The new British sci-fi thriller Repeat poses the big question of what happens when we die? The main character Ryan (Tom England) has created a machine that allows him to communicate with the afterlife, albeit for a very brief period of time. Jed Wagman spoke to director Richard Miller and cinematographer Grant Archer about their new science-fiction film.
Where did the idea for the film come from?
Richard Miller: I think it’s really hard to pinpoint where an original idea comes from, but for me it very much came from the supernatural side, looking at more of a comedic type of film like Ghostbusters and then it led to something completely different. When you sit down in front of a piece of paper, I find that my writing evolves from what I first intent to create and then what ends up actually on the page. It was just an evolution of ideas that came up over the course of about a year.
So the idea came from the supernatural side rather than wondering what happens when we die and a particular interest in that question?
RM: The core idea was someone who spoke to the afterlife and then everything just branched off that. You have a seed and then everything comes off the back of that and that’s really how it came about. It was a very small idea that then led into lots of other things rather than having the grand story arc in my head straight away. It was very much an evolution. And it’s not a simplistic film so there was quite a lot of re-writing as well.
What was the collaborative process between the two of you like? Did you work very closely together?
RM: We started our planning and did a lot of our work upfront and Grant lives about 5 minutes from me so it was easy and then we actually tried to film all the scenes in advance with just us doing a storyboard and then COVID just put a stop to that.
Grant Archer: We always intended with this to pre-plan as much as possible in the pre-production phase doing lots of tests but also really planning out all the scenes. But as Richard says, COVID put a bit of a blocker on that in terms of how much we could get done and so we had to play a bit of catch up nearer the shoot time. But we tried to run through as much as we could during that pre-production phase so that we got a strong idea of what we to try and achieve for scenes because time is very limited on the shoot days, so planning is quite key as we found out.
RM: And we both took turns a bit behind the camera and we knew this sort of aesthetic that we wanted. A lot of the locations in the film are in this one house so we got to build a lot of the sets in advance and we go to test a lot of the stuff upfront but still COVID really limited what we were doing so it’s good that Grant and myself were on one wavelength.
How did you adapt to COVID to be able to continue making a film during a pandemic?
RM: We were going to shoot in July originally but that was right at the heart of when everything was really bad so there was no chance of filming at that point. Having that pause gave us breathing room to then be able to bring on new people so we brought on two new producers and some more experiences actors with Charlotte and Nina so it actually helped us bizarrely by having a slight pause.
GA: It gave us extra time for planning as well and for some of the ideas to percolate a bit. Time was a blessing on that front.
When working with a team of other people, how did you make sure to express your own unique creative vision whilst also respecting the creativity of others?
RM: As a director, and it’s similar for Grant as a cinematographer, we don’t really have any ego of how we approach things. And I think that’s why the team particularly enjoyed it as we approached it as a team. We made sure we brought in actors of high quality and we spent a lot of time on casting. And the reason why is because we then put ultimate trust in them to bring their creativity to the piece. And so quite honestly, I can say that my directing was to a minimum in this film. It was basically where we’re going to stick the camera. Our leads are excellent I think, and they took very little direction to what we needed to do other than, we’ll try something slightly different. It was a very collaborative film.
With this being a sci-fi film, did you ever feel limited by the budget? Were there things you wanted to do but couldn’t because of the budget?
RM: No, because we wanted to make a grounded film- something that felt realistic. I don’t think budget really affected the film. If we had another £100,000 it would have just bought us more time. It may have added some extra people to the crew but we couldn’t have more people in a room at the time due to COVID so more money wouldn’t have necessarily added anything apart from giving us a couple of extra crew members that weren’t on site. But we wanted to keep it low tech and to keep the effects to a minimum and we wanted to do a lot of the work.
GA: The budget was quite tight and yes it would have afforded us maybe some more time and some extra crew members but as for equipment we always like to use our own equipment that we already have so it makes it much easier not spending money on rentals. We did acquire a few bits of new kit for the shoots, for example some anamorphic lenses but our crew members like sound brought their own equipment so we don’t spend any money on renting equipment. It was trying to utilise what we already had or what we could easily attain, certainly from a production perspective with the machine in the film. At one point we were considering investing in automating some of that but ultimately, we chose to go a different route with that and I think it was the right decision. Trying to keep it very real world. Whilst it’s a sci-fi it had to have that real world feel and be very naturalistic. It’s not a typical science fiction film in terms of special effects and we tried to keep it quite simple.
That’s one of the aspects I really liked about it how it’s a more human and emotionally driven sci-fi, especially at the minute with huge spectacle films like Dune. When it comes to science fiction do you tend to prefer films that are more stripped back or do you also like huge spectacle sci-fi too?
RM: For me, I like both ends of the scale. I like to have the spectacle, for instance I saw Dune at the BFI IMAX in London and made it a whole day out. I’m a massive Dune fan but at the same time, the more pared back it is, the less effects and the less bright colours, the easier it is for the viewer to put themselves in the shoes of the person they’re watching. And that’s really important for this film that you can connect with the lead actors and understand what’s happening. We’ve got some flashy lights and that’s about it, that’s what we limited ourselves to, not just because of technical reasons but because we wanted to connect with the audience.
GA: I like a bit of both, there’s certainly a lot to be said about seeing something that’s a big visual spectacle with lots of special effects but it really does depend on the story and for the film you’re watching. I appreciate both.
Going forward are you going to continue with sci-fi and keep working together or move onto something different?
RM: We’ll definitely be working together, I think we raised the bar on each other’s work and whilst being able to connect well with each other, we also push each other on quality. Sci-fi is definitely something that we’re interested in, same with horror, or a sci-fi horror. There’s a mixture of things we’re looking to do. We want to produce the sort of things that a viewer wants to see while also pushing some boundaries in a way and we want the viewer to think about what we’re making. Hopefully Repeat is accessible but also active enough on the brain as you’ve got to be engaged in what you’re looking at.
GA: Absolutely, I think I’d personally quite like to shoot another horror or sci-fi. We’ve done horror-esque shorts in the past which have gone down quite well and have been enjoyable to shoot. We’re just looking for the next idea really whether that’s a short or something more feature length. It would be nice to have something planned soon but we’re still recovering from this one!
Repeat is out now on digital.