As the 2018 Tribeca Film Festival kicked off, director Richard Raymond spoke with Solzy at the Movies about the short film, Souls of Totality.
Thanks for joining us today. How are things treating you?
Richard Raymond: Very well. This is my first major film festival for any of my films. I couldn’t be happier. I’m so proud of the team and everyone’s effort to be here. It’s been great—really great.
How much of a thrill is it to hold the New York premiere of the film at Tribeca?
Richard Raymond: It’s crazy. I lived in New York for five years. I would always see the festival every year and would always have the hope that we would have a film here. To actually be here with this film has been amazing. The chance to meet the filmmakers—the caliber is very high and the quality is very good. Just to really meet everybody—all the writers and directors—is something that I’m most looking forward to, really.
How did you get attached to the project?
Richard Raymond: The project was a very organic thing. I had done a feature film before and had kind of struggled for the last four years to get my next project off the ground. I felt the missing ingredient was just being creative—just creating again to start the development process and start talking about it. My wife and I had a baby and our nanny said that she lived in Oregon and in two months, there was a solar eclipse—this was last summer—we should go up and see the solar eclipse. Two friends of ours, Ben Bolea and Kate Trefry—a husband-and-wife writing team—they also said, “Whoa, we want to join. We want to go see the solar eclipse. We’ll all go camping in Oregon.”
Then the two actors, Tom Cullen and Tatiana Maslany—they moved to LA and we saw them for dinner. I said, “You guys should join us.” They said, “Yeah, we’ll go camping so we’ll go together.” Right then and there at the dinner, I had this epiphany. I’ve got writers, I’ve got actors, and I’m a director—let’s make a film! The problem was we didn’t have a script and the eclipse was four weeks away.
The next day, I got on a flight with my wife to Oregon and we did a scout with no script—no idea of what the film would be of these locations. I’ve found a farm and a bus. I said to Ben and Kate, “These are the locations we’ve got. Can you please come up with a short film? My only pre-requisite is that the end is the uncut 5 minute sequence during a real solar eclipse.” Something that I found out has never been done in cinema before. Anytime you had seen an eclipse in cinema, it’s always been VFX. This is the chance to do something really immersive. They—thank G-d, two weeks before we started filming—came up with this wonderful idea of relationship story and the things you don’t want to say set in a cult—I don’t want to ruin it too much. It became Souls of Totality. It was the most amazing thing. We had a crew predominantly made up of actors who had never been crew before. Being crew, for them, the film was an apprenticeship. It was a really amazing makeshift environment. We just went and shot the film. There were no egos involved. Everyone was in it for the experience of seeing and being part of the solar eclipse in a very singular way and it worked out. It was a very organic experience.
Was there ever any thought to developing this as a feature film?
Richard Raymond: I’ve had a few calls about that but we feel that it works so well as a short film. One of the biggest compliments that we get from short is that when people watch it, even though its 18 minutes long, they feel they’ve had a full meal. It’s almost as if it they’ve watched a feature. It exists perfectly as it is. I don’t want to try and make it into anything else. There could be things that are inspired by that story later on in the future but right now, we’re just here with this.
In directing Tatiana Maslany and Tom Cullen, what were you looking for with regards to their performances?
Richard Raymond: To allow them to be as naturalistic as possible. That’s their go-to instinct—both of them. They’re always looking for what’s real. They don’t like things being melodramatic, fake, or forced. For me, I just felt to allow them to exist in the scene, which is why I chose to do these long single takes so we could get these little gifts of improvisation that they give as actors. They’re also a real-life couple so you get this beautiful chemistry that exists on a subconscious level that you wouldn’t get with just two normal actors that had met the day before and had done a day’s rehearsal. Really, just allow their performances to breathe and to exist in their own space.
With the film set during the total eclipse, what would have happened if you didn’t get the right shot last August?
Richard Raymond: I wouldn’t be here! Someone called it a high-wire act with no safety net. I think I was just unaware of the risks that we were taking. I just fully believed it was going to happen. We rehearsed for four days before the eclipse. We timed it to the NASA GPS locations from the beginning to the end of totality. It all came down to two people, really, which were Tatiana Maslany and Tom Cullen. Also, Jarin Blaschke, our director of photography, who was operating as well. Those were the people that were performing on the day. Our first assistant director, Doug Metzger—he really ensured that everything was done to the times. It worked because of everyone’s dedication but also we had a lot of luck. There was no plan B. There was no second take!
Thanks again for your time and congrats on the film. Enjoy the NY premiere!
Richard Raymond: Thank you very much.
Souls of Totality holds its New York premiere on April 19, 2018 at 7 PM with subsequent screenings to follow during the festival. The film, which stars Tatiana Maslany and Tom Cullen, premiered at during Cinequest as a part of the Maverick Spirit Awards Event with Tatiana Maslany and Tom Cullen.