Tim has been making films since he saved his own money to buy a video camera in junior high. A graduate of Columbia College, he’s worked as a filmmaker for all of his professional life.
For several years, Tim has been pushing a dolly for the hit NBC television show Chicago PD. He never wastes an opportunity to apply the lessons he learns from working on larger sets to his own independent film-making.
A committed nerd, Tim loves to use genre elements to explore stories that deal with the most basic human emotions such as love, obsession, and ambition. All of his films have won awards.
Tim lives in Chicago with his exceedingly patient wife, his two children, and crazy little monster Jack Russell terrier.
Q & A
If the world you created in your film became a reality, is that a world you would want to live in? Is there a Sci-Fi world you’d buy a one-way ticket to?
It’s an interesting question to think about “Empty” becoming a reality, because I don’t think it’s actually that far off. We conceived the look of the film and the technology in it to feel like it was augmenting the world we actually live in right now, partially for budget reasons, but mostly because I felt it would help audiences connect with the story. The world we’re envisioning in Empty is only really a major breakthrough or two away. When you realize that the iPhone and Facebook are barely 10 years old, it becomes much easier to imagine technology reaching the point its at in Empty in only a few decades, and a lot of things still looking very recognizable.
Name a Sci-Fi character you relate to on a spiritual level? Who is your Sci-Fi spirit animal/spirit alien?
Ellie Arroway from Contact is a character I really admire. I think the way she approached the world and science was really the right mix. Wonder at what we don’t know combined with a healthy scientific skepticism. As far as science fiction that spiritually affected me… I have to go with Arrival. (Spoilers) The underlying theme of choosing to experience something unimaginably difficult because the limited time you will have with a person is that much more valuable to you, and making that decision freely and happily… it’s a beautiful idea that verges on sublime, and I can tear up just thinking about it.
Friend or Foe: humanoid robots with advanced artificial intelligence? What if robots start making their own Sci-Fi films? Will you support them in their endeavors?
Anything with a consciousness of its own is never going to be just friend or foe. Isaac Asimov showed there’s always ways around any programming you put into a robot. So if we succeed in making a robot that can truly think for itself, we’re going to have to learn how to live together. I think that any being capable of self-reflection similar to humans is capable of making art. It’s through self-reflection and self-expression that a species learns about itself and is able to progress, so it would be tremendously immoral not to support that kind of self-expression.
In 1996, Bugs Bunny recruited Michael Jordan and Bill Murray to form the greatest basketball squad of all-time, the Tune Squad; you’re Bugs, who’s on your Sci-Fi Tune Squad?
Captain Picard for his calm demeanor. Han Solo for his courage. Ellen Ripley for her ingenuity and spot-on moral compass. The Doctor from Doctor Who, because they always have the answer. And Godzilla, because sometimes you just need something smashed real good.
You’ve gotta go through some bad ideas to get to the good ones. Tell us one of your bad ideas. How do you get past the bad ones to find your spark?
I reject the concept that there are “bad” ideas. There’s definitely ideas that work, weren’t thought out enough, or weren’t executed as well as they could have been (sometimes all three). I often go back and look at my own ideas to see if there’s concepts that can be recycled or incorporated into other projects, and more often than not, it jumpstarts other ideas. Creativity is its own catalyst; the more often you create, the easier it is to stay in that mindset and the better your results will be.
Do you consider yourself part of a sci-fi community? Or when your brain is in the future and your body’s in the present, is that isolating?
I’m a nerd going back pretty much as far as I can remember. But I’ve been very lucky in my life to never really feel like that was isolating, because most of my peers at school and beyond were into the same kinds of things. We’re really living in a wonderful time where genre stories are being embraced by the mainstream. Comic book movies are the biggest box office winners of all time. Horror films and monster movies are getting Oscar nominations (and wins!). Science fiction and fantasy are more nuanced than ever before, and they’re often the most popular shows on television. TL;Dr it’s basically a great time to be a genre fan, and easier than ever to find people that are into the same things you are.
Do you consider yourself more of an analog or digital person? What kind of balance do strike between the two? Is there a disconnect between the technology you make films about and the technology that you make films with?
I’ve been called an old soul, so I definitely have an affinity for analog. I certainly rely on technology, just like everyone else. The only way I could be more attached to my phone would be for it to be surgically grafted on, ha ha. But at the same time, I vastly prefer watching movies in theaters (on film, whenever possible), and I won’t read a book digitally unless that’s the only way it’s available. I think there’s definitely a connection between the tactile sense of holding a book or seeing the flicker of a film projector that makes the experience more memorable, more involving. Having more than a little bit of interest in horror as well as science-fiction, my sci-fi films tend to veer towards the cautionary tales. I tend to explore how technology can do us harm. My previous film “Abi” (also available on DUST) went even more towards horror and even deeper in exploring the dangers that technology can pose, so I think it’s definitely a recurring theme in my work.
When you’re creating the props and sets that make a new world, where do you look for inspiration? How do you create objects that are relatable but unfamiliar?
For “Empty” we really tried to keep the new technology recognizable, so we strove to use technology that was very recognizable from modern day. Even when we included some kind of tech we don’t have now, like the hologram that opens the film, we made sure the hologram generator would blend into any modern set dressing. I will cop to, shall we say “borrowing”, the idea of the blue goo for the robot blood from Alien, though.
Lightning round: Star Wars or Star Trek? Philip K. Dick or William S. Burroughs? Practical or CGI? Dystopia or Utopia? Post Apocalypse or Pre Apocalypse?
Star Wars. I enjoy Star Trek, but Star Wars was my first real love in cinema. Phillip K. Dick, because (terrible admission time) I have not yet read any William S. Burroughs. But I suspect PKD would be my answer regardless. The terrible cynicism and paranoia of his style makes for very suspenseful stories. Dystopia. Utopias are great places to live, but they’re boring places to read stories about. Practical. I firmly believe that working with practical effects provides nothing but value to a film. Actors are more in the moment, the audience believes it more, and it forces constraints on filmmakers, which actually leads to more creative filmmaking. CGI has its uses, especially in helping things get done safely. But because CGI makes literally anything possible, it becomes all too tempting to skip out on the fundamentals of story and character in favor of spectacle. I’d love to see a post-apocalypse story of rebuilding civilization. Everyone is always focused on the everyone-for-themselves Walking Dead world, but I think there’s great potential in telling the story of how people might differ in rebuilding the world after disaster. Something like the drafting of the Constitution or the rebuilding of Chicago after the Great Fire… only after the bombs fell or the zombies have all been fought off, or something like that.