A peek in­side

The film­mak­ers be­hind 2017’s fes­ti­val fave the sci-fi creep show.



Smith works qui­etly, switch­ing his glance be­tween an an ob­long tun­nel and the set as it is cap­tured on a camera mon­i­tor. The di­rec­tor is sur­rounded by ac­tors in metal­lic suits and crew mem­bers con­firm­ing scene numbers, but he looks as if he’s in his own world. As the take is called with a clap­per­board, he breaks his si­lence: “This is going to be the best shot of the film,” he says, talk­ing to no one in par­tic­u­lar, maybe just to him­self.

It’s an un­sea­son­ably sunny day in late March, but you wouldn’t know it where we’re stand­ing. Smith and a cou­ple dozen cast and crew mem­bers are se­questered in the cor­ner of a cav­ernous industrial space in Burn­side. It’s dark, it’s cold, and be­yond the echo­ing of wind against metal sid­ing, there’s little re­minder of the world out­side. The build­ing doesn’t look like much. But for a few months ear­lier this year, this is where the lat­est pro­ject from CUT/OFF/TAIL Pro­duc­tions (di­rec­tor Smith, pro­ducer Nancy Urich and screen­writer Darcy Spi­dle) was brought to life.

A few weeks fol­low­ing my visit to the set, Smith says over the phone that the opales­cent set­pieces we saw in Burn­side have be­come a “sci-fi grave­yard” in his back­yard. He’s at home, de­com­press­ing with Urich and their child Woodrow af­ter what he de­scribes as an “ath­letic” film­ing process. While Woodrow isn’t star­ring this time around—as he did in their last film, The Cres­cent— Smith says that the haunt­ing of child­hood mem­o­ries in­spired the vi­sion that be­came Tin Can.

“I find when you raise a child you kind of re­live your child­hood in a sense,” he says. “I re­al­ized that I grew up on comic books—that’s how I started draw­ing and be­ing in­ter­ested in movies and I just felt like the true Seth wanted to fully em­brace the sci-fi genre and see what we could do with it.”

Smith’s work has long played around the edges of the supernatur­al but Tin Can is per­haps the fur­thest he’s headed into straightup science fic­tion. He’s tight-lipped about the film’s de­tails and wants to main­tain sur­prise—“I hate trail­ers,” he says, laugh­ing—but says that it tells the story of a sci­en­tist who awakes in a cry­op­reser­va­tion cham­ber. In other words, “a science-fic­tion prison film”— a movie about feel­ing stuck in an un­fa­mil­iar place, and what it takes to get out. That feel­ing of claus­tro­pho­bia ended up match­ing the con­di­tions in which the movie was made: On a small bud­get, mostly in one room and with a tight group of trusted col­lab­o­ra­tors. For Smith, it was about let­ting the film­mak­ing process dic­tate the prod­uct.

While means were still lim­ited—“there were still a lot of peo­ple do­ing five jobs”— Tin Can is the largest CUT/OFF/TAIL pro­duc­tion yet. Af­ter orig­i­nally plan­ning on shooting in Smith’s north end stu­dio, they “lucked out” on the Burn­side space with room for large sets, cos­tumes and more. Ev­ery­thing from sil­i­cone pros­thet­ics to light­ing rigs were built on site, giv­ing even the day-to-day pro­duc­tion work a feel­ing of con­fine­ment.

“You just get a lot of ideas be­ing in a dark, dreamy space like that,” says Smith. “I find it’s re­ally im­por­tant to use the en­vi­ron­ment and the lo­ca­tion in try­ing to sculpt the pic­ture. That’s what it wants—the movie will tell you what it wants to be like.”

For now, Smith says he’s happy to be into the te­dious and focused work of post-pro­duc­tion. Tin Can should be on screens some­time next year—but you can ex­pect that Smith and Urich will be plan­ning their next cre­ative mind-melt be­fore then.

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