Arriving in theaters and on VOD today is Beyond White Space, a horror/sci-fi actioner that follows the crew of a deep space fishing vessel as they travel to the depths of space in search of the ultimate catch: Tianlong, a dragon-like creature that exists in the realm of white space. Directed by Ken Locsmandi and co-written by Ryan Colucci and Clay McLeod Chapman, Beyond White Space stars Holt McCallany, Zulay Henao, Dave Sheridan, James Devoti, Jocko Sims, and Kodi Kitchen.
Daily Dead recently spoke with Locsmandi, who has enjoyed a lengthy career in the world of visual effects, about his first time at the helm of a feature film, and he discussed how his experiences in other facets of filmmaking helped him as a director for his first time at bat. Locsmandi also discussed his decision to shoot Beyond White Space on film, working with his ensemble throughout production, and more.
To give readers a deeper look into the film, we've also been provided with an exclusive clip from Beyond White Space, as well as a set of behind-the-scenes creature art for the movie.
I want to dive into the movie, but first, when I was doing some digging around, I noticed that you come from the world of visual effects, which obviously serves this movie very, very well. I wanted to talk a little bit about that transition. Was there this moment where you realized, after working on so many incredible films, that you were ready to take this next step in your career?
Ken Locsmandi: To be honest, it's always been the goal. I can sculpt. I can draw. I can do all the visual effects work, and I got into all of it to learn filmmaking, not necessarily to be the effects person. I just was like, "Hey, I can actually get paid well to do this. I don't have to be a waiter and try to write my scripts and try to direct and be starving while I'm trying to be a filmmaker." So, for me, it's kind of like my day job is the visual effects stuff, where the filmmaker stuff is what I've always wanted to do. So, the transition was very easy for me. The effects [work] has been a tool that is in my repertoire for my ability to direct. The types of films that I want to make are genre, so my career just ended up happening in the way it happened because of that.
This script was written by Ryan [Colucci] and Clay [McLeod Chapman], and I was wondering if it was something that was brought to you, or did you know those guys before the film began? How did this all come together at the beginning?
Ken Locsmandi: Yeah, it was brought to me and it was originally an untitled Moby Dick in space movie. So, I spent quite a bit of time rewriting the script, bringing in the Chinese mythology element to it. I think there were 16 or 17 characters through the movie originally, too, so I stripped those out. We took the base frame, and I started adding a lot more sci-fi and mythical elements to it, as well as some of the horror elements. It was very much more Moby Dick and we kind of chiseled it away to make it have a little bit more of a horror/sci-fi edge to it.
You just touched on something I was gonna ask about, in terms of the mythology of this. Is that rooted in real mythology, or did you take some beasts from Chinese mythology and use those elements to make your own mythology here?
Ken Locsmandi: Well, I adapted what the Chinese mythology was to fit it into the movie. In Chinese mythology, there is a celestial dragon that guards the gates of heaven. That dragon is called Tianlong. So, we took that and fitted it into a science fiction version of it so it's plausible. So, there's this creature that can inter-dimensionally shift and stuff like that, and it could have been where this Chinese mythology came from. That's the spin with it, is taking what was actually real Chinese mythology, and then trying to fit it into something that could be plausible.
You have a really strong ensemble in this film and it all worked really well. Honest to God, I really had no idea that that was James Sheridan as Stubniski until afterwards. He completely transformed for that role, which was pretty crazy. Can you talk a little about putting this cast together and working on those character dynamics with them?
Ken Locsmandi: A lot of it, because of just how fast our shoot was and how low a budget we had, I had to create a shorthand with the actors. So, each one of the main seven crew members of the ship loosely represents one of the seven deadly sins. Every time I would go to that character or talk to the actor, I would say, "Remember what your sin was." Dave Sheridan was sloth. So he's just a sloppy guy that's lazy and all that type of stuff. I had to do that because most of the time we literally would never get more than four takes of the movie. A lot of the movie was only one take. I think maybe 50 to 60 percent of it was one take. We did not have a lot of time.
The cast was incredible. From what we had and what they had to deal with and we were shooting on film as well. So, there was not a lot of just, "Hey, let’s just let it roll." It was: "You guys know your lines? Do you know what's going on?" We were burning film and it's a low-budget movie and we were shooting short ends and stuff like that. We would run out of mags a lot of the time. A lot of times we were like, "Hey, we only have two minutes in that mag!" So it was super challenging in that regard. There was this one scene where I'm doing a minute-long dolly push and Holt [McCallany] has this monologue where he's talking about the death of his father and it's this really emotional thing, and I'm like, "Hey, can you drop a tear in your left eye when I land?" He's like, "Yeah, no problem." One minute thing, boom. Teardrop. One take. Boom, we're out. We're done. So it was pretty incredible the way they all responded to those constraints.
I'm curious, because when you are in a situation where you probably don’t have a $10 million budget in your resources to rely on and stuff like that, why shoot on film? I think it's really great because I'm a big fan of having movies on film, but boy, that's a pretty ambitious thing to do on a film when you didn't have a huge studio behind you, and you’re working on such a tight schedule. Kudos.
Ken Locsmandi: Yeah, you'd think so, but you've seen my background—I've worked on a lot of movies, right? And there's a lot of junk that is just being shot digitally. Like, why are they even shooting this? The crew acts completely different when they walk up, and they see a film camera. People aren't screwing around. People are like, "Oh, wow. I've got to know my lines?" We could actually get fewer takes because the perception was that the camera becomes this watchdog. You better be on your game. So, it was a different thing.
I did it aesthetically because I'm a film person. I grew up on film, I owned a feature film lab for many years as well. And I actually can integrate visual effects better with film than I can digitally because I think it looks more realistic when you've shot film because it is real. Film is a reflection of our reality, where digital is making it up, whether you're shooting it or not. So, the integration and the realism I think is actually much easier to do with film, not harder. And I actually think the crews act completely different when you're shooting on film, which helps the filmmaking dynamic.
One of the things that I really enjoyed about this film is also the production design of this movie is pretty fantastic. It's so hard to make a movie where it's set on a ship and not make those immediate connections to, say, Alien. Because once you have a spaceship, everyone is like, "Oh, Alien." But, this wasn't at all. Visually it's so different. Can you talk about working with your production designer, and building this environment that these characters are basically going to have to exist in for almost the entirety of the film?
Ken Locsmandi: I had both a physical production designer and a digital production designer, and I would literally make things and we would work together in the design because I had come from a CG background and a sculpting background. I could be like, "Hey, what do you think of this?" "Oh yeah, looks great." They could take what I did and just implement it, or make it better. There was a lot of me coming to both of them with either things that I'd say, "Hey, I need you to make this better," or go on a different direction based on what I did. So almost every ship, every creature, every set, I was touching on and giving them a place to start from since the very, very beginning.
I also wanted it to feel nautical, because this is a story that is still based on Moby Dick, so we wanted everything to feel like an old fishing boat—just ragged. I don't know if you've ever been on an old fishing boat, but everything is beat up. Nothing is clean. Nothing really fits together well. So, it just had that more realistic, lived-in feel to it. When we were designing the mech suits, I wanted them to feel like a diving suit. We went high-tech/low-tech. That was our theme, and if you're talking about people who are going out who are fishermen, even though they may have technology, it's not gonna be the whiz-bang technology like maybe the military or something would have.
When you’re creating space creatures, trying to find a unique design that we haven't seen before can be a real challenge, and I think you guys do a really good job of that as well. Can you talk about coming up with the look of these creatures?
Ken Locsmandi: Well, the main creature, the whole process of that was when we finally locked it in, that we really wanted to tie it in with the Chinese mythology of Tianlong, which is the celestial dragon that guards the gates of heaven. From the silhouette point of view, I wanted the creature to look like a Chinese dragon. So, if you saw it from the silhouette, it would look like your traditional Chinatown Chinese dragon that you would see in a parade or on some of the signage there.
But, when it unfolded, we wanted it to look fierce and different—it almost looks like something between a whale and a plant. So, I wanted it to have a very organic plausibility feel to it. My creature designer, his whole thing is about reality, so you can't go too far away from reality. We have the clickers that kind of look like crabs, but they have these things that allow them to fly through space and stuff like that. So, a lot of it is trying to take something that is suspension of disbelief obviously, but then trying to put it familiar enough in what we know to where it doesn't seem totally ridiculous.
Behind-the-scenes creature renderings: