The latest film from writer/director Nathaniel Atcheson, DOMAIN, just had it's world premiere at this year's Other Worlds Austin SciFi Film Festival on December 4. We had the opportunity to chat with the director and some of the cast about this upcoming sci-fi thriller and what it was like to make a film centered around isolation.
Shannon McGrew: Hi everyone! Thanks so much for speaking with me today! I just watched DOMAIN and absolutely loved it. To start things off, can you those who are not familiar with the film a little bit about it and who each of your characters are.
Nathaniel Atcheson: DOMAIN is a movie that takes place in a series of underground bunkers where the characters are isolated. There's been a global pandemic that has wiped out almost everyone and these few are waiting for it to be safe to go above ground. It could take decades, 30 years possibly, and they communicate with each other through a social network environment called "Domain", where they can see each other and talk. Essentially things start going wrong, people start disappearing, and it turns out that the whole situation is not what it seems.
Britt Lower: I play the character of Phoenix. Without giving away too much of the backstory of each character, each one of us is believed to be surviving in separate cities throughout the country. I live in Phoenix and am called Phoenix, although that is not my real name. Phoenix is kind of a liaison between all the characters inside the "Domain." She tends to have some small genuine connection with each of them.
Kevin Sizemore: I play the character Orlando. Orlando is more on the nose I think. He likes to encourage people to get them riled up so that he can play them as puppets. I also feel as though he's a character that would do things in front of a screen and not do them face to face. I think in his past he wouldn't have done it as much, he's grown older and now he's kind of going to that character, but when he was younger I always felt that he was raised in a way that he saw things he shouldn't have seen at a very young age which led him to develop these mannerisms as a way to survive. Over the course of time he felt like he had to do these things to get attention.
Ryan Merriman: I play Denver and without giving too much away, my character is the kind of guy who tries really hard to stay in control with what is going on and also has a love situation with Phoenix. My character is very elusive and is a nerd who tries to hold everyone together.
SM: Nathaniel, what inspired you to come up with the concept for DOMAIN?
NA: I started by just wanting to make a low-budget sci-fi movie and thinking about what are things that could even happen on a small budget. It started with one room and the idea of how people could be isolated but still talk to each other. Then I started building the concept around that and I knew I wanted to make a movie that was commenting on social media and the way it is changing our lives and it all evolved over a long time around that. I wrote the first draft in 2010 and a few other drafts over the years and eventually arrived at what you see on the screen. I feel like it has a lot to say about the world we live in now and how we interface with technology.
SM: Since each of your characters are in their own pods, was their a lot of interactions prior to and during the shooting of the film or were you guys separated from each other?
NA: We set up the filming environments so that everyone could interact. There was basically one sound stage and a big line of GoPro's against a green-screen and everyone could see other and everyone was on set if we were shooting a scene that they were in. While they were still sort of isolated in the bunker they were all on camera at the same time and could see and hear each other. It was kind of a replica of the environment that you see them in where they could see and hear each other but they couldn't physically interact.
BL: Our characters were cut off from any organic type of intimacy as well as the ability to experience real food or sunlight as they were in a controlled environment. We were also in a pretty dark sound stage and the desire to reach through the glass to your fellow actor was pretty palpable, which was a strong objective for the characters, and also at times a blessing to have that barrier.
RM: What was so cool and unique was we shot one at a time in the bunker. We had one bunker for every body, and the first scene of the movie, which was a 12 page scene, had 8 people in it. So you take your turns rotating in and the coolest thing about how we shot it is we shot it sitting next to each other. We couldn't look at each other because we were supposed to be in a bunker and it was almost distracting to have that person next to you while not looking at them and looking straight into the camera. It was a really cool and unique experience and it's probably something that will never be done again this way.
SM: What type of research were you guys given to take on these roles? Did you do anything specific to have a better understanding of your character?
RM: My character, again, without giving too much away, studied people like him. You don't want to ever do the easiest or obvious choice so you kind of do a little bit of research to learn how to be that guy without giving too much away.
KS: For Orlando, I knew that I had to come with guns blazing. He's a guy that fuels the fire and goes crazy and laughs about it. He's the kind of guy that thinks everything is humorous on the inside and he knows it's driving you nuts. That's where he gets satisfaction from, trying to find that fine line of being aggressive and loud and obnoxious but at the same time being really freaky and funny.
BL: Phoenix is actively trying to cover up a very haunting past so she throws herself into self care, whether it be through exercise, routine or regiment. She's constantly striving to better herself for the day she can hopefully get out of this bunker and be able to re-emerge as this new person that I think she strives to be. There's this duality that she's constantly struggling with of her path and also her future.
SM: An aspect that I love about the movie, other than the social media aspect, is that you end up feeling for these characters only to find out later on that things aren't necessarily what you thought they were. At this point it's hard not to sympathize a bit for them, which results in a confusing feeling. Is that something you are hoping that the audience will take away from the film?
NA: Absolutely. I really didn't want it to be a black and white ending, I wanted it to be morally sticky and something that you really needed to think about especially in regards to what your feelings were. It's as if you are forced to judge them on some level or maybe you abstain from judging them if you decide to forgive them. I want each person's reaction to this movie to be unique. In order to do that you don't want to lean in one direction in a particular way. I'm really glad everyone in the cast was able to find an emphatic aspect of their own character and certainly for my choices I really didn't want the movie to judge the characters, that's for the audience to decide. I really left it as neutral as possible which I think resulted in sort of an emotional ambiguous ending which is definitely what I was going for.
SM: What can we look forward to from each of you in the future?
BL: I'm on a series called "Man Seeking Woman" and our third season premieres on January 3rd. Coincidentally Nate is also an editor on that show.
NA: My day job, the one that pays the bills, is that I'm an editor and I happen to randomly work on "Man Seeking Woman" as well. Along with that, I'm writing, you never know what the next thing will be, but I'm actually writing a novel because you can do it alone (laughs). I also have some screenplays that I want to write.
KS: I'm actually in a film that was just released this week that I'm acting in and was one of the producers on called BELIEVE, it's a Christmas film. I'm also currently in the middle of shooting a coal mining movie down in Atlanta about the West Virginia coal mine called MINE 9.
RM: I have a new show called "In the Rough", it's kind of like a modern day, redneck "Caddy Shack" and it's hilarious. That's coming out in February and I also have another film called MAXX YEAGER: BLACK OPS which is a Navy Seal kick ass action film.
SM: Wonderful! Well thank you all again for speaking with me and we look forward to seeing continued success from all of you.
For more information on DOMAIN and to see where the film will be screening, visit the official website www.domainthemovie.com and follow on Facebook at /DomainTheMovie.