Review Fix chats with “Souls of Totality” director Richard Raymond, who discusses the film and the impact he’d like it to have on audiences.
About the Director:
Director Richard Raymond started his career at Pinewood Studios when he was 15 years old, establishing himself as a regular face there while interning on a variety of movies such as Neil Jordan’s Interview With The Vampire and Luc Besson’s The Fifth Element. Raymond applied what he’d learned at Pinewood to his own films, working with the crews and their equipment on weekends. In 2015 Richard’s debut film Desert Dancer opened the 30th anniversary Santa Barbara International Film Festival and screened at Lincoln Center, the United States Capitol, the United Nations and the Edinburgh International Film Festival, where it was the runner-up for the Audience Award. In addition, Desert Dancer won Best Film Choreography at The Fred and Adele Astaire Awards and was nominated for the Golden Frog at Camerimage.
Review Fix: How did you get involved with this project?
Richard Raymond: Souls of Totality is about the sacrifices we make for love and the intensity of a looming moment that can change everything. As a director I was really interested in capturing a never repeatable, cant turn back event that forces a person to find the most real, honest part of them self to help determine how they will handle it. The initial inspiration came from the real life Heaven’s Gate cult, whose members believed that the Hale-Bopp comet was the harbinger of an interstellar UFO that would transport them safely to a higher plain of existence. Most of the followers — 39 members — died of poisoning in a mass suicide in early 1997. They believed they had to commit suicide to leave this life and reach the spaceship. And I really connected to that notion posed at the end — what if a cults outlandish and crazy beliefs were actually real?
Review Fix: What inspired this film?
Raymond: The film came about in a very organic way. Last summer there was a lot of excitement about what was dubbed the “Great American Eclipse”, the first total solar eclipse in 100 years visible in America from coast to coast. Millions of people from all over the world had booked out every flight and hotel available in or near the path of totality so we more or less lost hope that we’d get a chance to go and experience it. But then our baby sitter (Makenna Tague) mentioned she was from Oregon and that we could camp at her family house, where we would be right in the path of totality. We told our friends, Kate Trefry and Ben Bolea, (who are writers) and they jumped at the chance to travel with us. A week later we had a dinner with two actors, Tatiana Maslany and Tom Cullen — we mentioned the trip and they also wanted to come see the eclipse. I had an suddenly had an epiphany. Actors, writers and I’m a director…. we should make a film! The problem was it was now only about 4 weeks to go until the eclipse — we had no script, no money and no equipment or crew, I’d never shot in America before — we were at the mercy of a impending deadline set by the universe. So the next day my wife, Nousha, and I flew up to Oregon to meet her father, Mike. He drove us around and introduced us to his friends who are farmers — that’s how we found the main location! The people of central Oregon are some of the most generous people I’ve ever been blessed to meet. Their support was essential to making this film come to life. I took photos of the locations sent them to the writers and – bless their creative wisdom – two weeks before the eclipse they handed me “Souls of Totality.” So the journey to “Souls of Totality” was paved with this crazy last minute idea to make a film shot during a solar eclipse. But as Ben and Kate’s script was born everything changed. Their incredible story, like a magnet, pulled together a group of passionate, like minded, like-hearted souls. In doing so the eclipse became a foot note to a story I had to tell.
Review Fix: What attracted you to it the most?
Raymond: Just the desire to create again. After my first film, Desert Dancer, I struggled a bit. I was so proud of the cast on that film, they worked so hard – but I felt that I personally hadn’t found my voice. Since I made that film lots had changed in my life. I’d become a father and I had felt this big emotional shift in my core being. I wanted to see how that would effect me as an artist. And of course it changed everything.
Review Fix: What have you learned from it?
Raymond: To trust my instincts on the day. Normally there’s so much planning involved before the shoot day, but on this we just didn’t have time. So I had to rely on my first creative instincts as we got onto set. It was very freeing in a way. Everything felt more honest.
Review Fix: What was the feeling like on set?
Raymond: It was a collaborative, family-like process. I’ve always felt that if you cast & crew a film with really smart, diverse, talented and passionate people – who challenge you creatively and suggest great ideas – then you can’t really go wrong. The director has to have a clear vision of what they want to say and how they want to say it – but the truth is we’re all standing on the shoulders of those who are so talented in their respective fields! I love getting the best out of people so they feel ownership and pride on what they do. The accomplishment was something we felt together — When I called cut on the last eclipse scene the cast and crew were overcome by the alchemy of what we’d just all been a part of. It was a real family made film – among us were six married couples, four sets of siblings, and three complete family units, who’d all spent a week sleeping in tents, cooking, cleaning, & working 18 hour days together — that eclipse scene summed up what was such a profound and beautiful experience for everyone involved. Something that none of us would ever forget.
Review Fix: How did this film affect you?
Raymond: It’s completely changed my career. But more importantly it changed the way I want to make films. I want to keep that instinctual approach to my next projects.
Review Fix: How do you want people to be affected by this film?
Raymond: I think and hope audiences will just be swept away by the actors. Tat and Tom are not just a pair of incredible actors but they’re also a real life couple – there’s so much between them that is unspoken — and there’s a comfortability between them, that conveys so much to the audience without words, that you just don’t get on screen with other actors who are strangers before rehearsals. It’s a real joy to watch them just play and bring a scene to life. One of my concerns in making this was that doomsday cults would seem bizarre to any sane mind. So I wanted the scenes to play out in the vernacular, as though the characters were just ordinary people on an extraordinary last day. They both shared desire to approach the film in a very authentic and naturalistic manner, within long single takes that would give room for improvisation. I wanted this to feel authentic and unvarnished. For the audience to never question their convictions.
Review Fix: Who will appreciate this film the most?
Raymond: Probably my dad. He’s my biggest fan. My mum’s not far behind him!
Review Fix: Why should people see Souls of Totality?
Raymond: Because it was made by multiples couples in love, working to seize a never repeatable moment and replying on their authentic partnerships to help see it though. I do really think this is felt in the movie.
Review Fix: How would you like it to be remembered?
Raymond: As a love story. In Souls of Totality, the eclipse is set against this desperate race to save the life of the one you love. The story also shows two people abandoning all expectations of love. Tom’s character abandons the expectation to follow the group into the promise-land and Tatiana’s character, abandons the expectation to continue the mission for the group. All things bigger than themselves, all expectations placed on them. But their love was stronger and they abandoned those expectations to be together. Love has a funny way of making you not care about the things that otherwise should be important.
Review Fix: What’s next?
Raymond: Souls of Totality has opened up some amazing doors for me. I’m really excited for what’s going to come next. Watch this space!
Review Fix: What else would you like to add?
Raymond: Watch it on the biggest screen you can find and turn the lights