As independent filmmakers making a sci-fi thriller is hard enough but now make it a period piece and you know realizing your dream ain’t gonna be cheap. I spoke with writer/director/actor Robert James about his ambitious film One Step Ahead streaming now on Tubi.TV. His film asks how the world would be different if today’s technology existed in the 1960s.
One Step Ahead puts a modern sci-fi twist on the 60s noir crime thriller. Tell me about your love for both sci-fi and noir, and what was the inspiration to combine the two?
I love noir films because something is captivating about them. You don’t know who or what these characters are before the film. You find out along the way, and sometimes they aren’t at all who you perceived.
I love sci-fi because it’s total escapism. It’s always a treat when you see something different in sci-fi, so I decided to combine the two genres to set my film apart from others. I would say my film is more noir than sci-fi. I see it as the cake is noir, and sci-fi is the frosting.
What inspired you into filmmaking, and what has your journey been like leading up to One Step Ahead?
The first time I saw that boulder rolling toward Harrison Ford in Raiders of the Lost Ark was when I knew I wanted to be a filmmaker. My journey as an indie filmmaker is full of tough lessons. Don’t be unrealistic in your goals. Write what you know.
“All the mistakes an indie filmmaker can make, I did. And that’s how you learn.”
Don’t make something just to make it. Don’t ever, ever, ever settle for a scene or shot if you can help it. Organization is key. All lessons I’ve learned through my previous projects. My first few “films” I won’t show anyone. All the mistakes an indie filmmaker can make, I did. And that’s how you learn. Now 20 years later, I’ve honed my craft and proudly share my works with the world. In 2017, I had a crazy idea that festered in my mind, and that ended up becoming One Step Ahead.
I’m impressed with the production values of One Step Ahead and how you created a period piece on a low budget essentially. What do you think was the key to creating this world? What were some of the challenges?
The short answer is cars and music. Music is half of what convinces an audience of the era. Thomas Prislac, my longtime friend since high school, is a music composer and songwriter, so I lucked out. He single-handedly wrote the entire original score for the film, produced five songs, and mixed the final audio. I own the 1967 Impala my character drives in the film, and friends in car clubs helped with their classic cars for background.
Challenges were finding day players and extras to look the part physically—hairstyles, no tattoos, clean-shaven men. For some men, the beards were an actual issue. Wives were not happy either, but in the end, after much convincing, they shaved. The singer in my film has a full sleeve tattoo, but you’d never know because of the makeup we used to cover it.