Four years ago, filmmakers Ben Foster and Mark Dennis pulled through a rough shoot in and out of caves in Texas for their ambitious sci-fi adventure, Time Trap. Following the success that their previous film, Strings, saw across the festival circuit, they abandoned the intimacy of shooting a film with family and friends to a legitimate Hollywood production.
The result is an endearing family-friendly film about a group of kids who get lost in a cave where time moves differently, leaving them to figure out how to contend with both the ancient past and the distant future.
Ahead of the film’s release today on VoD, we spoke with the co-directors about getting their project off the ground, and where the story might take them next.
Were you able to parlay the success of strings into a bigger budget feature film with Time Trap?
Mark Dennis: I think we were having a hard time getting another movie made and that’s what we really wanted to do. We had a lot of fun for our festival run. We were constantly going to film festivals, all of our friends and family were coming out when we just had a really great two years and then we were like, okay, what next? And we weren’t having any traction in Hollywood getting anything done and we started to learn that we couldn’t do the the Austin guerrilla filmmakers in Hollywood, we had to do the actual system we had to go through and we had to get attachments, like stars, and try to get real money, not just our money, to make it.
We got a casting director who started to go out to some big name actors for this other project, and while we were trying to get that one together, I wrote an idea for Time Trap. We realized Time Trap was a much better idea than that one and it was worth our time and we could probably get the money to do it. And we started going that route instead he started casting it and we started planning it and we were shooting three months after the script was written. Never do that.
Ben Foster: It’s a different process than the Austin stuff. I mean, Austin, like Mark said, that was our friends that we got to make the movie with and they all came to the film festival and we can call him on weekends and we show up and we and we shoot stuff. This was a real movie and we didn’t know these people. We didn’t know who is going to be in the film two days before we started shooting. So, it’s just much more regimented than what we did here with Strings. But you know, we’ve brought that family element back. We just don’t get as much time with them.
Dennis: We knew most of the actors when we made our first movie coming in, we knew most of them before their first day on set, so there weren’t any surprises. But with all these guys, they showed up all on the same day and we had a table read. We were nervous. I remember going to the table reading, being scared. Like are we, are we going to look stupid to these guys? And they sat down, they did a table read and it was, it worked out in it and we made some notes and stuff and everyday it was just like, you know, spending a little bit more time with a complete stranger until they become a friend. And then, you know, four years later, I think they still like us.
Foster: I didn’t realize that. You assume when you see people on set that like, they’re buddies and they and they’ve known each other for a long time. But if it’s early in the shoot, it’s a bunch of strangers.
Dennis: It makes me wonder how many Academy Award-winning roles are actually two people who just met earlier that day.
Were you able to secure some ‘get to know you’ time for anyone, even though you were on a tight schedule?
Dennis: Right before we filmed it, if we took them to the greenbelt and we had them repel down this wall, then afterwards we took them to eat at Madam Ma’ams.
Foster: And I had to leave.
Dennis: And it was really uncomfortable. I was like, ‘Oh man, this is not what I was expecting.’ I was used to Strings working on a movie with all my friends. Everybody here is kind of uncomfortable with each other. They don’t know each other and I guess I’m supposed to be Mr. Running the Show and I’m got too much on my mind to play matchmaker.
Foster: Like Mark said, ‘Don’t do that.’ Don’t go rushing into shooting a movie because you have to be on for. You have to be a host for your actors as a director as well, and if you’re doing like, your mind was probably on scripts stuff, I wasn’t there because I was dealing with locations. Set yourself up so that you can bring those people in a hang out with them and get to know them and not be distracted.
How did it eventually work out with the workload being split? Was it similar to how it ended up being divided on Strings?
Foster: It was a really hard shoot.
Dennis: It wasn’t smooth.
Foster: It wasn’t smooth at all. A lot of that is from some people on set doing the job for the first time, and shooting in a cave. I mean, that’s like they say, one of the screenwriting things, is like ‘Make it really take place in one location,’ and they definitely did not meet cave.
We always fall to it though. I mean I usually we get to set in the morning, Mark has a script that he’s probably rewritten the night before. We called it Sinkhole at the time, that was the title of the movie. And so when we got to set, in our heads, Sinkhole means the hellish 25 days that we put ourselves and everybody else thorough in Austin in 2014, and Time Trap is what it became. Time Trap represents the shoot in Los Angeles when we finally had our footing, like you’re saying, and everything went smoothly.
Did the physical geography of the cave end up informing the story at all?
Dennis: Yeah. The script was written and then we started looking at caves and figuring out other ways to do stuff and be like, ‘Okay, well this was written to be like this, but we don’t have this big hole in the room, but we have a huge cliff wall and we can have them repel down the wall and they’ll come down, [but] they can’t land at the bottom of this because we can’t shoot down there, but what we can do is get them repelling and then cheat this other wall over here. So we wound up just kind of the whole movie is just pieced together. It’s just a big puzzle of different locations. And you would never know that a hand or a walk by in this shot is actually shot in Los Angeles, while this is shot in Austin.
Foster: And the geography of the cave is as important to the story because these kids have to get into the cave through one entrance, not be able to see outside or understand what’s going on, so they have to drop down and then walk into another room where they look up and they can see a hole in the ceiling and see the sun going by. So it’s a very, like that was one of the hardest things. And that’s what we were dealing with right before shooting was how the hell is this cave laid out and how are we going to utilize the locations that we do have in North Austin and West Texas? And we didn’t even know about shooting in L.A. at that point. We just had our two caves here in Texas.
You teased a much larger mythology at the end. Is there more to this story, and would you want to revisit the world — maybe under slightly better shooting conditions?
Dennis: There was a studio that was talking to us about doing a TV series and had an idea that I thought would be really cool, and when the studio was interested, I remember sitting down and going through and figuring out this much longer version. Ben and I sat at a Mexican restaurant in Studio City and laid out the entire thing. By the time we got done with it, we’re like, ‘This is so cool, we’ve got to make it.’ Then that didn’t work out, but we still got the idea.
Foster: It’s, it’s thought out and it’s a really cool eight episodes of limited TV. I mean, I’m always bummed out when Stranger Things [says] they’re going to do Part Two. Just do one thing. I got hope Barry isn’t going to have a season two, because that’s a perfect ending for that show. But I would love to be able to do something that’s just eight episodes. That’s it. And then do something else. True Detective does it perfectly, right?
Well, they did.
Foster: But you know what, it doesn’t matter because I don’t have to watch season two, season three, you’re going to watch season two. I just have to watch the last fifteen minutes of episode four.
Time Trap is available on iTunes as of today. For more information, check out their website here.