Home #Hwoodtimes “Souls of Totality” Proves Moving and Deep

“Souls of Totality” Proves Moving and Deep

A still from "Souls of Totality"

By Patrick Donovan

Hollywood, CA (The Hollywood Times) 10/9/2018 — You hear the faint sound of drums which beat off in the distance.  Two people start talking quietly to each other about things they want to remember.  As the scene becomes clearer, we see a man and woman in bed.  They talk more about their past memories. As they laugh, the scene widens. They are in the back of a bus. Through the back window, you can see the morning sun as it gets ready to rise for a new day; a special day… the day of the Great American Eclipse.

They exit the bus and walk towards a house.  Their world becomes clearer as they enter.  The man and woman go into a room and they see a far door, a cassette in a clear bag hanging on the door. It’s ‘her’ door. The symbol looks like a sun. She’s the chosen one. She’s afraid as the look on her face tells her something she doesn’t want to endure.

This film is a moving experience. I was drawn into it from the start. I loved the two actors, Tom Cullen (Knightfall, Downton Abbey) and Emmy award winner Tatiana Maslany (Orphan Black, Stronger) who really give you a sense of something more about them rather than what they are preparing to undertake.  This film is on a different level and it’s not about a cult, per se, but about two loving souls that are ready to take a journey from within.

Tom Cullen and Tatiana Maslany in a scene from Souls of Totality

This film grabs you with every scene, you need to pay attention from the beginning scene to the very last scene like in Batman vs. Superman when in the grave you see the dirt rise and immediately it fades to black. This is such a brilliant and heart-grabbing film. What you see is not what you expect; what you see is far more important than what you believe or think.  I’m glad this touched my life. For me, this is a further example of the chapter of two peoples’ lives in the book we call: EARTH.

Each person on this planet contributes to our story, good or bad, happy or sad. We contribute the chapters of our lives and this story shows you what Lady 18 (Maslany) and Guy 3 (Cullen) are living, right now. Their story is coming full steam ahead at you and you’d better be ready because Souls of Totality is not just about two people or the people they are with or even the sun that you see throughout the film, but it’s about the one very important thing that we are lacking in this world: LOVE!

I had a chance to interview the producers, director and writers. Here are the results of that interview. I hope it gives you insight into what brought them to film Souls.

THT:  Hi Nousha and Richard & Kate and Ben. Pleased to meet you all. God, I love this film. The films that are mentioned in your bio, Richard, while you interned at Pinewood Studios are two of my favorites:  Interview with a Vampire and the 5th Element. If you would, please tell me what those two films have done to help you craft such a beautiful story out of Souls of Totality? Nousha, could you add for me, what inspired you as well?

Tom Cullen and Tatiana Maslany star in Souls of Totality

Richard:   Thank you so much. Those early days I worked as an unpaid intern were incredibly influential. I had no family in the film industry and no matter how hard I tried it always felt like I was knocking on a closed door. I couldn’t afford to go to film school but somehow, through a mixture of teenage naivety and persistence I snuck my way into Pinewood Studios and ended up onto some film sets.  It was a different type of education, more of an observant education back when everyone was anonymous, and everything was shot on 35mm — the rushes / dailies were screened for the crew at lunch.

Starting off in that time embedded a sense of old school trust and patience in me – to not expect everything to be so immediate as we tend to do nowadays. To rehearse for the camera and only shoot when it’s right. To make every shot say something and be critical to the storytelling. The two films you mention are also two of my all-time favorites. Interview with the Vampire was shrouded in secrecy at the time because of the short-lived media controversy of Tom Cruise’s casting of the vampire Lestat.

I remember the long winter days, and those incredible sets by Dante Ferretti, the fire stunts with all the fire trucks on standby in case something went wrong – but most of all what stood out were the makeup effects by Stan Winston – that was a blessing to witness – all these extras with the most exquisite vein painted pale faces, this incredibly realistic life size model of Lestat losing all its blood in one single take. It proved to me that if you surround yourself with talented people anything can be achieved in camera and it’ll always be so much more effective. The Fifth Element was very different and crazy — with amazing costumes by Jean-Paul Gaultier – but in terms in inspiration, just being on such a big film where a director can realize such beautiful and unique vision — it was all just so inspiring. I remember all this as the tea boy mind you, my job was making cups of tea for the crew… I knew if my tea making skills were good then I’d keep being allowed on those sets!

Nousha:  Just the opportunity to be a part of creating something so unique with my husband was very exciting. I share in Richard’s passionate and I wanted to help bring his “particular vision” to the big screen. It was a wonderful experience and, also, we were one of many couples throughout the cast and crew – which was another special element you don’t see a lot of on film sets. Multiple couples in love, (the writers, the cast, the grips, the producers, the investors) all working together to seize a never repeatable moment and replying on their authentic partnerships to help see it though. There was a lot of love on set. And I believe this love is felt in the film!

THT: What got you interested in Filmmaking and who was your or were your major role models? How did you apply what you learned about those role models into who you are today?

Richard: We all have our cinematic influences and I’m certainly an old school romantic at heart, growing up obsessed with Ridley Scott and James Cameron. But thinking back one of those big role models was Lord Richard Attenborough. I had a few days’ work experience on the Shepperton Studios set of ‘Shadowlands,’ which he directed. Spending a few days on Attenborough’s set, watching him work, was one of the most incredible experiences of my life. He was so kind and generous and loving to his actors and crew. He created such a safe and collaborative space, where anyone could approach him with an idea. That’s what influences me… not just the memory of a master at work but how he did it.

THT: Kate and Ben; please tell me who came up with this idea? All four of you, just the two of you? It’s an amazing journey and for me, a new writer, I’m still caught up in telling like when I wrote my novel, but with screenwriting, it’s all showing.  You’ve done that brilliantly. 

Kate and Ben: Thank you for the kind words. We’re so glad you enjoyed the film. The idea started as a conversation between the two of us of how you can make someone care about this amazing event and give it meaning beyond its visual excitement. From there it got shaped from constant questions from the rest of the team. As we answered each question, that initial idea became fleshed out to something that now has everyone’s fingerprints on it.

THT: What gave you the idea for Souls? You saw in my review of your film that I was reminded of then Heaven’s Gate Cult. Was that what you were trying to accomplish here but in a more beautiful way? As I recall, Heaven’s Gate was “not” successful. In this film, it’s so beautiful and does not have that cultish appearance except at first, but then, you changed it up.  Tell me about that?

Richard:    The film came about in a very organic way. Last summer there was a lot of excitement about what was dubbed the “Great American Eclipse”, the first total solar eclipse in 100 years — visible in America from coast to coast. Millions of people from all over the world had booked out every flight and hotel available in or near the path of totality so my wife and I, more or less, lost hope that we’d get a chance to go and experience it. But then our baby sitter (Makenna Tague) mentioned she was from Oregon and that we could camp at her family house, where we would be right in the path of totality. We told our friends, Kate Trefry and Ben Bolea, (who are writers) and they jumped at the chance to travel with us. A week later we had a dinner with two actors, Tatiana Maslany and Tom Cullen — we mentioned the trip and they also wanted to come and see the eclipse.

I suddenly had an epiphany. Actors, writers and I’m a director…. we should make a film!  The problem was it was only about 6 weeks to go until the eclipse — we had no script, no money and no equipment or crew, I’d never shot in America before — we were at the mercy of an impending deadline set by the universe.  So, the next day Nousha and I flew up to Oregon to meet Makenna’s father, Mike. He drove us around and introduced us to his friends who are farmers — that’s how we found the main location!

I took photos of the locations and sent them to Ben and Kate, and – bless their creative wisdom – two weeks before the eclipse they handed me “Souls of Totality.” An original story about the sacrifices we make for love and the intensity of a looming moment that can change everything. Reading their script, it perfectly captured for me what interested me the most — capturing a never repeatable, can’t turn back event that forces characters to find the most real, honest part of them self to help determine how they will handle it.

The initial inspiration came from discussions about the real-life Heaven’s Gate cult, whose members believed that the Hale-Bopp comet was the harbinger of an interstellar UFO that would transport them safely to a higher plain of existence. Most of the followers — 39 members — died of poisoning in a mass suicide in early 1997. They believed they had to commit suicide to leave this life and reach the spaceship. And I really connected to that notion Kate and Ben posed at the end — what if a cults outlandish and crazy beliefs were actually; real?  So, the journey to “Souls of Totality” was paved with this crazy last-minute idea to make a film shot during a solar eclipse. But as Ben and Kate’s script was born everything changed. Their incredible story, like a magnet, pulled together a group of passionate, like minded, like-hearted souls. In doing so the eclipse became a foot note to a story I had to tell.

Kate and Ben:  We thought about how scary it would be to know the person you love wouldn’t be there when the sun came back out. From there we leaned on a pretty classic movie trope of running to save to the person you love. We knew the end would be this epic run through the eclipse, then had to work backwards to build a narrative that earned such a huge payoff. Heaven’s Gate became a reference after the fact in the aesthetic and mythology, but in the beginning, the cult aspect came from knowing where we were shooting (rural Oregon) and looking for thematic overlap. For a story that is about an intersection of faith and love and how the two are forever intertwined in a relationship, we found the world of a suicide cult to be a strangely beautiful parallel. There is a leap of faith taken in relationships that is scary and dangerous, but you have to give in to it completely for the magic to work.

THT: A question for filmmakers young and old.  What do you want to say to those working hard on their dream and who are finding it a tough road to hoe?

Richard: Be persistent for sure. But also look for passion, talented, diverse souls who want to collaborate with you and challenge you. And help you. This isn’t something anyone can do alone — all this “auteur” crap…. it’s just crap. It’s a team effort. Find your people and create stories that you feel are important to tell. That’s all you need to do. Don’t just pick up a camera – find your story that you’re willing to give everything to… and serve only that.

Kate and Ben:  If we knew how to get movies made, we would have done it several times by now, so we really aren’t qualified to give any advice in that area other than make friends with people who share your passion and keep each other excited, optimistic and working hard. Similarly, as writers, all we can offer is what we try to do ourselves — tell stories that are about something. Know the point you’re trying to make then shape and rewrite scenes until you feel like you’ve made it.

THT: What is most important to you, as a filmmaker and visionary and how can you best describe this to people in 5 words?

Richard:   Trust your very first instincts.

THT: In sum, what have you planned next for us?

Richard:  Souls of Totality has opened some amazing doors for me. I’m really excited for what’s going to come next. Watch this space! Hopefully not too much longer.

THT: Thank you, everyone for your time.