Newsblaze caught up with writer-director Riley J. Ewing to chat about filmmaking and his latest project “Unplugged” releasing November 12th.
Congratulations on the upcoming release of your latest film, Unplugged. You have had a great run on the film festival circuit. Can you tell us about the backstory and what inspired the idea for the film?
Unplugged is a sci-fi allegory for the way we are all becoming entwined with our devices. I was riding the train home after a long and hard day in the city, and I remember looking out into the train car and all I saw was the top of people’s heads as they were slumped over into their phones. It was sad to me. When I write, I always try to leave a glimmer of hope of improving things. I sat down and the script for Unplugged poured out of me in a single afternoon.
Congrats on all the film festival laurels! What was your directorial approach to Unplugged?
Visually, I wanted the film to have a very muted palette. Our Art Designer, Denise Pascal, was wonderful at leaning into the grey, whites and beiges of this sterile world we were attempting to build. I knew visual effects would play a large part in the film from early on, and Nishant Jain was wonderful at bringing my concept of hearts flying through the sky to life. Since I knew the script so well, and was also acting in it, many days moved fast since I knew exactly how I wanted the scenes to play. I also deeply trusted the crew I surrounded myself with to do their jobs to the best of their ability. I’m very proud of what we accomplished.
Filmmaking is never smooth sailing. Were there any challenges on set for you?
It was an enjoyable time on set. Since I was lucky to work with so many of my friends, our time between setups was filled with smiles and laughter. The hardest part about making a low-budget short film on the New York City train system was the logistics of keeping a camera steady on a moving train. What you don’t see on all of the scenes aboard the train is the small team of people holding up Jacob Mallin (DP) so that he can keep the camera steady.
As an indie filmmaker, what are some of the highs and lows for you when making a movie?
The adrenaline rush of making a movie is honestly euphoric for me. You spend so much time in the early stages imagining what it could look like and planning as much as you can. To watch it all come together (even the parts that weren’t intended) is an incredibly surreal experience.
The lows of this project were the fact that all of its success came during a pandemic. This was the first time I have had a film play internationally. Due to the pandemic, I couldn’t attend any of these wonderful events. The film has (as of now) screened at 9 festivals on 3 continents. While I have loved watching the film find an audience, it’s been sad to not be there for these festivals.
What filmmakers inspire you?
I love the work of so many filmmakers. I’m a lover a movies! I’m particularly inspired by the world building of directing giants like Christopher Nolan, Wes Anderson, Spielberg, and Kubrick. In the indie world, I love the works of Sean Baker, Greta Gerwig, Sofia Coppola, and Damien Chazelle.
Do you have a specific preference of the genre or types of projects you both want to spearhead?
I have no interest in being cornered into one style or genre as a writer, director, or actor. At the end of the day, I love stories. Good stories are not defined by a particular genre, and neither is my work. I can tell you I am excited by the idea of all the different ways and mediums to tell stories. Right now, I am cooking up a few different ideas. I have begun pre-production on my first animated short in collaboration with Comic Artist Jill Burke of VV Comics. I’m also working on developing a Sci-Fi pilot with my longtime collaborators, Heerak Shah, Priyanka Shah, and Bollywood star, Omi Vaidya (Three Idiots, The Office, Arrested Development), currently titled, American Aliens.
What’s next for you?
In addition to the animated short and tv pilot I’ve been working on I have begun writing my first feature film script. I’m not quite ready to share details on it yet, but I’m very excited about how it is shaping up. During the pandemic, I worked with a small group of actors, writers and directors and created a series of three very different micro-short films which will be released online within the next year
How can people find out more about you and the release of Unplugged on November 12th?