Echo/Back – The Time Travel Virus
A couple of weeks ago William Rosenthal shared his film with me and asked what I thought of it. Will co-wrote and co-produced “Echo/Back – The Time Travel Virus” with director Tristram Geary. In his own words, “it’s an action sci-fi about how the world would react if time travel was a virus.”
A question of authority
The premise of the film is a simple one – that authorities who control us don’t like the idea that history can be changed. In some ways I echo their sentiment, though with the authorities it’s more sinister – they wish to remain in control and “Time travel dissolves their power”.
The ability to time travel is not attained through technology but by contracting a virus. There are echoes of the X-Men movies where the infected (i.e. those who are different to the societal ‘norm’) are forced to register or submit to the authorities.
In Echo/Back – The Time Travel Virus we identify with the main character, Vance (as we tend to with the X-Men), who in a way for us represents the underdog, albeit infected with the time travel disease (or who has advanced powers).
But it’s a possibility that there may be others who have less scruples than Vance and who would use time travel for more sinister purposes. For example, not just stopping the authorities making our decisions for us, but standing in their place, or other reasons for self gain and harm to others.
Then again, we don’t really know why Vance is being hunted, do we?
Biological time travel
We don’t always need a time machine to time travel.
In X-men: Days of Future Past biological time travel comes through accelerated or staggered evolution. In Edge of Tomorrow a time loop is set up through contact with blood from an “Alpha Mimic” (an alien).
And here Echo Back is similar – time travel comes to a select few through contracting virus. There’s no time machine, no flux capacitor and no TARDIS. Time travel is of a more natural origin – albeit unwelcome (by some).
I can’t help recognising the basic Neanderthal reaction in Echo Back – if we don’t understand it, whack it over the head with a club. Or a gun. It seems a shame (perhaps) that the authorities don’t think to approach the problem intelligently. Why not try to develop a ‘cure’ for the time travel virus? Or come to think of it, deliberately contract the time travel disease themselves to keep themselves ahead in the game?
(One of these guys is played by Will…)
Biological problems often require biological solutions.
Actually, technological problems often require biological solutions too and we see that technology frequently seeks to emulate nature. Nature is often just much better at things than we are – she can provide the strongest materials, the strongest glue, the most beautiful artwork, etc. and generally speaking it seems that we try to mimic nature where we can. Bullet-proof vests, velcro, swimming technologies…
We’ve always done it, and to quote the source of the image below, “Stone Age man copied Nature by wearing the fur of slaughtered animals to keep warm.” (sciencenordic.com).
Whilst we can sit with a pen and paper and work things out, even develop computers or other tools to help us do that quicker, it’s much more difficult to develop biological solutions to assist us with life’s obstacles. Copying, or being inspired by Nature is much easier.
My personal thought is that for whilst theoretical physicists are beavering and banging away at Einstein’s equations to find out if – and if so, how – we can travel in time, Nature is probably busy finding it’s own way. Maybe it’s already got there. And when it’s found or evolved or contracted, we’ll imitate it with our trailing technology.
Or maybe just whack it on the head.
Interview with William Rosenthal and Tristram Geary
In this interview with director, writers and producers William Rosenthal and Tristram Geary we get a behind the scenes view on Echo Back, as well as their personal thoughts behind some of the ideas they’ve written into their film!
Time is a precious commodity – Will and Tristram, many thanks for giving us some of yours!
The fight between the authorities and Vance might be viewed as a clash between technology and biology. Given enough time for development / evolution, would you consider technology or biology to have the upper hand?
In the earlier stages, while the ability is new and underdeveloped, technology (and existing power structures) would very easily mobilise to control it. However, time travel is such an incredible advancement that it simply couldn’t be contained forever. Ultimately, we feel technology and human ingenuity would make time travel more efficient, and expand its possibilities. It may be positive or negative, weaponisation or integration, but as long as we humans have such inquisitive minds, it feels like our biology will always be shackled to our technology.
Physical limitations are well known when it comes to operating technology and we see how you’ve incorporated biological limitations into your time travel method – avoiding cleanly the grandfather paradox and the creation of ‘major’ alternate histories! Were there any aspects of time travel that were difficult to incorporate into Echo Back and how did you solve them?
Oh absolutely! Time travel in fiction is so tricky, partly because you need to make something physically impossible at least internally consistent, but also because it needs to be emotionally satisfying in some way.
Logistically, it was quite difficult to come up with a scenario that would clearly demonstrate the power of small time jumps. We eventually figured out that we needed a clear space or object- something that moved or reverted whenever Vance jumped back in time.
The action also helped, as the audience can see Vance learn through trial and error (and injury!)We wanted to show that despite the huge advantages of this ability, there are still plenty of limitations. We also needed to work out some tactics and technology that would give the police an upper hand.
Can you explain the “Echo” aspect in the film title?
Well firstly of course, there’s the idiom ‘to echo back’, meaning to evoke something similar from the past. The way in which the world reacts to time travel is similar to other, world-changing phenomena; excitement, fear, and ultimately a desire for control. The nature and mandate of governments means that they’ll always aim to regulate things, the internet for example. Sometimes that’s a helpful step, other times, less so.
It’s also a reference to the mechanism of our form of time travel. In the film, Vance jumps through what is essentially the same scenario many, many times. Each variation shares the same key features, but is slightly distorted from its predecessor; like an echo.
To turn things upside down, how do you think people would feel if their local authority was able to time travel and they weren’t?
As regular citizens, we’re already very much at the mercy of our systems and those more powerful than us. Authorities can monitor your phone activity, control the legitimate use of violence, and make decisions daily that most of us will never know about but which will profoundly affect our lives. Now, these aren’t always bad things- you could argue they’re necessary components of a government- but time travel would probably just be another (albeit near-omnipotent) string in their bow.
However, who knows, a shift in power this enormous might actually galvanise many people into protest and defiance. Instead of being the ultimate weapon for control, time travel could be the catalyst for a regime’s unravelling.
Are there any plans for a sequel / prequel to Echo Back?
Actually, we’ve drafted a screenplay for a feature film, so we’d love to see the concept explored further!
How did you go about writing Echo Back? Did you write, then ‘convert’ it into a screenplay, or did you write it as a screen play from the outset?
We always intended to convert the basic time travel mechanism into some sort of film, but we initially had very few specifics beyond that. Our excitement about the premise meant that we spent some time throwing ideas at each other. How would it work on an individual level? How heavily could it shake the world’s establishments? What would it mean for how we perceive death? Given our miniscule budget, we were obviously limited in what we could show, but we still wanted to express as many of these possibilities as we could- hence the narrated sections.
As a scientist I’m told that I need to spend about an hour in preparation for each slide I present at a conference. I can’t help considering that a movie comprises many frames per second, and arguably the story line is much more important! How long did it take to make this film?
We spent roughly three months on pre-production, including design, costume, rehearsal, choreography, and searching for locations.
We were extremely fortunate to get David on board to play Vance. On the day of filming, he spent about 16 consecutive hours being beaten up. Our budget limited us to just one day with the camera and shooting gear, so we had to make the most of it! He and the rest of our small, brilliant crew of volunteers were consummately professional and seriously hard workers.
Our tiny post-production crew spent the next months editing, sound editing, scoring, and crafting effects. It really was a huge undertaking for a small number of dedicated people.
I love the interplay between the narration (done by Tristram) and the action sequences which show the more physical side of the battle between the authorities and time travellers. Were there times when you struggled to mesh these two techniques together?
Fantastic to hear you liked it! It was definitely a difficult pairing to balance. We wanted to expose the audience to a larger world, while not encroaching too heavily on the emotional flow of the action sequence. The parallels with broader time travel struggles also hopefully reinforced Vance’s motivation and determination. However, we also couldn’t get too specific in describing these events, as it could jerk viewers out of his immediate predicament. Definitely a challenge!
Will and Tristram, many thanks again for your time – for both the interview and for creating Echo Back – The Time Travel Virus! I’m really excited to hear that you’ve got plans for a feature film!!
Edit: Will and Tristram have since compiled an “Action Cut” of Echo Back – The Time Travel Virus which offers us (yet) another view into the original film. Vance’s physical exhaustion and also his frustration in his need to endure the authorities and the masses really shines through in this cut. I’ve written a short piece (with the link to Action Cut) which touches on the ideas of other people’s role when you relive your life. It’s clearly not always for the better!