Love, Death, And Cryonic Preservation: In Conversation With NEW Director John Harden

Posted on Jan 9 2016 - 5:39pm by Fred McNamara

Independent film-making can often be full of trials and tribulations for those involved, but the end result can be a very rewarding one. We here at Screen Relish love discovering and helping out independent talent, and one film we’ve recently come across is the intriguing and graceful sci-fi short NEW. We asked writer and director John Harden a few questions about the film, and how the independent scene is adapting to the internet and crowdfunding.

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Screen Relish: Can you tell our readers a little bit about NEW?

John Harden: NEW is a 16-minute drama about an elderly couple who, after dying in the 21st century, are cryonically preserved. Many decades later they are revived, awakening to find their health and youth totally restored. Together they face the joys and challenges of a second life in the distant future.

SR: What made you want to create this film?

Harden: I wrote the script for NEW in the summer of 2012. I was kind of aiming for a sweet spot between the futuristic sci-fi that fired my imagination when I was a kid and the more emotion- and character-driven stories that make sense to me as an adult. My premise and setting allowed me include some classic “gee-whiz” sci-fi elements, but ultimately they’re all there to deliver an emotional wallop of future shock and disorientation to the characters. Once I realized I’d hit that balance, I knew I had to make the film.

SR: How did you go about creating the graceful visual effects that illustrate the future world New takes place in?

Harden: Thank you. I have to give props to the small but very talented group of VFX artists who helped create all that. They were great creative collaborators. I have a background in visual arts and I was very involved with the design of everything. There were some compromises because of our budget, of course, but I’m pretty happy with most of what you see on the screen. Some reviews have complained that the future we depict is maybe visually a bit generic. That’s a fair criticism, I think. Some of that was due to budget. But to some extent it was also for expediency of telling a story within the constraints of a short film. There wasn’t room for full-blown world-building, so we used some recognizable sci-fi cues that would quickly tell viewers we were waking up in a utopian society: white skyscrapers, blue skies, lots of trees.

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SR: In the film’s brief running time, there’s a definite yet natural sense of detachment between Hugh and Candace and the new world they’re reborn into. How did you go about building this feeling?

Harden: By not answering all the questions, I suppose. What does all the futuristic slang mean? Why is the journalist fascinated when Hugh rinses out a coffee cup? We can only guess, and that puts us in the same boat as Hugh and Candace. The audience see the new world through their eyes.

SR: The sense of isolation and detachment from the world around them and each other is a lot to accomplish in just 16 minutes, what made you decide on such a length for the film?

Harden: Believe me, I struggled to get the edit down to 16 minutes! As much as I wanted to make this film, I expected it would be a tough sell on the festival circuit, and I was right. It’s doing quite well online, which is gratifying. But festival programmers like shorts to be under 10 minutes. Even at 16, the pacing of NEW is a bit rushed, I think. It packs a lot in, and not always smoothly. It kind of tries to be a miniature feature film. Oh well. Swing for the fences, right?

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SR: NEW was funded through crowdfunding, what made you want to go down this route?

Harden: I had to crowdfund it, it was the only way I could afford to do it! We raised about $22,000 in the first campaign, ran out of money in post, and had to raise another $9,000 or so to finish the film. Prior to making NEW, my short films had been financed out-of-pocket, with budgets more in the $2,000 range. This was my first and so far only foray into crowdfunding. The response from people was very gratifying but it’s a grueling way to raise money – it’s hard work, and exacts an emotional toll too.

SR: On a more general note, do you think crowdfunding and independent movies go hand-in-hand in today’s world of film-making?

Harden: I think it’s a great tool, but it’s important to think hard about when and how you deploy it. Some people get excited about the prospect of “free money” (it isn’t free, or even easy) and that’s when you get poorly thought-out campaigns that don’t succeed, I think. Those campaigns aren’t doing any favors for the filmmakers involved, or for people’s attitudes in general toward donating to indie films.

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SR: Have you any other projects you’re working on?

Harden: Last summer I wrote a feature-length version of NEW, expanding the world and adding characters. Hugh and Candace are still in it, but now they have neighbors: other people from the 20th/21st century who have been revived just like them. If people would like to keep up with what I’m doing, I’ll encourage them to sign up for my newsletter at www.johnfilms.com or to follow me on Twitter where I’m tweeting as @giantspecks. Thank you, Fred, for this opportunity to share my film!

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You can watch NEW for free below and find out more about Harden’s work via his website here! Why not purchase a copy of NEW for yourself once you’ve finished watching the finished short, and help support the thriving indie sci-fi scene!

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