It was the first day on set. Everything that it took to get there-the four-month writing process, the struggle for funds, the three-day casting call-disappeared into the monitor as screenwriter-director Matt Duggan, BC ’96, called the beginning take of his first feature length film.
“There was so much anxiety, stress, and running around, putting pieces together,” Duggan said. “And all of the sudden, you’re on the set and you have top-notch talent in every department. All of these forces coming together, and suddenly, you’re looking at a monitor and you see what you have envisioned in your mind, written down on paper so long ago.”
After two years in production and five phases of filming, Duggan’s cerebral sci-fi thriller Inverse premiered at the Boston Science Fiction Film Festival this weekend. The film features Josh Wingate (World War Z, Priest) in the role of Max, a man at odds with his identity, awaking at the film’s start with no memory of his life. Max is confronted with the dangers of his past, as he puzzles through the physical world and wild hallucinations to redevelop his sense of self. The world Max constructs, however, is shaken completely with the arrival of a stranger named Batter (played by veteran LA stage actor Morlan Higgins), who claims Max is a visitor from a parallel universe. This alleged identity becomes the fascination of a government physicist (Chris Pauley), who’s willing to torture Max to gain access to the safeguarded truth of his mind.
Duggan’s career as a director began parallel to the rise of viral outlets like YouTube and Vimeo. Soon after graduating from Boston College in 1996 as a double major in English and communication, Duggan moved to Los Angeles to pursue a career in acting, while writing on the side. While living professionally as a film and commercial actor, Duggan began searching for ways to build a career around writing and discovered short film.
“It was much more artistically satisfying and exciting for me to be writing my material and directing it,” Duggan said. He joined the Annex Film Group, a collective of artists working out of the Sanford Meisner Center for the Arts in Los Angeles, which gave Duggan an opportunity to have his work produced.
Duggan’s career as a director picked up traction with the success of his “Man Vs.” web series, which he started in 2006.
In 2008, it appeared Duggan would be able to begin production of his first feature length project, with the groundwork in place and some initial funding for the film. With the financial collapse, however, investors grew nervous, and it grew increasingly difficult for small-scale directors to find funding for projects.
Duggan headed back to the drawing board.
Soon after buying a home with his wife, Duggan began imagining the possibility of shooting a film in it. The script for Inverse was written around the idea that Duggan could shoot the majority of the film in his Los Angeles house-it was spun off a short story Duggan wrote in October 2010.
Producers Stephanie Bell and Trevor Boelter agreed to get behind Duggan’s concept in the beginning of 2011 and bring it to fruition as an ultra low budget film.
“A couple of the key pieces for ultra low budget-for it to be successful, in my opinion-are having a really high concept script with characters that are dramatic and engaging enough so the audience doesn’t feel claustrophobic or confined to being in one location,” Duggan said.
Having control of the main location, his house, Duggan was able to execute on the small capital put behind the film. Dealing with realities of literally living with his project, however, came with its own set of difficulties. The film’s 30-person production crews had to coexist in the house with a German shepherd and an ornery Maine Coon cat.
“The cat was scratching everyone and the dog would bark during shoots,” Duggan said. “It was very entertaining-definitely examples of what the ultra low budget world is like, but we made it work.”
Inversewas shot in two-to-five-day phases, with production continuing only with the stream of funds, which was hardly constant during the process. The story of Inverse takes place over 76 hours, and given that, production of the film became a process of confounding time. Shot over the span of two years,Inverse‘s believability rode on the continuity of the details-the actors’ hair and weight, even the appearance of Duggan’s house.
On a normal day of production, Duggan’s front door would open around 6:30 a.m., and around 30 grips, actors, and crew members would come pouring into the house. As he prepared his shot list in his office, strangers would be making coffee in the kitchen, setting up cameras, and moving furniture around the house
“It was heaven on earth, because you’re basically living entirely inside a film world-and this is my passion and what I love,” Duggan said. “For as chaotic and crazy as it was, I also couldn’t have been happier.”
Duggan’s ultimate goal is to get a distributor for Inverse. In the months to come, the completed film will be traveling through the industry’s gestative layers, festival to festival. For now, as always, it’s one day at a time for Duggan and his team.