SLIFF INTERVIEW: Khalil Sullins – Director of LISTENING
LISTENING screens at 9:35 on Friday, November 21st at the Tivoli Theater as part of the St. Louis International Film Festival. Ticket information can be found HERE
In the new science fiction film LISTENING, graduate students David (Thomas Stroppel), Ryan (Artie Ahr), and Jordan (Amber Marie Bollinger) are trying to harness the power of the human mind. Broke and struggling to support their families, they spend all of their time in a garage lab full of stolen equipment, hoping to invent a means of human telepathy and thus solve their problems. But when the trio makes a breakthrough, the discovery proves anything but a boon. Instead, their cutting-edge technology quickly opens a Pandora’s box of new dangers. Secrets and betrayals boil to the surface as the technology falls into the wrong hands, and the team soon finds itself working for an underground government agency with treacherous plans. With no one left to trust, David is pitted against his friends in a life-or-death battle — a struggle over the privacy of the human mind and the future of free will.
LISTENING is the first feature from writer-director Khalil Sullins who will attend the screening November 21st and stay for a Q&A after the film. Khalil took the time to talk to We Are Movie Geeks before his trip to St. Louis
Interview conducted by Tom Stockman November 18th 2014
We Are Movie Geeks: Have you been to St. Louis before?
Khalil Sullins: No this will be my first time there. I’m really looking forward to it.
WAMG: LISTENING deals with telepathy and neuroscience. Is this something that you knew a lot about or did you do a lot of research?
KS: I first came up with the idea of someone using telepathy, then I did two or three months of research to see how someone would actually go about using that to read someone’s mind. And then I started writing. I call it a ‘hard’ sci-fi, as all the science in the film currently exists or is theoretically possible.
WAMG: So you do consider your film science fiction.
KS: Yes I’d call it a sci-fi thriller.
WAMG: What does mental telepathy mean to you?
KS: Practically, in this film it means being able to read someone’s thoughts – these characters go about it through brain reading interfaces. Throughout the film that technology evolves into more and more efficient hardware and software capable of reading someone’s thoughts.
WAMG: How long did it take you to write this script?
KS: I worked on the script for about a year.
WAMG: And what was the films budget?
KS: It was independently financed – we had to beg borrow and steal to get it made. It’s definitely not a studio picture but we did our best to make it look like one.
WAMG: And you were able to travel to Cambodia to film some scenes.
KS: Yes, that was the interesting thing about this film. A lot of independent films will just shoot on one or two locations. We really tried to put our money up on the screen and we did that by shooting in a variety of locations. We went to Cambodia, we went to Washington DC. All in all we had about 30 locations throughout the globe for this movie. We had a small crew and we traveled all over.
WAMG: Did your two leading actors go to Cambodia as well?
KS: One of them did. Thomas Stroppel plays one of the main characters and the film opens with him going to Cambodia searching through the jungle for something and finding this old Buddhist temple with monks that can control his thoughts.
WAMG: I heard you caught malaria in Cambodia. What was it like being sick in a foreign country?
KS: Most of our crew got sick there for a day or two, but it was when I got back that I got really sick. That was the toughest part about the whole process of making this film. It knocked me out for six weeks. I lost over 25 pounds. It was kind of scary.
WAMG: I’m glad you recovered. How did you go about casting the two leads?
KS: We tested hundreds of people. It was a non-union picture so we were really searching for some undiscovered talent, but when Thomas Stroppel and Artie Ahr auditioned, we knew pretty quickly that they were both perfect for the roles.
WAMG: Is this your first feature-length film?
KS: Yes, my first film as writer and director.
WAMG: What were some of the challenges of being a first-time director.?
KS: One of the hardest part was when I was sick. As the director, you’re the guy calling the shots, and when we got back from Cambodia, our plan was to shoot for two more weeks. We had all of the rest of the movie shot and edited. We were going to put those Cambodia scenes in the beginning and move on. But then I got sick and suddenly everyone was waiting for me, but I was physically incapable of working at all. That was the toughest part, but also some of the locations. When we were in LA we were limited with our schedule and sometimes had to shoot up to four locations in one day.
WAMG: Tell me about the flicker 3-D stereoscopic technique used in your film. Does that require special glasses?
KS: No it does not. I had seen an online a video by a band called Blue Roses that used that effect. I had seen it also in still photography, this way to flicker back and forth between the left eye and the right eye images that creates a sense of depth perception. But no one had ever done it before in a feature film, so we used the effect to signify entry into the psychological state inside the mind. It turns into this flicker 3-D effect but it keeps the hard sci-fi tone since it’s not fantasy images that were seeing. It’s something that’s real but it still feels like you’re entering someone’s psychological state.
WAMG: So you’re saying it actually produces a dimensional effect?
KS: Yes, not everybody experiences the depth perception, but a lot of people do. We switch back-and-forth every three frames. We shot it on to cameras set up on one tripod, about eye distance apart. We tested several different methods, testing how many frames to go back and forth and find where the parallax is for that shot. It sort of tricks your brain into seeing a third dimension.
WAMG: What was your filmmaking background before you tackled LISTENING?
KS: I went to Art Center College of Design in Pasadena and was a film major there. But really I grew up drawing and painting. I did a lot of sculpture and photography too so I really came more from an art background. When you see the film you’ll see a lot of color theory.
WAMG: Where did you grow up?
KS: I grew up in San Diego California.
WAMG: What’s next for Khalil Sullins?
KS: I’m working on a couple of projects. One is a detective story about a woman who is battling cancer while helping to hunt down a serial killer. Another is TO THE MOON which is kind of like Calvin and Hobbs meets APOLLO 13.
WAMG: Good luck with LISTENING and I hope you enjoy your time in St. Louis this weekend.
KS: Thanks, I look forward to showing it at the festival there.