Pennsylvania native John Krawlzik has been spending his recent years trying to prove that an aspiring filmmaker can finance a feature entirely through the sale of junk on eBay. Prior to that, however, John directed the independent sci-fi feature “Ascension.” Telling the story of an investigation into a suicide at a remote outpost in the furthest reaches of space, “Ascension” goes for the psychological throat. With a special edition DVD in release, John took some time to discuss his film with Film Threat.
Let’s get right to it: what is “Ascension” about, in your words? What were you trying to convey?
Okay, where to begin… how about the idea of using science fiction as a platform to explore man, his environment, his humanity and an extrapolation of present day trends and society into the future. Is that dark and messy enough? I guess it came from 2 ideas – one, as a desire to come up with a plausible science-worthy environment story, and the other to explore our need for redemption and spirituality even at the far corners of the solar system. We can escape the earth, but we can’t escape the demons we bring with us. No matter how far we go, all the baggage comes with us, and all true change and redemption comes from within – maybe with some outside help.
When did you first come up with the story for “Ascension”?
I got the idea about 10 years ago. It took a year to write, and the rest I can only vaguely recall. Some people, when they reach their 30’s, buy expensive cars, become addicted to porn or hookers, but I just had to make this movie.
The production value is amazing and the film is gorgeous. What’d you shoot on?
We were building sets and spending money, so there was no way I was not going to try to shoot this movie on 35mm to put every penny up on the screen. We shot it mostly with an Arri 2C and a Cine 60 blimp for sound. In retrospect, this was partially insane, but it worked. The original idea was to use only the 1:85 aspect ratio of the negative. Since we didn’t release theatrically, I used the full academy frame on the DVD since the compositions showed more of the top and bottom of the sets and it made the action feel even more claustrophobic. So the full frame is actually a bonus, since you’re not only seeing the cropped 1:85 frame, but the top and bottom as well.
The film definitely has the look of a multi-million dollar sci-fi film, but it also celebrates that claustrophobia you just mentioned. What was your final budget?
My ambitions vaulted way beyond our budget, which was under $100,000 – and actually, we could have delivered the DVD for about $25,000 less had we not gone to the trouble of cutting the film negative and making a 35mm print for festivals.
How long was production?
We were shooting for about a year off and on, 34 days total. The movie was then cut, shown, recut, cut again, tinkered with, taken apart, added to, reshot, melted down, sawed apart, digitally reassembled and finally ended up as it is today. I like it a lot now. Anyway, that whole process, including the addition of many digital effects took about 3-4 years.
Any particularly grueling production stories to share?
Trying to create a low budget movie entirely within a “studio” environment is a tremendous problem and challenge unto itself. We faced everything from heat, cold, malfunctioning props, and noisy camera blimps, to lack of bathroom facilities on the set. The official website, www.ascensionthemovie.com has a long blow-by-blow story of the production of the film.
Where’d you find your cast?
I had worked with “Ascension” actor Paul Nolan in commercials and corporate things, so I pretty much knew I wanted Paul in the lead. He’s great to work with, and brings a lot of passion and commitment to a project. I think I brought it up to him during a shoot we were doing in Monument Valley, but that’s a whole other story involving Navajo’s, German tourists, red corvettes, and Pop Tarts. For the other two major roles, we did a casting session through Philadelphia Casting Company and found Sally Mercer and Curt Karibalis, 2 excellent actors who brought great depth to their roles. I think I was lucky, in that they all got it and fell right into the groove. It’s a funny moment when you actually hear someone read your lines and they sound right – you go “yeah, that’s what I meant.”
What was it like getting the DVD together, after the multiple years spent getting the film finished?
I can’t say it was nearly as much fun as making the film, but I approached it with the idea that virtually everyone who sees the film will see it this way so it better be the best I can do. I think the story behind the film is intriguing to many would-be filmmakers, so I tried to include everything I could possibly find that would be of interest. I think if you really want to find out about the film, the extras we included will be very satisfying and informative – not the self-congratulatory “making-of” documentaries that frequently get slapped together for most Hollywood films. You know, the interviews with the star that says “so and so is a genius director”, and “it was a lot of work”, and so on, without ever really talking about the nuts and bolts of the filmmaking process.
What other projects do you have coming up?
I’ve actually written 3 scripts since finishing “Ascension.” I’m trying to get a project going called “Property Lines” – a dark comedy/thriller about living in a development. Technically it’s not sci-fi, but I think anything that has to do with the way we live today is pretty much science fiction anyway.
“Ascension” is currently available for sale at the Film Threat Shop.