INTERVIEW: Filmmaker Travis Milloy Discusses ‘Infinity Chamber’
Travis Milloy is an independent filmmaker whose latest movie, Infinity Chamber, is now in wide release. We caught up with him for a talk about the film and the process of making it. Here’s what he had say.
DAVID: Hello and thanks for taking the time to talk with us. Let’s start with you. Tell us a bit about yourself.
TRAVIS MILLOY: I grew up in Minnesota and have been working in the tv/film industry for 25 years, primarily as a screenwriter. I had one of my scripts produced in 2009, Pandorum a sci-fi thriller starring Dennis Quaid and Ben Foster and have projects with Liev Schrieber and Mike Figgis in the works.
Your latest film is called Infinity Chamber. Could you briefly tell us about it?
After years of working as a screenwriter for studios, this was my going back into independent film where I started. I wrote a script that I knew I could produce at a lower budget, very self contained, low number of actors, etc. It’s the story of one man thrown into an automated prison to be interrogated and kept alive by machines. Suspecting the world may have come to an end, he searches for escape back to a world that may already be gone.
I mentioned in my review how so few modern sci-fi films task viewers with any real challenges, most reduced to action set-pieces. I really appreciate the complexities of Infinity Chamber and how it forced me to think about what I was looking at. You are the film’s writer as well as director. How did the story come about and what drew you to the repeating nature of the story?
I was looking for a self-contained project and I saw a news story about how they have begun to automate prisons in order to save costs. Considering the climate in our society with the advancement of technology and our dependency on devices, I thought a story about an automated prison and something going wrong would be intriguing. The repeating nature of the story was what i felt would be a frightening psychological factor, forced to relive the same moments over and over and struggling to find a way out of the situation.
The film has a strong stage feel to it, the movie mostly set in two small locations. That and the very small cast really keep it about the characters and dialogue. Did you find this a limitation or conversely, an opportunity?
It presented an interesting challenge, on one hand it made the scale of the production easier but it forced me to creatively try to create an interesting story under certain restraints. I couldn’t rely on spectacle to thrill the audience, I had to work inward, so to speak.
I really liked the Howard character, a sort of spin on HAL9000. Jesse Arrow gave him a lot of personality and yet kept him very believable as an intelligent AI. Was it difficult giving him the presense he has given that he is a stationary camera?
Yes, that was a big challenge. I consider HAL the Marlon Brando of AI characters so I definitely took inspiration from 2001. It was a fine line trying to create something that had personality but still retained a colder, artificial persona. I spent a lot of time searching for the right voice and manipulating Jesse’s voice with filtration to find the right balance of personality and machine.
Christopher Soren Kelly stars as Frank, the film’s main character. He really had to carry the film and does a terrific job with the emotional swings. Did you allow any freedom for Kelly to help develop Frank? Did he have any input in the creative process?
Absolutely, Chris had to carry the film on his shoulders and we worked together on trying to convey something that we hoped would keep the audience’s attention. I think Chris has a very unique skill as an actor, he’s a really interesting guy to watch and he does a lot with very little. He was the real inspiration for when I started the project. I discussed it with him in the development stages and once he agreed to be in it, it was one of the major obstacles I didn’t have to worry about in making the film work. Once he was on board and I knew I had my “Frank”, that really got the ball rolling for me.
Cassandra Clark plays Gabby, a barista at a coffee shop and for me, is probably the most interesting and compelling character, especially has the end comes. I love how her importance becomes all the more layered as it progress, at least in my interpretation. Could you share some thoughts on her without spoiling that ending?
I considered Gabby to be the “breath of fresh air” to the story. I knew we’d be spending a lot of time in this cold and stark environment so when we stepped into the outside world, I really wanted the right actress to represent that world in the right way. Cassandra blew me away in her audition and I knew she was the right person needed to bring that element to the story. Gabby really is the alter-ego to the story, the counter-balance to Frank’s fears and doubts.
I have to say, this is one of my favorite sci-fi films of the year, something I wrote about in the review. I’m a sucker for these mind-benders types, full of great dialogue and twisty questions. How about some influences? Are there some films you drew inspiration from?
Not sure I could identify a specific film for inspiration, I consider it really drawing from a lifetime of watching great sci-fi films and admiration from my favorite filmmakers such as Stanley Kubrick, Steven Spielberg, Peter Hyams, John Carpenter, Brian De Palma and countless others.
I especially like how the film steers us in one direction and then takes somewhere new, and how you keep the larger subplot, something only hinted at throughout, a nice reveal in the closing. While the film is very local, it lends it a global feel. Were you always more interested in Frank’s story than the reason for why he is where he is?
Yes, definitely. I was always drawn more to the character story then the plot. I don’t find myself as interested in why something happened compared to what characters are feeling about what has happened. Honestly, I always have a tendency to pull back even more on the why but there’s obviously a balance, needing to convey enough information so an audience doesn’t get frustrated or confused.
As an independent filmmaker, what are some of the more interesting challenges (both good and bad) you faced in bringing Infinity Chamber to screen?
Well, there were plenty of challenges all throughout but probably the biggest was the design and construction of the prison set. Working on a very limited budget, I kind of went into it blindly with no going back. I just started building it myself, using whatever resources and materials I could find. It took nearly a year to build and the most difficult challenge wasn’t necessarily the construction but trying to create something that looked believable and interesting. I experimented with multiple ways to light it and assorted materials, searching through dumpsters and salvage yards until finally finding things that worked. Ironically, it took nearly a year to build and had to take it down in 18 hours.
Our website is founded on taking a closer look as great moments in film. We often write about moments in movies that are significant in cinema. Are there any movie moments (or movies in general) that you find yourself drawn to or that have had impact on your career?
It would have to be moment the shark reveals itself in Jaws. That movie had such a massive impact on me as a kid. I was thrilled and terrified and I was blown away by how a movie could have such a massive effect on an entire society. How one movie could scare an entire society from swimming and could instill a fear that would last a lifetime. I knew right then that I wanted to be part of this industry, to help create stories and worlds that could possibly have such a powerful impact, that could transport us to a different place, time and world.
Thanks so much for talking with us. I wish you the best of luck with your movie and hope our paths cross again soon.
Thanks so much!