two people and getting another person heavily involved in drugs. John, and the audience, are hit with one bad thing after another: death in his past, murder in his present, blackmail, betrayal, and finally culminating in his attempted suicide. And then it gets even worse for John as it appears time is conspiring against him.


It's a credit to actor Tim Delaney, who won an Indie award for leading actor, that he makes the anti-hero sympathetic to audiences. He's not a very good person, but you still care for him, because Tim's immensely likeable and because what's happening to John is ultimately worse than the bad things he's done.


This is a high concept science fiction film (emphasis on the science part) and it tackles the big questions like "what is the purpose of our dreams," "what is the nature of time and how do we perceive it," "what is existence," and "how powerful is the human will?"

The story works on three levels with audiences:

There's a lot that people find to like about the film, and it appeals to a wide range of movie-goers. It is an intelligent, complex film, but the human story is something everyone can relate to.


What is the intent of your film and what are you hoping that audiences will take away from it?

I personally like stories that make you think and that you can watch again later and get even more out of. Even better, are films that make you think and give you an emotional thrill-ride, too. It's why I wrote this story.

There's also a connection to the ancient Greek epic, The Odyssey, which I explore thematically in the film. The film is structured as a Greek tragedy and the protagonist, much like Odysseus in The Odyssey, goes through his own solitary journey to escape the island of time he's trapped in.

Also, I'm a huge science fiction fan, especially when it gets technical. But the science in science fiction should make sense and it should follow scientific rules, even if those rules need to be tweaked for dramatic effect in the script. The problem with most science fiction, is that the rules they establish don't follow scientific principles or they violate the internal logic of their own script.

After spending a few years researching physics, structuring the scenes, and working on the script, I knew I was onto a good story. It is non-linear, complex, and includes technical jargon. I worried that I might have created a film for too narrow an audience, but with the success of films like Donnie Darko and Memento, there are people who appreciate this kind of complexity.

It's complex enough that some people won't "get it" on first viewing. Some people get it right away, though. As I've sat in with audiences, I've often felt that a-ha moment when people start to put the pieces together and it starts making sense. I've had the experience of giving my audience a satisfying intellectual experience as a teacher, but it's rare to have that as a filmmaker. I think this film accomplishes that and more.

Many people who've watched it want to watch it again, and people really, really like to talk about it, too. It's one of those movies you'll want to go out and have a cup of coffee afterward and chat about with your friends. Or you might find yourself coming back to it later and have another a-ha moment just before you drift off to sleep.

 

What inspired this story?

I have a deep interest in science and science fiction and much of my screenwriting revolves around science fiction concepts. For Unremembered, I had a really unusual dream about the consequences of a person having no past. I keep a notepad next to my bed so I can capture the thought right as I wake up.

 

What is your writing process?

I’ll have an idea that percolates in the back of my brain for a long time before I can make use of it. Eventually, I’ll come up with a hook that helps turn the idea from an abstract theme into a concrete plot.

 

One of IMDB’s “plot keywords” listed for this film is Greek Tragedy. The main female characters are “Callie” and “Penny” (or Penelope), which seem to recall the nymph Calypso and Odysseus’s wife. (Not to mention that John’s dog’s name is Argos!) Do you see the Odyssey as an influence on your story, and do you think that there are elements of a Greek tragedy within your work?

The Odyssey was a huge influence on this story. Unremembered doesn’t follow the plot of the Odyssey, but it is thematically connected. Like Odysseus, John is attempting to return home, but he’s trapped, not on a physical island, but an island in time.


Of the main characters (John, Penelope, Callie, Tina), who do you think has the most agency within the film? I know you probably don’t want to give too much away, but of the two “alternate realities” of the film, do you think one is more reliable than the other? I only ask because it seems like this film could be seen as physicist Tina’s breakdown just as much as it could be the protagonist’s, John’s. Do you think that’s fair?

When I wrote Unremembered, I was deeply concerned that, because John is an anti-hero and he tends to lie to achieve his objectives, he would not be a character who the audience would care about. It’s why there is so much focus on Tina. The audience has a choice with whom to sympathize, and the choice is stark.

 

Was filming digitally a stylistic or financial consideration? What were the advantages and disadvantages of using that medium?

I shot Unremembered with a digital camera mainly because of financial considerations. Shooting in film would have increased the cost of production by at least $100,000, and since I funded the film by myself, this was cost-prohibitive.

A decade ago, digital looking movies made people think of home movies, so they were widely disdained by filmmakers. Nowadays though, most mainstream Hollywood films are digitally re-processed, which makes them look more like digital.

 

Was there a particular reason you chose to film in Oregon?

I live in Portland, so I know the locations available here. There’s also a wealth of talent here. It’s not ideal for actors attempting to make a living, but it’s such a desirable place to live.

At one point the main character, John, yells at Dr. Tina Plantes, to “stop with this physics babble”. There does seem to be a lot of science involved in the story. Do you have a background in physics, and if not, did you consult with someone to write the script?

In my youth I had planned to be a scientist and started college in physics, chemistry and biology classes. I did quite a bit of personal physics research online and in books to support the script. Unremembered is an homage to the dreams I had as a youth – or maybe it’s just the scientist in me asserting itself on my creative sub-conscious!

 

Despite the central figure being a male, this film seems to be dominated by a series of strong females. Yet they still manage to be very different from one another. Did you have a part in casting the actors, and were those in the film what you imagined while writing the script? Were there influencing factors in casting decisions, like a specific acting style or general aesthetic? Did you have surprises along the way?

My writing favors multi-faceted women. I base my characters on people I know, and I work mostly with strong women in my teaching and my filmmaking. It’s natural for me to use strong women in my stories.

I am the primary casting director of my films. When you cast a film, you have to be able to adapt your vision from what you imagined a character would be when writing the script.

Karla Mason was the revelation for me. When I wrote Tina Plantes, I imagined her being more prickly and self-involved at first, and then over time be the likeable one. Karla, it turned out, created an instantly likeable Tina.

 

What is your favorite scene from this movie, and why?

The confrontation between Tina, Callie and John in Penelope’s house is great. Tim plays John with a mixture of embarrassment and impotence, while Karla’s Tina is a barrage of sarcasm ramping up to a peak of vicious directives against the confused, indignant and ultimately cowed Callie played by Carmela. Because it was shot in one take and all of the characters talk back and forth too each other, sometimes simultaneously, it was a challenge to get it right.


On the movie’s website you describe the film as “hypermodern”. Could you say a little bit more about that?

One major aspect of hypermodernity is a contradictory duality in worldview which is an issue explored in great detail in Unremembered. John exists in two separate timelines. He is “divided from himself.” This gives John a unique perspective, but his reaction to it is both fascination and horror.

 

What was it like writing, producing, and directing this film?

It’s the longest project I’ve completed, but the most satisfying. I made a film that I enjoy, and that people who appreciate thought-provoking topics will love, too.

As for directing, this is the least contentious project I’ve ever worked on. The Unremembered cast and crew had very compatible personalities and we were all focused on making a great film. We definitely achieved our objective!

Want the longer version answers to these questions? Click here (these are in Word 2003 format)

 

Greg Kerr Productions © 2009