Interview – Film Director Matthew Leutwyler

mattpicInvolved in many projects, including a charity such as We Are Limitless that help communities in Congo and Rwanda, Film Director Matthew Leutwyler attained his first taste of success with 1999’s Dark Comedy Road Kill. Going on to an impressive career in film, Leutwyler has dabbled in a variety of genres with films such as 2004’s Horror Comedy Dead & Breakfast and 2007’s Unearthed to name a few. Co-founder of Independent film development and production company Ambush Entertainment, he has spent a great deal of time working on projects he believes strongly in throughout his career. Heavily influenced and attracted to the Science Fiction sub-genre, Leutwyler, in recent years, collaborated with Producer Sim Sarna and Doctor/Surgeon/Writer Shahin Chandrasoma to create Uncanny, a film that makes audiences  think, especially about one’s humanity, motives, and purpose on Earth. We recently had the chance to sit down with Leutwyler to talk about the amazing premise of Uncanny, humanity, the future of technology, his career in film, and plans for the future. – You began your career in 1999 on the Dark Comedy Road Kill. Garnering awards at the Santa Barbara International Film Festival, it proved a successful beginning. Reflecting back, what has your experience in film been like to this point?

Matthew Leutwyler – It is a roller coaster ride (laughs). It is a constant struggle, and I mean that in the best way. To, A, look for material that inspires you and you want to do. Then, in the Independent world it takes locations, chasing money, actors, and everything that you need to put together a movie. I would say it has been pretty exciting, interesting, and at times super-frustrating.

When you get a movie like Uncanny, it entertains first and foremost, then its provocative subject matter, and it is very smartly written, that kind of gets you amped up all over again. Being in the film industry, or being an artist in any kind of way, there are always going to be ups and downs. One movie you make a no money , the next one is well-received by critics and the audience is looking fondly on it, then you cannot find a big enough audience, but it doesn’t make the kind of money you were hoping it to make. It is hard getting it to hit on all cylinders. It is a tough question to answer, 1999 was a long time ago (laughs).

dead and
Anchor Bay
Lions Gate
Lions Gate – Absolutely, a lot has happened over the time one can imagine.

Matthew Leutwyler – Yes, it has allowed me to do a lot of other cool stuff. I have a charity I probably would not have founded it would not have been for working in film industry. The cool thing about making movies is you have times where you working 16-18 hours, but then you have these long period of times where you are off gaining inspiration. It has allowed me to travel and go to Congo and get my charity of the ground. – Your charity is quite inspiring. It is great that you have that opportunity to travel and help these communities. You just mentioned your latest film, Uncanny, and the graphic subject matter. It was released on November 3, 2015. It is an amazing film with quite a developed story. How did you come across the story?

Matthew Leutwyler – I shot the movie over three years ago. There has been a lot of comparison to Ex Machina (2015) and people think the idea was stolen. We shot this movie closer to three and a half years ago in August. Shahin Chandrasoma wrote the script. I was looking for a combined Science Fiction/Thiller. I talked to Sim Sarna, who produced the movie, and a couple others with him prior to this, and told him what I was looking for.  He reminded me of a guy he had gone to school with, Shahin, at USC; Shahin had studied Creative Writing as an undergrad and then went off to Med school and became a surgeon.

I had always been fascinated buy Science and Science Fiction. He had a lot of great ideas, and the three of us sat down and he pitched me nine ideas in a row; great, interesting, fascinating, mind-blowing Science Fiction ideas, but they were all like 100 million dollars. I said I was looking for something small, something I don’t have to look for money for; that we can make cheap enough that we don’t have to answer to anybody. We can making is exactly our way and there will be no investors breathing down our necks telling us to edit it this way or cast that person.

He got what I was saying; three people one space, that kind of thing. Two to three minutes later, he spews out the idea for Uncanny and I loved it and said, “Let’s write that.” He left that dinner meeting and started writing it. He was a surgeon, so he was up early doing his day job, and he has kids and stuff, so we didn’t really speak until late at night where he could squeeze in 3 to 5 hours until about 2 or 3 o’clock in the morning. We would talk, he would write, he would call me up, I would call him up with ideas I had, and I think he turned out the script in about four weeks. Not much changed from that script to one we ended up shooting.

Still from Uncanny
Still from Uncanny – It sounds like it was fun to work on, even under those circumstances. What was the casting for the film like?

Matthew Leutwyler – After that, we went right into the casting process. I actually was in Rwanda during most of the casting. The casting director Michael Testa and Sim were just posting casting sessions from the day; super-low resolution because I had terrible internet connection there, so I couldn’t make out the people very well. When I got back, we aired it out to people and brought them back in.  We were really having a hard time casting Adam. One day, David Rogers walked in. He just blew us away, so we ended up casting him for that role. Mark Webber, I had always been interested in. I had reached out to him directly, and Lucy Griffiths just came to the regular casting process. Rainn Wilson, we had worked with before, and knew he was into those kind of stories. We reached out to him and he was willing to shoot a couple of scenes on one of his off days from The Office at the time. – The casting was done excellently. It seems the project moved along pretty quickly as well.

Matthew Leutwyler – We shot the movie in twelve days. From the time we came up with the idea at the restaurant, to the time we finished the photography was I think four months. It was unbelievably fast. Then we bogged down in post-production because we made the movie so cheap, that some people were working for free, that we were just back-burner; like the visual effects guys got a big job with Sony, so we just sat around for about 8 months. We had some pretty big sound issues we had to clean out, and the sound people, again, were doing it all for free, so we were back-burner on that for quite a while. Unfortunately, it took a lot longer to finish than we thought it would. When we heard about Ex Machina going into production when we were at post, we were a little concerned, but we thought we had a big head start on them so we will get it out before they do. The Ex Machina thing is funny because our setup is almost identical, but where we go with the story is very different than what they do with theirs. I love that movie, but they explore a very different world and philosophy than we do in ours.

Still from Uncanny – Agreed, you definitely have a unique flip in the story. Now you just mentioned Mark and David, they both did an exceptional job portraying their characters. There seems to be a thread running through the film about illusions. Was there strong emphasis placed on making these characters intertwine?

Matthew Leutwyler – Yes, absolutely. From Shahin’s script, it was always there. I do not want to give too much away because it goes to an interesting place. The AI is created in the image of a guy who has been held up in a workshop for basically his whole adult life. He ends up creating an AI that is better than he is. That has to be pretty depressing for someone I would think (laughs).

The idea of illusion that we put out there is kind of the way we present us to people. There is also a bit of an illusion, forget about AI. There is also a facade as human beings we put on for everyone we know. For even people that are closest to us. There is always a little bit of an act. That was always a key part to the script.

Still from Uncanny – Yes, very true indeed. It is definitely interesting, the play on being in seclusion. That humanity almost loses itself.

Matthew Leutwyler – Yes, it is such an interesting discussion to have. When we have Q & A’s after people see the movie, it is probably a lot more interesting to talk to me (laughs). I do not want to give too much way. – Completely understood. The story absolutely needs to be seen and not spoiled. Upon the credits rolling, there seems to be a possibility of a sequel. Do you plan to continue the story?

Matthew Leutwyler – (laughs) That is another thing to hard to talk about. The movie is polarizing anyway. Either people think it is a 10 or 1. It is a slow burn of a movie. It is very talky and if you are not very versed or interested in Science, you would probably think it is a bunch of techno gobbledygook. It is really not. This movie is more based on Science fact than Science fiction. Granted, a lot of the stuff is not completely available to us yet, it certainly will be. Whenever I hear someone say it is techno babble, it is not techno babble. It is real, it is researched, and one of the most interesting things about the script to me is how smart and detailed it is. The people that do understand what he is talking about really have taken to this movie. The ending, people loved it, and people hated it. We ended up pulling it and sold the movie to the distributor. Last minute before I was delivering the film, we thought we should stick that back in there. We did not want to piss anyone off, so we thought we would make it a prologue that happens 30 seconds into the credit. When the distributor saw the movie at a festival, they said, “Wow we never noticed that.” They just assumed that they turned the movie off at that time and never saw the credits. I like it, it opens up an interesting dialogue. It was not about making a sequel, it was an interesting peek into the motives of David and Adam. – Very interesting. Well if there is a chance for a sequel, it will be compelling. Seeing this was a relatively small cast, did you find it to be a challenge, or, did it allow you more time to develop the characters?

Matthew Leutwyler – No, it did not allow us any time at all. We did not have any pre-production with the actors, other than phone calls. We shot the movie in twelve days. It was brutal. I would never make a movie like that again. The movie was made for less than $200,000, so there was really no money to fix things when they were going awry. The crew was extremely small, and a lot of them were pretty inexperienced. It is very demanding on actors when you are shooting a movie that has this much dialogue where there are only three actors, and they only have twelve days to shoot it. It was definitely insane. I would not do it again. It was very difficult on everyone, especially the actors.

RLJ Entertainment
RLJ Entertainment – Well, they did a great job within those circumstances. Are there any future project on the horizon that audiences should be on the lookout for?

Matthew Leutwyler – Shahin and I have some ideas, he has a whole bunch of ideas based on these workspace models; about the Rainn Wilson character looking into financing other workspaces. The one we are working on right now deals with time travel. It is a bit bigger than this film in scope, but no less complex. I am preparing a film to shoot in 2016. It is a Thriller about piracy in the Niger Delta. We are going to shoot it in Ghana. That is kind of my dream project. – Sounds very exciting, and something to look forward to. focuses of all music as well as Horror and Sci-Fi films. If you are a fan of Horror and Sci-Fi, do you have any favorites?

Matthew Leutwyler – Yes, I have so many. The thing about Horror is it is such a generalized genre, right? I am not a big Slasher Horror fan, automatically people think, “I am not a big Horror fan.” The Shining (1980) is a Horror film, it is a brilliant film. Evil Dead  (1981) and Evil Dead II (1987) are some of my favorite films to watch, I love it. More as a Comedy than a Horror film, but it is still considered a Horror film.

The genre is so broad. When people ask do you like Horror films? Yes and no. Some I hate. When I think of some of my favorite films, It Follows (2015) this year was brilliant. That is just brilliant film making to me. It is great directing and a really original concept. I was almost involved in that film, but we pulled out last minute. I am not surprised it did as well as it did. The script is really tight and very interesting. He is a great film maker. That is Horror right? – Absolutely, it is a very effective, creepy film that relays on atmosphere. What about in Sci-fi?

Matthew Leutwyler – I love provocative Science Fiction. I love Star Wars too. That is a broad genre too. – Yes, Horror and Sci-Fi is all about creating an atmosphere, and is a huge variation of ideas.

Matthew Leutwyler – Absolutely. What is really cool about Sci-Fi to me is it is kind of the last place you see true philosophical writing happening. There are really no philosophers out there anymore. I mean Hugo Award winning Science Fiction writing; what does it mean to be human? What is our place in this world? Those are heavy items that are almost exclusively discussed in that genre over any other.

Warner Bros.
Warner Bros.
Rosebud Releasing – Yes, especially now with the way technology is becoming so advanced.

Matthew Leutwyler – The technology where we are headed, you can just worry about that every day (laughs). There is so much going on. What we made the theme in our movie, is AI the next generation of our evolution? Some people say, “Is technology going to consume and then kill us off?” Twenty years ago I would laugh, but now a days I would say I do not know. You keep building AIs to the point where it realizes humans are really unpredictable and dangerous, to society and the environment. They are detrimental to society. We do not really do too much good to the world, we just fuck it up. An AI make look at us a cancer or a virus and want to just eradicate it. You would say, “Well that is Science Fiction.” Well, I don’t know (laughs). Elon Musk thinks AI is more dangerous than nukes. He made that famous tweet in June, I believe. I think Bill Gates backed him up on that as well. I don’t know, I think we need to have some sort of regulation from this stuff. It is dangerous, but is exciting too. To ignore the negative possibility would be foolish.

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