Action Cut: Echo Back – The Time Travel Virus

The Echo Back Action Cut shows the physical strain of time traveller Vance’s fight with the authorities, and his frustration that he needs to repeatedly go through this fiasco. He learns and becomes wiser – but they don’t.

First time around

A little while ago I watched Echo Back – The Time Travel Virus. A short online movie written and produced by William Rosenthal and Tristram Geary.

Biological time travel in Echo Back
Biological time travel in Echo Back

As well as the underlying plot line of the reaction of the masses (and authorities) should time travel be preferentially ‘available’, Echo Back also lead me to think about the reality of time travel using biological processes, and how that might stand up against current (or future) technological advances.

Echo 1: Action Cut

Now comes another installment. It’s not a sequel or a prequel (or any other kind of a ~quel) but more of a subset – an “Action Cut”. Will explained that some viewers of the full version really wanted to see what the fight scenes with Vance looked like by themselves, so he and Tristram edited it all together without the stock.

I suppose that just as cuts through a solid object give us a better idea of what’s inside that object, perhaps the same can be said in the filming / editing business. In this case, the Action Cut offers us another view into the original film. Actually, it’s the same stuff, but the focus is different.

Personally, I think this Action Cut version shows more clearly the physical strain of the fight that Vance has with the authorities, but what I particularly like is how his mental frustration of having to go through all of this again also comes through really well.

It’s this latter point which got me thinking about repeating various parts of your life. Again.

Echo 2: Oh no, not this again!

The idea of reliving part of your life again and again is not new. Indeed, it seems to come round again and again! 😉 Replay, Groundhog Day, and my recently reviewed Buckyball all have this theme, for example.

Phil Connors clearly shows frustration to the point of self harm in Groundhog Day until he grabs the bull by the horns and steers his own destiny. Jim in Buckyball, perhaps being younger (at first), is much more open to the possibilities which are available when you effectively have second chances.

(And to be blatantly honest here – I can’t remember any more what happened with Jeff in Replay regarding this angle).

Phil and Jeff have no control over their replays or repeats, whereas Vance and Jim do. Control is a much sought after commodity, but both Jim and Vance have another variable which they can’t control – other people.

Vance in the Action Cut of Echo Back.
Other people are the problem for Vance in the Action Cut of Echo Back.

But back to Vance in Echo Back. It strikes me that he’s just had enough. He’s learning with each iteration, quite literally so that he can get on with his life. But the trouble is the people around him – they’re not learning or becoming wiser because they don’t know any better. For them, it’s the first time that things happen.

Vance in Echo Back: Frustration.
Vance in Echo Back: Frustration.

Reliving a part of your life again sounds like it might be fun, sometimes – but only if other people are willing to let you.

The choice is yours?

Would you choose to relive a given day or moment again? People around us wouldn’t behave differently, but we would. Our accumulating experience would make sure of that.

In some ways some of us already do relive the same moments in our lives – and we’re not impressed. And thee are others of us who bring a stop to their enjoyment, or at least, make their lives a living misery.

I remember my first year at university. We played many practical jokes which at the time we thought were blindingly comical – and original. But here’s the thing – what we thought was new and original had already been done before by previous year groups. And of course the staff were never impressed – they’d seen it all before. They had to relive these first few days of first year students every year.

Or there’s the time at secondary school when an overly self-conscious version of me is taking a leak and a female cleaner walks in. I rapidly zip up.

“Don’t worry!” she says, “I’ve seen it all before!”

Yeah, but not MINE!

So the point is that a repetitive life isn’t always a good thing. Production line workers need variation in their schedule before they numb themselves with boredom. Like them, and the university staff, Vance seems tired of it all. Wouldn’t you be?

Einstein’s sometimes quoted (perhaps incorrectly) as saying that doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results is insanity.

But I think the question remains: who goes insane – the time traveller, or those around him?


PS: Here’s the link to the full version of Echo Back – The Time Travel Virus:

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Film: Echo Back – The Time Travel Virus

Echo Back – The Time Travel Virus (William Rosenthal and Tristram Geary) is an action Sci-Fi film about how the world would react if time travel was a virus. Does biological time travel have a head start on us?

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).

The neanderthal reaction to something we don't understand is to club it.

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?

Neanderthal reaction in Echo Back - The Time Travel Virus
Neanderthal reaction in Echo Back – The Time Travel Virus

(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.” (

Nature's echo - technological problems often require biological solutions
Image source: (Illustration: Mette Friis-Mikkelsen)

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!!

Follow Echo Back – The Time Travel Virus on Facebook and Twitter (@EchoBackMovie).

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!


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