An Interview with James Allen Smith

“Haskell” is a short currently on the festival circuit, having played Fantasia and HollyShorts, that deals with themes of time and how it affects people.

James, tell us a bit about what the inspiration was for Haskell and its time influenced story?
I’m a fan of Shane Carruth’s films, PRIMER and UPSTREAM COLOR as well as films like TIMECRIMES and ANOTHER EARTH which dive deep into sci-fi concepts using little or no special effects. When I set out to make my first short film last year, I wanted work within that space and I thought back to the early 2000’s when I had a short stint as a day trader. Day trading isn’t  investing by any stretch, it’s like playing a hyperactive video game — watching numbers jump around the screen and getting in and out of trades in a matter of seconds. I couldn’t help but think that if I were even a second or two ahead of everybody else, there’d be no limit to the amount of money I could make. When I set out to create the protagonist in HASKELL, I remembered that feeling and I began to explore what it might be like to exist in the space just ahead of everyone else. Sure there are advantages, but it would come with many problems too.

How did you find the cast who all work together so well here?
My background is in documentary, and I think I take that experience with me when I cast narrative films. I wanted the actors to own the character, and I knew a part of that process was to look within themselves and find things that they could attach the character. Everyone but the lead is Seattle-based, I had a fantastic experience working with Amy Rene Casting here in town and once we found the right people I went to work getting to know the actors figuring out how we could work together to make their character come to life. I remember having a 20-minute discussion with Kate Bayley (who plays the caregiver at the end), about what kind of music her character listened to and whether she rocked a walkman or a 1st gen iPod.

As for the lead actor, Mark Kelly,  a mutual friend connected us and I really enjoyed his previous work in a Duplass film and on MAD MEN so and I flew to LA to meet with him. We spent an entire day sitting on a porch swing in his backyard talking about Haskell, how I dug him up and how Mark could take that and own it for himself. I was a bit nervous on the first day of shooting because he hadn’t read a single line for me — but when I arrived on set and saw him hunched over the table in his wheelchair, flipping through the cards while mumbling to himself, I knew it was going to be perfect.

What does having the film play festivals such as Fantasia and HollyShorts mean to you and for your film?
I’m thankful for every festival that offers to play HASKELL, but getting the personal invitation from Mitch Davis at Fantasia did make me especially giddy. Being at festivals throws you into the mix of what a festival think is important right now and that allows you to share experiences and ideas with some brilliant and like-minded people. It’s wonderful to share your film with an audience and feel their reaction as they watch, that coupled with the friendship and camaraderie you build with other filmmakers inspires me to continue to create.

Overall in your career, what has inspired you, who have inspired you?
For me, I get inspiration from the people closest to me, so as corny as it sounds, I’d have to say my family and close friends. I am fortunate to be surrounded by incredibly talented filmmakers, writers, musicians, and visual artists. Seeing them churn out great stuff and having their constant support and encouragement to do the same makes me want to be the very best I can be.

Any genre of films you would like to explore in the future?
I’m really happy in the sci-fi space right now and feel I’m just beginning to find my voice. That said, I’m being hit with the urge to be a bit more whimsical, more out there… maybe even funny.

What do you have coming up for Haskell?
After playing Fantasia, we were hit with a number of invites to other festivals both in the US and abroad, so we’ll be talking more about that soon via our site and FB page. We’re also itching to get it online, so that should happen this Fall. We’re also working on expanding the story — there are a couple ideas floating around now, one includes expanding the story of Young Haskell’s teacher who also happens to have his ability.

Any future projects you can tell us about?
My writing and producing partner Nesib Shamah and I have a couple short films in the works which we plan to shoot by the end of the year. Once we’ve finished cutting our teeth there, we’ll begin work on a feature.

Any filmmakers you would like to put a spotlight on, who do you think we should look out for?
If you dig low-fi sci-fi like I do, keep an eye out for THE OPEN and ANIMALS. Also, I don’t care what anyone says about the final episode, THE OA on Netflix was wonderful and encouraging to see.

Thank you James!
Watch the trailer for Haskell here.