[Fresh from touring her award-winning science-fiction short “Real Artists,” Cameo Wood, the impresario behind Charming Stranger Films, is hard at work with a new feature-length production — “The Atavist,” a time-traveling tale with a humanist twist, and a narrative focus on human diversity. The Fabulist caught up with her to get the lowdown on this new production.]
THE FABULIST: The Atavist is a striking and intriguing name. Tell us about the film’s name, and what it means for the characters on their arc through the narrative.
CAMEO WOOD: I was originally trying to come back with names for a person that idealizes the romantic past. Many words didn’t quite capture the feeling I was looking for, but The Atavist did — even though most people don’t recognize the word or its meaning. And that’s okay — we’ll help define it!
Our main character has a yearning for the past, and what she feels she missed out on. Our other main character, Hen, is in our present, but yearns to live in the future, and imaging what the future might hold. The two both grow in their appreciation of the present and the future — two world views I believe are important for the future of our species.
What inspired you about this particular script? What does it represent for you as science fiction, and as socially aware storytelling?
The original idea for the film came from two experiences I had. The first was in San Francisco Airport talking to a nice older woman. She was telling me that San Francisco *used to* be great, but now was overwhelmed with crime and housing prices and a loss of culture. I asked her when SF was great, and she mentioned the 60s and the summer of love.
I asked her, as gently as I could, if she thought it was great for the gay men burned alive in bars, or Harvey milk, or the people of color forced out of their mid-market homes and neighborhoods. Her eyes widened, and she said “oh my goodness, I’m no better than the damn president when he says “Make America Great Again.”
She had been lamenting how great SF used to be, and forgot how great it is now.
The other experience was watching Louis CK’s skit about black time travelers, and how America has never been a safe place to time travel to.
Science fiction and storytelling have both had a massive influence in the development of cultures, art, technology, and our civilization. Right now we’re in a glut of stories that speak of a dark apocalyptic future, or of a future with nothing to look forward to. We need more optimistic and socially aware stories that solve problems and explore our probably exciting future. It’s much easier to give in to our paranoia and sadness of the times we live in, and imagine a hopeless future — but that’s not the storytelling that is going to move us forward. We need stories that inspire solutions.
What are some of the films that inspire you as a director, both historic and contemporary?
I’ll restrict my answers to the films that inspires this film.
I was very inspired by Strange Days, and especially Angela Bassett’s character. I loved how Bigelow kept things close in style to our time, even though it represents a future perspective. Advantageous is another inspiration — Phang’s characters again live in a flawed future ripe with ideas and scientific solutions to our modern problems, but addresses many of the social and political problems that have always existed, and how they interact with future technology.
I imagine financing this sort of thing will have its challenges. What sort of budget are you going for?
I specifically wrote this film to only need 3-4 locations, and to be shot primarily in my hometown, Pittsfield, Massachusetts. We’re going to be able to shoot this for under $150,000, and perhaps less. This film is designed to be low-budget and scrappy.
You had some real success with your previous film, a short that went on to do will on the festival circuit and win some awards. Tell us about that experience, and how does it feed into your new enterprise?
The real benefit to all the festivals we’ve been to (almost 80 now!) has been meeting other filmmakers and collaborators, as well as finding our fans. All the travel and festivals have been an emotional roller coaster — but it’s absolutely been worth it. And one of the best aspects of all the festivals, is that now I have a group of filmmakers that I met on the circuit that want to help me make The Atavist — which is such an honor and a pleasure!
I imagine there are both constraints and thrills to pursuing this D.I.Y.-style. Care to share?
Making a film like The Atavist means that not only do I have to be scrappy and lean, but I also need to make sure I’m properly insured and have contract to protect everyone – so its a fine balancing act. But this also means I have a lot of freedom to create and make the kind of movie I want without answering to anyone. I highly recommend this.
You’re gearing up for production — how can we help support your film?
I’m participating in a contest to pitch my latest film to the Duplass Brothers (HBO/Netflix), and following my film ‘The Atavist’ on Seed&Spark will make a big difference.
Women don’t get a lot of opportunities in mainstream science fiction films, either in front of or behind the camera. So I’m making my own time travel adventure movie featuring a a diverse cast and crew. The campaign ends this Friday at 9 a.m. Pacific. Thanks for your support!