Interview: Andrew Bowler, writer/director of Time Freak

When I had the opportunity to speak over the phone with director Andrew Bowler regarding his debut feature film, Time Freak, it was a rainy Tuesday afternoon in New York City. Braced against the chill of my apartment, still waiting for my heat to kick in, I wondered if Bowler, a fellow alumnus of NYU Tisch, missed the fall weather of New York from his current post in sunny California. However, having seen his movie about traveling into the past to fix moments of regret, I knew it was best not to dwell on what he may or may not miss about New York. After all, Bowler and his wife, co-executive producer Gigi Causey, spent $25,000 earmarked to purchase an apartment in New York to instead invest in the creative endeavor of making a short film. Now that 2011 short film has evolved into a feature-length movie, starring Asa Butterfield (Ender’s GameHugo) as the neurotic young  physics genius, Stillman, and Sophie Turner (Game of Thrones) as Debbie, a promising musician whose love Stillman is determined to win back by building a time machine to mend their broken relationship.

Time Freak has much to say about how people look to the past and the hindsight that comes with human interaction. In discussing his directorial debut and what it feels going from short-form cinema to a full feature, Bowler revealed his thoughts on what it means to tackle difficulties found in romantic and interpersonal relationships through sincere comedy and science-fiction.

Disc Dish: Your movie is coming out this Friday, November 9th. Congratulations!

Andrew Bowler: Thank you!

DD: How does your directorial debut feel?

AB: It feels great! It’s very exciting. There’s not a lot to do once you make the movie, so my job has been over for a while. Other people are working very hard, but I get to sit and enjoy it.

DD: Are you planning on watching it on the big screen?

AB: My wife and all of our Los Angeles friends are going to go to the AMC CityWalk in Los Angeles. We’re going to get everybody together there.

DD: This movie is based off your short film which was nominated for an Academy Award in 2012. What inspired you to turn it into a feature-length film?

AB: People responded a lot to the regret element that was in the short—the idea of “If I had a time machine, I’d probably waste it by traveling around yesterday.” We knew we had something that people were responding to. A lot of people were saying to us “that’s exactly what I would do with a time machine—I would waste it.” That level of neurosis was something that was very human and kind of touching to see people respond to. It seemed like an opportunity, so the question became “What’s the feature version of a guy neurotically wasting his time going around yesterday?” We got the idea that it’s someone trying to get their love back, someone regretting a relationship they had.

So the short was “guy relives yesterday” and the feature became “guy relives a relationship.” It started to really open up from there.

DD: I know both you and your wife, Gigi, invested a lot in the original short. During its initial creation, did you ever imagine that Time Freak could be a longer movie?

AB: I think the very first writing session was writing a feature film about time travel. In thirteen pages, it became that short film I wrote in just a couple of hours. The beginning, middle, and end just rarely happens for me, so when I wrote it I said, “Oh, that’s it.” I came back to it a day later, did two or three changes, and that’s what we shot. It just sort of spit out. Then when we went through the long process of making it into the Academy Awards it was like, “Well, I did think this could be a feature, so what was the idea originally?”

DD: What were the challenges that came with making it a feature-length movie?

AB: Well, the longer you build a time travel matrix where people jump around, it becomes more difficult to keep the logic straight. In eleven minutes, you can lay out the time travel logic within thirteen pages and keep it pretty straight. With a feature, you’re kind of going in and out. You’re playing games with time travel logic and you gotta keep it straight. Time travel audiences do not mess around, so we wanted to make sure that all our i’s were dotted and t’s were crossed. Keeping all of that straight on a feature-length level was the biggest challenge throughout.

DD: So it sounds like you had your own timeline set up.

AB: All the logic makes great sense to me. I mean, time travel is not possible, so you can’t have the empirical to know how it works. But with the rules we set up, I believe we maintain and honor throughout. When people say a time travel movie either does or doesn’t make sense, what they mean is: “Do they follow the rules set at the beginning?”

DD: I liked that you had the characters replace themselves within the time they traveled, as opposed to having the dilemma I see in other movies where time travelers run into themselves from the past.

AB: Yeah, I feel like we’ve seen that. I wanted to do something new, so I haven’t quite seen that before.

DD: You’ve referenced Primer and Back to the Future as major influences, but I was also getting some Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind vibes from this movie. Was that also a source of inspiration?

AB: Eternal Sunshine is definitely a big one. I’ve also always been a sucker for romantic comedies like James Brooks’s movies. They’re very human and focus on human interaction. You want to get the sci-fi straight, but for me the real motivator is people and their interpersonal relationships. We’re just kind of putting it into a time travel/sci-fi vessel, if you will.

DD: What draws you to comedy?

AB: My fascination has always been people and their interactions. I love why why we do stuff and say stuff to each other, and [asking] what are the important moments of our lives that intersect with other people.

When I first went to film school, I was quite serious about it. A lot of the movies I would make were very earnest dramas. Once I realized if you take that sincerity but add silliness or comedy, you can kind of speak more directly to some of the stuff you see about human interaction. There’s something that takes the edge off it, and that’s sort of how I got started. And my mom’s also very funny; when we were kids, Airplane! was an often-quoted movie in our house.

Asa Butterfield and Sophie Turner and filmmaker Andrew Bowler on the set of Time Freak

DD: What do you want audiences to take away from Time Freak when they see it?

AB: I want them to have a good time. Nobody needs to be preached to, especially not this day in age, but I personally think this movie is a lot about regret. I’m fascinated with the ideas of “Am I lovable?” and “Can someone love me?” and “How much manipulation do I have to do to get somebody to love me?”

Love comes with flaws and difficult times. Disagreements don’t mean someone doesn’t love you. That’s what I hope: that there’s some humanity that the audience sees in the relationship the two characters [Stillman and Debbie] have.

DD: I don’t know if it’s considered a spoiler to mention it, but I definitely appreciate how you highlight the manipulation that does occur in this film. I felt it was very important that you touched upon that aspect of the story.

AB: Thank you. I don’t think of it as a spoiler to say that we wanted to make Debbie not just the goal, and this is the reason why someone of Sophie’s caliber was drawn to that role. It’s not just two dudes and a blonde woman. For part of the movie she definitely is a goal, but then we as filmmakers also all understood that, for a variety of very important reasons, Debbie also had to have her own life in this movie. That was very important, so it means a lot that you noticed that.

DD: So, what does the future look like for you?

AB: We’ll see what happens on Friday, November 9th! I love the sci-fi genre, and I love playing in that space and mixing it with some grounded humanity. Nowadays, there is a lot going on in the world that makes you inspired to say things, so I think using the sci-fi genre as your megaphone is a nice way to allow people to have some fun, some laughs, and also maybe there’s something you want to say to your fellow man and woman.

Released by Lionsgate, Time Freak is now playing in select theaters in Los Angeles and New York and is also available on VOD.

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