Speed of Life: Director Liz Manashil on Time Travel, Wormholes and the Future [Exclusive]

David Bowie has that effect on everyone.

To the point that Bowie’s death ripped a hole in the universe.

In Speed of Life, it is a soft sci-fi indie film that sends a man into the future after David Bowie’s death.

It stars Ann Dowd, Ray Santiago, Veila Lovell, Sean Wright, Allison Tolman, and Jeff Perry. The film was written and directed by Liz Manashil.

Here’s the synopsis:

David Bowie’s death rocks the lives of June and Edward. The superstar’s passing rips a literal hole in the universe, sucking Edward in. Fast forward 24 years, an older June is shocked to find her once-beloved shot back out of this inter-dimensional portal, unchanged from his entry in 2016. The ensemble struggles to understand the extreme changes that have befallen them in this dramedy.

LRM Online spoke with director Liz Manashil about David Bowie, soft sci-fi, time travel, and the cast.

Speed of Life is currently available digitally on Apple TV, Prime Video, Breaker, Vudu, Google Play, and local cable.

Read our exclusive interview below.

LRM Online: I’ve checked out your film. It’s a delightful film. I would love to talk to you. That will be great.

Liz Manashil: Thank you. It’s nice to hear something positive. [Laughs]

LRM Online: I’ll start with the obligatory easy question. Where did you come up with the idea of Speed of Life?

Liz Manashil: [Laughs] I told this story a few times. I’m trying to bring myself back right to discuss new details. I was writing another movie. I heard that David Bowie had died. I fell into this funk and got writer’s block. One day, I said to myself, let’s write how I’m feeling right now into the script, and I’ll delete it later. I incorporated his death into the opening scene. I thought, “It will be so crazy if there was a wormhole too. Let’s write that too.” I started writing zany ideas to get out of writer’s block. Then I fell in love with the absurdity of the script and kept going.

LRM Online: How did you feel about David Bowie dying? [Laughs]

Liz Manashil: I was really sad. I’m not a super fan. There are millions of people who are bigger fans than I am. I don’t know the entire lexicon of his history. He’d always been like that celebrity that I loved and not capable of death. He was an icon. There were very few icons these days. Hollywood had changed where we see more and more flaws from the celebrities that we appreciate. I’d never really heard anything wrong about David Bowie. He was this otherworldly force. When he died, it was a little bit of a shock to my system.

LRM Online: Now, the sci-fi side of a wormhole came out of the left field.

Liz Manashil: Yeah.

LRM Online: Did you wanted to add a time travel element into this funny romantic story?

Liz Manashil: My first feature was an anti-romantic comedy. It had all the tropes of a romantic comedy. It’s called Bread and Butter. It subverted expectations. Anytime you thought the usual romantic comedy would zig, then we zag. We did that a little bit here as well. I’m not a sci-fi director. I wasn’t trying to direct a hard by sci-fi film. Speed of Life is a soft sci-fi film, and we broke a lot of the rules that you’re not supposed to play within time travel. You’re never supposed to had two characters, who are the same people in the same room together from different timelines. There are a lot of questions we didn’t answer that a traditional sci-fi film would answer. For me, it was always a story about June, the main character, her life, and her trauma. Everything else was a set-piece. The stories was all about her emotional experience.

LRM Online: Did you have to set up your own time travel rules for yourself, or do you wing it?

Liz Manashil: We abided by Back to the Future. There was a breakdown of the rules in that film. We abided by that, and we went with the alternative timeline theory of time travel in movies. Ultimately, no one ever time traveled as far as I know. Wormholes have never been observed directly. We had to make up our own rules. Our only references were other science fiction films. We leaned on them pretty heavily.

LRM Online: Let’s talk about the future, what they do to senior citizens sounded harsh, but you never really showed it in the movie. Could you talk about what actually would happen?

Liz Manashil: I live in Los Angeles, which I’m sure you probably do as well. Do you live in LA?

LRM Online: I’m staying here in Los Angeles. I’m actually from the Central Valley of Fresno, California.

Liz Manashil: I’m from Northern California, so I know Fresno. In Los Angeles, there is a lot of focus on age and appearance over here. Being in the entertainment industry, it is clearly like the hyperintense community of focus on age and appearance. It had to do with essentially shutting these people away came from that.

It also came from a trip with my partner to see his grandmother in convalescent home. It was almost like watching the movie Awakenings in real life. There are these catatonic people put in front of the television and left to their own devices. That’s how I see the dystopian future in the Speed of Life. It’s just an extension of these services that we already have by shutting these people away from sight instead of creating a real community of different generations within one space.

LRM Online: Let’s talk about this device. You came up that is similar to Alexa and others. What did you call them? What are the actual props used on your set?

Liz Manashil: We called them monitors. That’s like our term on set. They were orange because we didn’t want to draw too many direct references to H.A.L. from 2001. We considered ourselves a soft science fiction film and made it orange instead of red.

I wish Marcie [Maute] was here. She was my production designer. They were little knobs that we did visual effects work on. Everything animated about it was done in post, and then they did light up on set. That was practical. There were a lot of visual effects with those elements of the film in addition to the wormhole.

LRM Online: I love the fact that you kept it as a soft sci-fi film and as a low budget indie, but you still actually had to do visual effects. Talk about the wormhole visual effects that you brought in.

Liz Manashil: It was challenging. I’d never worked with visual effects before. Maybe I had someone come in to clean up a shot, erase a sign in a frame that we didn’t have rights to show. But, I never created something from scratch.

As I mentioned earlier, we don’t know what wormhole looks like, right? We had to envision what we wanted them to look like. We worked with James Dunovan, who did everything but the wormhole for the visual facts. Then we worked with another company. I described what I needed. It was almost like an envelope that had a mind of its own. It closes when it wants to. It opens what it wants to. It’s effective for us.

The original plan was actually to do something that was way more vaginal. I wanted it to be in a vaginal wormhole. That would be very interesting because of the ideas female power and all of the feminist ideas that play in our movies. Let me tell you. It’s tough to make vaginal wormhole. Ultimately, we went with that rip fabric of this space.

LRM Online: Interesting. [Laughs] Let’s take a turn towards your cast. First, talk about Anne Dowd and Allison Tolman. Talk about those two ladies portraying the same character.

Liz Manashil: They were just so wonderful. We attached Anne pretty early on. We were going to shoot the film in August of 2018, and then Anne was greenlighted for season two of Handmaid’s Tale. We pushed the production back eight months later to accommodate her because she was the number one choice. We couldn’t believe she was even interested in this film. She was tremendous to be able to work with. She was in New York, so we had to remotely via phone calls and over email.

Allison is one of my favorite actresses. The fact happened that the two have a very similar hair color, side bangs, and are around the same height. Somehow it works. Ultimately, we were looking forward to actresses who were talented, who were people we wanted to work with who wanted to work with us.

LRM Online: I do have to admit you are very fortunate to find two actresses that are named actresses in the business at the same time.

Liz Manashil: The whole cast, right? Jeff Perry is a fantastic actor who got the highest social media profile of anyone combined on our set. [Laughs] We had Ray Santiago, another fine actor. We’re obsessed with everyone who came on board. The fact that they lent their time and credibility to our film makes us very fortunate.

LRM Online: Let’s talk about Ray Santiago, who had an anchor most of this film. Could you talk about him playing the past, future, and present throughout the entire movie?

Liz Manashil: It’s hard, right? It was very difficult. We would talk about what he was experiencing as he went through the wormhole on whether he knows what’s going on and when does he start to realize that’s going on. The process, in the film, he goes from 2016 to 2040. He essentially loses his own family in the space in a few days. He realizes that his entire world is crashing down, but you can’t even fully get to that realization 100% within a timeline of the film.

He was wonderful to work with me, and my partner Sean [Wright], who’s in the film, used to watch Ash vs Evil Dead. We love that show. We thought, “Whoa. We’d love to work with Pablo.” We just reached out and, he was willing to read for the role and came on board. We were just grateful.

LRM Online: Excellent. Let me start wrapping things up with you. Liz, it sounds like you had a lot of fun in this production.

Liz Manashil: [Laughs] Sure. I hate being on set. I don’t have a lot of fun in production. I had a lot of fun, in-post, pre-production, and development. This film is the icing on the cake is getting to talk to people about it.

LRM Online: What, can you talk about future projects? Are you going to stick with romantic anti-romantic films?

Liz Manashil: I’m with my third feature in production right now. We just shot two days on it last weekend, and it’s a cancer comedy called Lady Parts. It’s not romantic at all. There’s no courtship. It involves a lot of love, and there’s a relationship at its core. It’s a cancer comedy about a woman saving herself from cancer, and it involves puppets. It’s dark, and it’s weird.

My next feature after that one, it’s called Sex and Ethan. That’s going to be another romance. I didn’t write Lady Parts, my third feature. When I write, I tend to want to write all about relationships constantly. Speed of Life was supposed to be a horror movie when I started, and then it turns again into this romance. I can’t help myself.

LRM Online: Since you mentioned that, I am curious, what was the horror concept? What was that version of Speed of Life that you thought it was going to be?

Liz Manashil: Your original scratch was about a woman who was going to be visited by a figure who was a little bit ominous. He was possibly the ghost of her widowed husband or something more nefarious. It was going to be a one location horror film about a woman in their seventies and eighties battling this figure psychologically and physically. I didn’t have the heart for it. I kept wanting to delve into relationship stuff. That horror film eroded and this other film appeared.

LRM Online: Excellent. I’m glad and appreciative that you came up with this version of Speed of Life. Thank you very much. I appreciate this conversation with you, Liz.

Liz Manashil: I’m happy anytime anyone even sees the movie. I am grateful and letting me explain the background data. It is like a real, rare opportunity is for me. Thank you for taking the time.

LRM Online: Not a problem. You could check off the box that I’ve seen your movie.

Liz Manashil: Woohoo! Thank you!

Speed of Life is currently available digitally on Apple TV, Prime Video, Breaker, Vudu, Google Play, and local cable.

Source: LRM Online Exclusive

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