An interview with Dylan Hoang | Immortality of the Conscious Mind | VMA19 BEST INDIE FEATURE | October Edition
Immortality of the Conscious Mind, a four-time award-winning sci-fi film at the October edition of the Vegas Movie Awards, is the story of a group of young and eager minds who make a revolutionary discovery when they open a doorway into an Infinitum of alternate realities.
Dylan Hoang is the writer, director, and producer of this really interesting indie feature, as well as the main character in the film, Timothee Grayson, a bright and optimistic student who falls in love with the woman of his dreams, forced to leave his perfect life to travel through an ocean of realities to save his loved ones. Here is the interview with Dylan about the astonishing work and passion behind Immortality of the Conscious Mind.
• Hello Dylan, thanks for being part of the Vegas Movie Awards with your award-winning film. Immortality Of The Conscious Mind is a very ambitious project, which clearly shows your passion for telling unique stories in a non-linear and full of twists way. When did you first discover the love for filmmaking and visual storytelling?
Thank you for having me. I would say I first fell in love with film with animation. I have a very fond memory of a majority of the earlier Pixars. Those films started my interest in animation but it wasn’t until Nolan’s Inception that I really started to focus on live-action filmmaking. I feel like a lot of people from my generation point to that movie as the one that inspired them to pick up a camera, and for good reason. It’s basically our 2001, in the sense that it took film in such a wild and unusual direction that I couldn’t help but dive deeper into how it was made. The further I went, the more fascinated I got with each aspect that I just found myself more inclined to do it myself. To me, film is a marriage of storytelling and technology and when both are executed on a masterful level, the spark is pure wonder. I find the challenge of finding that spark extremely fun, especially with the type of stories I enjoy telling.
• Which books, theories, or films, have most influenced your artistic vision?
I’m a sci-fi buff, hence why this movie leans so heavily towards that genre. But I didn’t want to lose sight of the humanity; so I tried to focus on movies that didn’t really bind themselves within that restraint. To me, this movie definitely has hints of Interstellar but also Malick’s The Thin Red Line and The Tree of Life. A war movie and a fantasy movie, respectively, but with strong emphases on drama. I mainly focused on how Malick formed his characters and their situations within the overencompassing, grander backdrops. The Thin Red Line is about World War II but through portraits of marriage and psychological trauma. The Tree of Life is about, well, life, but through the eyes of innocence and its transformation into adulthood. Those films painted a guideline for me in how to navigate the more intimate story points within the larger canvas.
In terms of theories, the movie’s entire premise revolves around Hugh Everett’s Many Worlds Theory, which, in essence states that for every action there is an infinite amount of outcomes. Every action branches out into a multitude of possibilities. His book, “The Many Worlds of Hugh Everett III”, is actually featured in the film. Unfortunately, his theories were dismissed by many of his colleagues; but you must admit, it’s a very fascinating idea to explore, especially in a visual language.
To me, film is a marriage of storytelling and technology and when both are executed on a masterful level, the spark is pure wonder.
• With Immortality Of The Conscious Mind, you managed to weave together the intimacy of human relationships and the exploration of space and its infinite potential. From a writing point of view, how difficult was it to merge together two such powerful and complex subjects?
I knew early on that I wanted the movie to focus more on the characters and their struggles than space itself. I knew my financial limitations when I wrote the script and even more so during production. But I feel like this gave me an advantage because there’s no way anyone would buy into the journey the character ultimately take unless they understood their motives. When I first conceived of Immortality of the Conscious Mind (IOTCM as we very quickly began to call it), I knew I wanted to explore the multiverse. The challenge was how it would be introduced and why anyone would want to step foot into it in the first place. Those questions led me to focusing on the characters and their relationships more than anything else. Conceptually it feels very extroverted but on paper it’s incredibly intimate.
Writing the script wasn’t the most difficult process when it came to merging such juxtaposed subjects, it was the post production that was. I wrote the script in a way that the first half is your typical drama and the second half is when it goes all for the sci-fi. Making that jump in the edit proved harder than anticipated, but eventually we got the pacing to a point that felt comfortable. What was important to us was that we never lost sight of what was established in the first act. This is, first and foremost, a story about humanity and our struggles. There’s even a point in the film where a character reacts quite violently and an action scene ensues, but at the end of it all he takes a second and has to calm down, reminding himself why he’s here. Space is just a backdrop, a tool for the characters. • What is the meaning of the title and how did you come up with it?
I can’t remember how I came up with it, honestly. Plenty of people have pointed out its similarity to “Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind”, just the way that it sounds, but even that didn’t inspire the title.
It means that so long as you are alive, you are forever. Since we’re playing with infinite possibilties, if you are and ever were, you will remain that way. You might die in one reality but you’ll continue to exist in a plethora of others. It also has a cathartic meaning to me and I feel like the title describes some of the characters and where they end up at the resolution.
My hope though, is that people interpret both the film and its title in their own way. I obviously have my own interpretations but I prefer to not influence how others would view it. After screening it to several friends, all have had varied take-aways and that’s the best feeling in the world.
• Your film keeps the viewer glued to the screen with an unexpected dramatic turn of events, managing to make people feel the very frustration of the infinite possible realities. A ‘never-ending story’ that absorbs the main character’s energy, like a black hole. What was the most challenging thing in the making of your film?
The most challenging thing was, again, just retaining the human spirit throughout the film. My fear is that people will walk into this film thinking sci-fi and expecting crazy explosions and visual extravaganza but that’s not what this is. So, in order to keep them glued, we really had to make sure that the main conflict at hand was relatable and entertaining. That way, when we finally get to the unexpected dramatic turn of events, everyone is locked in and ready to go.
Another main challenge was the non-linear approach. The film juggle multiple storylines, some told backwards, some told forwards, and some told years apart, all within the context that they are alternate realities. Finding that rhythm was difficult but there’s a point when everything collides.
• In your opinion, what are the advantages of the in-camera shooting, and why do you prefer this particular approach when filming?
I don’t have anything against visual effects, I think they’re a fundamental tool in filmmaking depending on the story you’re trying to tell. There are definitely scenes and shots in IOTCM that wouldn’t have been possible without visual effects and CGI enhancements. But if there was the slightest possibility that we could do it for real, that was the way to go. Shooting practically just radiates tangibility. When I watch movies and something jumps out as fake, I am immediately sucked out. That is not what I wanted, especially considering how important it is to buy into the story. There is a scene where two characters are driving through a heavy, chaotic rainstorm. Even if I had the budget, I probably would have opted out on using a tank and “creating” rain. This scene took nearly three weeks to shoot even though it runs at less than five minutes because we were just waiting for days when it would rain. It took several days to get all of the exterior shots and more for interior coverage. But being in the environment, feeling the skid of the tires and the wind against the vehicles added to the overall feel.
Shooting practically is also more beneficial for the actors. We’re able to react to everything in real time and understand exactly what’s going on. This goes for the action set pieces but also the smaller, quieter moments. Every insert, down to a close-up of an object being picked up, needed to feel real. Every moment of a film depends on the authenticity of its execution. Once someone notices a hiccup or feels that something is off, they’ll more than likely be ready to scrutinize the rest of the runtime for something that jumps out. Our job is the reel them in and make them feel as if they’re on this ride with the characters. Every stunt, shot and effect plays a part in this.
• In addition to being the writer, director, and producer of Immortality Of The Conscious Mind, you also play the part of the main character, Timothee. Of all these roles, which one have you enjoyed the most?
I honestly think I enjoyed playing Timothee the most. When I wrote him, I didn’t see myself in him at all even though I knew that I was going to eventually play him. He’s incredibly optimistic, something I’m not, at least not on the level that he is. But while playing him, I managed to detach myself from that writer’s mindset and in a way, I felt like I was discovering him as I went on. Also, there’s something magical about acting alongside other actors as a character you wrote while everyone speaks the lines you put on paper, it’s an outer-body experience.
However, as the director I had the privilege of overseeing every single step till fruition. Being able to guide Miguel Leyva (composer) and watch him visualize the story musically was an incredible experience. Watching Josh Lizak (director of photography) find the visual aesthetic of my vision was also a great experience. In a way, being the director and an actor taught me about the collaborative nature in filmmaking in ways I wouldn’t have expected. One second I was behind camera determining the best way to block a scene with Josh and another I was walking through the character’s motivations with the actors while I was figuring out my own. This movie, more than anything, taught me a lot about the filmmaking process.
When I watch movies and something jumps out as fake, I am immediately sucked out. That is not what I wanted, especially considering how important it is to buy into the story.
• What was your casting process like? How exciting it was for you to see your characters come to life?
I actually knew who 90% of the cast was going to be while I was writing. The only actors who hadn’t been cast yet were Mark Angelo Dabu (Scott Denton) and Kevin New (Elliot Chriver). The characters were basically tailor made for the actors because I knew what they were capable of. This definitely made the writing process easier. Hunter Miller, who plays Colin Hanna, is very much so soft-spoken in real life. Kaitlyn Kennedy, who plays Chasidy Enton, is one of the warmest and most caring people I know. In a way, the actors dictated the characters and how I wrote them. But, the one big surprise for me was Kevin New’s performance, who plays Elliot. He is very much the heart of the movie even though he’s not the main character. Elliot’s arc is so complex, I had no idea how it was going to translate. Kevin brought him to life in ways I never imagined. Even though the characters were written for specific people in mind, I feel like every actor was constantly interested in diving deeper and understanding their motives more. I also just have to praise Kaitlyn once more even though I’ve told her multiple times already; but her performance is absolutely beautiful. It was exciting for all of us to see these characters come to life.
I remember reading an interview with Taylor Sheridan, writer/director of “Wind River” and he said that there was one day on set where it just clicked for everyone and from there they realized that what they had was working. There was seldom a day where the entire cast was present, but there was one day where after a certain line delivery from Kevin, I yelled cut and everyone in the room just nodded in unison. That was a good day and it’s one of my favorite scenes in the film.
• After the recent success of Immortality Of The Conscious Mind, would you like to share a bit about your upcoming projects?
I’m currently writing two scripts, a horror short and a thriller feature. They are both very different from each other as well as IOTCM. I would like to think that I’ve parted from sci-fi for a while and am exploring other genres; we’ll see how these two stories end up.
For now, it’ll be hours on end on Final Draft.
• Thanks for the interview, Dylan, and good luck with your future endeavors!
Thank you and I’m glad you enjoyed the film.
IMMORTALITY OF THE CONSCIOUS MIND - 'Realism' Featurette: