Chimera Strain Interview: Director Maurice Haeems On Tackling His First Feature

Everyone has to start somewhere. It’s not every day that one makes their first movie, and when they do, it’s incredibly difficult to go straight to the sci-fi route, as it has potential for more logistical and execution issues. But Maurice Haeems went all-in on his new film Chimera Strain, which is a new sci-fi story that follows a scientist in search of a cure for a disease for his kids.

LRM Online had a chance to speak with Haeems on the phone earlier this week to discuss his movie, which is out on VOD and select theaters today. In our discussion we talk the origins of the idea, his kids starring int eh film, and the need to adapt due to budgetary constraints (a pain that many filmmakers understand).

LRM: So first of all, one curiosity when it comes to the film. Is there a relation with you and the little boy that plays Miles?

Haeems: Yeah, yeah, absolutely. He’s my son. He’s my youngest.

LRM: How adorable!

Haeems: The girl, by the way, who plays Flora is my daughter. And of course, the little boy, just like I said, is my son.

And actually when I just had the logline of the idea for this film, and [producer Jay Sitaram] and I decided we were going to work on this project, we both agreed that the two kids would be played by these two kids. And they were the first two roles we cast. We wanted to enjoy working with … it was a little bit of a family project, because my daughter helped me a lot with the script, my older son actually was a PA on set with us, and then my younger son acted in it, so yeah, it was fun.

LRM: Nice. Well, I had to ask because I was very curious about that when I looked up the kids, I was like, “Hey, that’s the same last name! Is there a relation, possibly?”

Haeems: No, yeah, you’re absolutely right. Yeah, they are. Yeah. And it was part of the attraction, I think.

LRM: Okay. Going back to actually discussing the film, putting a hold on the cast, how did you come up with this concept for this film, for a drama sci-fi thriller as a writer?

Haeems: I came to writing sort of late in my life, and when I did I was going to make this independent film, and so all along I knew that I would be operating under pretty tight budgetary constraints. It might have been simpler to write a drama, but that’s not my thing. Writing sci-fi can be expensive, but what I did, I was acutely aware during the writing process … going to be a small independent film. The technology I wrote. I was always thinking how we would shoot this while I was writing. And so the science is very real, the way it’s depicted is as close as I think one can get and still … obviously we took some artistic and cinematic license with the facts and we project it out into the future.

But the idea was to write a story where there are personal stakes, high stakes for the protagonist, but they’re real, they’re grounded, while we’re still exploring something that is not quite realized today, and we’re projecting 30, 40, 50 years into the future, and exploring that world, but with real stakes. It’s not save the world kind of stakes. We wouldn’t have that kind of a budget, but kind of small but still high, still make for compelling viewing.

LRM: I got it. And what were some of the challenges you came across when you were putting the script pretty much to film?

Haeems: Well, as a first time filmmaker, for me everything was new, so you’re kind of learning on the set, which is a hard way to learn. I was very fortunate that we hired this tremendously experienced and talented crew, so that helped and then the fact that the actors that were drawn to the project were all very experienced. Ian’s been a stage actor, a TV actor, a film actor for many many years. Kathleen, likewise, has done acting in all formats for many years. And having actors like that makes my job so much easier, because they know exactly what they’re doing and what the scene needs.

And I became more of a brainstorming sort of collaborator for them, rather than somebody who needed to tell them what to do, because I obviously would have had no idea. But I could brainstorm with them about what was going on, what the words on the page were intended or the scene was intended, or what the character was thinking or feeling or doing, and why they would do that. And then we’d collaborate, and I think that worked out really well.

LRM: There was a scene, in particular, if you can tell me about how it was shot, where you have Kathleen’s character and Ian’s character, you have Luke there, where everything kind of … a lot happens, takes place. I don’t want to say too much of the film. How was it filming that scene? I mean you had Kathleen and there was blood. I was shocked, that scene to me threw me off, I was just like whoa, I was not expecting that.

Haeems: Yeah, yeah, yeah. So you know, we wanted to have a little bit of action and so while I was writing it, I wanted to lead up to an action moment but I didn’t want that to be the final climax of the film either. But yeah, so it kind of leads up, you think this might be the climax, this might be the resolution, but then you realize oh no, there’s a little bit more to go, and the film really revealed itself after this fake ending in a sense.

And what we did, it obviously was very low … because of our budgetary constraints, and we tried our best so that they’re not apparent. You don’t see a compromise on the screen, so we were very … you know, we’d get below the camera with a pump, and the blood’s being pumped up, so we did things like that where if we had been a bigger production and we’d had better gear, it might have made our lives easier, but I don’t think it would have dramatically changed what it looked like on screen.

So we really, the crew, and kudos to them because they brought their experience to bear within the limitations of our time and money constraints, and achieved what I think is a pretty good final, sort of the production values and pretty slick final product.

LRM: Well, congratulations. I think you did great on that scene in particular. I mean overall, but that scene’s the one that got me. I was like wow, so much happened in such a small space. I mean, that was not expected.

Haeems: Thank you, thank you. I’m glad you liked it.

LRM: Yeah, and then how did you come up with the twist? You think this person’s a bad guy, but it turns out there’s more. More people leading to being the bad guy.

Haeems: Yeah.

LRM: That was a surprise.

Haeems: And that’s got a little bit of life experience. You know, I think we’ve all, in our lives know somebody, and we don’t really know what drives them, what motivates them, what’s really the core. Even though we think we know somebody intimately, sometimes they surprise us and if you watch the movie carefully, you will see that the clues are there about each character. So it’s not something that, oh, it’s an about face for the character and he was just a writer’s invention. But we planted clues throughout, where you … and then hopefully it’s an aha moment rather than a sort of WTF moment, where it came out of left field.

LRM: Yeah.

Haeems: So I tried my best, I hope that’s come through.

I like movies where the end surprises you, and I was hoping that I’d be able to get something of that nature and to incorporate it into this story.

LRM: Yeah, you definitely did. I didn’t expect that ending, for sure. I kind of in my head had come to my own little conclusion. But yeah, definitely not what I had anticipated, so that was great. 

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Nancy Tapia

Nancy Tapia has been an interviewer for LRM and Latino-Review Media since 2011. Currently a member of the Hollywood Critics Association. Former UCLA Bruin specializes in Management. Covering entertainment has been an unexpected lively journey. Always open to the next, new experience. From solo traveling to adding a new peak to her personal 100 Hike Challenge. Follow her on Instagram and Twitter @inancytapia

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