“Closer to God” is a new twist on the classic “Frankenstein” tale with the addition of cloning. Director/producer Billy Senese elaborated more on making of the film in a recent press interview.

Senese stated that the film drew from his love of Mary Shelley’s iconic novel. “[‘Frankenstein’] was a big book for me when I was young, and I love the James Whale movies from the 1930s, “Frankenstein” and “Bride of Frankenstein.” I always wanted to do my own interpretation of this story, kind of reinvent those same ideas and themes into a modern reality, one that we might actually face in our lifetime,” he said. “So about 6 months before I started writing this project, I had the book down from the shelf and resting on my nightstand, perhaps I was re-reading it, I don’t remember. Anyway, I saw it sitting there one night and it hit me – yes! That’s what I’m doing next.”

He called the film “less of a homage [to ‘Frankenstein’] and more of a straight up modern day interpretation of it.” One of the things that intrigued Senese about the book was Dr. Frankenstein’s inability to foretell how bad of a decision it would be to defy nature. “One of the things that interested me the most about the Frankenstein narrative is the compulsion and blind ambition it took for Dr. Frankenstein to create something so big and treacherous. If you think about it, he had to put blinders on – if he didn’t, he would be so horrified by all the possible outcomes that he would never act. In both the book and in my movie, there are these great moments when those blinders come off… and only then is he able to see what he’s done,” he said. “However, my story, unlike in ‘Frankenstein,’ starts with his creation already being achieved in the first few minutes of the film. So right from the very beginning, the audience watches these outcomes (consequences) start to slowly rollout. They feel that something bad is developing. And then they spend the rest of the film in suspense, waiting for it to happen. My editor, Jonathan Rogers, and I talked a lot about making the film a real pressure cooker – a suspenseful 80-90 minute ride. Based on a lot of the reactions so far from the festival audiences, I think we were able to deliver that intent.”

The characterization in “Closer to God” intentionally keeps characters in a grey zone, as it were. “I did not want to make anyone outright bad or good. That can get one-dimensional, and I wanted a more complicated story,” he said. “And I didn’t want to make cloning good or bad, either. I didn’t want to come down strong on either side of the argument, because I felt that the film would get heavy-handed pretty quick. I was way more interested in making a movie about the inevitability of progress and the inevitability of the possible consequences of that progress. In my film, the lead character, Dr. Victor Reed, gives a speech, and he says, “It’s not a matter of whether we go down this path, because we are. It’s how we meet this future.” In my research, I ran across a really great TED talk from a geneticist, and he said something that really stuck with me. He said, “Make no mistake, if it can be done, it will be done.”

Jeremy Childs plays the lead character, Victor. Senese said that his working relationship with Childs goes way back. “We started working together on one of my radio plays, called ‘Flu.’ And from there, I cast him as the lead in my short film, ‘The Suicide Tapes.’ So when I was writing the script, I always had him in mind for the lead. I think he was perfect for this role,” he said. “Jeremy is an extremely talented, perceptive, and hard-working actor. He’s completely committed to his craft. And he’s the type of actor who’s going to do his homework and come to rehearsal and the set prepared, with good solid choices already lined up. We’ve gotten to be close friends over the last few years, which has been great. Jeremy’s a working actor here in Nashville – he stays busy with ABC’s “Nashville,” along with various stage, TV, and film projects.”

“Closer to God is coming to theaters, something not many indie films can say. While most go to VOD or DVD, the theatrical victory of sorts isn’t lost on Senese. “[I]t’s such an amazing feeling, and it’s a great and welcome surprise,” he said. “In this day and age, like you said, it’s hard to get to this level in indie filmmaking. Especially with a film like mine. I mean, it was not an easy sell to potential buyers. We have no big stars in it, and the genre doesn’t fall neatly into one category. It’s a sci-fi/drama/horror/thriller all wrapped up together. But what we did have was a good movie.”

He reiterated his statement about independent filmmaking, saying, “I did not have a nice big comfy Hollywood machine behind me helping me make this movie. We barely got this film made – it was a real struggle. A very rewarding one, but still a struggle. And we don’t have a huge media buy to get the word out there about it. So please, if you like the film, let other people know about it – spread the word! You will be supporting independent artists trying to make a go of it.”

Senese is working on a new film, “another suspense film,” he said, and it’ll be in the works next year. Until then, you can see “Closer to God” when it comes to select theaters and VOD July 3.

Closer to God-Breaking Glass Pictures

By Monique Jones

Monique Jones blogs about race and culture in entertainment, particularly movies and television. You can read her articles at Racialicious, and her new site, COLOR . You can also listen to her new podcast, What would Monique Say.

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