Interview with Carl Erik Rinsch - director of 'The Gift'

The grand unveiling of the Philips Parallel Lines short film competition took place other night. Of the five excellent films that were chosen, rightly or wrongly there was a standout crowd pleaser among them most noticable for its stunning visual effects, fast paced action and the wonderful sci-fi world it depicted. So, we had a word with the LA-based director of The Gift, Carl Erik Rinsch, to find out how a unicorn inspired visions of a technology-crazed, post-apocalyptic Russia.

The first thing that strikes everyone when you watch The Gift are the gadgets and technology you've put into it. Is that because you're a fan of technology in general?
(Laughs) Yes, I am a huge fan of technology and I'm absolutely obsessed with it. I love to have my movies jammed packed with gadgets whenever I can get away with it. As soon as the iPhone came out a few years ago, I suddenly felt this rush of how close the futuristic world felt and I really think now it's like we're living in a time of science fiction. With gadgets like the iPad around and robots and all sorts, sometimes it kind of feels like we're in Star Trek or something and I love that. Now all they need to do is come up with an advancement that will stop me wanting a cigarette and I'll be a happy man.

Have you bought yourself an iPad then?
Well, no I haven't got down there just yet but I'm going to be an early adopter. I'll definitely be getting an iPad and, when they bring a new one out in three weeks time, I'll probably go ahead and get that one too. I don't care. I just want one.

The world in which The Gift takes place seems incredibly detailed and thought out and you only seem to get a small slice of what's there. How much backstory did you create around the piece?
Well, I'd had the designs done for the robot and for the world before. I'd been working on a sci-fi feature that I wanted for a future production and then Philips came along with the Parallel Lines competition and I showed what I had to them and asked if I could use this stuff and they said yeah. So, I had this universe with these characters already but the story for The Gift was totally unique.

And it also meant you could get more gadgets in too?
Yes, of course. We had the robots and motorcycle, the police with their gear and masks, the DNA tongue tester but what I really enjoyed coming up with was using the locking mechanism for the box which I have no doubt was a piece of someone else's hair rather than being that of the person who's actually using it. I thought it could be something of the identity of the future. You know, we use finger print identification for things like laptops and zip drives at the moment and I wanted to come up with the next stage of password protection, if you like, and what could be a really high end version of that.

So, I have to ask, and I'm sorry for getting all Pulp Fiction on you, but what's in the box?
Ha. Every day when we were shooting I'd sit down with someone from the crew and ask them that. "What do you think is in the box?". No one can really know for certain but what I intend it to be is two things. First, because there's this dystopian world that's lifeless and cold and infertile, what's in the box is something of life like a seed in this dead world, a precious thing that can give life. It's also supposed to be something incredibly good - so good that people are prepared to do bad things for it and, sometimes, as in the case of the robot, the effect is so powerful that that person doesn't even have had to have seen what's inside the box, they just have to come into contact with it.

One of the most spectacular parts of the films is the chase sequence and that slow motion footage where the robot crashes. How did you manage to shoot all that?
When we tried to shoot in Moscow, it was impossible to do anything like the chase sequences that we shot. Even if we'd had the budget to do it for real, we'd never have got all those roads closed off that we'd have needed. So, in fact, around 90% of the sequence is done in full CG. But it's been great because even people who live in Moscow or know the city have watched the movie and not even noticed the difference.

What kit did you use to shoot the piece?
The film was shot on a Red One which blew me a way to think about it. We're not talking about crazy expensive pieces of kit like in the old days. You can rent out a Red which is a $10/15,000 camera for a few hundred bucks. When I started out, I had to beg borrow and steal to rent equipement I could shoot and cut film on. Now there's incredible technology and software that enables young filmmakers to shoot incredible sequences and visual effects on a really low budget and the internet also provides an amazing forum for distribution where the masses can enjoy it and it's from there that the business interest can come. It's a great time for people with talent to be starting out as filmmakers.

Are we going to be seeing more of the world of The Gift in upcoming feature, then?
Well, hopefully yes. I'm trying to get some things together at the moment but I sincerely hope so, yes. The verdicts out as to whether the unicorn will be making an appearance though.

You can watch The Gift and the other four Philips Parallel Lines short films streamed online as well as enter the competition yourself for a chance to win some time on set with the RSA filmmakers and a head start in making it movie business.