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Interview: Annabel Logan and Evrim Ersoy talk about multiverses, pandas, and divas.
No knock-knock jokes, sadly.
I spoke with actor Annabel Logan and producer Evrim Ersoy about their work on Hostile Dimensions, playing this week at the Night Visions film festival.
Hostile Dimensions is a wildly ambitious story about vloggers discovering a modern day cryptid in the form of an inconspicuous wooden door, which leads to alternate dimensions every time it’s opened. Shot on a miniscule budget, its imagination and dedication to the setup make it feel much grander in scope.
In person, Ersoy and Logan are immensely charming and open. Our freewheeling conversation was punctuated by a lot of laughter and asides, which isn’t something you take for granted when conducting an interview.
During our talk, we cover topics such as producing with limited means, covering difficult dialog about multiversal travel, and how to deal with very specific diva behavior on set.
Joonatan Itkonen: I’ve seen Hostile Dimensions twice. The first time, I didn't really know what to make of it. Because I think the sense of humor and the style are something I couldn’t parse on that first viewing. So, I spent about five or six days in between, and then I watched it again. I think the second viewing was an even richer and better experience because I kind of could attune myself to the film. What was the experience for you when you first read it? Did it require a little bit of wrapping your mind around it?
Annabel Logan: I’ve known Graham Hughes, who wrote and directed the film, for over 10 years now. He sent me a near finished draft, and he was very keen for me to be involved.
I think the first time I read it, I was quite a bit like, what, what is this? I couldn't quite get my head actually wrapped around it on paper. It was a little bit wild to me. But in a good way. Because I know Graham and I trust his process. So, I thought, it's okay, even though it doesn't make sense from first read. It's going to make sense when we're making it.
And Graham’s great. He will come to us and ask if we have notes on our characters. Just to see if there’s anything he can do to make this better. He’s incredibly receptive to that. So, it did start to feel like towards the later drafts that I was able to have a bit of input with that and give some ideas. And then, by the time filming came along, it all made much more sense in our heads.
Evrim Ersoy: Well, I haven't known Graham as long, but I really love his work. I reached out to him after I saw his last film to see what he wanted to do next, and we started putting together another project, which is still coming along. That one is a bigger budget sort of thing. While that was happening, I said to him, you know, is there anything else you want to do in the meantime, and he had this. When I read it, I asked if he could do all of this? And he said, yeah. So great, let's do it.
To me, the script is pretty much what you see on the screen. I know Graham’s very open to any sort of notes. I always tend to go towards cutting things down to its bare bones. He has a much better sense of humor than I do. And it works really well on-screen. There were more jokes that we shot, some of them didn't quite work, but he was always open to sort of like going through the process of looking at the material. Asking does this serve the story, does this one not quite work.
I just didn't expect that it was going to be such a difficult and wonderful process to shoot it.
JI: I'm glad you mentioned the humor because that's something that really stuck out to me. There's almost like a Looney Tunes level of a darkness, a kind of anarchy to it. I'm thinking of the jokes like Wiley Coyote opening a door and there’s a train coming towards him. What was that process of figuring out the tonal pacing? I ask because while Hostile Dimensions is very funny, it curves very quickly to something much darker quite often.
AL: On our (the actors) side, it was weird in a way because of how fast we had to make the film. That probably was part of what comes across in the film, as we couldn’t sit and mull it over for too long.
We just really had what like three, four takes maximum to get one shot. And that's being generous! We were very much “go go go!” all the time.
Graham was really good about giving space for myself and Joma particularly. There were some scenes where he was just like, alright, just improvise that and we'll just roll with it. We'll just roll the camera for a bit. I don't know how he did it, because I think it was in editing where he was having a small panic attack. Because it’s a found footage film, so naturally you're leaving shots to run, and you can't just suddenly cut into another shot, because that’s the genre. It's all just one tape. So that was all in his head.
I don't know how he managed to get the pacing to work as it did. It's so beautiful. But certainly, on my end, he was just very relaxed. We just played a bit of game, I think, like, if I saw panic in his eyes, then I knew we had to go fast pace to kind of keep the energy going. I think there's just a nice synergy that we all have, because we know each other very well.
EE: Just to demonstrate what Annabel saying, I think the first day we did something like 38 pages of shooting.
One of the last things towards the end is the scene where Annabel has the whole speech about belonging to this world. So, they've been running all day, and they've got to sit down into this incredible heart-to-heart. Meanwhile, the rest of us are standing behind the door so they won't fall over from the wind. So, we're hugging doors just beyond the line of sight. And the fact that they deliver it and it works on screen, I think is a testament to how good these guys are. Because it's certainly the setting wasn't ideal. You’re on a beach in Scotland!
AL: There was a dog walker going past who looked very confused about all of this.
JI: That scene is one of my favorite scenes in the movie, because it is such a grounding presence. I remember when it first came on, I didn't know how to react to it. But then on the second time, I was looking forward to it. And when it came, it felt really cathartic. I'm really glad that it's there. It’s such a nice little bubble in place in the universe at that exact moment.
Well, it’s a tie between that and then of course the great overlord dog.
EE: Graham would want me to say this. This is Graham's mother's dog. She’s been in three movies so far! And she's hard to control. The only way you can get her to sit is by putting a treat on the floor.
JI: Oh no, she’s becoming a diva!
AL: She’s trained only at the finest drama schools. It’s just that she’s waiting for her big break still. She's an aging starlet. It's funny because a lot of people who saw the film in Amsterdam, I think she's getting a little fan club! It's so cute.
EE: I was really worried because it's really hard to get a dog to act with a trainer even at the best of times, and she’s someone's very much-loved family member. But she did a great job.
JI: It sounds like that there was at least somewhat leeway to bring your own dialog to make it sound more like yourself. There's a moment in the film where everybody just kind of sits down to kind of explain the rules a little bit, to kind of let the audience catch up with the story, and those parts are difficult, because I feel like that's one more thing you’re asking from the audience, to pay attention to rules.
AL: That we kept pretty close to the script. I think Paddy Kondracki had the tough work there, because he basically had all the exposition, and he had to deliver big chunks of that at a time. Whereas we were just reacting to it.
We kind of had a feeling of what we could play around with, and what we just needed to say and keep it in. Paddy, Graham, and myself all did comedy stuff for BBC before, so we all knew each other from actually comedy writing. And I think we had a good understanding of how each one of us ticked and worked in that regard.
Graham would look at a take and think, okay, maybe we should tighten that up a bit. There were a few times, not many, but a few times in the filming where it was like, oh, is that really it? Like, can we make that a bit shorter or more succinct or stuff like that? I wish Paddy could come here and have him explain how it felt for him!
EE: I think Paddy’s tone is so straight, and Graham chooses such interesting imagery, all the doors from history and the stuff he finds to manipulate, that it becomes a great moment when put together. When we screened the first rough cut, we got to this scene too quickly. It was like, what are we missing? And it was that sequence where Joma goes to see if she's really missing, right? That wasn't in the first edit at all. They happened to be going on a week's holiday and it was really shitty weather. Suddenly Graham said, I'll shoot something! That was the 30 seconds you needed for these two characters to get involved. So, thanks to that, we could move faster, but get to that point later.
AL: I forgot about that. Like that was kind of added in extra.
EE: That's my favorite thing with Graham, conversations where we can say something isn’t working, and he’ll say, we're going to New York, we'll shoot something. We're going to the Isle of Wight, we'll shoot something. Sure. Okay, great. As long as you're happy, I'm happy!
JI: While watching Hostile Dimensions for a second time, I put together notes and it reads like a checklist of all the things a small budget movie can do to make life difficult for itself. You have found footage, a multiverse, quasi time travel, make it in Wales. Then cap it off with an increasingly ambitious thriller that bends the rules as much as it can with some truly incredible editing. Was there ever a moment when you were putting the film together where you just looked at it all and went: can we actually pull this off?
EE: we went through a few rounds of editing. But here's the deal; when the first edit was done, the first time I saw the rough cut, Graham was like, “I'm not sure is it working”. And I immediately saw this is going to work. You’re going have to chip out at a little bit, but it's going to work.
I knew one of the bits that would work was that chase. Like, that chase is going to make the greatest teaser of all time. Because as a producer, I'm not just looking at the film, I'm looking at the future of the film as well. What festival are we going to, what sales are we going to do? Where are we going? What are we going to do with this? So, for me, I knew we've got something good. It feels heartfelt.
The opening worked, the chase worked, but the middle part needed tightening, and that was really easy because Graham's very open to dialogue. If he loves something, then we think a way of how to keep it in. If something doesn't work, he's the first to say it doesn't work. You know? “You're right. I loved it on paper, but I can't keep it in there”. Because all he’s interested in doing is making good stuff.
That chase sequence is great because we had shot everything. But then Graham was in New York, and he shot some footage in New York's Chinatown. And we just put it in there. Like that footage is just him and Joma West running through Chinatown. No permit, no nothing, just, you know, filming a little bit. And then that goes in there. So, the audience goes: “They're in New York now? What’s going on?”
JI: There's one, one of the things I didn't want to ask is that your film is coming at an interesting time where like, we've had years and years and years of nothing. And then similarly, we have two years of nothing but multiverse movies. Yeah. All that did. Was there ever a moment where you just sat down to win, like she would just wait a year or like further died down or never had a conversation?
EE: No, I thought this was good time. We can capitalize on this. It's absolutely fine. I didn't, none of us could predict that Everything Everywhere All at Once would win with such vigor. But the thing is, that's different from Graham's movies. Hostile Dimensions is a horror film, a sci fi film, as well as a comedy. It's aiming at different things. I don't count the Marvel multiverse films either, because that's an entirely different beast altogether. Connected universes and stuff. So, the closest thing is Everything Everywhere All at Once, and that film is a masterpiece! We're not competing in the same plane of existence. It just we both happen to be about the same thing, except we’ve got more doors than they did.
JI: I also dare anybody to point to any other multiverse movie that has the threat of panda death. That’s something that also makes you stand out.
EE: That scene came about in an interesting way too, because it wasn't going to be that location. Annabel, do you remember what the first place was?
AL: I don't remember. But I remember it was not a panda.
EE: It was a teddy bear!
What happened was that I found this place called Pandamonium. It was a real place and I phoned them and asked if we could hire the location. They asked, what are you making? Oh, a sci-fi film, because you don't want to say horror ever. It puts people off.
As we’re getting ready for the shoot, I was looking through their and saw they had a panda costume. Again, I called them and asked if we could put someone in it. So, suddenly that costume became a threat. Then when you see the arms behind the panda, that’s actually me. I'm standing behind the panda flailing my arms. It’s lo-fi, but it works.
And the signs you see were all handwritten by Joma, who put them up just before we started filming. What you don't see is how behind the shot there’s the five of us drinking Squash. We’re watching this thing happen and the people who run Pandamonium are there as well, super curious to the whole thing.
AL: They were just chilling, watching this thing unfold.
JI: I really like the panda, because it's such a clear disclaimer of what kind of film you're getting into. It's almost like the alphabet for the viewer to understand how to read the film. That scene also has a really wonderful moment where they use an RC car to first check out the other dimension. It’s such a great bit of playing with the genre. I get really annoyed in films where something spectacular happens and everybody just throws themselves into it. So, having this kind of curiosity, but also a sense of we're not going to walk in there, we're going to put this in first, it tickled my autistic mind, because it was exactly what I would do. These are good people. I like them.
EE: I also like that, once they’re through the door, Annabel is immediately on the slide coming down.
AL: You would too once you know there’s no danger! There's no danger going down this slide, so I’m going on the slide. It’s also absolutely rational to check out the door. I mean, you might just like evaporate, who knows? That would drive me insane as well, if they were gung-ho, just going straight in there.
JI: Did you find that there was more freedom for this kind of exploration thanks to a limited budget? You mentioned the run and gun type of filmmaking, but did it feel more like trying to, not necessarily cut corners, but make compromises, or was it more liberating to think you can try anything?
EE: Graham said he hadn't really worked with anyone producing. So, I came on and I said, alright, let me do the things that make your life easier. One of the things I did was I did try to go to with the official route with a lot of the places. And there was no way we could afford it. So we went back to the drawing board. We had to do what Graham had already done, which was just shoot without permits. But this time, I wanted Graham to have an extra set of hands to take the things off his plate. He is already directing it, shooting it, acting in it. It was a case of making his life easier.
AL: “Graham, chill out.”
EE: I think the one of the things I like about indie filmmaking is, because we have no budget, so it's just all hands on deck. That creates a real nice sense of camaraderie. The house which is our main location, I was sleeping in the study. That's Graham’s flat. One weekend, Joma and Graham redecorated it to make it look as it does in the film.
We had to carry the doors to every location by hand. There's all this stuff that had to be done by all of us. Every day one of us would go around and get sandwiches, because lunch wasn't coming through catering. So, I think lack of budget, it's difficult, it makes for a lot of work. But it also grounds you in the sense that everyone's responsible for everything. No one's a diva, no one can be like, I don't feel like working today, because there's no universe in which that could happen and we will continue with the film.
JI: Unless you’re the dog.
Both: Unless you’re the dog!