Exclusive Interview with Director Iqbal Ahmed for ‘The Answer’

– by Gig Patta

The answer is out there.

In this sci-fi thriller from director Iqbal Ahmed, the sci-fi indie follows an introvert who mainly keeps to himself, but had to piece together clues left behind his dead parents after an attack from mysterious pursuers.

The film stars Austin Hebert, Alexis Carra, David S. Lee, Adam Shapiro and Mark Deklin.

Here’s the full synopsis:

BRIDD lives a boring life by choice.  He possesses exceptional abilities but, surprisingly, he hides them from the world.  He lives under the radar, works a dead-end job, meticulously obeys the law, and has no personal connections.  But things change quickly.

One day he receives a mysterious package from his mother who died twenty years prior.  Inside he finds a note from her along with a futuristic device which will supposedly “explain everything” about why he is like he is, but he cannot turn on the gadget.  That night, he and his feisty co-worker, CHARLOTTE, return to his ransacked house and find their boss murdered on the floor.  Out of the shadows, masked men in strange uniforms suddenly attack.  Bridd and Charlotte barely escape.

He has been framed for murder and Bridd realizes he cannot go to the authorities.  He has no idea who is after him or why?  To clear his name, he and Charlotte follow clues left by his dead parents, starting with the device.  As Bridd unlocks each impossible clue along the journey, he and Charlotte grow closer.  Bridd unravels the terrifying plans of the uniformed men and discovers the shocking truth about himself:  he is special.  The last thing he ever wanted.

“The Answer” will make its world premiere at the Imagine Film Festival in Amsterdam. The festival runs from April 8-18th.

Read the interview transcript below.

Latino-Review: Let me start with one simple question – what is the question to “The Answer?” [Laughter]

Iqbal Ahmed: [Laughter] I hope that your question is the same question everyone else asks too! The reason why I called the movie “The Answer” is that it works on a number of levels. We essentially have this character who is trying to figure out the answer to this mystery of who exactly is after him and why.  Also, he ends up finding out the answer to who he is himself.

Latino-Review: So where did the original idea did come from?

Iqbal Ahmed: I’ve always loved genre movies. Genre films start with these impossible ideas and find a way for me to believe their stories.  Coupled with my love of genre films, especially sci-fi, is the fact that I also really love identity movies.

I think that identity and figuring out who you are is a universal concept. At some point, all of us spent time trying to find out exactly who we were and where we fit in the world. It’s all part of growing up.  Whether that exploration happens during your childhood, adolescence, young adulthood or even adulthood—there’s always that relevance to identity that we share.  I wanted to tie a genre film into something that I thought dramatically and emotionally we could all relate to.

Latino-Review: Tell me about the main character that you presented here. I don’t want to describe him as a regular guy, but he’s such a mundane character in the beginning. Why did you present him in this fashion?

Iqbal Ahmed: In creating any kind of a story, I think that contrast is really useful and informative. I really wanted to create a character who we all could relate to. Normal people can watch and say, “Wow, this guy has a pretty anonymous life.” There’s one thing to live a normal life that is what we all do with our day-to-day. Then there’s another thing to see someone who is living a normal life that they’ve constructed so carefully—that it’s boring on purpose.

I just wanted to build in a little bit of that mystery that tied into the character. This guy really has no friends. He works a job where nobody really notices his face. What’s going on here? Then we start to unravel that in real life. It’s really somebody who is hiding in plain sight. He’s somebody who wants to stay below the radar.  I wanted to start in that kind of place, because who could hear worse news about himself in terms of being special than a guy who truly doesn’t want to be special.

 

Latino-Review: [Spoiler Alert] Talk about these mysterious pursuers. According to the trailer, they have special powers themselves. They even have a certain look with their helmets. How did you come up with that?

Iqbal Ahmed: Knowing that this was going to be a sci-fi movie all along, I knew that I didn’t want to give it all away early. There’s something about building a mystery that is grounded in reality so that we have a chance to slowly unravel that story. If you give away too much too soon, then you risk alienating an audience too soon.

My favorite movies are the ones that milk tension and drama and that give just enough information as you go along to keep you interested and gripped.  You’re still wondering what’s happening. I love, as an audience member, to lean forward in my seat and to try to figure out where this is going.

So in knowing that I was going have these alien villains, I knew that I didn’t want to deflate that mystery. I didn’t want to show things that were overtly alien so that people would know where the story was going. We’ve all watched films where the filmmakers gave away too much story too soon. And then we think “Wait. Is this movie going to go there?” All of the sudden, you lean back and you don’t engage.

I wanted to create villains who were a little bit ambiguous. I wanted to make an audience wonder if the masked men were military or a strange looking SWAT team. I wanted to play with the reality of it rather than jump straight into the world of sci-fi in the beginning. I wanted people to believe that they were operatives that could be in our world.  And I didn’t want to be explicit about who they were exactly.

 Latino-Review: [Spoiler Alert] Your intention is to keep the mystery in the entire movie so that people don’t see the twist?

Iqbal Ahmed: Yeah, at least until we get the revelation of the leader and then you’ll start seeing what’s happening with him. That’s when an audience will say “Wait a sec. These guys aren’t normal.” These aren’t just highly trained militants or law enforcement officers. They’re not even straightforward terrorist-type characters. There’s something else at play.

 

Latino-Review: [Spoiler Alert] One of the things very noticeable throughout the entire movie, even particularly through the trailer, is that they don’t seem to use sci-fi weapons like laser guns. You had them using some kind of blade.

Iqbal Ahmed: Right. I thought it felt like an interesting scope to keep it really grounded in a “what-if” scenario. What if this actually happened? There are a lot of movies that you’ll watch where the first image that comes up is of gigantic interstellar robots, flying space ships and amazing VFX. You’ll settle in for something that you know is larger than life.  It’s an unrealistic ride, but you’re ok with that because that’s part of the fun.

So much of this story, though, was built on having relatability in the beginning. Then I’d slowly start to expand on that. I didn’t want to make a giant leap and do something too far-fetched early on. With the villains, I wanted them to feel more human, but with these extra elements.

The best way to do that was by highlighting their speed and reflexes—I wanted to make their skills feel tangible. In many ways, this band of aliens is a splinter team. They come in to run small-scale tests. They’re a small research team.  They wouldn’t bring all the bells and whistles – they want to stay discreet. They engage in hand-to-hand fights when it comes to violence. The whole point is that they want to stay hidden.

Latino-Review: I understand that this is your first feature film. How was that overall experience for you?

Iqbal Ahmed: Wow! Anyone who had made an independent film can testify that it is hard. It’s more than the sums of its parts both in terms of the energy and the satisfaction when it’s all put together in the end. This was a really scrappy shoot. We had a small budget, but I wanted to tell an ambitious story.

I like movies that start small and then expand their scope. That doesn’t often happen in low-budget independent films. I always wanted this movie to grow larger in drama and scope until the ultimate finale.

So it was a challenge. I used every favor I possibly could. I leaned on my hometown, Danville, Virginia.  The city was so gracious and welcoming. There was no way I could have made this movie without all the free locations, support, donations of gear, and volunteers. I was certainly blessed.

As many obstacles as there were in making the film, I was lucky that the crew, the cast and the town all came together and pulled in the same direction.  It’s really vital to have that when you don’t have many resources and you’re trying to tell a pretty large story.  I even wrote the script based on the free locations that I knew I’d have at my disposal. Ultimately, the whole directing process was just so rewarding. I’m grateful for the performances I got from my supremely talented actors and the hard work of my wonderful crew.

This was a labor of passion – for everyone.

 

Latino-Review: I am going to ask a specific question. It sounds like there are all these challenges and difficulties on this project. What do you suppose was the greatest challenge for you personally?

Iqbal Ahmed: Interesting. I think the greatest challenge was in trying to tell a story that would engage an audience. Sure there were technical difficulties when it came to shooting the film – complications in lighting production design, etc., but the hardest part, for me personally, was to create a story that could engage the audience from the very beginning to the end. It’s hard to write with an audience in mind. I love films. I love films that assume the audience is intelligent. Films that show me new things or engage me. Filmmakers who engage me are the ones I follow later. They are the ones who respect my intelligence and the process of storytelling.

I hope movie lovers and sci-fi lovers will appreciate what I’m trying to do here—to unravel a mystery that starts off in a grounded realistic place. And then slowly escalates and elevates into something on a larger scale.

It always comes back to the story and it’s never about the technical things.

Latino-Review: Well, you’ve done that.

Iqbal Ahmed: Oh, thank you!

Latino-Review: Out of curiosity, what are some of your favorite sci-fi films of all time?

Iqbal Ahmed: Oh, wow. Let’s see. Let me start with some of the classics and I’ll go forward. I love so many movies and I don’t want to keep you here all day. The movies that made an impact early on for me were “Blade Runner” and “Alien.” “Star Wars” obviously. I was moved by films like “E.T.” In more recent history, I loved “District 9.” I also really loved “Let the Right One In” – even though that was horror.

For all these movies, they all have a gripping dramatic element to them. All of these movies at their core have something emotional involved. I think that’s the right way to make any movie—sci-fi, horror, action and comedies. What every movie needs in order to be successful is an emotional human element. And again, that’s where the story side comes in.

I remembered being blown away with “Star Wars.” It was a movie that showed me this incredible new world. It was so creative, so rich and so deep. But at the end of the day, it was still just about a kid who was trying to figure out who he was.

Latino-Review: You’re film is premiering at the Imagine Film Festival in Amsterdam. It’s making the world premiere alongside with many great indie films like “It Follows,” “The Signal,” and “Ex Machina,” which I’ve seen. You’re in good company there.

Iqbal Ahmed: I am honored. I’m a HUGE fan of the films and filmmakers who are going to be at the same festival.  I’m incredibly lucky. I’m very happy that the program director, Chris Oosterom, understood what I was trying to do with this film. We had a really nice conversation when he let me know that my film would be in competition at that festival.  He understood what I was going for in terms of finding the humanity in a science fiction world.

Latino-Review: And when do you hope that American audiences will be able to see your film?

Iqbal Ahmed: That’s a very good question. I’m in contention to have my North American premiere at a number of interesting places. So it’s not up to me just yet. As soon as I know and hear about the North American premiere, I’ll be sure to let you and your audiences know. Ideally, I would like to get this film in front of as many people as possible. With the support of your readership and other people who love science-fiction movies, I hope that audiences will find a way and push to be able to see this movie.

Latino-Review: What are some of the future projects after “The Answer?”

Iqbal Ahmed: I have a number of other projects. I have two elevated horror films that are currently in the midst of financing. In the same way I tried to tell this science fiction movie, in many ways my horror films have really strong human emotions as well. My hope is to try to get the chance to direct the next one at the end of this year or at the beginning of 2016.

I’m also currently writing several other scripts. My hope is that this movie can convince people that I like to tell stories that audiences want to see. I would love to have the rare privilege to direct more films and to have my work out there for people to enjoy.

Latino-Review: And for a fun last question, do you believe that there are other intelligent beings in this universe?

Iqbal Ahmed:  This movie made me ask questions I hadn’t thought about before. At some point, I knew someone would ask this question if made a movie with aliens. With the scale of our universe or even just our galaxy, it feels highly unlikely that we’re the only life forms out there. In the same way I like to interact with other humans and other nationalities, I’m hopeful that we can interact with other worlds. That to me will be a pretty interesting experience. It might even bring into sharper focus what humanity really means.

Latino-Review: Hey, I thank you for this conversation.

Iqbal Ahmed: Gig, this had been a treat. Thank you for watching my movie.  I hope other people have a chance to see it and respond too!

”The Answer” made its world premiere at the Imagine Film Festival in Amsterdam, Netherlands from April 8-18.

Source: Latino-Review

Interviews, Film, LRM Exclusives The Answer, Iqbal Ahmed