Rarely do we all come to a consensus on a film. We here at Turnabout have very different tastes and all of us agreeing on a film is rare. One film there was no disagreement on was Recursion.
In fact, most of us thought Recursion was one of the best short films we’ve ever seen. Short Scope Review’s Daymond even called it one of his favorite films EVER. Stu Greenfield described it as “well written and well directed.” Many of us have watched it numerous times to catch things we missed through the first viewing. It’s just plain good!
After pestering Stanton Nash to no end (we flooded his inbox before he even had a chance to respond) he was kind enough to answer some of our questions. Just like the film he wrote, Nash didn’t disappoint. His willingness to tell personal anecdotes and go into detail about the process, all while being funny and incredibly thoughtful in his responses, make us want to root for this film all the more.
Telling a time travel story like you have, there’s always the risk of things becoming convoluted. Recursion never ends up that way. What steps did you take to ensure the narrative didn’t become hard to follow?
Oh man. Ha! I’m laughing because I’m remembering the torture of figuring it all out. It seems like every time I’d fix one part of the story, another part would get screwed up. I ended up charting the scenes on an x-y graph where x was Sherwin’s time and Y was film time. That way I could line up identical times with different actions Sherwin takes. Sam Buntrock, our director, didn’t let anything slide. There were a lot of evenings of me giving presentations in his apartment, explaining every detail. I knew if I could verbally explain it, then I was getting somewhere.
Given the complexity of the premise (and I’m sure your explanations), was it hard to sell Sam Buntrock on the idea? Did he think you were crazy? And did he ever want to not be friends with you anymore?
Selling Sam on it was relatively easy. He and I had worked together previously (as theater director and stage actor) and we were scheduled to get lunch just to “catch up”. I knew that he had been interested in jumping into film, and I also knew that he was working hard on getting the film rights to a David Ives play. Unfortunately/fortunately when asked for an update on it, he mentioned that it wasn’t going to happen. “Well, I’ve got this script…” I said. I already knew that he was a big sci-fi fan, and he got excited about the idea. The next day I think I emailed him the screenplay, which was much simpler at the time.
The original script involved a man who was trying to propose to his girlfriend. It was completely free of dialogue; the kind of thing I knew we could shoot with a $0 budget. A month later, Sam and I were having almost daily meetings working on the script together. It was his idea to make it “bigger” and “raise the stakes”. It’s one thing to lose your ring. But, it’s much worse to lose someone else’s ring.
And, yes, our friendship was definitely put to the test at times. I think that’s normal with any kind of partnership. Sam and I both like to argue (a quality many lack) which resulted in a lot of heated debate. But, that’s good. It forces you to get clear about what you want and why you want it. Our biggest disagreements led to some of the best creations. I’m glad to report we are still close friends.
A lot of people have compared the film to Shane Carruth’s Primer, another film about time travel. Although they are very different films, the comparisons can be found in intelligent screenwriting and a refusal to simplify things to ensure a universal level of understanding. Was Carruth’s film any type of influence in crafting Recursion?
Absolutely. Primer. Time Crimes. Back To The Future. Star Trek IV. I just can’t get enough. Recursion was the result of my imagination not letting go of the “what ifs”. I remember asking someone why Marty doesn’t remember his altered past. That got the ball rolling. I wanted to explore time travel in a world where every action has a consequence. Primer did this so well. The more I watch it, the more I enjoy it. And, that’s what we wanted with Recursion: each viewing will bring out new discoveries.
Rob McClure is fantastic in the lead role. What was the casting process like and when did you know he would be your lead?
Rob and I are both stage actors so we already ran in a lot of the same circles. My wife was working on a Broadway musical with him the year before, so he and I had seen each other often. I think Sam was the one who actually mentioned the idea of casting Rob. Thankfully, I had his email, so I sent him the script. I didn’t say much anything or explain what it was about other than “sci-fi, short, read it, let me know if you want to shoot it with Sam and me”. He told me later that as soon as he read the scene where Sherwin sneaks up on himself in the shower, he was in.
McClure’s character Sherwin, spends most of the film trying retrieve a wedding ring he has forgotten on the day of his best friend’s wedding. This seems an awful lot like a recurring nightmare a best man would find themselves having. Was this an experience someone actually had?
Ha! I hope not. At least, not that I know of. Although, now that I think about it, I did do something kind of similar once. I was a groomsman in my buddy’s wedding out in Arkansas. We were getting ready to drive over to the ceremony and he pulled up in a borrowed convertible. I had never driven a convertible before, so I asked if I could take it out for a spin. He obliged, and next thing I knew I was completely lost in the hills of Arkansas with no idea how to get back (this was before the days of smartphones). He called and called but I was too afraid to pick up. Finally I did, and he guided me back. We were all late to the ceremony. Sorry Gary.
It seems like it would be extremely difficult for the cast and crew to keep the multiple story lines straight. How challenging is it to film this type of script, while also ensuring a lack of continuity errors?
Well, to be honest, I don’t think the entire cast and crew understood it completely. And, I don’t blame them. Thankfully, everyone came with their collaborator hats on and trusted that Sam and I knew the way. When questions arose, he and I would go hide in a corner, debate, and then come back with an answer. The actors and crew trusted us and did fantastic work, which shows. As for continuity errors… I don’t even know where to start. It was a nightmare. Much of the reshoots were caused by Rob not having the right costume piece (we made sure he looked different in every iteration). I specifically remember shooting all morning at the apartment location, just to realize he wasn’t wearing the hat. Which meant everything had to be scrapped. I have a newfound respect for continuity on set.
You make everyone out to be team players, but there were no “do these guys have any clue what they’re doing” moments from the cast and crew?
Haha. Yeah, there were definitely those moments. Look at it from their perspective: two young, inexperienced filmmakers leading the way. I didn’t have much experience in screenwriting, and Sam didn’t have much experience with a film camera. But, there were other things we did excel at. We both knew the importance of “story.” Story, story, story, above all else. We were already professional storytellers (me with acting, Sam with directing/animation) so we led with that.
Now that I think back, I do remember a few crew members who left and didn’t stay for the 10-day shoot. Perhaps it was because they recognized we had no clue what we were doing. But, the more likely scenario is they got better-paying gigs. At our cast/crew screening, I remember everyone screaming with delight after discovering a number of clues and plot-points, which struck me as odd considering they had been there for the shoot. I think it goes to show that the Recursion script was a complex, strange beast. Not everyone understood it on the page, or even on set. I also remember the evening where we shot the scene of Sherwin confronting himself in the bathroom. We had just taken a cast photo, so everyone was in the same room. And, Rob, very sweetly, started asking some probing questions about the scene. A few other crew members piped in, and soon I was giving a presentation of the time-travel mechanics to the entire group. A bunch of them laughed, saying that they were glad that Rob had spoken up. And, I’m glad he did too. I don’t know if my explanations helped at all, but after that we all went downstairs to the bathroom location and shot the scene without incident.
Consider us greedy, but we’re dying to know what Sherwin screws up and has to try to make right with Kim. I’m sure this isn’t the first time you’ve been asked this, but as a group of people who found this film extremely enjoyable, we’ve got to know if there has been any discussion of a feature or sequel?
Hmm. I may need some clarification on this question. Sherwin screws up a bit with Kim by running into her before he officially meets her in the dressing room. When he does run into her, he’s wearing the groomsman pin (which he realizes he shouldn’t have on yet). Is that what you’re referring to? Or are you talking about the end when he approaches her at the reception? As for a sequel or feature… yeah, there’s been discussion. I have a sequel in mind, of sorts, that follows the entire event from Darrell’s perspective (which I think becomes even more convoluted than Sherwin’s). I think it’d make for a great TV series actually (half hour episodes).
To clarify the last question, we’d like to know what happens after the events of Recursion. We assume Sherwin must discuss romantic intentions with Kim and it could certainly turn into a comedy of errors he might want to try to correct. Has there been any idea of continuing the events directly following in some way?
My imagination leads me to believe that Sherwin takes a break from time-travel. I think him mustering the guts to go talk to Kim at the end is something he wouldn’t have been able to do without going through what he did. Of course, at the end, we realize that the ring disappearance was caused by Darrell’s pickpocketing. And, I have many ideas about that story. I love how withered and exhausted Darrell looks in the final shot of the film. I think he has “looped” many more times than Sherwin ever did. And, in the end, Darrell’s ring-swiping doesn’t cancel the wedding. So, what effects does it have? How does Darrell “complete his loop” without canceling his existence out? Who does he reach out to for help? I suspect the answers would come back to Sherwin and Kim and possibly even his bride. So, yeah, to answer your question: yes. There have been ideas. I’d love to make another film in the same universe.