John is the director of horror shorts ‘Exposure’ & ‘6 Feet Under’ and the award winning Sci-fi-Fi ‘The Way Back’. ‘ECHOES’ is the fourth collaboration with the writing team of Paul Skillen and Aaron Gray. John has been working as a director in the television industry for 17 years and directed the Irish language drama ‘Seacht’ for BBC and TG4. He also wrote and directed 12 episodes of the factual drama series Marú for TG4. Most recently he filmed, edited and directed the factual documentary series Ireland’s Great War for BBC and RTE.
ECHOES was first developed back in 2015 when the writers, Paul Skillen and Aaron Gray finished a feature length script called THE SILENCE. The decision was taken to produce a concept short film thematically based on the ideas within the feature film and ECHOES was born.
What I found interesting with the story was the unique take on human weakness – our ability to destroy our own kind for personal gain. The film is based around the idea that “spheres” have been sent throughout the galaxy by an alien life-form as a defence mechanism. These spheres have been located on planets that form a ring of protection around their own extra-terrestrial planet as they fear the consequences of humans finding them. These spheres are capable of heightening the destructive side of any human that comes into immediate contact with it, leading to rage, insanity and ultimately death to all those that encounter it.
I have previously worked with Paul and Aaron on three short films (EXPOSURE, 6 FEET UNDER, THE WAY BACK). We have a common interest in telling dark tales that have a deeper meaning. We have similar tastes in horror and science fiction and always work as a team to deliver a twisted story that can be read on different levels.
My own inspirations in preparing for ECHOES were varied and included “TAPE” by Richard Linklater ( a claustrophobic tale of 3 old friends meeting up in a motel room) to Paul W.S. Anderson’s dark sci-fi/horror “EVENT HORIZON”. What interests me are character arcs that all move in different directions to each other. This is something that is evident in ECHOES.
When developing ECHOES as a short film it became clear early in the process that we were attempting something bigger than we had tried before. We had to design and build a complete “space train” set, something that was going to eat up a huge chunk of our budget. It was integral to the story and needed to be something that could be a working set yet still give us a sense of confinement and claustrophobia. The next important question I had to ask was how could I best tell the story visually – what could I bring that would lend itself to the character’s plot of losing control. I decided to shoot the film with a slightly unconventional approach – using three different methods.
The first was the filming method. I shot the early scenes on a mixture of tracks, sliders and tripods. This created a sense of stability. As the story progressed I gradually began adding more and more handheld camera work until the final scene that is completely handheld. This gave the illusion that everything was gradually losing control.
I imitated this same technique in the second method by applying the similar approach to the actors. As with my first method I gradually allowed the actors to re-act rather than deliver exact lines over the duration of the film. All the early scenes were verbatim from the script but as the film moved on the dialogue got looser. This gave the feeling of naturalism that I was looking for and something the actors relished.
The final visual aid I used to create the impression of loss of control was the grade. I applied a grade that gradually gets “sicker” as the film moves through the scenes – each scene slightly greener and more distorted than the last.
Due to the cost of the set build we had to condense our shoot into 2 days. We shot scenes at a fast pace giving the entire film more energy. The actors and main crew stayed in the carriage for long periods of time. We actually felt like we were on the journey we were replicating.
What I hope audiences get from ECHOES is something that changes their opinion – something that starts one way but gradually twists their perception. I also hope they feel claustrophobic – there is intentional reason why we stay on board the shuttle throughout – to keep our audience captive and a part of the journey. They should hopefully question the meaning of the sphere and who Goudine is, why she isn’t affected. These are the questions that Sa’im would also ask and that’s who the audience should be rooting for. He is the lynch-pin of the story. Someone who has to make the decisions, who has to understand what or who is good or evil.