Kristen here with director and writer Leif Jeffers to get at the heart of how "REFUGE" came to be and to talk about the progress the team has made so far.
KM: What inspired you to tell this story?
LJ: I was interested in telling a war story, not about a soldier or a fighter pilot, but about the person at the other end of the gun. A person greatly outmatched, and completely alone.
As the story slowly begin to take shape, I found myself continually coming back to the idea of a mother and daughter trapped in this impossible situation. Two characters, who view the world in a unique way, yet share a bond that we can relate to on a primal level. When you really think about it, what's more beautiful, more human, than the connection between a mother and her child?
I knew that whatever threat they faced had to oppose their humanity in a meaningful way. For that reason, I began to explore the idea of using a machine. Not just any machine, but a machine that would symbolize the cold, heartless, brutality of war. I wanted these giant mechanical beasts to become walking representations of death and chaos.
Once I had all that figured out, there was nothing in the world that could have stopped me from writing it!
KM: Give us an update! What's been happening lately?
LJ: Oh man, where to begin? There has been so much happening on the project. I'll give you guys a small taste of what's been going on, and save the rest for later.
Lately, I've been laser focused on refining the story with Johane Matte. In our first version of the boards, we focused heavily on exploring character moments and pushing tension. It didn't take us long to realize that the short was getting long, and it was pretty obvious that we had to go back and streamline it a bit. We had a bunch of meetings on how to tell the same story in a more concise way. Through a lot of trial and error, we were able to find a succinct way to push the character arcs, while retaining the tension and mood we were after. We are in the final stages of the the story process, and I couldn't be happier with the direction things are going.
I've been working with our Art Director, Leighton Hickman, on all things art related. This includes Visual Development paintings, Mech designs, and costume designs.
Our Mechs are being designed and built by Stan Seo. It's hard to imagine the amount of time and energy that goes into designing these mechanical beasts. They have to be able to move in a believable way, while still serving the visual needs of the story. Stan and Leighton have knocked it out of the park, and it's going to blow you guys away when you see the Mechs in their finished form.
Phillip Boutte Jr has been hard at work on the costume designs. They're looking amazing! He nailed the daughter's outfit on his first try. We're really pushing towards a very worn, dingy, and lived-in look. Even though the film has giant Mechs in it, it's important for us that the characters and their costumes stay grounded in reality.
KM: What has been your proudest or most favorite accomplishment to date?
LJ: That's a tough question! It's really hard for me to pick just one thing because this whole project has been full of special moments. So...I'm going to pick two, knowing full well that there will be a lot more moments to come!
1. I'm really proud of the amazing team we've assembled so far, and I'm deeply humbled whenever someone new joins our crew. Seeing them work tirelessly to bring "REFUGE" to life is an indescribable feeling as a director. You can't help but feed off of that passion. I owe everything we've done so far to my team, and this project wouldn't exist without them.
2. I wrote a scene about a giant Mech silhouetted in the rain, and towering over a young girl. As I was writing, I couldn't help but doodle the image on a scrap piece of paper. A few months later, Leighton took a stab at painting that scene. When he showed me his first pass, I was blown away. He had nailed it on his first try. It was exactly how I had envisioned it. I've never shown anyone my doodle, but somehow his painting had the exact same composition as my crude drawing. It's as if there was only way this image could exist in the world. It was a moment I will never forget!
KM: What do you think will be the biggest challenge moving forward?
Everything! I'm not going to lie, the film we're making is extremely ambitious. The challenges ahead of us are huge, but I have no doubt that we'll find our way through the storm. It wouldn't be any fun if it was easy!