At our second annual Nitehawk Shorts Festival, we played over 30 shorts from around the world. We had first-timers and all-time greats contributing to the festival, but of all the films we showed only one could walk with the first place prize (a whole bunch of post-production work from Nice Shoes and Heard City), and this year’s big winner was Christopher Hawthorne for his short time travel comedy “Bender.”
Sharing DNA with the likes of Looper, Primer and Back to the Future, “Bender” follows a man who wakes up ten years in the future after going on a depression-fueled all night rager. We spoke with Hawthorne about Bender, and movie time travel, drunk anti-heroes and just how much booze it takes to break the space-time continuum.
1. How did your film come about?
“Bender” actually began as a much more dramatic piece – and went through many drafts as a heavy-handed treatise on gentrification. That all pivoted pretty quickly: I remember sitting on a subway and thinking that returning to your neighborhood after ten years must feel like a kind of bizarre time travel. That – coupled with my love of the genre – made me re-think my original, serious concept entirely.
At the same time, I happened to see a great indie comedy called The History of Future Folk, which starred Jay Klaitz and was produced by my friend, Smokey Nelson. Jay’s performance was so funny that I began to imagine him in the lead role of Henry, and re-wrote the part to play to his numerous strengths. Jay and Smokey both read the script and were gracious enough to agree to make it, and just like that, we went into full production mode.
2. What drew you to making a film about time travel? Why have it take place today?
I’ve always been attracted to the time travel genre, whether it was the Back to the Future series or more serious, independent fare like Primer. Trying to solve paradox puzzles has always been structurally interesting to me too. I chose to have it take place today, and within the span of ten years because of two reasons: firstly, to me there’s something inherently amusing about just traveling ten years – it’s not enough for any kind of wish fulfillment, yet everything is still surprisingly different. Secondly – and perhaps more importantly – this was to be shot on a shoestring budget, and I couldn’t afford to make a period piece.
3. The main character seems kind of like a drunk Rip Van Winkle, what inspired you to make your lead an alcoholic?
There’s something just so funny about drunk anti-heroes in comedies, and having a character like Henry with such an overt problem meant it gave us room to develop him within a short film running time. The idea that heavy drinking displaced our hero through time felt like it was a great idea too – and gave me license to smooth over plot holes. If you buy the fact that booze can make you time travel, you’re generally willing to forgive some of the genre’s paradoxes.
4. On a related note: How much alcohol was actually consumed while shooting?
Quite a bit, naturally. We shot the film in three-and-a-half days and many of Jay’s drinking/running/being-hungover moments involved alcohol in some way. We also timed our final ‘bender’ scenes for the shots just before wrap, and ran that straight into the wrap party. Those drunken scenes in the bar are very, very real.
5. What’s next for you? Do you have anything you’re working on that you’d like to talk about?
Currently I’m working on a feature that I plan to pare down to a short, and use the latter to fund the former. It’s shaping up to be less of an outright comedy than Bender, but that could very well change through the writing process.
6. Time travel fiction share a lot of the same conventions, was there one in particular that you hoped to capture in Bender, or one that you wanted to avoid?
I realized pretty early on that I couldn’t beat the paradoxes – and if I could, I didn’t have time to explain them in under 20 minutes. That was a challenge. I also wanted the short to feel like the bastard child of those powerful one-word time travel features: Primer and Looper. “Bender,” in a way, is a loving tribute to the more substantive films of the genre (there are time travel easter eggs throughout the film), but with all the serious, philosophical reflection surgically removed and replaced with wine, beer and spirits.