Interview with Filmmaker Ian Asbjørnsen (ODYSSEY OMEGA)

ODYSSEY OMEGA was the winner of BEST FILM at the December 2020 Fantasy/Sci-Fi Festival.

1. What motivated you to make this film?

It all started when I did a freewriting exercise. As I was dealing with anxiety, I knew this unconscious, uncensored method of writing could help me get to the hidden psychology behind it. But it also left me with an unexpected result: a story. It was a story of childhood vs growing up, of violence vs healing, of loss vs connection. I knew I needed to turn this story into art, into a film.

It was pretty intense having to re-create real scenes from my life, but I just reminded myself that at the end of the day, the more honest and specific my stories are, the more people will be able to relate.

I had also been wanting to get some CGI animation on my directing reel – which coincided with my childhood dream directing a military sci-fi with a Starship Troopers/Starcraft-style alien!

2. From the idea to the finished product, how long did it take for you to make this short?

I wrote the first draft of the script in May 2017, but decided to start producing it in September 2018. We did nine days of shooting over the next year, and by November 2019 we were wrapped. By September 2020, we had a completely finished, edited film with music and animated aliens.

3. How would you describe your short film in two words!?

fantasy, self-discovery

4. What was the biggest obstacle you faced in completing this film?

The biggest obstacle was definitely budget. Our secret to getting around budget limitations was to divide and conquer – to break up the film into smaller, more affordable chunks, spread out across time. This was helpful anyway, as we needed time for our lead, Zach Sherman, to grow out his beard accordingly for different moments in time.

Other budget hacks:

All our locations were free (we used cast and crew’s apartments, snuck into the mountains of Pioneertown, CA without a permit, etc).

We used re-purposed spacesuits from the film “The Space Between Us,” which were worn by Gary Oldman and Asa Butterfield (shout out to Global Effects in Hollywood!).

I watched YouTube tutorials for how to modify Nerf guns to look like real sci-fi weapons.

We built our spaceship set with only $400 with some meticulous choices from Home Depot.

5. What were your initial reactions when watching the audience talking about your film in the feedback video?

It was really emotional to see the film really resonating with an audience. My wife Amy Reedy Asbjornsen (Producer and Editor of Odyssey Omega) and I were extremely moved listening to the reactions. It’s rare to hear such honest, thoughtful, positive feedback – especially in this disconnected time during COVID lockdowns when in-person festivals and screenings are canceled.

Hearing the audience reactions was validating to all the artists and professionals on our set, and showed that we accomplished our goal of making something emotional, relatable and entertaining. It feels like our hard work is paying off, which is a relief as filmmaking is always a big risk. We’re very grateful to have the platform putting the film out there.

Watch the Audience FEEDBACK Video:

6. How did you come up with the idea for this short film?

Again, this film all started with a freewriting exercise. So it’s very meta in that the main character’s freewriting is actually my own freewriting.

In a spontaneous burst of creativity, I was able to tap into stories I’d been pushing beneath the surface. I was able to explore fantasy worlds and past relationships, and make connections between life events I had never realized. I wrote the script in one sitting, in about two hours. I was quite emotional while writing it, which is unusual for me. This first draft was messy, but very fast-paced and honest – so I knew I had something worth pursuing. And it was something I had to get off my chest, so it was very therapeutic in that way.

7. What film have you seen the most in your life?

That’s a hard question. Because the honest answer would probably be one of the movies I watched on repeat on VHS as a little kid, like Terry Gilliam’s “Time Bandits.” It’s funny, as this movie also bounces between genres, jumps through time, and uses fantasy as a metaphor like my own film.

8. You submitted to the festival via FilmFreeway, what are you feelings of the submission platform from a filmmaker’s perspective?

I’ve been making films and submitting them to festivals since I was in high school, so I can tell you from experience, FilmFreeway definitely beats burning DVDs, (or even worse, making VHS tapes), and then bundling them into bubble-wrapped UPS boxes with a stack of paper printouts for each festival’s paperwork…

9. What song have you listened to the most times in your life?

It’s too difficult to say. I’m obsessed with finding new artists, new songs, new genres etc. I used to DJ electronic music, and play jazz, but I also listen to classical music. I’m a drummer and a pianist, and have toured internationally with an experimental music group. My taste is really eclectic because I love hearing music from all kinds of places.

10. What is next for you? A new film?

Directing a feature film is the next goal.

My wife Amy and I both have multiple finished feature screenplays. One of her scripts – “The Boy with the Pink Triangle” – is an Academy Nicholl Semifinalist, so we’ve been pitching that. We also may film a proof-of-concept to help get these projects out there.

And in the meantime, I direct in-house at GUESS? Inc. If anyone is looking to hire a director for anything from features to TV to games… call me up!

By matthewtoffolo

Filmmaker and sports fan. CEO of the WILDsound Film and Writing Festival

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