Yesterday, an ambitious new Australian film premiered on streaming service Stan. Helmed by Stuart Willis, Restoration is the latest in a long line of original Australian sci-fi features to find itself an audience. Think modern classics like Dark City and more recent releases like Predestination – though they describe the film here as being inspired by Twilight Zone, Gattaca and Total Recall. Oliver Heath – who studied with the Director back in the day – caught up with Stuart to learn more about the project.
Restoration is …?
A sci-fi thriller. At 50 minutes, you’d call it a ‘short feature’. I see it as in the tradition of shows like Black Mirror and Twilight Zone, which themselves are in the Sci-fi tradition of novellas.
It’s set in a near future where memories are downloaded for back up. After a routine backup, a man – Oliver Klein – wakes up to find that his memories have accidentally been restored into a new body.
Has the way you describe Restoration changed much from genesis to different stages of completion?
When Matthew (my co-writer) and I started writing it, it was intended to be a 20 minute short film. But we didn’t feel that 20 minutes could do the story justice, so it evolved into the fifty minute form it is now. It feels like a natural fit – probably because of it’s heritage in ‘anthology’ sci-fi shows like Black Mirror, and Twilight Zone, and even Star Trek‘s “cool sci-fi idea of the week” model.
What was the biggest surprise from the shoot?
Your hope as a director is that everything from the shoot is a surprise – a spontaneous revelation of truth. Which sounds like wanky-director speak… cause it is… but with Restoration we wanted a sense of unease and for us that meant feeling like there was a lack of control. We pushed this with Stephen Carracher (who plays Gavin Worth) pretty far, so that no take was the same.
Have your career goals been altered by the experience?
I think this is part of a larger trend, but when I first started making films I wanted to direct features. Now I also want to do “television” i.e. series or mini-series, and for certain ideas we’re working on, series will let us do more justice to the characters & world. But if you think setting up an indie feature was hard… there’s no indie TV series.
Is the new “indie feature” an “indie TV pilot” (I think maybe you’re onto something here)?
I think web series are the indie TV pilots. They have been most successful in the comedy space – e.g. Broad City, High Maintenance – but I think we will see some ‘dramatic’ (broadly speaking) web series become full running shows.
The project development cycle in Australia is very long, anyway to hack this?
We didn’t go through any screen agencies for funding. So the speed from script to shoot was relatively quick. Post-production was a very small team so it took longer than originally anticipated.
What are you working on now?
We’re working on an series adaptation of Restoration called Reversion. It takes our core concept and amplifies it so it can power a series.
In Australia we often talk about tall poppy syndrome, but what about the other way around, do you feel envy or inspiration when you look at others, who’s your trailblazer?
All the time. It’s called being a director. (Screenwriters, on the other hand, are far more communitarian.) For me, the great trailblazer is George Miller. He forged the path that so many of us are traveling done, and then he reset the bar with Fury Road.
I was lucky enough to work alongside him. He’s an incredibly thoughtful, hard working, and driven director. And he drinks black coffee, too, so we’re basically the same.
What was the last thing you saw on a screen that made you go, wow, wait a minute.. what the fuck?
I think Fargo Season 2 was full of those unexpected moments. It knew how to play our expectations against us.
I also loved your Payload sci-fi short film and the world it alluded to… anything happening with that you can tell us about?
We developed the story world with the great Mike Jones through the Australian Writer’s Guild Platform-X workshop for multi-platform story worlds. We’re really excited by all the directions it can go: web, game, VR, television and feature.
I don’t feel like I’m teasing you enough in this interview. You once put me in a play – possibly typecast – as a nonsensical philosophical wanker… Is it true that you used to wear a beret, while studying a media degree and directing theatre?
I don’t wear berets. I wear boiler caps. Like many creative-class lefties, it makes me feel connected to the working class, even though I have no idea how to fix a boiler.
When you imagine successful future ultimate Stu, are you wearing a beret, a black cap or a man-bun?
All of the above.
I feel much better for having teased you a bit, it’ll balance out my obvious bias towards your success.
This is a webisode crowd/self funded sci-fi that became a TV one off. You’ve always had an eye to the future with your scripts, this time your whole approach production is innovative.
We just found the way to make the film we wanted to make. Very lucky that everyone came along for the ride.
What advice do you have for people trying to be creative and wanna have some degree of auteurship and a crust to eat?
Have a high credit card limit and don’t look at your statements. Ever.
Advice to those starting out?
A master helmsman/helmsperson is not made by sailing smooth seas.
Thanks for your time Stu, love your work, where can people check it out?