Interview with Filmmaker Lucas Zoppi (DOMINION EVOLUCION)

DOMINION EVOLUCION was the winner of BEST SCI-FI FILM at the January 2022 FANTASY/SCI-FI Film Festival.

1. What motivated you to make this film?

What motivated me to make this film was my desire to make for the first time a story that belongs to the science fiction genre and that takes place in a dystopian world inspired by the style of Ridley Scott’s Blade Runner. It also motivated me to create a story that contains an unexpected twist that leads to an open ending as in John Carpenter’s The Thing, where a threatening and unstoppable evil will threaten humanity in the near future.

Science fiction is one of my favorite genres and I knew that at some point I would want to make a film that belongs to that genre. I remember that by the year 2014 (two years before writing the script of Dominion Evolution) I had seen the short film “Loom” (2012 by Luke Scott), and while watching it I was contemplating the wonderful work of production that short of twenty minutes (excellent production design, photography, script and direction) has and that inspired me to work on a short film that has a similar universe.

At that time I didn’t have the idea of making Dominion Evolucion, but I did know that I wanted to work on a short film because of budget reasons. This type of story that takes place in a futuristic world, in a feature film format demands a greater amount of budget than any other genre and seeing the work that was carried out in “Loom” , made me think that it is possible to create a complex universe in a few minutes. Therefore, I was motivated to know that it was in some way feasible to work on a script of a short film that contains all the challenges of the genre, and that in turn, the making of it can be done with an independent production.

In the same year of 2014, I had also written the story of a scientist named Victor Bertaum who was living locked up in his lab because of a strange experiment he was doing. For some reason, I had characterized Bertaum in a very similar way to the characters of “the strangers” that appear in the film Dark City (1998) by Alex Proyas, and I mixed with DC Comics character Victor Freeze, a Batman villain that I always liked for the eye – catching colors he possesses. I’ve always considered that these types of characters look powerfully good on screen. Even so, at that time I could not find in Victor Bertaum a story that would convince me, at times I was more inclined to the genre of cosmic horror than to science fiction and I was not convinced that it would work.

Two years later, I was studying Cinematography 3 at the Fine Arts University in the city of La Plata, province of Buenos Aires, and the task of the final work of the year was to make a short film with only one day of shooting and deliver it at the end of the year with the option of filming on set or on real location. At that time I had wondered about what kind of story I could tell in such a short time that takes place in a single location and at the same time be strong and visually attractive. I remember that it had been a few weeks since the teachers of the subject had given the task and I communicated to my team the idea I had about filming a science fiction short film. My motivation about creating a Loom-like universe had returned after two years and now I knew what kind of world I wanted to create. Luckily, almost all the members of my team liked the idea of doing a science fiction project and wanted to work on something related to the genre. At that moment I came up with the idea of placing the character of Victor Bertaum, who I had invented two years ago and putting him as the protagonist in a story where I had already thought about the type of universe I wanted to work with. Those concepts made me achieve the visual appeal I was looking for and from the script I was able to justify the strange color of the skin that the character has and that the whole short takes place in a futuristic laboratory, having established from the beginning that Bertaum was a scientist who was locked in a laboratory doing a strange experiment. Once I added the character of Bertaum to the story, it also motivated me to find a justification of why he would have a strange and different skin, and what came to mind was that this condition he has , is because he is infected by a strange and deadly virus that turns human skin into metal and took over the world, making all the people being locked-up until a cure could be found. After two years, I was finally able to work on the character I wanted to do so much. Now the blue color of the skin would be justified by the cryogenic state in which the character is immersed , because it is established in the story that the cold is the only thing that slows the progress of this disease.

Bertaum’s character eventually ends up being a scientist who is locked in a lab because he is trying to find a cure for a virus that infected him and could save the world from this strange disease. This made me discover the goal that Bertaum would pursue throughout the film, as he would now be a renegade scientist who does not trust the vaccine created by a corporation and wants to create his own cure.

Finally, I was also motivated by the challenge of creating a post-apocalyptic world within a single location. It was a good opportunity for my team and me to work on a mise en scene inspired by our favorite films within the genre. We were inspired by the futuristic visual style of Blade Runner and Dark City, to create a world that belongs to “tech-noir”, mixed with German expressionist cinema.

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

It took me about eight months in total. I remember that I finished writing the script in early May 2016 and the pre-production began in the same month. The first thing we started looking for was the right actor to play Victor Bertaum and the actress who would play Randa. It took us a month to find the actors. Casting is one of the most important things in a film., If it is done badly, even if the material is great and a good job is done in filming and post-production, the film will never work, but in this case I think we were lucky to find Omar Ferreri and Ana Pordomingo. I was very insistent that the actor had to be bald to give him the distinctive look I was looking for and we finally found him. On the other hand, I met actress Ana Pordomingo in the casting process and when I saw her, I knew she was the right one for the role. It was something instinctive, she didn’t say a line of the script and I knew she was the person I was looking for. She already had the haircut that I wanted for the character and the expressions she worked were perfect , because she was able to transmit everything through her eyes and Randa is a character that conveys all her evil through her eyes not in the lines of dialogue.
While we were doing the casting during the months of May and June, we looked for the location we needed. Although we had chosen the option of filming in a real location, at one point we had thought of putting the laboratory together in a set, but finally, during the month of August (a month before filming began) with producer Maia Vitulich we were able to find the perfect location; it was a real laboratory that is located in the building of the Multidisciplinary Training Laboratory for Technological Research in the city of La Plata. We were able to coordinate with the person in charge of the lab and we could establish the shooting date we had estimated. At the same time, I already had the storyboards of the shots I wanted to make; the art department was creating the props, the art director Azul Cansobre and his assistant, Sofia Pais, were searching for the elements needed to re-decorate the laboratory, and designing the costumes for the characters. They were also doing the VFX test with Claudia Catacora (the makeup artist ) during all August; and the photography team had studied the lighting techniques needed for the shots.

Principal photography took place on the third of September and the short was made on that single day of filming. Then post-production began in the same month. I finished editing the film by the end of September and by October, Alan Malnatti, the director of photography of the film, with his assistant Esteban Catuc, started the color correction. At the end of October, the image of the short was ready and then Gabriel Luciano, the sound designer, started working with the soundtrack of the film. At the same time, composer Manuel Garzón was working on the original music that you hear at the beginning and in the end of the film. In early November we casted Nahuel Ignacio Alberti for the Radio Host character. His voice was perfect for the role because he could create a voice that gives you a sense of desperation and hope at the same time. One week later we recorded all the voice over in one day. First we recorded all the dialogues of Nahuel, then Omar did his part and also Ana, and I did the voice of the Rossum character. Finally, we were able to deliver the short film in time to the teachers. After passing the subject, we still had a few dialogues to polish and I wanted to re-edit the rhythm of some scenes. We polished the dialogues during December but I didn’t send the short to film festivals until four years later.

By the year 2020, during the pandemic, I decided to watch the short film again because of the similarities that the story has with the reality that we went through with the quarantine when the pandemic hit and that inspired me to finally send Dominion Evolucion festivals and release it after four years. Before that, I re-edited the rhythm of some scenes and added a few new sounds to the soundtrack. That work took me about a month and then I started with the festivals’ circuit. That’s why it took me eight months to make the short film with four years in between.

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

Sinister deception

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

I could say that my biggest obstacle was time itself , because we could only make the whole short film in one day of shooting. We had eight hours to set the lab, prepare the lights for the different shots, make-up the actors, prepare the camera, and develop the entire production in just those hours. I remember we were filming the scene where Randa appears in the lab and talks to Bertaum, and being the only scene that has dialogue between two characters, was the first one we filmed. We had started filming around 10 a.m. and that scene took us most of the day. We finished it around 3 pm and we were allowed to stay until 4 pm. By then I only had half of the short film done and it wasn’t going to work if I didn’t have the scenes where our protagonist is introduced and shows him failing to find the cure. That was the most important aspect of the film.

Finally the production team spoke with the person in charge of the permits and we were able to stay until 5 pm to finish filming all the scenes. There were one or two scenes that I couldn’t do where Bertaum’s loneliness developed even more, but a few days later I was finally able to make everything we had filmed work from the editing room.

I could say that another obstacle was the fact of finding the right person that could work the VFX needed for the Bertaum character or setting the place and getting what I needed from the art department to create this post-apocalyptic world, but if there is one thing I learned from this experience, it is that if you are lucky to find a good work team, that kind of problems are solved without them ending up being an obstacle.

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

It was something really exciting and special for me., I would never have thought that this short film would have the impact that it is having at the moment and less I would think that one day I would see an audience talk about it. From my point of view, the most important thing is always the audience and the fact of watching good reactions of the people that had seen it.; I could consider that the objective that I pursued from the first day that I wrote the script was achieved.

It is a great honor to have had the opportunity to hear the reactions of the audience and I want to thank all of them for taking the time to watch this short. I appreciate very much that they appreciated the script, the dialogues, the lighting, the production design, the makeup effects and, the performance of Omar and Ana. That for me and my team is very rewarding. It encourages you to move forward with more projects and that is truly important.

Watch the Audience Feedback Video:

6. When did you realize that you wanted to make films?

I would not know exactly when I made the decision , because they were a series of circumstances that occurred throughout my life. Since I was little, I recreated the scenes of my favorite movies with action figures and filmed the “recreations” with my father’s a camcorder. I was always inclined to tell stories by a visual medium, where some striking character appears. In my youth, after the discovery of such films as “The Godfather” (Coppola, 1972) and “Casino” (Scorsese, 1995), “Jaws” (Spielberg, 1975) “Alien” (Scott, 1979), “Pulp Fiction” (Tarantino, 1994), “Bram Stoker’s Dracula” (Coppola, 1992), “Goodfellas” (Scorsese, 1990), “Taxi Driver” (Scorsese, 1976), “Carlito’s Way” (De Palma, 1993), “Scarface” (De Palma, 1983), the saga of “Star Wars” and among many other classics, and I also lived the releases of great movies of various genres that stuck with me ever since, such as the trilogy of “The Lord of The Rings” (Peter Jackson), “No Country for Old Men” (Ethan and Joel Coen 2007), “The Departed” (Scorsese, 2006), “Spider-man” (Raimi, 2002) “Batman Begins” (Nolan, 2005), “The Dark Knight” (Nolan, 2008) “Shutter Island” (Scorsese, 2009) “Inception” (Nolan, 2011)., I was inspired to create films and write scripts. At that time in my youth, I filmed several shorts with my friends and schoolmates. I also got to shoot with them an amateur feature film that I wrote, directed and acted. That was something that helped me to have a very general idea about what it is to make an amateur film.

But I think the moment I consciously decided to make films was when I graduated from school and started studying journalism. At that moment, I realized I didn’t like it because I knew it wasn’t my thing. I did half a year of journalism, left it and then started studying film at the Fine Arts Faculty . Since then I have had no doubt that what I wanted to do were films.

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

It’s a tough question. If it’s a number of times, I think it may be Tim Burton’s Batman (1989) and Batman Returns (1992), but simply because I saw it repeatedly as a child since I was four years old (to this day of course I still watch them), as well as Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man (2002) (I remember seeing it five times in the movies theaters when I was eight years old), the Star Wars saga (George Lucas – Irvin Kershner – Richard Marquand), the trilogy of “The Lord of the Rings” or Jurassic Park (Steven Spielberg, 1993). But if we consider the number of times I saw a movie for the inspiration for a script or for a way to direct a scene, I could mention several titles that I turn to time and time again: “The Godfather” and “The Godfather Part 2”, “2001: a space odyssey” (Kubrick, 1968), “The Exorcist” (Friedkin, 1972), “Alien” (Scott, 1979), “Rosemary’s Baby” (Polanski), “Chinatown” (Polanski), “Lost Highway” (Lynch, 1997), “Persona” (Ingmar Bergman), “The Hour of the Wolf” (Bergman), “8½” (Fellini), “Psycho” (Hitchcock), “Citizen Kane” (Welles), “There Will Be Blood” (Anderson), “Rashomon” (Kurosawa), “Halloween” (Carpenter), “The Shining” (Kubrick), “Eyes Wide Shut” (Kubrick), “Jaws” (Spielberg), “Memento” (Nolan), “Seven” (Fincher)

8. What other elements of the festival experience can we and other festivals implement to satisfy you and help you further your filmmaking career?

I think it is very important to show films and short films to a specific audience, whether in a cinema or by streaming and this may seem obvious, but not all festivals can do it. The fact of spreading the works of the filmmakers is one of the most valuable and important things that a festival can offer. I also think that it is essential to have the experience of listening to the feedback of the audience because that way you can grow as a filmmaker.
Listening to what the viewer says about your work is one of the most important and necessary elements that a festival can offer. Another element that I think can help advance my career is to know the world of distribution. Perhaps festivals can offer a more direct connection between the filmmakers of the selected films and the distributors so that when their time at the festival ends, the work can be viewed on a streaming platform and that way as many viewers as possible are acquired.

Do not forget that the more people see the work of a filmmaker, the more that person has an audience that knows him and by then, the filmmaker already has an audience for his next project.

9. You submitted to the festival via FilmFreeway. How has your experiences been working on the festival platform site?

So far I have had very good experiences working on the FilmFreeway platform. In my view, it is the best platform to submit to festivals. It’s simple and straightforward. It allows you to have easier access to the type of films that festivals are looking for and also allows you to have the opportunity to read the reviews and experiences that other filmmakers had with the festivals in which they signed up. Personally it was a very good guide to know the type of festival that Dominion Evolucion should be registered in to be accepted and match the genre that certain festivals were looking for.

10. What is your favorite meal?

My favorite food is what in Argentina is called “milanesa con papas fritas y ensalada”, I think in English it translates as “breaded meat with French fries and salad”.

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

Right now I’m finishing the casting for my next film. It is a psychological horror feature film named “They will be Legion” and is set in the ’40s in Argentina. In a way it deals with the mystery of evil and the fall of the landowning families, which happened at that time.

I also find myself writing a script for a science fiction feature film that explores and expands the same universe as Dominion Evolucion. I have two scripts of two horror short films that I have finished writing and that I want to make when I finish filming the horror feature film.

By matthewtoffolo

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

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