The very talented and brilliant Ian Truitner did me the honor of granting me an interview. We took the time to discuss his new visually beautiful and very story-driven sci-fi film Beyond the Trek also known in some markets as Teleios. Check out our conversation below.
With an MBA from Penn State University in hand, over the years Ian Truitner has created and produced content for Walt Disney, Warner Brothers, Spike TV and more. He also created a Telly Award-winning interactive safety program for children.
In 2015 Truitner was awarded a U.S. patent he authored for RANDIAN, a media tech company he co-founded.
RONN!E: Hi, this is Ronnie with Scifimonkeys. How are you doing?
Ian Truitner: Doing good!
Ian Truitner: It probably did. Like, a badly written script that I did back when I was in college, and I’d completely forgotten about it. I’ve written a lot of scripts over the years and so when I read an article in a publication about human genetic modification, suddenly it sparked an idea for one dimension that eventually became Teleios. Inadvertently, I’d actually created the same plot as the first screenplay that I’d ever written. So probably not a single word of it was derived from the original script, but definitely, the overall plotline was based on that, even though I’d kind of forgotten that I’d written it.
RONN!E: How did it evolve from when you’d picked it up again to where you got now with Teleios?
Ian Truitner: I wrote the script for Teleios in conjunction with Weetus Cren, who ended up playing the character of Travis O’Neill in the film. And like I said, it was actually unintentional; it wasn’t until after the film was completed that I was going through archives and found an old script of mine called Outpost Nine, which, plot point by plot point was basically the same as Teleios. So sometimes we have good ideas when we’re young, we just have to keep those imaginative sparks or whatever it was going, although in this case unintentional.
RONN!E: *laughs* Okay. You have a pretty amazing cast: Sunny Mabrey and Lance Broadway, Christian Pitre. I’m guessing since you did write this you were probably heavily involved with the casting. How did you go about picking them?
Ian Truitner: Well, I hired a great casting director, Craig Campobasso, who I’ve collaborated with in the past on projects that, unfortunately, didn’t get their funding. But in this case, we were able to get our funding and get him on board. It was a difficult film to cast; people on a lower budget film that had the right combination of good look, good physique, and intelligence. We had a lot of people who looked great come in and they did reads and they just couldn’t convincingly pull off the lines. So we were really fortunate to find people. We had a lot of people come in who were really good runner-ups, definitely, but I think we ended up with the right combination of people that really made this project fly.
RONN!E: What was it like working with this cast? You have quite a nice selection of talent. I’m familiar with quite of few of your cast members. What was it like working with them?
Ian Truitner: The crew was great. Sometimes in projects, you have some difficult kind of diva cast members, but that was certainly not the case here. I think everybody worked very well and very collaboratively. Everyone was different in the terms of what kind of stimulus made them really connect to the characters. Some were very studious, some were more kind of emotionally wired already. I say that Sunny definitely immersed herself in that role. She’s the emotional crux of it. So did Weedus Cren, and so did Lance Broadway, even though he’s relatively new at acting; he’s a former major league baseball player and stature-wise he looks like Captain America. Getting an emotional thing out of him – I was a little concerned about that during his reads, when he came in I knew that physically he was perfect for the role but his reads were a little stiff. I think potentially–he told me later he was intentionally doing that because he was a genetically modified perfect human. And I was like no, that’s true but the characters evolve over time. So I think he was able to tap into something pretty deep and give us some of the emotional highlights that he was able to showcase.
RONN!E: So, speaking of which, going on with the character development stuff, the characters are genetically modified human beings and they–I’ve actually seen the movie and [something] Was there a lot of character development you guys had to work with, because the characters basically are almost kind of emotionless, but then you introduce this element that really throws them off track. So was there a lot of working with the character development on that?
Ian Truitner: Yeah, we definitely did it a lot in discussion, because we had to shoot this out of sequence; they had to film at any given time on any given day where they were on that emotional arc, because we weren’t able to build all of our sets all at the same time. We had a small soundstage, so we had to build one part of the set for one week and then we’d take that down and build another part of the set. So sometimes…actually we shot the first scene of the film on the last week. So they had to really know where they were at any given point, because as you know, without giving away too much of the film, they undergo these dramatic transformations emotionally, so they had to know where they were at any given time. Without any coaching, they were able to kind of bring it to that, on to that planet. It might be because we shot the film so quickly; it was such an intense experience that they were never out of the context of that world and that life, during the whole production part of it.
RONN!E: So you shot the film quickly? How long did it take you to shoot the film?
Ian Truitner: Sixteen production days. Not contiguous; we had three days–we’d shoot for four days and then have three days off while we did the set turnaround, and then we’d shoot for four days and take a few days off. So it was crazy. It was intense. Somehow we managed to get all of our shots, except for maybe a couple of little minor hiccups, all during that sixteen day period.
RONN!E: Wow, just a little over two weeks total filming. That must have been intense!
Ian Truitner: Yeah, exactly. It felt kind of like a frantic TV schedule, except that TV budgets are much bigger these days.
RONN!E: If you don’t mind me asking, what was your budget for this film?
Ian Truitner: It was around a million. It started off as low as… Doing a sci-fi, there are pluses and minuses. The pluses are that there’s a very loyal fan base for it, and there’s not a glut of content because it’s hard to do. The downside is that you are creating a whole artificial world from scratch and so all of the sets, all of the costumes, all of the props, all the environments in the world have to be made up and immersive. You can’t just go to IKEA and buy a table because there might be some IKEA people sitting in that seat. If it’s the same table they have in their living room, then they are jolted out context. So everything had to be created and designed from scratch. But the good thing is is that I think we’ve done very well. Screen Media is a major distributor and it screened around the world under various different names, which you can get into next. But it’s fine with its audience because of the look and feel and design of the film, which is very hard to replicate under a small budget.
RONN!E: Speaking of the small budget, it is visually beautiful, in my option. What was post-production like? How long did that take?
Ian Truitner: *laughs* Post production was definitely a lot more than sixteen days. It was a lot! It ended up being about two years. In fact, we ran out of money; we put almost all of the money we had into the filming budget, so we had to kind of put it on hiatus for a little bit while we gathered the resources and asked for a bunch of favors to try to get the film finished. I had a bunch of different effects people in different parts of the world working on the visual effects. So, coordinating all that just took a little bit of time. The initial edit actually happened fairly quickly, that was within three or four weeks. We had Gabriella Christiani, who is an Oscar-winning editor, and she is amazing. She was able to do that part of the work pretty fast, but then all the polishing took a bit of time.
RONN!E: Well, it looks beautiful. I honestly thought you had a bigger budget, so….
Ian Truitner: That credit goes to our production designer and our cinematographer. They really knocked it out of the park.
RONN!E: Yeah, they did. Getting to, as you mentioned a little bit ago, Teleios, Beyond the Trek, is, I’m guessing that’s a distribution thing? What’s going on with that?
Ian Truitner: It was originally Teleios, which, if you didn’t know, in Greek it means “perfect” which is a metaphor for the perfect genetically modified humans that are in it, and that was the name that stuck all the way, actually, through to the end of production and once we got into distribution we–it got distributed to about seven or eight territories worldwide before it got its U.S. release. And they kept on changing the name, I guess to give it some sort of more familiar ring? In the U.K. it’s called Deep Space, in Germany, it’s called Teleios: Endlose Angst, which is Teleios: Endless Angst. Or Fear. Endless Fear. I guess to make it a little more spooky or something. I think in Korea, I believe the direct translation is War Space Movie. I guess whatever speaks to their audience. I think to us it’s comical, but maybe in Korean, it makes perfect sense. And it was called Beyond the Trek by the Japanese distributor. And so I think the direct distributor liked that title; they had a few different options and I think they ran that one because it has a familiar sound to it. It’s obviously not part of the Star Trek franchise at all, so hopefully, people don’t watch this moving thinking that. But I think for search engine optimization, for people doing searches for science fiction stuff, it’s likely to come up. And we just want people to see the film.
RONN!E: So what were some of the unique challenges for doing this film? We always learn something new every time we do a new film. Were there any challenges that stood out on this?
Ian Truitner: Yeah, Definitely trying to pull off what we did on the budget we had was incredibly ambitious. We did not have enough space to pull off the sets that we had planned. We were just crammed in this small space and it got tense. It did. The film is about a group of people who go out on a mission in a contained space and then kind of start turning on each other, and to a degree that’s sort of happening on Teleios, but still we kind of managed to all rally and pull it together, but yeah, it’s tough! You imagine being in an enclosed environment for X number of days without, it’s sort of like a Big Brother type of thing. And then in post-production, trying to pull off a bigger budget look on a small budget, it’s never an easy task. But I think that’s part of filmmaking. I don’t think there’s any filmmaker out there who’s gonna say they made a film and it was easy.
RONN!E: So with the wonderful hope that Teleios is extremely successful, are you hoping to expand that universe in the future, hopefully?
Ian Truitner: In terms of conceptualization, yeah, there’s a lot of derivative content that can come out of it. There’s a whole backstory to this that is present in the film but not fully explored. The way I like to pitch this film is, there’ve been films about artificial intelligence, which we’ve seen some fantastic ones, like Bladerunner, and there’ve been films about human genetic modification, like we saw in Gattaca, but I believe that this is the first one of its kind that merges those two concepts together and explores the hierarchy that inevitably occurs as a result of that. Because when you take different people of different nationalities or different places of the world and you mash them together, there’s a kind of hierarchy that starts to develop, or there’s a hierarchy that already exists. We’re going through class and even race struggle in this country, one that preexisted you and I being born, and we’re still dealing with that. And if you think of when we create another class of humans, whether it’s artificial humans or genetically modified humans, there’s going to be some sort of class struggle there. And that’s very much present in the film Teleios, or Beyond the Trek, but the in-depth to that is also important too, which is how do artificial intelligence humans or how do genetically modified humans develop, and how do they coexist? And then later on, how do they coexist beyond this film? I think there are a lot of different paths to that that would be kind of Game of Thrones level that would be kind of interesting to explore and develop.
RONN!E: That’s kind of answered my next question too. Sci-fi is usually kind of a commentary for what we see in society and things like that, and I was going to ask what was your message, but you just kind of answered that.
Ian Truitner: Yeah, well I think great sci-fi does that. Great sci-fi is not just about “here’s what we predict it’s going to be like in the future”, it is a commentary on the present, and that’s what Gene Roddenberry and Rod Sterling from the Twilight Zone addressed, was talking about what was going on at that time, in a way that could get past the censorship laws. You know, which didn’t allow you to talk about the Vietnam War or the Civil Rights Movement, so they called it science fiction, but really what they were talking about was current day. I think that’s what great sci-fi is: a commentary on human behavior and the things that are going on right now. And I think if you looked at Beyond the Trek the GC humans are the ruling class and the regular humans in the story are sort of the blue collar class, and the AIs in this particular story is the servant class. It’s still as topical today and as it is in the future setting that the story is set in.
RONN!E: I really like that one. What else do you have besides Teleios that’s going on? Do you have any other projects coming up?
Ian Truitner: I have a couple concepts that are floating around. One of them is a screenplay that was optioned, or re-optioned. It’s a horror film called Capture. And then another script I wrote, it’s a short for a director that’s kind of like a Ted Talk except it’s Satan giving a Ted Talk and trying to pitch the benefits of hell. So some fun, light stuff. Also very tongue-in-cheek, of course. My main focus right now is a technology company that I started a few years ago. We got a patent on it and we got funding and we’re doing a commercial launch. I’ve kind of gone from theoretical technology to actual technology.
RONN!E: Right on. Awesome. I guess that kind of brings us to the end here. Thank you so much for talking to me. I wish you much more success. I know you’ve already had the film out on the festival circuit and you’ve already won quite a few awards. How many so far?
Ian Truitner: Oh boy, I’ve lost track, which I guess is a good thing.
RONN!E: That’s a good sign!
Ian: Yeah, it’s still getting into stuff. It’s creating in treatments, a festival, I think, next weekend it’s at a tree festival in October. I believe that will be the end of its run unless it gets into another international festival. I think, too, the festivals have actually, are ones that request the film. I didn’t even submit to, so clearly people are digging the movie.
RONN!E: Well, I did, so… I liked it because it was very story driven and not so much “let’s just blow everything up”, you know what I mean? It made me sit and think while I watched it, so I appreciate it.
Ian Truitner: Thanks! We couldn’t blow stuff up, so… *laughs* We had to rely on old-fashioned storytelling. Like people talking to each other and intrigue and things like that.
RONN!E: Well I appreciate it and I hope you have a good one. Thank you very much.
Ian Truitner: Thank you.