Highlighting the heroic journey of a group of outcasts and rebels as they travel through space in an effort to save the galaxy has proven to be a success in the sci-fi movie genre. Versatile filmmaker, Andrew Bowen, is powerfully proving how the ‘Star Wars’ franchise has influenced him with his latest venture, ‘The 716th.’ Making his short directorial and editing debuts on, and also writing, producing and starring in, the movie, which was also produced in part by The Rogue Initiative, Bowen paid significant attention to detail in the design of the misfit space adventure.
‘The 716th’ follows the last human combat medics, who have become underfunded and unappreciated during a decades-long galactic war. As a result of their mistreatment, they have stopped following orders during many situations. So when Doc (Bowen) and Asher (John Asher) discover that command has abandoned a pair of injured soldiers, Scout and Teer (Lauren McFall and Taj Speights), on an alien planet, they concoct a risky and unauthorized plan to save them. The heroic but poorly conceived rescue doesn’t go quite the way they hoped, which sends Doc and the soldiers on a wild and unexpected ride.
The action-driven ‘The 716th’ is set to have its World Premiere during the Shorts section at this month’s Tribeca Film Festival in New York City. The comedy drama is set to premiere tonigh at 10pm at Regal Battery Park, theater 11. Other screenings dates to follow at the festival include this Tuesday, April 24 at 8:30pm at Regal Battery Park, theater 4; next Friday, April 27 at 9:45pm at Cinepolis Chelsea, theater 2; and Saturday, April 28 at 9:30pm at Cinepolis Chelsea, theater 8. The movie’s screenings will be included in the Shorts: Into the Void program.
Bowen generously took the time recently to talk about writing, directing, producing, starring in and editing ‘The 716th’ during an exclusive phone interview. Among other things, the filmmaker discussed that he decided to pen, helm and produce a short, independent thriller, because he would be able to create practical special effects and a smaller, contained set that allows him to show his passion for the sci-fi genre. He also expressed his appreciation for the dedicated support and work of the cast and crew, and how he’s thankful that the movie will be premiering for enthusiastic film audiences at the Tribeca Film Festival.
The conversation began with Bowen explaining where the inspiration for the screenplay for ‘The 716th’ came from. “About two years ago, I realized that I wanted to start focusing more on working behind the camera. I had been working on a script for almost a decade. As I was writing it, I realized that I needed to make a more current film, or even a director’s reel,” the scribe shared. “That way I would be able to work with the (special) effects. It was really important to me to learn that basic language for the kind of movies that I want to make.”
Bowen added that one of his friends “had mentioned that he wanted to make a sci-fi film, and he was asking if anyone wanted to help him. I said I would help. I then started thinking about what type of film that I could create like that, and what I had access to. When you’re making a science-fiction film, especially one that’s effects heavy, it’s super expensive. So that’s why you often times can’t get something off the ground,” the filmmaker explained. “So I was trying to come up with an original idea. I thought about what I had access to, and started to build the story around that.”
The writer then remembered that “A friend of mine, Matthew Gratzner, who works for New Deal Studios, had built a set about a year earlier for a proof of concept. It had a really cool cockpit, and it was really small. I thought, Matt would let me borrow it if I asked him.”
Since the cockpit was small, “I knew I could only fit two people inside. But I thought it would be cool if I stacked people on top of each other, and took them out of their comfort zone,” Bowen shared.
“I then got this image in my head of this combat medic who goes rogue, and breaks the rules, in order to save a combat soldier in the future. It dawned on me that no one had ever really done that before; there’s never been a movie that focuses on the medical side of science-fiction,” the filmmaker pointed out.
So the idea for ‘The 716th’ “just sprung from there. I spent eight hours writing the script, and drew 17 pages of storyboards. Since I would be shooting inside of the shuttle, I could avoid doing a lot of the effects shots outside of it,” Bowen divulged. “It was great, because it allowed me to have the characters be what drive the narrative.”
Following up on the process of creating the location and effects for the sci-fi short, the filmmaker shared that “Another friend of mine, Jonathan Alvord, served as the VFX supervisor, and was also one of the producers. Since this was my learning experience, John gave me as much advice as possible. I realized that creating the effects practically was really the way to go.”
Bowen also noted that “We worked really closely with my cinematographer, Ray Huang, during pre-production. Joseph Lawson, our amazing VFX designer, created the ships holographic monitors before we even got to the set. So Ray brought in LED sensors to bounce off the actors’ faces to match the monitors color scheme. That really helped us in post (production); since we already had the illumination on their faces, when we added the monitors digitally, the effects just looked seamless.”
The filmmaker then delved into the process of also serving as one of the producers on ‘The 716th.’ “Having a bigger budget is a massive luxury, and I hope that one day I have the privilege to (work on a larger production). But for me on this project, the approach really was to figure out how much I could do on my own, and hope that people would come in and help after the fact,” Bowen explained.
The producer also shared with a laugh that “I spent a whole weekend designing the movie around the set that my friend had. I then called him on Monday morning, and he said, ‘We trashed that a week ago.’ So I was like, Oh great, now I have to build that.”
There was a massive amount of work that Bowen had to do as a producer on the set. “If something needed to be done, I had to get in there and do it. When we were on set, people would come and help, and they would see me doing things like painting the set and doing props, while also doing everything else,” he added with a laugh.
“I had to work as the director and producer to get things done on the set…But ultimately, making a movie is a collaborative process, and I was lucky to have everyone else around me. Independent filmmaking is just problem solving, and there’s something to be said about just diving in and getting the work done, instead of just standing around and figuring out how to get it done,” the producer emphasized.
“We’d say, ‘Okay, let’s get some wood and start building the set.’ We then had people donating the wood, and offering access to places to build the set,” Bowen revealed. “People really came in and helped get things done, which helped get the production together.”
The filmmaker also noted that he appreciated the experience of working with The Rogue Initiative’s Cathy Twigg and Pete Blumel, who were brought onboard as executive producers after the film was completed. The duo generously provided quotes about their experience of working with ‘Bowen’ on ‘The 716th.’
“Collaborating with a director as innovative and driven as Andrew Bowen is a rare and exciting experience. We look forward to continue championing rising talent in the tech and entertainment universe here at The Rogue Initiative,” noted Twigg, who serves as the company’s Chief Production Officer.
Blumel, who serves as the CEO and Creative Director of The Rogue Initiative, also commented that “We’re proud to be working with Andrew Bowen and the incredibly talented individuals that brought ‘The 716th’ to reality. Andrew’s amazing vision, endless energy and keen filmmaking instinct have all come together to create an absolutely fun and fantastic science fiction world that’s begging to be explored!”
Further speaking about the directorial process, which Bowen initially mentioned earlier, the filmmaker then explained what his process of balancing his producing and helming duties on the set of ‘The 716th.’ He shared with a laugh that “I’m one of those people who are most comfortable when they’re multi-tasking. I took a practical approach to directing and producing; when you don’t have the luxury of having all of these extra elements, you have to put on multiple hats to get things done.”
The director added that he feels “incredibly lucky to be able to make this film. I had wanted to make a sci-fi project since I was a little kid. So the exhaustion that arose from carrying around tables on the set, so that people would have a place to sit while they were eating lunch, was a minor detail in the overall scheme of making the movie.”
Bowen added that it was helpful to him that he was “very in sync in my DP (Director of Photography), as well as Jenn Page, who was a producer and my first AD (Assistant Director). Having storyboarded the film also helped the crew, too, because they were able to see where their shots were.”
In addition to discussing the writing, directing and producing processes on ‘The 716th,’ the filmmaker also spoke about why he decided to also star in the movie as Doc, and what the casting process was like for his co-stars. “I think it’s impossible for me to create a world, especially in science-fiction, and not also play in it. I also don’t know any of the Ryans or Chrises to ask to be in the film, so I had to cast myself out of necessity,” Bowen added with a laugh. “Acting is also something I’ve done for a long time.”
The casting process for the rest of the actors “really just came down to finding people who could bring these characters to life. I didn’t even audition anyone. I met Taj Speights doing an episode of ‘NCIS.’ He was talking about watching Paul Newman movies, and I thought, this kid’s watching Paul Newman films! He’s also super funny, and I thought he has great energy,” the helmer shared.
Casting the role of Scout “was really tough for me, because I needed someone who people would believe could kick people’s ass and have drinks with the boys, while also being really feminine,” Bowen explained. “So I sat down with Lauren (McFall) for lunch, because I had known her through a friend. She identified with the character, and we talked about the character’s backstory. She had that presence to her, and I felt that she could bring the character to life on screen, and she did.
“As far as John Asher, who played Ash-and yes, we named the character after John-I felt it would be important for Doc and Ash to have a shorthand together,” the filmmaker divulged. “That way, you would get that they have a history together. I have been friends with John for years, and he’s actually a really phenomenal director himself. He’s cast me in about five or six of the movies that he’s made. So I thought, if I’m making one, I have to put him in mine! He’s also a phenomenal actor in his own right, and is very funny.
“The whole cast is actually funny. It’s important to me to cast actors who understand comedy, because even when they’re doing dramatic stuff, having the humor sensibility behind it helps raise the material,” Bowen admitted. “I’m happy that you know that these guys knew each other, and have that history. I’m lucky that the actors agreed to” be in the short film.
Once the principal photography on ‘The 716th’ was completed, Bowen went on to edit the movie with Eric Won, who served as the supervising film editor. The director-producer went on to discuss what the process of editing the film was like. Won is also a helmer, as well as good friend of Bowen’s. “So I went to him early on in the process, and asked, ‘Would you be willing to edit this for me?’ He said absolutely. So I sent the dailies to him, and he looked over them for me.”
Once the true editing process began, “we sat down together, and I said, ‘Let’s cut this line.’ I didn’t intend to edit the short myself. But after about an hour, I stopped and said, ‘Let me take this home, and become really clear on what the end vision is on this. I’ll put a cut together first of what I think this should really be, and then I’ll sit down with you,'” Bowen revealed.
Once the first edit of the movie was completed, Bowen was able to use Won’s “instincts as a director and editor to look at it…A lot of times as a director, you’re very close to the material, and there are obvious cuts that you’re going to miss,” the filmmaker admitted. “Eric said, ‘I really dig it,’ but suggested that maybe I move a couple of frames. So it was great to have his input on the material, so that we could have the best narrative…The people you surround yourself with determine the success you have. I was lucky to be surrounded by smart and talented people.”
With ‘The 716th’ set to premiere at the Tribeca Film Festival tonight, Bowen cherishes the experience of being able to share the sci-fi short with audiences in New York. “It’s mind-blowingly awesome! When I started developing the project, I didn’t really think that it would be festival-friendly,” the director revealed with a laugh. But when Sharon (Badal, the vice president of filmmaker relations and shorts programming for the festival) called and let me know they dug the movie, and were going to include it at the festival, it was amazing,” the producer shared.
“For me, it’s a massive gift to tell the rest of the cast and crew that we were accepted. We’re happy to be able to start the process of showing the short to audiences at one of the premier film festivals in the world. I feel honored and extremely lucky” that the short was accepted at the Tribeca Film Festival, Bowen enthusiastically gushed. “I lived in New York, and New York City filmmakers and audiences are really savvy. So to be able to premiere the short to that crowd is really awesome. There’s no other place that I can image this film start its journey than in New York at Tribeca.”