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Preternatural – Tim Cunningham

Posted September 16, 2013 by Stuart Wells in Articles
Preternatural: Trow

We have been following the Indiegogo campaign for Preternatural. There have been a number of high profile crowdfunding pitches based on Practical FX. Some have lambasted CGI  and everyone who works in it. So when we got the opportunity to chat to Timothy Cunningham of Preternatural we jumped at the opportunity. His is an ambitious dark Faerie Tale following an investigation into a murder and, unlike those Practical FX movies, this one will be CGI and proud. On to the interview…

IIZ: There has been a backlash against CGI in recent Kickstarter campaigns. Indeed several have based their entire pitch on being anti-cgi. How do you feel about having your craft portrayed in such a negative way?

Raw Head

Raw Head

TIM: Yeah, that bugs me, because the backlash should really be against bad CGI and filmmakers who have no business making certain types of films. It’s not

CGI’s fault or the CG artists’ fault that more and more often, filmmakers lack the vision or are afraid to commit to ideas early enough in the process to make adequate use of practical effects solutions. The studios are pushing bigger and bigger projects through the machine faster and faster these days, which squeezes everyone. The less they get on set and in camera the more pressure is put on the post guys, but since the VFX guys are vendors, it becomes a lowest bidder situation rather than a situation where studios are casting work based on a facility’s strength. So the schedules are getting shorter while the volume expectation is getting higher, but the amount the studios are willing to pay is getting smaller. Something’s gotta give, and that’s quality. Faster, better, or cheaper. You can only pick two, right? Well the studios don’t think so. So now you have a bunch of people out there who are experts at picking out bad CG because the poor saps working on a particular shot or sequence just plain ran out of time because the director kept changing their minds and they just had to hit render or there would be a black spot in the film and everyone’s blaming CGI for the demise of film and filmmaking. It’s very frustrating. These days, the technology is such that in the right hands, given the appropriate time and money you can literally do anything. The problem is that most of the time you are missing one or more of those elements.

IIZ: I remember Terry Gilliam saying that CGI should start where traditional film-making cannot feasibly go. Whats your view? I have read that you are as anti-cgi as the rest of us when done poorly. What will differentiate Preternatural?

TIM: I agree. The computer is a tool like any of the other tools a filmmaker has to work with. And just like any other tool, when it’s not used correctly, the result can be a mess. I’m always grabbing a butter knife and trying to use it like a screw driver, or my keys to cut things open. Sometimes, I get the job done, but it takes me twice as long and I’ve usually mucked something up along the way. I’ve scratched the screw all up, or bent the knife, or the tape is all shredded. Just like with physical effects, it takes vision and good artists to render believable CG. It’s not as simple as just pushing a few buttons and dragging a few sliders. Of course, the talent pool has been diluted in recent years by VFX trade schools promising six figure salaries and churning out kids who can’t do much more than that. What will make Preternatural different is that we understand the tool, and we respect the craft. Plus we aren’t going to have a budget that will afford us to move forward without a plan. When we can and it makes sense, we will use practical effects and makeup, and when we need to do something that can’t be done with those methods, we will use CG. The truth is that there are very real limitations with the physical stuff.

IIZ: To us, though, the story must be king. Preternatural is an unreliable documentary/ creature feature… Can you expand on this and tell us a little more about the story?

Concept Poster

Concept Poster

TIM: Yes, story is king. Preternatural starts off like a true crime investigation into the disappearance of an accused but acquitted murderer. The filmmaker had been childhood friends with him and is intrigued by his story when he hears about it. How in the wake of the trial he’d lost his job, and dealt with serious depression, and had to move back in with his parents. In movies and TV shows about people clearing their names, they always end at the moment when the jury says not guilty or the real bad guy is drug off by the cops. High-five, freeze frame, and roll credits. But in real life, it sucks being accused of a crime. If you’re found not guilty, that accused label can stick with forever depending on what the crime was, so that’s the setup. That’s what our filmmaker is making a documentary about. What this man’s life was like after being accused of a horrible crime and what might have lead to his disappearance. Of course, that’s just the setup. When he starts digging, he uncovers evidence that leads him to believe that the girl who was murdered might not actually be dead. Someone was killed, but it wasn’t the girl everyone thinks it was…And then all of a sudden when he’s following a lead into the girl’s past, a monster shows up. You find out that the girl has something to do with the monsters, which are actually fairies, and that it all has to do with someone wanting to start a war between the two primary fairy courts. Which would be bad for humans. It’s hard to talk about it too much without giving everything away, but that’s the gist of it. It sort of Grizzly Man meets Troll Hunter meets Catfish.

IIZ: Can you tell us a little more about the design process? And the script development?

TIM: I’ve been working with Chris Grun on this for about a year now. Not super heavy, just getting together for lunch from time to time and telling him little bits about the things I was coming up with and then he would sketch. He recently changed jobs and has had more free time to do stuff, so he’s been able to spend more time sketching, which is good for me. But basically we’ve just been spit balling ideas. He’s an awesome artist, and one of the things I’ve learned is that you have to let people who are really good at what they do, just do what they do. I could give him a whole bunch of direction, but I’m not going to make any of his designs better, just different. In Chris I trust.

As for the script development, it actually came together very quickly once I’d sort of chewed on the idea for about a year. A writer friend of mine Aaron de Orive came up with the original concept while I was working on Snow White and the Huntsman, but it was just the setup and I didn’t have time to mess with it until earlier this year. I was having trouble figuring out the why of it all until I decided to sort of put the story in the world of another similarly themed film I’d been kicking around for years called Everything Was Fine Until the Day the Demons Came about waring fairy courts and demons. So, Preternatural is sort of a prequel to that film now, whether or not I ever make that other one. It needs a lot more money. But once I did that, the story just came together.

IIZ: In the interview with Chris Grun he talks a little about the historical perspective for faeries. Folk-lore is full of baby stealing faeries, the ephemeral whimsical type were a victorian invention, were

Red Cap Concept

Red Cap Concept

these your starting point?

TIM: Absolutely. Fairy tales were stories originally told to kids to scare them into behaving and doing as they were told. Not because it was the right thing to do, but because if they broke the rules, they might get eaten. Most of them are very dark and full of pain. And I think it’s going to be a lot of fun to present these creatures in a way that makes you think, if even if only for a moment, that what you just saw was real. That if you just sort of happened across our movie on TV one day that there would be a moment where you’d say, “What the hell just happened? Is this real?”

IIZ: What will funders get if they back this film?

TIM: I think that if you back this film, you’re backing a group of filmmakers who are passionate about the craft and about telling a cool story while also showcasing the full power of the tools and technology available to low budget content creators today. With a solid plan, a little know-how, and a little bit of money, you can literally do anything these days. This is going to be a very ambitious, and very unique film, and I think it’s going to be something very special to have been a part of. If you back it, then you’ll be right there with us every step of the way.

We would like to thank Tim for his time and wish them well for the rest of the campaign. Ignore the CGI/ Practical FX nonsense, ultimately all are tools in realising a story. Sometimes the story is bad or the implementation is bad but we have all experienced as many poor practical fx films as we have CGI. We would urge everyone to check out this campaign and back what could be an interesting and compelling film by passionate film-makers.

You can find their pitch on Indiegogo here.

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About the Author

Stuart Wells