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Erica Galindo
Celebrating Food, Faith and Family
Last edited on: August 19, 2015.

In the not-too-distant future, humanity has forgotten how to feel.  Dependent on elixirs that simulate emotion, this soulless population sells itself into slavery for a few precious vials of the euphoric liquid.  Only a few brave souls hold on to authentic emotions, willing to show love in a cruel and hopeless world.  This is the premise of Scooter Downey’s Elixir, a short film nominated for Best Picture and several more awards in the upcoming 168 Film Festival.

The 168 Film Festival challenges filmmakers around the world to create a short film in 168 hours based on a Bible verse drawn at random.  Downey’s verse was Exodus 21:2: “If you buy a Hebrew servant, he is to serve you for six years. But in the seventh year, he shall go free, without paying anything.”  From this verse grew a dystopian story of love and emptiness, addiction and freedom, false faces and true emotions.

Scooter Downey is an indie filmmaker and a native of Louisville, Kentucky currently living in Los Angeles.  He is the writer, producer, editor and director of the 2012 award-winning feature film It’s In The Blood starring genre icon Lance Henriksen (Aliens, TV’s Millenium), praised by Dread Central as “one of the finest and most unique independent films in recent memory.”  Since making that film, he has returned to the Christian faith, and has felt called to make high quality faith-based films with crossover appeal.  You can find him on Saturdays watching SEC football (“roll tide”) and Sundays at his home church Reality LA.

Scooter Downey bringing his dystopian tale to life; Photo Courtesy of Scooter Downey.

Scooter Downey bringing his dystopian tale to life; Photo Courtesy of Scooter Downey.

We recently spoke to Downey about his work on Elixir and his experience with the 168 Film Project.  SCH Entertainment Editor Jonathan King reports.

SCH: Talk us through the process of creating a short film for 168.

SD: Making a film for 168 is the most hectic process I’ve ever had, mainly because you don’t start with a script.  You have about two weeks of preproduction where you can lock down locations or cast people.  But since you don’t know what your verse is going to be, you can only plan so much.  We left everything open until the verse came in because we wanted to be open to what God wanted us to make.  Then the process became brainstorming, writing, and figuring out what the actual story was going to be.  We only had ten days to find our locations.

It was easily the craziest preproduction period, and I’ve had some crazy ones.  You have to have a lot of faith and hope.  A couple of my team members pulled me off the ledge a couple of times, like, “We can’t do this!”  It’s a great spiritual process, because it really does teach you to trust God, even with a thing like making a movie.  You have 168 hours to make the film, but our crew was great; we shot it all in one 21-hour day, and then I spent the rest of the week doing postproduction.

Jade (Brett Freeze) has the ability to love in a world of emotion substitutes; Photo Courtesy of Ryan McNeal.

Jade (Brett Freeze) has the ability to love in a world of emotion substitutes; Photo Courtesy of Ryan McNeal.

SCH: What inspired you to use a dystopian setting for your film?

SD: I think the key was the verse, Exodus 21:2, and asking the question, “What could slavery be?”  Then the idea came up: “What if it was emotional slavery?  What if there was a debt-based world where people have no emotions and they need these elixirs to be able to feel anything?”  These elixirs have become so important that they’ve become a currency.  So it sprang from the verse itself.

And I’m a big fan of dystopian movies.  They’re allegories for the fears we all have, for what society could be.  In our society now, I think we’re addicted to various things: drugs, emotions, distraction, and our technology.  It all felt topical and relevant.

SCH: I was impressed by how professional and realistic your film’s props, costumes, and makeup looked.  Can you talk a little about the practical effects of Elixir?

SD: We were able to get a great crew.  It’s all about the crew you can bring on with a short amount of time and a low budget.  Our makeup person, Caren Elle, is a professional makeup artist, and our production designer, Christian Snell, does commercials and other stuff.  So it was a lot of people doing us favors.

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Cyrus (Terry Hoge) is determined to enforce the Collective’s will on Jade; Photo Courtesy of Ryan McNeal.

You have to be really resourceful.  A friend of one of our team members flew in from Canada.  He’s like MacGyver; he even made a bath mat into a futuristic outfit.  Ultimately, when you don’t have that much time for preproduction, you have to have people who can create a mountain out of a molehill.

SCH: How was the short time limit a challenge for you?

SD: The production went pretty smoothly, but you always want a couple more hours as a director.  I saved all my establishing shots for each scene until the end of the shoot, but by then we didn’t have any time!  There’s only one establishing shot in the movie.  But it creates a claustrophobic feel, so sometimes these limitations end up making the film better than it would have been otherwise.

Then in post, it was a challenge to get the film done in time.  After we finished, we had to export it, and it was literally down to the minute that we needed to send it off.  It was exporting and giving me the timer countdown.  It starts off saying, “It’ll be done in thirty minutes,” but then it keeps going up, and it keeps going up, and it keeps going up.  “Oh man, it’s going to be done in two days!”  I had to keep lowering the compression, crunching it down smaller and smaller until we were able to upload it just in the nick of time!

SCH: What did you love most about being part of the 168 Film Project?

SD: The fact that I was able to make a movie with my community group, my church.  This is the first faith-based film that I’ve made, and I felt like God was loving me by having all these people I love and care for help out.  It was really good, the fellowship and the camaraderie.

And as I mentioned before, I loved learning how to trust that God will show up.  I don’t have to wait on the muse; God is the muse, and He created us all with gifts.  It’s like in Exodus, when Moses was like, “I can’t do this,” and then God has this great one-liner: “Who made your mouth?”  It’s like He’s saying, “Hey, trust me.  If I’m telling you you can do it, you can do it.”

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Elixirs enslave humanity, keeping them from feeling God-sent emotions; Photo Courtesy of Ryan McNeal.

SCH: Do you have any advice for the next generation of filmmakers?

SD: I would suggest making movies.  The threshold for being able to make them is a lot lower now.  You need to get out all of your bad films before you can make a good one.  You have to fail a lot of times and have a lot of fun.  That’s what was great about this process too: it was a lot of fun.

On a practical level, if you’re coming out to Los Angeles, I would recommend doing a couple of internships if you can, if you’re still in school.  That’s a great way to get a foot in the door.  And be spiritually prepared as well, especially if you’re moving to LA.  It’s a grind out here, it’s a long haul, and your going to have lots of struggles, even if you’re successful.  Even though there will be failure, and maybe lots of it, the important thing is to worship the Lord no matter what.


You can see Elixir and more great faith-based short films at the 168 Film Festival!

Don’t miss these other great posts on 168:


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