We caught up with director Richard Raymond and co-writers Kate Trefry and Ben Bolea at the Tribeca Film Festival premiere of their short film “Souls of Totality,” which stars Tatiana Maslany and Tom Cullen.
The film is a love story set during the Great American Eclipse. Check out our red carpet interviews below:
The Knockturnal: How did the film come about?
Richard Raymond: It was a very organic process. I had done a feature film a few years back, and I found it really hard to get my second film off the ground and I realized the missing ingredient was actually I should be creating again, and my wife and I had a baby. Our nanny is from Oregon, and she said, hey guys, in eight weeks time – there’s gonna be a solar eclipse where I live, why don’t you come camping? And I’m friends with Ben Bolea and Kate Trefry who are husband and wife. They’re both writers. And they were like “Oh, we’re going up to see the eclipse. Let’s all go camping together!” Then Tatiana Maslany and Tom Cullen the actors, two actor friends of mine, they’d just moved to Los Angeles, we had dinner with them, and we told them, and they said: “Then we want to come camping!” And I had an epiphany. So, wow! I’ve got actors, writers, and I’m a director. Let’s make a film. And so we went to Oregon without a script to look for locations. I found a farm and a bus, and I told Ben and Kate about the locations. And I said, “Can we write something set during a real solar eclipse?” because I realized that had never been done in cinema before. And whatever the script was, it had to end with an uncut sequence set during the eclipse. And thank God for Ben and Kate and their creative wisdom, that they came up with the script for “Souls of Totality” fourteen days before we shot it! And off we went in cars and intents to Oregon, a whole bunch of incredible people, and the unsung heroes are the producers who put the whole team together, and somehow it worked out, and somehow we’re in Tribeca.
The Knockturnal: That’s amazing! What does it mean to you to be showing the film here? Is it the first place that it’s showing, or is it showing elsewhere?
Richard Raymond: It has shown in one other place before, but essentially I’ve lived in New York for five years, I’ve seen this festival from a distance, always dreaming. It’s the first time any of my work’s been at a major film festival. It’s a big deal to me and just to meet all the other filmmakers, and the caliber is very high. To meet all these wonderful people, it’s just fantastic.
The Knockturnal: And how was working with Tatiana and Tom?
Richard Raymond: I’d been bugging Tatiana to work with me for months! Tom, I’ve already worked with on my last film, and we’d all become friends. That’s how I got to know her. But I think it was just this idea of doing something in an uncut sequence. There would be no take two; it would be like theater.
The Knockturnal: The whole short is uncut?
Richard Raymond: No, just the end sequence. And for Tatiana, I think that really appealed to her. It would be a huge challenge, and all the pressure’s on her. And she gave such a wonderful performance, and they’re both very naturalistic actors, they’re always looking for the truth, and so for me as a director, you just want to give them as much space as possible in which to just to let the scene breathe. And as a real-life couple, Tom and Tat, they bring so much that’s unsaid, so much chemistry in their relationship into the scene, and that’s something that’s a real gift for a director.
The Knockturnal: And so what resonated with you about the story?
Richard Raymond: Well, that’s what actually resonated the most was the fact that if you take the eclipse out of the film, it’s such an incredible story, the story of a relationship, and what you don’t say, and how difficult it is in a relationship to actually say what you need to say. And set against the mythology that Ben and Kate have created of a cult that believe if you die in a solar eclipse, your spirit is taken through an astral gate to another dimension. And a decision that Tatiana’s character has to face. All these elements added up to a story that was really engaging and really powerful and something that we wanted to tell. I’m here with my wife Nousha Raymond. She produced the film with myself and John Trefry. Nousha raised all the money and made so much of it possible. It’s a film where without the hard work and the talent and dedication of people like Nousha and the whole team, there’s no way we’d be here today.
The Knockturnal: And what was the highlight of working on the project?
Nousha Raymond: Working with Richard and all of our friends was amazing, and then being able to actually witness the solar eclipse was beyond my wildest dreams. Afterwards, we were all kind of walking around in this strange fog and it was an amazing experience all around.
The Knockturnal: And what’s next for you guys?
Richard Raymond: Yes. I’m getting ready direct a feature film called One Thousand Paper Cranes that Ben Bolea also has written the screenplay for, and that’s based on the true story of Sadako Sasaki, the young girl in Hiroshima that survived the atomic bomb, but ten years later developed leukemia from the radiation poisoning. It’s the story of how she heard a myth that if you fold a thousand paper cranes, then the gods will grant a wish, and her wish was to get better. It’s the story of her and the Canadian author that discovered the story and turned it into a children’s book to inspire peace, a message of peace in all children of the world for years to come.
The Knockturnal: Are you shooting it in Japan and when do you start?
Richard Raymond: Yes. Hopefully, end of the year.
The Knockturnal: Tell me about writing this.
Ben Bolea: Richard wanted to make a film, and he had his friends Tat and Tom that were on board, and we really wanted to see the eclipse, and it was kind of from there, being like “how can you tell a story that’s as exciting as the phenomenon itself?”
The Knockturnal: So what was your collaborative process like?
Kate Trefry: Ben kind of came up with the logline for it, and we’ve never written together. We’re married, but we’ve never written anything together. This was the first time, so I kind of banged out a first draft, and we talked about a lot throughout, and then he did a pass, and it kind of went from there. And then we worked a lot with the actors, too, based on their relationship because they’re a couple in real life, so it was very cool. It was really fun. I’ve never written like that before.
The Knockturnal: How long is a script for a short? Is there a formula to that?
Kate Trefry: Fifteen pages, maybe?
Ben Bolea: Yeah, it was fifteen pages, and usually you think it’s going to be a page a minute, but I think if the whole script was in this, it would have been more like twenty-five minutes long. The pages were each really long, but it came out to fifteen.
The Knockturnal: And you got to go to the set as well?
Kate Trefry: Yeah, we were all extras, and it was kind of like a family production. I did qrt department. It was amazing. All our grips were extras, everybody did everything. It’s my favorite way to shoot anything.
The Knockturnal: And you’re also a writer on Stranger Things?
Kate Trefry: I am, yes.
The Knockturnal: How did you get involved in the show?
Kate Trefry: I was in Alaska and I got a call from the Duffer brothers, and I was not working, and I had never worked in TV. And I was really ready to leave Hollywood, and they pulled me back in. And it was crazy. Yeah, the show hadn’t premiered yet, I just had seen the trailer and thought it looked really cool, so I signed on kind of sight-unseen, and then it exploded from there. It was very intense.
The Knockturnal: Was that surreal for you, like what the feedback has been and what a phenomenon it is?
Kate Trefry: Yes! Yes, I would say it’s the most surreal. I don’t actually process it, because it’s impossible.
The Knockturnal: Have you watched all of it?
Kate Trefry: Yes.
The Knockturnal: And what’s like to see episodes that you co-wrote come to life?
Kate Trefry: It’s very gratifying, it’s very surprising. I love seeing something that is more than the sum of its parts, which I think this show really is. And it’s also really fun to write for actors, whose voices that you know really well, so that was kind of the cool thing about doing season three, which we’re just finishing writing right now.
The Knockturnal: What can fans expect from season 3?
Kate Trefry: Nothing. It takes place in the summer, that’s all I can say.
The Knockturnal: Now having worked with each other for the first time, will you do it again?
Kate Trefry: Yeah!
Ben Bolea: Yeah, living together and being workaholics, it’s like we should be sharing credit on pretty much everything we do non-Stranger Things. There’s enough writers on that. But yeah, I think that we’ll continue to keep this sort of relationship going, both the marriage and professionally.
The Knockturnal: The director was saying that he was bringing your next script Thousand Paper Cranes to life?
Ben Bolea: Souls of Totality took about two months to do. That’s been about five years, so I can’t really articulate how excited I am because it’ll be an entirely new experience for me to have something I’ve been working on that long finally be on screen. It’ll be wonderful.
The Knockturnal: And my last question to both of you is how did you get your start in writing for TV and film, and did you have an important mentor to help you break in?
Ben Bolea: I had no mentor other than professors at NYU. I was a Tisch kid and I was a screenwriting major, and I went to LA immediately after graduating, and that was kind of my start. No offense to anybody who might think they’re my mentor, but I personally don’t think I have one. I’d love one though, they sound great!
Kate Trefry: Yeah, I don’t think I really had a mentor, either. I was more like the Eminem model where I’m really driven by the haters, so that was kind of what motivated me. That’s just my style, so that’s kind of how I’ve done things.