Indie Sci-Fi Film Spotlight: HOVER – Review + Q &A with director Matt Osterman

HOVER takes place in the near future, where environmental strain has caused food shortages around the world. Technology provides a narrow path forward, with agricultural drones maximizing the yield from what land remains. Two compassionate care providers, Claudia and her mentor John, work to assist sick farmland inhabitants in ending their lives. After John dies under mysterious circumstances, a group of locals helps Claudia to uncover a deadly connection between the health of her clients and the technology they are using.

Starring: Cleopatra Coleman, Shane Coffey, Craig muMs Grant, Beth Grant
Written by: Cleopatra Coleman
Directed by: Matt Osterman

Available on VOD (Amazon) and iTUNES: July 3, 2018
Running Time: 1h 26min
Rated: Not Yet Rated

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It’s always a pleasure to chat with writer/director Matt Osterman. He suggested we went to a boutique coffee shop called KOPPLIN’S in St Paul’s Merriam Park Neighborhood. We chatted over the refreshing Iced Chai about his new sci-fi film HOVER. It’s been over two years since I chatted with him about 400 Days, which he wrote and directed. It’s always fun to chat about movies with someone who’s passionate about storytelling and the filmmaking craft. Just like Debra Granik, Matt also lives ‘off the grid’ away from Hollywood, as he and his family resides in a Twin Cities suburbs, but that hasn’t stopped him from making movies wherever it takes him.

Quick Thoughts on HOVER:

Hover is a sci-fi thriller set in the near future. The two main characters we saw are Claudia (Cleopatra Coleman) and John (Craig muMs Grant), two caregivers who help terminally ill farmers ‘transition’ as they call it. There’s an air of mystery that something isn’t quite right, which gives that unsettling tension throughout the movie. Without giving too much away, soon Claudia has to face her suspicion about the flying drones and uncovers a conspiracy that’s more sinister than meets the eye.

What I like about HOVER is that the film doesn’t feel like a sci-fi in the traditional sense. The characters inhabit a world we’re familiar with, with a few futuristic elements thrown in. The fact that it’s set in a rural dystopia, it sets it apart from most sci-fis that are set in urban areas and immediately feels more grounded. It helps too that both Coleman and Grant are instantly likable, which makes you want to know more about their journey.

There’s genuine tension in the initial built-up, the flying drones hovering above certainly gives that voyeuristic feel. In the world we live in now, there’s that fear of ‘Big Brother’ watching over us that is relatable. There is also a subplot about Claudia involving someone she works with that adds more complexity to her character.

I do wish there’s more to the characters. It’d be great if the relationship between Claudia and John is explored a bit deeper. Shane Coffey and Beth Grant turned up midway though the film, and both add interesting dynamic to the story, though the finale gets a bit too bombastic for my taste. The flying drones also don’t seem all that menacing, though the design itself is pretty cool looking, as is the way it kills (or you could say ‘fry’) its prey.

Overall HOVER is an enjoyable sci-fi that at 86 minutes moves at a relatively breezy pace. It’s a cautionary tale about the misuse of technology, especially deadly when mixed with corporate greed, without making it feel too heavy-handed. This is the first time I saw Cleopatra Coleman and she’s certainly got a charismatic presence on screen, as well as screenwriting talent. I certainly would love to more of her work in the future.


Here’s my Q&A with Matt:

How did you become involved in this project?

I was sent the script by a producer by the name of Travis Stevens. I’ve known Travis, we’re friends of friends for a few years. He’s kind of a big deal in the indie genre world, he’s got a great taste and he’s been producing stuff that pushes the boundaries so I’ve always wanted to work with him. He approaced me with the script and later on SyFy got involved. I had heard of Cleopatra Coleman, and when I read the script I knew I wanted to play in that world, in that sandbox, so that’s why I signed on.

So Cleopatra Coleman wrote the script and did you collaborate with her?

Yes she had written the entire thing, she built that world. When I got the script, both Travis and Cleopatra said to me, ‘Hey we need some input. We’re running into some problems here, we want to flesh this out more, etc.’ So it’s a great team approach to take it to the next level.

The theme of rural dystopia is not something that’s rarely explored in sci-fi films. Movies of that genres tend to be set in a metropolitan or large cities. What’s the inspiration behind setting this story in a rural area, especially in farmlands?

Part of it is the fact that we don’t see things set in rural areas. I mean it’s easy to set things in the future in an urban setting and I find it boring. We want to make something that showed the haves and the have-nots, something that plays out in today’s society. People who have one foot in the future, one foot in the past, we wanted to explore that kind of dichotomy a little bit further.

Cleopatra actually started with these two care providers that helped transition people, but then in the rural environment there were these farm drones. She thought those farm drones were pretty interesting and she started exploring more about the drones and how they’re affecting the farm community.

So I’m curious about how you worked with this cast, especially given the fact that the lead actor also wrote the film. How did the collaboration process go in this filmmaking scenario?

Well to be honest, that was my first concern. It could go sideways in a hurry. If you butt heads, how do you work your way out of it? But luckily for us in this case, she’s an amazing collaborator. She’s totally open to ideas. On set, performances comes first for her and that’s how I wanted it to be. Every now and then, a problem or an opportunity came along and we’d have a little powow and discuss ‘Hey what can we do here? What can we do for that? So it works in our favors quite a bit and she’s able to wear multiple hats.

Cleo came from an improv background y’know, having been in the show Last Man on Earth, so she’s really quick to turn on a dime. Because she knows her character so well, having written it, it’s easy for us to play. It helps that she’s already inhabit her character when she wrote it.

Let’s talk about the drones. They look like something we’d see in the world today, it’s not too futuristic. Did you help design the drones, capturing the movements and all that?

Yeah. We wanted the technology in this world to feel utilitarian y’know, like it’s actually being used. It’s not as if some production designer just sketched something really cool and say, let’s make that a thing. We wanted the world in our movie to feel lived in and real, because when you talk about fantastical things like killer drones, we have to ground it in as much reality as possible. So we ended up hiring a technology designer, a great artist Calder Greenwood out of L.A. He built the drones, hand-built them out of found objects. The ‘eyes’ are lens from a camera, the rotors are from slide projectors, so he built them by hand. He was able to found parts so he could build multiple of them. We have a bunch of puppet drones that we could move them around in different ways, some on a string, or on a different rig and obviously the CG drone. So they did a 3D scan of the practical drone and they built things with CGI.

Where did you film this?

Baton Rouge, Louisiana. Lots of Agriculture down there. I lobbied to shoot it in the Midwest but we were shooting in February and March. It’s perfect to shoot there in that time, it’s not too hot but the bugs aren’t out yet. The shoot was 21-22 days so things happened pretty fast.

What’s been the biggest challenges on set of HOVER?

The first day, there was lightning storm nearby. And when there’s lightning, you have to stop and wait like 60 minutes before you do anything. This is the first time I shot Louisiana so I didn’t know if it’s going to be a daily thing. Luckily it only happened a handful of times, but an hour is kind of a big deal when you’re filming. But I would say the hardest part was dealing with all the action stuff, you always want more time and more money to do those. We used every tools in the books to shoot those truck chase scenes. We used actual drones following the truck, but we only shot that scene in less than a day!

Is this film a cautionary tale about technology? What message does the film want to convey about today’s technology and where it’s heading?

Yes and no. First and foremost, it’s a movie and we want to have fun with it. There’s a lot of liberties you can take with a movie, because y’know, it’s a movie, it’s entertainment. At the same time, we’re entering a pretty scary period in terms of technology. There are some people in power using technology in ways that can be awfully scary.  So if there is a message, it’s about unchecked technology and people in power without repercussions can lead to some pretty bad things. I mean, just how fast technology is moving right now, I think it’ll get worse before it gets better. I’m a technology guy, I want to see progressive technology happen ‘cause it can make the world a better place. Some people say it’s already being used for its intent and purposes, it’s gonna get more powerful, faster, smaller… well, it can get creepy. I’m not really a tin foil-hat type of guy but when it comes to drones… I’m a little nervous.

Rightly so, I feel the same way. Now, I’d like to switch gear a bit and talk about you as a filmmaker. You live here in the Twin Cities, but you make films out in L.A. or elsewhere. How do you juggle your filmmaking career and being a dad/husband?

Yeah, the hardest part outside the production is finding a way you live your life while keeping all the plates spinning at the same time, so to speak. Luckily I have an amazing wife and cool kids. They get it you know, daddy has a job and he’s not a coal miner with black lungs, he’s not a soldier going overseas. He gets to make movie, which is not so bad and they can come and visit. They came once because they have school and my wife also has to work. It’s not easy during [filming] but the rest of the year, I mean I’m a writer first and foremost and you can do that from anywhere. Staying outside of the L.A. bubble also has its advantages too, so you can bring something fresh and original.

Lastly, any advice for aspiring and emerging filmmakers, esp. those living in the Twin Cities, away from the filmmaking hub of LA/NYC/Atlanta.

This industry is filled with ego-driven jerks. Don’t be one of those. Be grateful, communicate and most importantly, finish something. There’s so many people that start projects, they ask for help and support and they don’t finish. Then those people are hesitant to help them again, or anybody else. You’re just wasting people’s time. You gotta walk the walk. Lots of people come for the glory, for the fame, but you gotta come in [to the entertainment business] for the right reasons and work your tail off. It’s not easy, so don’t expect things to happen overnight.


Don’t miss the Twin Cities Screening!

Friday, July 13th, 2018
6:30pm – Red Carpet Interviews/Photos
7pm & 9pm – Screenings

 Q&A with Director after each screening

Location
Emagine/Willow Creek Theater
9900 Shelard Pkwy.
Plymouth, MN  55441
TICKETS
Earlybird (13+ yrs of age) – $10
Same Day (13+yrs of age) – $12
(TCFF Members receive complimentary admission – must pre-register)

Get Tickets »

*TCFF Members receive FREE entry. Another reason to become a member today!

HOVER is currently available on Amazon, iTunes, and VOD

Spotlight on indie sci-fi 400 DAYS – Q & A with writer/director Matt Osterman

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400 Days is a psychological sci-fi film centering on four astronauts who are sent on a simulated mission to a distant planet to test the psychological effects of deep space travel. Locked away for 400 days, the crew’s mental state begins to deteriorate when they lose all communication with the outside world. Forced to exit the ship, they discover that this mission may not have been a simulation after all.

Starring: Brandon Routh, Caity Lotz, Ben Feldman, Grant Bowler, with Tom Cavanagh and Dane Cook
Directed and Written by: Matt Osterman

Available on VOD (Amazon) and iTUNES: January 12, 2016
Available in Theaters: January 15, 2016
Running Time: 90 Minutes
Rated: Not Yet Rated

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MattOstermanI love indie sci-fi films and I had seen the trailer a few months ago and was intrigued by it. When I later learned that it was made by a Minnesota-native, who still lives in the Twin Cities area, I definitely wanted to feature it on my blog. Thanks to my friend and fellow Twin Cities Film Fest’ staff Matt Cici who introduced me to Matt Osterman. He was one of the speakers at a TCFF Educational Events back in October, but I wasn’t able to make it then, so I’m glad I finally got the chance to meet with Matt to talk about his film.

Matt grew up in Wisconsin but since college he had made MN his home. Filmmaker wasn’t on his career checklist but he was a big movie geek. His parents gave him a black/white TV for his room so he could watch reruns of Twilight Zone from an early age. He had always been into writing and telling stories and one day he had a lightbulb moment that he wanted to go into making movies.

Here’s my Q&A with Matt:

Q: You wrote as well as directed this film. What’s the biggest challenge in adapting your own work?

A: Well, that in and of itself is literally the biggest challenge, not having the aesthetic distance to properly judge something. You get so close to it, and though you know it better than anyone else but that’s also a curse because you can’t take a step back and look at it objectively. So that’s difficult but what I did was I tried to get as many feedback as possible throughout the entire process. Hopefully they can be honest with you and say ‘hey this part sucks, what are you trying to do, etc.’ So I tried to incorporate that into the process, you know, just lose the ego and try to take it all in. Whatever makes the project better.

You chose to live Minneapolis, far away from the filmmaking mecca of L.A. and NYC. How have you been able to make it work somehow, as you’re also raising a family here in Minneapolis?

You know, it’s been ok so far. Luckily living here we have a great quality of life and it’s a lot cheaper to live here than it is out there. I have a family so living in Minnesota has afforded us a lifestyle that you can’t really get anywhere else without a huge bank account. So I have to travel up there quite a bit but I have a manager who lives out there in L.A. so he’s sort of my ear to the ground and he can set up meetings. I’d say, ‘hey I can be out there for a week so let’s get all of our meetings in.’ I don’t know what opportunities I’m missing because I’m here. But because I’m a self-generating writer/director, you can write from anywhere. I don’t have to be over there to write, and in some ways it’s better because you’re away from the ‘bubble’ y’know and you can bring your own unique voice and not get caught up in the industry’s crap.

Q: Now, let’s talk about casting. You have three actors from CW’s superhero series (Brandon Routh and Caity Lotz were in Arrow and now in Legends of Tomorrow, and Tom Cavanaugh’s in The Flash).

A: Well, Brandon, Caity and Tom weren’t [in those series] before we cast them in this movie.

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Q: Ah so that came afterwards. So did you have a lot of input into casting, a certain wish list if you will in terms of what type of actors you want for the roles or did you just trust your casting managers?

A: No, we actually cast them ourselves. So I had a say as to which actors we hire. We met with hundreds of actors out there, it was insane. We didn’t have auditions as we went with a higher level of actors who already had a lot of taping and projects to look at. You get a sense of what skills and range they have. Especially for a low budget film, it’s more like they did you a favor than the other way around. So with a lot of them you just met with them and talk about the story and try to understand it, and see if they have the right vibe for it. So I easily have met with at least a hundred actors for all the roles. Now, for these four in particular, I was familiar with all of them and I went back to watch some of the stuff they’ve done and was sold. It’s a business as well, so you want to get people that would get the distributors excited and people around the world would want to watch. So it’s always a mixture of who’s right for the role, who has talent and who is well-known enough to make it happen.

I couldn’t be happier with people we cast, they were all amazing and did an awesome job.

Q: Talk about the filming locations a bit. Where did you shoot this film?

A: The ship we built in a sound stage in L.A. It’s all custom-built and again, we’re very low-budget so we had to be very smart with how we build things. And since it’s all a simulation it didn’t have to look like a real working spaceship. So we’re afforded an extra wiggle room there where if it’s truly a spaceship, people might say ‘hey that didn’t look like…’ but luckily we didn’t have to deal with stuff like that.

When I wrote the script I knew I wanted to do it and I knew I wouldn’t have someone give me $20 mil to make the movie. So I made sure that the spirit of the story would fit into this film.

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Ben Feldman & Brandon Routh

Q: I just read an article on Metropolis.com that the future of sci-fi films are indies instead of big blockbusters. It made me think about indie sci-fis like Another Earth, Ex Machina, and The Machine which also stars Caity Lotz. So what are your thoughts about that, do you think the future of sci-fi films are independent films vs big-budget ones like say, Interstellar?

A: Well, Interstellar is sort of its own thing. It’s done by Christopher Nolan who pretty much could do whatever he wants right now. And that film, I’d say, still kept a lot of the indie spirit because it wasn’t afraid to tackle big ideas and challenging concepts, which are the opposite of what most studio films are right now. So they [the studios] usually go with something very broad so they could sell internationally and they’re very smart about what they do, obviously it’s a business and they’re doing it extremely well. So I can’t begrudge them at all for that. But yeah, you’re exactly right, indie films are more about challenging ideas which sci-fis need, it’s giving us a different lens or perspective to view things. You need that to be able to talk about various issues and what not, so I think we’ll see a huge explosions of indie sci-fi films. Especially where sci-fis has been traditionally effects-driven films and you can do that on the cheap now, or find ways to get more bangs for your bucks. Like what we did, a lot of the effects in our film are practical effects. We had a few visual effects here and there to elevate the rest of them.

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Tom Cavanaugh

Q: It makes me think of how good District 9 was, the film by Neill Blomkamp which was made relatively cheap by Hollywood standards ($30 mil) compared to its follow-up Elysium which was nearly four times more expensive to make ($115 mil). The latter was all CGI, explosions and had no heart. It was like a superhero Matt Damon in space or whatever. So a lower-budgeted sci-fis actually appeal to me more.

A: Yeah well, most low-budget films, you don’t have money to throw at a problem, y’know. So you have to think hard about how to solve those problems. A lot of the times with big-budget movies, they run into an issue and they’d just throw money at it to camouflage it. Whereas we, we have to find ways to organically incorporate something or find an interesting solution that’ll make a movie better because of it. And a lot of limitation is actually more freeing, and that’s the fun part for me, like engineering has always been interesting to me. Problem solving is always so fascinating.

Q: This is the first project out of Syfy Films out of the gate. How’s it been working with them. Were they involved from the beginning in terms or financing or just distribution?

A: Syfy has been absolutely amazing, real supportive and a real champion for the film. A lot of smart people over there so I’ve been really lucky to have been associated with them. They came in after we started shooting. I’m not even sure if Syfy Film had existed or not as an entity at that time, perhaps they were in the process but certainly they weren’t ready to buy anything at that point. We tried to finance this ourselves but we did have other partners come on that bought the film so we have a domestic and international distribution. XLrator Media for domestic and Content Media handles the international rights. So they bought the film a week into production so we didn’t even have anything to show, we had some footage and they saw the cast and they liked it so they jumped on board. Then later when we had the rough cut, Syfy jumped on it immediately.

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Brandon Routh & Caity Lotz

Q: If you don’t mind sharing, what’s the budget and financing process for the film?

A: It’s all privately-financed, so I partnered with producers that are L.A. based. So they have producers and financiers that they work with, and they said ‘hey we have this movie, it’ll be great, trust us.’ So they’re part of various production companies, not big studios, so they’re pretty much involved in the indie world. So they’re able to get the money and we went and made it. Our movie’s made for well under a million dollars.

Q: You mentioned that your film is like a puzzle. What do you want the viewers to get out of your movie, or what do you intend it to be for the viewers?

A: Going into it, and all the way into the process even up until now, I want people to watch it and after that they’d have a conversation afterward about their own interpretation. Because there are multiple interpretations that they can get out of this film. For me, I enjoy movies that aren’t wrapped up in a neat bow at the end and hand you the ending on a silver plater. Nothing wrong with those movies, in fact most movies are that way, y’know, nice resolution. But I really like movies that challenge the audience and say ‘we’re not going to connect the dots for you, you have to pay attention and come to your own conclusion at the end and then hopefully talk to someone else who perhaps have a different interpretation of it.

I also love movies that has those *refrigerator moments.* It’s when you watch a movie and you enjoyed it but something sticks with you. Then you find yourself a couple of nights later at 2 am, you can’t sleep, then you’re staring at your refrigerator looking for a snack and go ‘oh that’s what that meant’ or ‘ oh I get that now’ I love movies that live beyond the time you watch it and I find that it’s frustrating for people. Now that the film’s out internationally, and of course some are illegally downloading it, I’m getting angry tweets from people. Some said ‘how could you forget to write an ending?’ and I said, ‘well that wasn’t quite THAT, but there’s been a history of movies that didn’t get wrapped up in a pretty neat bow.


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Where to watch 400 Days


Have you seen 400 Days? Let me know what you think!