Solis, The Mission: Survival
A lone survivor hurtling toward the sun and fearing the future
By Ilaria Della Gala
Solis, directed by Carl Strathie has been just released by The Movie Partnership on digital download (iTunes, Amazon, Google, Microsoft, Sky Store, BT, Sony, Vubiquity, Rakuten).
The new sci-fi thriller is a tense story of hope and despair set in space, starring Steven Ogg (The Walking Dead, Westworld, He Never Died) and Alice Lowe (Prevenge, Hot Fuzz, Sometimes Always Never).
Asteroid mining engineer Matt Holloway is the lone survivor of a drifting escape pod shooting towards the sun. Lost and alone, with growing technical problems, his only connection to humanity is the voice of Commander Roberts over the failing radio. But something is not right and he struggles to trust her. As Holloway’s oxygen depletes and temperatures rise will he be rescued in time, and what decision will he make when the moment comes?
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We had a great opportunity to interview the Director Carl Strathie who reveals some interesting aspects about his background and his first feature film Solis.
Where does your passion for filmmaking come from?
It started when I was very young at school, watching Jurrassic Park, Stars Wars… Actually, It was while watching the making of Toy Story when it tweaked for me: “This actually is a job! You could do this for living and actually get paid to make up stories!”. I saved money while I was at school, and as soon as I left I got a full-time job to pay for my short films, and that I suppose was my film school.
Which films have been the most influential for you?
Jurrassic Park, Stars Wars, but most of all Lord of the Rings because they had the “making of” on the extended edition. I was a kid and watched that religiously and it gave me the drive and hope to achieve it.
What is the inspiration behind Solis?
I had a few scripts lined up to make our first feature and Solis was not one of them for a while. Every time we tried to make a feature film it was being held back by budget. They were too big, had too many locations, too many characters… So I sat down and realised that the only way we were going to make this film was by funding it ourselves, or crowdfunding, so I had to come up with something that was as small as possible. The idea of Solis was suitable because it involved one location, one actor and would be a very crunched down film but with high production value. Although it is a sci-fi set in space, it goes with the idea of a guy on his own trying to survive. I have always had in mind a movie about one guy versus nature. In that sense the film could have been set on a lifeboat, in the wilderness, in a desert or in a jungle, and it wasn’t until I said we have to make a film as cheaply as possible, with one actor, that Solis came about.
How many days filming were there?
Why did you choose not to show any other locations and characters but only Troy Holloway in the escape pod?
It was down to the budget. We didn’t end up crowdfunding but ended up working with Goldfinch Studios (they found us). When we sat down I thought that now we can expand the film. We could show Roberts or more locations. In fact there was a whole beginning in the original script: we are on the asteroid and the disaster happens before Holloway gets thrown into space. That would have been about 20 minutes of the film, but the studios actually liked the idea of just one guy, one location. And with the budget they gave us it was what we could afford. It works positively in a way because it was an interesting challenge.
Did you have a scientific advisor to consult with?
Yes, believe it or not. There is a non-profit company in Los Angeles called The Science & Entertainment Exchange where you send them your script and they put you in touch with advisors. They put us in touch with former NASA physicist Les Johnson and I had about 6 slots of 2-hour calls with him where we just sat down and talked it through. When he first read the script he said the film was impossible because an escape pod would not have a window! On one hand, there is a lot and ridiculous science in Solis, but it is a heightened reality, like a comic book or graphic novel. Then Les Johnson came in and made sure that all the information, diagnostics, temperatures, all the things that Troy says were kind of accurate.
I took what I wanted from it because I wanted the film to still work on a cinematic level. So there is a lot wrong with it but there is a lot right with it too.
We also had Sara Siegal from MIT who I believe is involved with Planetary Resources an asteroid mining company (they have not mined yet but plan on doing so). And they actually advised us about the mining side things, like what materials we might find. Unfortunately, a lot of their involvement did not make it into the film because we had to cut the whole asteroid mining sequence opening. So the scientific involvement was quite in-depth.
What was the main challenge during the filming?
After a few days of shooting, we found continuity to be a problem. In a normal film, you can cut away to another actor, have various cut-aways and angles to avoid errors. In Solis not only did we have just one actor but we were pressed for time, so we found ourselves doing these long takes on Holloway with not a lot to cut away to. I found it was both a curse and a blessing because it got us to focus on the actor. I thought it would be an easy edit but it was quite tricky.
I was impressed by the soundtrack which plays an important role in the movie. Tell me about it.
David Stone Hamilton did the music and I knew early on that we wanted the soundtrack to be made with a real orchestra, with a classic vibe as we tried to give it a sense of a film that might have been made in the 90’s. It was a hard balance not to overpower the film but at the same time, we did not want to be underwhelming. We recorded with a live orchestra in Los Angeles and it was very fun. I always try to get involved with the music and it’s like directing another actor in some ways. The soundtrack should be available to download on itunes soon!
Can you talk about working with Steven Ogg?
In order to get funding, we knew we needed to get someone already known in front of the camera. I was a big fan of Steven Ogg, who at that point had just made the video game Grand Theft Auto. He wasn’t very famous but had a big following. I sent him the script with little hope of hearing back but he read it and 2 weeks later he rang me saying he loved it! He is not a massive fan of sci-fi and I thought that was a problem at first. But actually, it isn’t because he sees the film for what it is: if you forget about it being set in space, at its core it is just one man on a path to self-destruction just trying to survive. Like having a mid-life crisis and heading towards doom, stubborn and refusing help.
What’s the main message you want the audience to take with them from the movie?
Holloway is grieving because he has lost his son. But he is living in the past so cannot escape from his grief, symbolised by the escape pod itself. He is missing the now, he is not living in the present and is therefore not living at all. He is fearful of the future and is hurtling towards the sun. For me the main message is “live now”. You can’t keep living in the past, and shouldn’t fear the future too much. You need to move on and focus on the now. Life is flying by at the speed of the escape pod. This what I communicated to Steven and an aspect of the story he liked. A lot of people don’t see it in the film.
Actually this film is heavily symbolic and very meditative.
What is your next project?
It is called Dark Encounter and it stars Laura Fraser (Breaking Bad), Mel Raido (Legend), Vincent Regan (Troy), and Alice Lowe who is the voice of Roberts in Solis – but we have her in the flesh now, Nicholas Pinnock (Captain America, Fortitude, Marcella). It is set in the 80’s in Pennsylvania and is about a little girl who has gone missing. The family does a memorial for her after a year, and that night they see strange lights in the sky, like and it develops from there. We already shot it early this year. We are in the thick of post-production now and it is going really well. A lot of people compared it so far to The Lovely Bones. We have the same team in post-production and the same composer. It is going brilliantly!
What advise would you give to young independent filmmakers?
I would say nothing is impossible. I know that sounds really cheap but I think that a lot of young filmmakers don’t pursue something purely because that’s not how it’s done, or because they are not in Hollywood. Like when we took a chance and reached out to Steven Ogg. The only person that can say you can’t do it is yourself. You have to set your goals and go for it. You will get a lot of “No’s” but at some point someone will be interested. There is luck involved, but you also have to be present at that time for the luck to happen. It is up to you to do it, and you have to really fight for it because there are a lot of people who are trying to achieve the same dream.