The science fiction time travel short Fatherless is making it’s way around the festival circuit. The film’s director William M. Crouch stops by for a chat with Reviews & Dunn.
Reviews & Dunn: What can you tell us about your new project Fatherless and the inspiration behind the film?
Matt Crouch: Fatherless is the story of a young physicist named Logan Avery. As the title suggests, he grew up identifying as fatherless. In the film, he has been impacted by his past so much he is now looking to develop time travel. The problem of course, is that moving through time allows you to move forward or backwards and he must make decisions on where his priorities lie. It’s really a decision we all face, if we are we going to stay focused on things that have already happened or are we going to look forward to the future and what we have control over. There is a lot of commentary in the film’s script about fatherlessness, fatherhood, dealing with lacking of self-confidence, depression, the importance of faith, and prejudice. I know that’s a lot to wrap into 30 minutes and I don’t want to suggest the film offers a thorough thesis on each topic, but it certainly does more than just dip its toe into many categories.
Reviews & Dunn: How do you think you avoided the mistakes of other time travel films?
Matt Crouch: In a word, belatedness. There’s a film theorist named David Bordwell who coined this term. Basically, he says that each new director is burdened with belatedness; the idea that they have to take into consideration everything that’s been done before to create something new. I look at it as a blessing and a curse. Sure, we must find something new and creative to make our film stand apart, but we also have this incredible wealth of previous works to model our film from and pay homage to. So, I avoided some of the mistakes of past time travel films by simply knowing the mistakes existed.
One of the other things I was very conscious about was how much the story relied on the theorized vs. the known. A lot of the film discusses time travel as a theory the characters are working towards, rather than a fact. That idea helps guide the plot but the majority of the drama could happen very similarly in a different situation. I think time travel is a very tricky topic and one we can never necessarily get right since our perception of time is so pivotal to our daily understanding of the world. A lot of times, time travel stories get too invested in explaining the science of how does this work or how does time travel change the timeline. Those are both certainly questions of discussion in Fatherless but they are not the driving force of the film. I wanted to keep it drama first within a time travel landscape that brings an added flare.
Reviews & Dunn: Has filmmaking always been a passion of yours?
Matt Crouch: Yes, absolutely. I watched Star Wars for the first time when I was 6 and from that day forward, I’ve known I wanted to make movies. I started making movies on our home video camera with whatever I had around. My aunt supported that creativity and would get me “care packages” of random items and write scenarios or lines of dialogue on an index card and I would have to use everything in the package to make a movie. By high school, I had my first editing software and started really experimenting with what I could do visually. I went to Point Park University and started learning more in depth about filmmaking, but something felt off there. I ended up leaving the school feeling very discouraged about film and tried to get into the exciting world of customer service management. I had a few jobs in that field and did well but I knew I was never going to be happy with them. I went back to school at Savannah College of Art and Design and got my Masters in Cinema Studies and rekindled that flame for filmmaking. I remember by spring of my first year there, I was starting to tell people I “had the itch” again. And a few years later, here we are. So yes, there have been some bumps in the road and some short detours, but it has been pretty clear I was going to work in film since I was very young.
Reviews & Dunn: What is your favorite film involving time travel?
Matt Crouch: If I’m completely honest, I’m not a huge time travel fan. It was the best medium for telling this particular story but it’s not a subgenre I get very invested in. I think time travel tends to be a crutch sometimes to “go back and fix things” in longer serials like the Star Trek reboots. I do enjoy some, La Jetee (which was developed into 12 Monkeys), I’ve gained a lot more respect for Interstellar throughout the course of this project, and I thought Déjà Vu was a pretty interesting take on things cinematically, but I really am more a fan of the films that play with our perception of time like Denis Villanueve’s Arrival or something very non-linear like Christopher Nolan’s Memento (and I’m looking very forward to Tenet). Both of those films created this interesting time travel experience for the viewer, where scenes in the early part of the film have a completely different meaning to the viewer an hour or two later. That interconnectivity between time and perception makes the audience constantly change their understanding of what’s happening. I think that’s really what cinema does at its best; it plays with our brain and causes us to think about things differently. Those are the kinds of films I love and want to make myself.
Reviews & Dunn: What is your least favorite film involving time travel?
Matt Crouch: I was always a fan of the H.G. Wells story The Time Machine growing up, so I was pretty excited when that came out in the early 2000s but it was a huge disappointment. They took all of the classist commentary and inventive storytelling out in favor of a very mundane narrative arc with a bunch of the running, punching, and totally unrealistic action that had just worked so well in the Mummy reboots. Basically, they tried to make a fan pleasing action film instead of a good movie. Also, Predestination with Ethan Hawke. I won’t spoil it for anyone dying to see it but they basically decided to take a time travel genre trope and try to stretch it as far as they could. They went too far, and it just became laughable and totally ridiculous to me. I think it’s best to subvert tropes but I give them credit for trying something different.
Reviews & Dunn: If you had unlimited funding and resources, what is the one comic book character you would adapt for the big screen?
Matt Crouch: Comic book films are really something these days, huh? I loved Joker, I’ve been watching all the Marvel films with my son and I have to say Endgame was one of the most fun movie-going experiences I’ve had in a long time. But who would I bring to the screen? A lot of my go to characters are already on screen, Captain America, Spider-Man, Captain Marvel, Iron Man. But the one, who actually had a movie before but really needs some redemption, I always loved Daredevil. That Ben Affleck disaster left me pretty disappointed, and the Netflix series did so much more justice for him. There have been rumors he’ll make his way to the MCU but at this point that universe is so large I have to think he’ll be a supporting character instead of a standalone. I’d love to make a Daredevil movie though, that would be a lot of fun. If we’re going DC, we need a Batman Beyond movie, for sure. I’ve always liked the heroes that don’t necessarily have these crazy superpowers. They are more about turning a tragic situation into a driving force; making lemonade out of lemons so to speak.
Reviews & Dunn: Where and when can see Fatherless?
Matt Crouch: Fatherless made its World Premiere at the Greater Lehigh Valley Filmmaker Festival on February 29, leap day. Chad Eric Smith, the film’s star, won the Best Performance award at that festival, and rightfully so, as he does an excellent job bringing the character to life. We have also been selected to screen at the 10th Annual Charlotte Black Film Festival in April and have over a dozen other festival submissions pending. We’ll be submitting more in the coming days so we hope to get the film screened across the country in as many festivals as possible. Once we’ve finished our festival run, we’ll look into distribution and streaming, hopefully around the holidays.
Reviews & Dunn: Is there anything you would like to add?
Matt Crouch: Just an overwhelming thank you to so many people who have been supportive of this film from the start. Chad and I have always said this film just wants to be made because every roadblock we encountered seemed to be mowed down just as quickly. That is in large part thanks to the support of our fan base, our incredible cast, and a crew that far exceeded my expectations for this project. Everyone brought their A game and it shows in the final product.
I also want to put a call out there for us as a generation to change things. Fatherlessness has been the norm for decades in our country but that needs to change. The only way we can make anything happen, though, is if we step up and do what we can to be good dads and mentors. Changing a societal norm is not the job of those most impacted by it. You’ve heard the old expression “it takes a village to raise a child,” it’s true and we need to start functioning under that idea again and all doing our part. There are over 20 million children in this country without a father in their life who need us to.