Interview: Australian Filmmaker Hugh Sullivan

October 18, 2014
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Interview: Australian Filmmaker Hugh Sullivan
Hugh Sullivan. Image via

Among the cinematic bloodbaths at Sitges 2014, one flick stands out as a beautifully peculiar piece of cinema that relies on other elements to leave the audience unsettled and ponderous over the course their own lives have taken them. That film is The Infinite Man, a darkly comedic, romantic, and extremely enjoyable time travel story, screened at the Prado on Monday, October 6th, after an epic zombie-filled festival weekend. Written and directed by Australian filmmaker Hugh Sullivan, The Infinite Man is a bittersweet, curious movie, and one of the best I’ve had a chance to see at the festival.

The film focuses on Dean, a tragic perfectionist who invents a time machine to correct the mistakes he’s made in his romantic life. After trying to rekindle the spark between him and his girlfriend Lana at a now defunct hotel in which they spent a perfect weekend one year previous, his rival, the self-described macho Terry, Lana’s ex-lover, appears with a javelin and nearly does the weekend in, but not before Dean fires up the machine and traps all three in a Groundhog Day style time loop that keeps getting more and more hilarious and tragic. There’s everything from deviant sex acts inspired by the Kama Sutra, to a vitally important pair of clogs.

Ultimately, the final cinematic product is highly engaging, lovingly detailed, and simply a standout work of storytelling and time travel mechanics. Pretty impressive for a small but dedicated crew, and only three actors; Josh McConville, Hannah Marshall, and Alex Dimitriades star.

According to the Sitges 2014 film guide, Sullivan was nominated for an award from the Australian Directors Guild Awards, and received a Spirit of Youth Award – Moving Pictures award. This is Sullivan’s first feature length project and, according to his information, the film will eventually make it to the states, so look out for your future favorite indie time travel flick.

Before the film aired at the festival, I had the opportunity to chat with Sullivan about the writing process, his influences, and other parts of the experience of creating The Infinite Man. The interview appears below and has been edited for your reading pleasure.

What was your reaction to getting the film in the festival? You’re on at a really good time at the Prado theater.

We were thrilled. It’s one of the most prestigious genre film festivals in the world, so it’s fantastic to be accepted. Hopefully we’ll get a few people along to it, and hopefully it’s well received.

How’s the film doing so far?

Well, good. It’s been doing the festival circuit for a little while now. It screened at Melbourne and Edinburgh, and won Best First Feature at Fantasia in Montreal. Its world premiere was at SxSW, and it seemed like a perfect fit for that festival. It seemed to go over really well with that kind of audience. We were very nervous at SxSW, we’d never seen it with an audience before, like with people who weren’t associated with the film, and we had no idea how it was going to play. With a film like this, it’s hard to know. But we sat in on that first screening and it was so relieving to see people really on board and having a good time, and connecting with the characters and story. It was great. And it’s in the middle of its theatrical run in Australia. So we’ll see how things end up. It sold to the U.S. as well. Hopefully, good things come out of Sitges.

I was happy to see some beautifully unsettling moments in the film. What were your inspirations on the story side; what were you going for in that regard?

I was really interested in those unsettling moments that, I guess, time travel results in. Without being able to cite a specific text, I think that Philip K. Dick was an influence at a very early stage. I don’t think there’s a specific story; it’s more just a feeling, at times. Beyond that, I don’t know, there weren’t too many specific film references. It’s quite a low budget film, and I thought it would be a mistake to reference any particular films too heavily because it would end up being a lower budget version of those films, and therefore probably inferior. Time travel was a genre I always enjoyed and something I wanted to try my hand at. And because we had such a small budget, I just tried to make something that I’d never really seen before, and I think the low budget kind of pushed me in that direction, possibly a more creative direction.

The film was almost a relationship farce, with people going in and out of doors and windows in this one stage set. What gave you that confluence of ideas, with the time travel and relationship story?

I’m a big fan of screwball comedies and that farcical pacing, and while there were no specific screwball film references, I think they inform my writing as a general influence. It wasn’t always set [in the desert hotel]. We were looking for caravan parks and drove around most of South Australia, and it was only once we found [the film’s location], a striking location, that I thought we could set the film in such a space. But it did necessitate quite a significant rewrite of the script, so it was the location itself that started to inform the writing quite a lot, with the upstairs, downstairs, and many, many doorways. Everything got a lot better once we found that location. Things started to improve dramatically.

Interview: Australian Filmmaker Hugh Sullivan
Hugh Sullivan. Image via

Did you ever run into any time paradoxes? You had the time travel well organized, better than big budget films. Were you aware of that in the writing or was the relationship more important, or did the two things feed into each other?

It was a constant juggling act. I knew that if anyone ended up seeing the film, those things would be scrutinized, because I care about those things, and they can really diminish one’s enjoyment of a film. I’ve seen good, Hollywood time travel fare just completely undone by an ending where the logic is thrown out the window in order to arrive at a happy ending. It’s frustrating. I knew those things would be important to a lot of people, and a lot of the audience we thought who would discover this film. It was important to adhere to the time travel mechanics. At the same time, I didn’t want it to be all about that, because I find very little fun in that alone. It had to be about the characters and the relationship. It made the writing process that much more difficult, fretting equally over those two things.

What do you hope is the end feeling people walk away with?

I would just very happily leave that up to the individual. I know people have very different reactions to the film, and respond to different things. It feels very much out of my hands at this point.

One of the striking things is the sexuality throughout. You include the Kama Sutra, and Terry, a screwball alpha male character as well. Was that a presence in the film from the start, some of these outrageous influences?

I think every aspect of Dean is heightened somewhat, and sexuality is just part of that. You know, Dean [the main character] will plan everything down to the finest detail, and I think it’s only natural that sex be part of that planning, that seeking perfection. Sexual perfection is as elusive as any kind of perfection, but I think Dean is going to try. Terry, on the other hand, possesses more of an unplanned sexuality. It’s less refined, a little rough around the edges.

There’s the theme of trying to seek perfection. Was that something you had at the beginning, or did it pop up in the writing process?

I think it was certainly an idea from the beginning, that idea of perfectionism, and I guess the impossibility of that. Time travel seemed to be the ideal way to explore certain flaws and idiosyncrasies in Dean’s character. And to have some fun with him as well.

What was your favorite part about making the film? And was filmmaking always something you wanted to do, or did that moment occur in the making of this film?

Filmmaking is certainly something I’ve wanted to do for a long time. I have made a few short films, but nothing like this. As far as making this film, I think just getting into the edit suite and seeing there were no huge problems. I was very terrified on set, because it was a crazy shoot with a small crew, and a lot of madness. I was worried I’d get back into the edit and find I had overlooked something very important. It was the moment where I realized there were no big problems to wrestle with, just millions of smaller problems. It was a great feeling.

Is there any advice that you’d give a filmmaker who’s just starting out?

It’s a lot of hard work and it takes up a lot of your time, and I imagine it’s very easy to get distracted by other things that may bring you a lot more money. But if you want to make films, you just have to make that commitment. It’s going to take a while; you just have to get in a room and write and work, or else you won’t be making that film anytime soon.

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