Q&A: Director Colin West on short film HERE & BEYOND

By Josh Muchly

HERE & BEYOND tells a touching story about a scientist who is diagnosed with dementia and, with the help of his angsty teenage neighbor, attempts to use a time machine to relive his memories.

Colin West is an award-winning director, producer, and screenwriter based in Los Angeles. His films have screened internationally at numerous high profile film festivals including Cinequest, The Chicago Underground Film Festival, Athens Film Festival, Boston Sci-Fi Film Festival and, Berlin Short Film Festival.

Informer Media Group: Hi, Colin. Thank you so much for taking some time to answer questions about HERE & BEYOND. I love this film. What inspired this story?

Colin West: This story was inspired by my relationship with my grandfather, Lyle. He spent the last thirty years of his life taking care of my grandmother, Marge, who suffered from Parkinson’s disease. Soon after she passed, signs of his memory-loss became evident and eventually he was diagnosed with a form of dementia. He actually passed away in August and this story is meant to be a kind of subjective look at what it might have been like to be in his shoes in his later years.

Informer Media Group: So sorry to hear that. What are you hoping the audience takes away from your film?

Colin West: The film is very interpretive. In fact, many of my films are, or at least their endings are, and so I tend to get this question on occasion. And I hate to dive too deep into my answer as I find it tends to sterilize the life in the film itself. Film is a form of communication, like any other art form, and if I am able to just write or say what it means then there would be no point in going through the (long and arduous) process of actually making the film. When it comes down to it though, this story deals with themes of identity, loss, hope, and redemption and my intent was to explore these themes with candor and honesty. Though it may feel like a cop-out, the film means exactly what it is.

Informer Media Group: This is the seventh short film you’ve directed, correct? What are the benefits of the short film format?

Colin West: I enjoy the short form, but find it much more challenging than the longer form, specifically during the conception and writing process. With a short you’ve really got to get rid of the notion of arcs and think more about moments, expression, and experience. It’s not necessarily about how your character changes, but rather how they react — it’s hard to get a viewer to care about a character in just a few minutes. Then again, a short means fewer working hours, they cost less, and they can be a great place for experimentation. So in the end I’d say go with whatever format fits the idea at hand. I’ve seen brilliant films that are 90 minutes, and others that are 90 seconds.

Informer Media Group: HERE & BEYOND blends a lot of elements: drama / comedy, sci-fi / fantasy (or, at least, potential non-realities) …. Why does the blend work so well for this story?

Colin West: I believe it works because it is a story told through a subjective lens. Though the film is about dementia, it is not explicitly stated in the film. The “condition” the main character gets diagnosed with is a kind of science fiction version of memory-loss meant to illicit the same feelings, but in a sort of genre-specific way. I made that choice in order to keep the film’s perspective from the point of view of the main character, Mac. To him, a scientist at root, the disease is a very alien thing not grounded in reality whatsoever. It goes against everything his scientific brain told him about the reality of the world around him – a kind of breaking down of fact into emotion. It was the same arc we used as a structure during the editing process of the film, to thread the film together using emotion rather than traditional plot, forgetting about traditional labels like comedy, drama, or sci-fi.

Informer Media Group: What did you want the audience to experience in blending Christmas and July 4th imagery?

Colin West: I wouldn’t say that I love holidays, but I am certainly fascinated with them. I think it is my Midwest American upbringing. Folks there take holidays very seriously and I found that in the Midwest they become markers for the passage of time – like an accompaniment to the changing of seasons. With that in mind it became a relevant choice to set a film about time travel in two seasonally oppositional holidays at once. I like that there’s an ambiguity at the end about whether it was indeed Christmas or Independents Day.

Informer Media Group: I like it too. Why did you want to incorporate old-school technology (VCR, video tapes, etc…)?

Colin West: It was a deliberate choice to build a world of nostalgia that draws on Mac’s desire to re-live the past and the specifics of that nostalgia were inspired on my own obsession with VHS tapes when I was growing up. My tiny VHS collection became like religious texts or something. I would watch the same few tapes again and again and again until they wore out… and at a certain point those stories became so ingrained in my memory that they stopped being narratives about other characters and rather a kind of part of my own personal history. I suppose I wanted to draw on that kind of movie-narrative-becoming-personal-narrative experience. The VHS was also metaphoric in nature so we ran with that.

Informer Media Group: I saw a beautiful relationship between Ruth and Mac (and what an incredible performance by (Greg Lucey!); why was their episodic science show the best way to show that to the audience?

Colin West: Everything on a TV takes on the guise of an elevated reality. It was fun to then play in that new reality and have their relationship mirror the kinds of scientific laws they were exploring. It was an easy way to comment on what was happening in Mac’s life by juxtaposing it with the world of the television show, specifically the kinetic love of their relationship on the show versus the stagnant loneliness of Mac’s present reality.  (PS, I thought Greg was incredible too!)

Informer Media Group: Is HERE & BEYOND a film you intend (or hope) for the audience to view multiple times?

Colin West: I never intend for them to (that’s a pretty big ask), but I would hope they want to! The little button at the very end the film suggests they do so, or that perhaps the film is a kind of time loop that Mac intends to watch again (and again and again…). Plus, there are so many little Easter eggs throughout that I’m sure no one sees on a first watch. Inevitably at each screening someone will find a new one. A favorite of mine is the bird clock on the wall… watch it carefully…

Informer Media Group: Well, now I have to re-watch it! What’s next for you?

Colin West: The feature. At the moment the feature-length version of this short has been getting some really positive feedback and traction lately and our team is working hard to bring it to fruition. I’m also working to finish up a feature film I produced called Survival Skills (Dir. Quinn Armstrong) and always have a slew of short films and script ideas in my back pocket…

Informer Media Group: Very cool. Where can folks go to learn more about you / your projects?

Colin West: Well, HERE & BEYOND will be premiering online in a month or two, which I am very excited about, and in the meantime they can head over to my website to watch some of my other shorts or head to my Instagram to keep up with my new work. Thank you!

Contact Josh Muchly

 

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