The Duo of Xénia Puiggrós & Adam Nelson talk their Sci-fi short E.M.U

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Emotional Motor Unit with Francesca Burgoyne and Graham Cawte. Apple Park Films

The collaborating duo of writer and director on the UK SciFi/Drama Short Film, Emotional Motor UnitXénia Puiggrós & Adam Nelson, seat to talk about their latest film project, the idea behind the film, the premise of the idea and their collaboration on the “Emotional Motor Unit”.

indieactivity: Where did the idea for Emotional Motor Unit (E.M.U) come from?
Xénia: When I started developing E.M.U I read lots of science fiction classics, like George Orwell’s ‘1984’ or Ray Bradbury’s ‘Fahrenheit 451’. That inspired me to think about the Universe in which this story would take place. I wrote E.M.U before films like ‘Her’ or ‘Ex Machina’ came out, so my sources were movies like ‘Blade Runner’, and also the sci-fi series ‘The Twilight Zone’.

indieactivity: Unlike Little Pieces and The House Near Apple Park you didn’t write E.M.U, why did you choose to work with a writer this time and what attracted you to this particular script?
Adam: I’ve not had a short film idea for a long time. I really struggle with the short film format when it comes to writing, I’ve only ever written three short film scripts and one of those was adapted from a friend’s short story. E.M.U was a wonderfully visual script, of the twenty four I read from the applications E.M.U was the only one I could actually see as I read it; that drew me in and then I fell in love with the story. Most of the screenplays we were sent had very dark themes and a lot of them ended with the twist of the protagonist being a murderer.

The reading process became somewhat repetitive but my mind kept being drawn back to E.M.U. It’s sci-fi and a love story, two genres I’ve not worked with so it pushes me out of my comfort zone and can only help me grow as a film-maker.

indieactivity: What is your favourite scene in the film?
Adam: If I had to pick one it would be the end. It’s different from the script but the way the performances, Imraan’s score and that striking final image come together feels like the ending is as perfect as it could be.

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Francesca Burgoyne and Candice Palladino on set

indieactivity: As Writer and Director what do you both think the essence of the film and its characters are? Do you agree or have differing views?
Xénia: In essence, this is a story about human emotion. The romantic drama and the sci-fi setting are just variables, I think that the inherent theme is how we relate to others and why relationships and human contact are so important.

Adam: I see it as a film about what it is to be human. There’s a lovely ironic twist in that Writer requires machine to know what it is to be human whereas in our reality technology drives us apart. I was in a restaurant the other day and saw a couple having dinner, sat on their phones the entire time not talking to one another.

I thought it was a funny parallel to our story. I also think there’s a warning in there about the dangers of becoming to separate from each other when we become too focused on work.

indieactivity: Who would you say your biggest influences are and how did this factor in to writing E.M.U? How will they shape the way you direct E.M.U?
Xénia: At the time when I started writing E.M.U, one of my biggest influences was Terrence Malick. I remember watching ‘The New World’ and thinking that my romantic scenes in E.M.U had to look like that. I think you can definitely see his influence in the way my script is written.

Adam: I too see a Terrence Malick potential in the story, especially when Writer and E.M.U are outside exploring, there’s a lot of room for improvisation there and in other parts of the script. I’m a big lover of improvisation and used it a lot on my last project.

Blade Runner is one of my favourite films and I’m going to draw on that a lot when it comes to working with our female lead. Visually I’d like to shift from a very static, desaturated look at the start and shift to a more colorful, moving camera style as Writer comes alive – that’s where the Malick influence will come into play.

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Dagmar Scheibenreif with the camera crew

indieactivity: What did you both hope to bring to E.M.U from your past experiences?
Xénia: I have experience in almost all fields of filmmaking; I brought the lessons I have learnt from mistakes I made making films. Filming with a low budget is always a challenge and it becomes a very collaborative process and I wound up being Adam’s First AD

Adam: Patience. One of the compliments I received from the actors in my last film was my patience with them and the events of the shoot. I want to continue with that and apply it to the more technical aspects. We had 18 days to shoot Little Pieces, my feature, and because of that we always got the barest minimum of coverage and a few indulgent shots.

indieactivity: What are your hopes for the project now that production is complete?
Xénia: Hopefully we’ll be able to do the festival run and maybe win some awards. And have as many people as possible watch it. That would be the best reward.

Adam: It’d be great to get it into festivals and win some awards. Little Pieces got into some festivals and won an award at one of those so it’d be nice to top that and show some progression. Aside from that I would just like to people to see it and enjoy it.

indieactivity: What was the most difficult scene to shoot?
Adam: Where the writer breaks down at the end of the film. I wanted to give Graham the freedom to really let loose and go where he wanted so Dagmar and the camera department had to light the scene from above and try not get any of the lights in the shots. Graham’s performance got more intense with each take too, at one point he kicked the chair in the room and it hit Dagmar whilst she was operating the camera, so it was a tough scene for Cleo to cut together in the end as well.

indieactivity: What did you learn about Directing on EMU that you hadn’t learned on Little Pieces?
Adam: Not to Direct and Produce at the same time; it sounds kind of a jokey thing to say but it’s true. Balancing the business elements with the creative elements was incredibly tough for me and I went in far less prepared than I should have because right up until the last minute I was grappling with Producer problems.

As a result I wasn’t a hundred percent sure of myself and dawdled a bit at times, this carried on throughout the production as I struggled to balance to two roles. Xènia was an absolute star throughout as she took on first AD roles, I would have totally lost track of time had I been left to my own devices and it would have been bonkers; I really couldn’t have done it without her.

Working with professionals for the first time also gave me a wider insight into the workings of a set that I hadn’t experienced before. Coming from a guerilla background where everybody turns up, gets everything ready and chips in regardless of his or her central role was a world away from this set where everyone had a specific function. It was eye opening and has really helped me grow as a filmmaker.