Dylan Levy | 10.20.2014
For this week’s AFF Interview, our Film Department Apprentice, Dylan Levy, posed a series of questions to Ricky Kennedy, the writer and director of the AFF 2014 Film The History of Time Travel! AFF is hosting a screening of The History of Time Travel Saturday, October 25 and Wednesday, October 29 at the Alamo Drafthouse Village. Join AFF and The History of Time Travel writer/director Ricky Kennedy for the screening!
Dylan Levy: What was the writing and planning process like for this film? How did you approach such a tricky concept as time travel, specifically in the context of a fictional documentary?
The History of Time Travel Writer/Director Ricky Kennedy: The writing process for The History of Time Travel took place over several phases from August 2010 to May of 2013. Before I even came up with a storyline I first developed the concept of a time travel documentary. I had wanted to do a high concept film, specifically in the science fiction genre, but couldn’t think of a way to do so economically.
After weeks of thinking about various ideas and concepts the thought occurred to me that doing a time travel movie in a documentary style could be a way to tell an interesting story.
I wouldn’t have to worry about elaborate sets or special effects because the bulk of principal photography could be devoted to interviews which we could film quickly and efficiently. The rest of the film could be photographs we stage and stock footage and photos from the public domain.
I quickly realized that if there was a documentary about time travelers they would inevitably change history at some point. However how would the people being interviewed know this? They wouldn’t. For everyone but the time travelers the changes would go completely unnoticed. Suddenly my film had hook. A documentary about time travel where the facts keep changing because of time travel.
Within a few minutes I had the title, the tagline “Would We Even Notice?, poster design, and film outline sketched out on a piece of notebook paper.
Now that I had a concept I needed to develop a story to fit within that concept. That took about four months, from August to December of 2010. I would write ideas and outlines and pitch them to Daniel and Dudley May (both would work on the film as an actor and as assistant director). Just working on the mechanics of how time travel would function and what the rules would be took months and months to figure out.
The first draft was about twenty four pages and consisted of wall to wall dialog without any cutaways, reenactments, or photographs mentioned. It was just the story as told by the interviewer characters. The first draft would later been adapted as a five minute proof of concept video I filmed as my first graduate film at Stephen F. Austin State University.
I put the script on the back burner for about a years and a half while I made two other short films. When it came time to make my thesis I pulled the script back out and started expanding it to feature length. For the most part the storyline did not change drastically it was just a matter of expanding and fleshing out the characters and events of the story.
DL: Because of the tricky and often paradoxical notion of time travel, many time-travel narratives simply accept the logical fallacies in favor of dramatic effect. Were there any paradoxes you tried to overcome? Were there any you accepted for the purpose of a more compelling narrative?
RK: During the development process I worked very hard to try and avoid paradoxes and plot holes but after you’ve twisted your brain for months and months you just have to stop and ask yourself “Is the story working?”
I read in an interview or article, I believe it was Rian Johnson discussing his film Looper, that time travel is messy and that no matter how hard you try there are going to be plot holes, loose threads or paradoxes.
Time travel by it’s very nature is not logical, it’s impossible to make something illogical into something logical. So the idea with a time travel story is to make is seem like its logical, at least for the duration of the film’s running time. If I’ve done my job well you will suspend disbelief and just accept the story.
However one of the great things about time travel movies is the pleasure I get in taking them apart and trying to make sense of their rules. I love Back to the Future but there’s a plot hole in the trilogy you can fly a delorean through. I won’t mention what it is but it doesn’t make the film any less enjoyable.
I’m looking forward to seeing my film get picked apart and analyzed by the sci-fi fans out there. If they enjoy the film I hope they’ll forgive me for the errors and mistakes I’m sure I’ve overlooked.
DL: It’s immediate to the audience that the film is fictional, even playfully exaggerated. Were you ever concerned that the “tongue-in-cheek” nature of the film would overshadow the film’s dramatic merits or would make it difficult for audiences to emotionally invest in the film?
RK: I always try to make a movie I would want to see and hope other people like it as well but I honestly had know idea how an audience was going to react to the film. I wasn’t sure if they would understand it or just be confused.
With The History of Time Travel I had a very complex story told in an unusually way but I still needed it to be accessible to audiences. Humor was one way to do that. Within the first two minutes I have the character of General Sanborn call time travel a bunch of bull. It get’s a big laugh with every audience I’ve seen it with and let’s them know immediately that this is going to be fun. I think an element of humor helps balance some of the darker aspects of the film because there are some very serious moments in the film.
With The History of Time Travel I had something I thought people might enjoy but depending on the crowd they could enjoy it for different aspects. Some might enjoy the sci-fi elements more, or find the alternate histories interesting, or appreciate the humor and the absurdity of the whole thing, but in the end I hoped everyone would enjoy the film as a whole and find it entertaining and engaging.
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