The following is a guest post from my friend Arthur Gillard. He recently interviewed the creators of the science fiction/lucid dreaming web series, Anamnesis. Here is a brief synopsis of the series, from the website:
When a woman dreams of her boyfriend’s death on the same night he’s murdered, she and a group of strangers begin to unravel a greater mystery by journeying into their subconscious.An abbreviated version of this interview will appear soon in Lucid Dreaming Experience, a free online journal.
Enjoy the FULL interview!
Interview with the Creators of the SF/ Lucid Dreaming Web Series Anamnesis by Arthur Gillard
Anamnesis is a science fiction web series about lucid dreaming based on an original short film of the same name. It has been getting a great deal of positive attention in the lucid dreaming community based on its accurate and realistic portrayal of lucid dreaming, as well as its compelling storyline, good acting, professional production values, and gorgeous cinematography. I had a chance recently to interview Alex Calleros, writer and director of the original short, and Michael Tucker, who co-wrote and co-directed the web series with Alex.
The following interview may contain some spoilers, so I recommend watching the original short and the five episode web series before reading the interview. You can see the original short here, and the web series here. Altogether it takes a little over an hour to watch.
You can find out more about the series by following them on Google Plus, Twitter [@AnamnesisSeries], or Facebook, or via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
(Disclosure: I've agreed to manage the Anamnesis Google Plus page on a volunteer basis, without compensation.)
(Disclosure: I've agreed to manage the Anamnesis Google Plus page on a volunteer basis, without compensation.)
Arthur Gillard: Why did you decide to make a film/web series about lucid dreaming? Was it inspired by your own experiences with lucidity, or did you simply find the subject intriguing?
Alex Calleros: I’ve always been intrigued by the relationship between cinema and dreams. The experience of watching a film is often thought of as entering a sort of dream-state, and many of my favorite films play with questions of reality, consciousness, etc. The Matrix, Inception, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind—these films were huge influences for me as a filmmaker and I had always wanted to play in the world of dreams using cinema. So, when I had the opportunity to write and direct the short film in 2012, it was a chance to finally make a film that essentially takes place entirely in the dream world. One of my favorite films is The Fountain, which explores the theme of death in an incredibly profound way, and that was also a huge influence on the short film.
Michael Tucker: When we began thinking of how to continue the short film (which has a pretty definite conclusion), we played around with a lot of ideas. Alex’s close friend Gary Ruiz was very into lucid dreaming and had talked to Alex about it. The idea of becoming lucid within a dream world and being able to manipulate your surroundings fascinated us and seemed like a great concept to play with cinematically, as well as an idea we hadn’t seen done before. So we spent time researching lucid dreaming techniques and experiences, and grew attached to the idea of trying to portray the sensation of dreaming as accurately as possible. We didn’t want it to be blurry and fuzzy like how dreaming is often shown in TV shows, but we also didn’t want it to be as rigid and straight-forward as Inception. So finding that balance was our guiding light, and hopefully we achieved that to some degree.
Arthur: Could you explain the meaning of the word “anamnesis,” and how that relates to the themes explored in the series and the original short film?
Alex: The Google definition of anamnesis is:
1) recollection, in particular
2) the remembering of things from a supposed previous existence
I first discovered the word being used in a philosophical / spiritual context—anamnesis was used to describe the process of “awakening to” or “remembering” one’s true nature or identity. The original short film explores the theme of identity—who are you, really? That’s the question being asked of the main character, Adam, throughout the short. His process of remembering what he had forgotten forms the arc of the story, and I thought the word “anamnesis” represented that arc perfectly.
Arthur: How does the web series relate to the original short? Is it a straightforward continuation, or is it more like a reboot, a variation on a theme?
Michael: We wanted the web series to stand on its own for anyone who hadn’t seen the original short, but we also wanted people that had seen the short to be able to watch it as a continuation. So even though stylistically-speaking there are differences between them, story-wise we tried to make it as directly connected as we could.
Arthur: I understand that lucid dreaming expert and author Daniel Love consulted on the show. How did he get involved, and how closely did he work with you? Did he review scenes in the script and suggest changes? Did he suggest any details or scenes to include?
Michael: Daniel Love contacted us after he stumbled upon our Kickstarter campaign. He had just finished his book on lucid dreaming, “Are You Dreaming?” and sent us free copies to check out. We also took him up on his offer to look over the scripts as we were finalizing them, and he made several suggestions of how to tweak things so that they would be more accurate. He explained some reality tests that we hadn’t heard of, and helped us pinpoint exactly where and when the characters might use them. And since the series has released, he’s connected us with a lot of the lucid dreaming community, which has been amazing. So overall Daniel Love was a really big help.
Arthur: Who among the cast and crew of Anamnesis is a lucid dreamer? Could you share some of your own lucid dreams? Please go into as much detail as you are willing. To what extent did lucid dreams of the cast and crew influence how dreams are portrayed? Did working on Anamnesis influence your dreams?
Alex: Brad C. Wilcox, who plays Noah, had frequent lucid dreams for a period of his life. In fact, they had gotten so constant that he had to “cut back,” as he wasn’t feeling properly rested in the morning.
Michael: Zach Brown plays Sean, the show’s expert lucid dreamer. To prepare for the role, Zach researched lucid dreaming and practiced it in his daily life. He would actually draw the letter “A” on his hand, as Sean does in the show, as a reminder to ask himself, “Am I awake?” He told us about a lucid dream he had in which Whoopi Goldberg was his dream guide. It sounded pretty awesome.
Alex: I had a really striking wake-induced lucid dream during the production of Anamnesis. I had woken up extra-early one morning, and as I was falling back asleep I managed to maintain awareness. I’ll never forget the moment I passed into the dream state: all at once, I felt my body launch off the bed and hover for a moment near the ceiling of my bedroom. I passed through some sort of portal and found myself floating above the swimming pool in my childhood backyard in Arizona. I didn’t really have any control over what was happening; I was just along for the ride. My dream body plunged into the pool, where I was delighted to find I could breathe underwater. I looked up and watched in awe as raindrops created thousands of intricate ripples on the surface of the water. A red Arizona dust storm colored the sunlight filtering into the water. It was one of the most vibrant, beautiful visions I’ve ever had...so beautiful that I got excited and promptly woke up. But that one really stuck with me.
Michael: The only lucid dream that I can for sure say was me becoming lucid happened during the midst of shooting the series. Between researching lucid dreaming, and writing the scripts, and then filming all the scenes, all of that information was swirling around in my head all the time. In my dream, I was in my high school cafeteria, looking around, when suddenly I remembered one of the reality tests that the character Hannah does in the show. She pinches her nose with her fingers in such a way that she shouldn’t be able to breathe in—but she can. So I thought, “eh, may as well give it a try and see what happens.” So I pinched my nose and then breathed in—and it worked! I suddenly realized I was dreaming, and immediately did a slow-motion backflip into the air and started to fly. I remember I knew exactly how to control my body in flight, how to turn, spin, everything. Unfortunately I became really overwhelmed by the excitement of it all. I tried to calm myself down so I wouldn’t wake up, but it was all too much and I woke up almost immediately after I started flying. It was a pretty awesome experience.
Arthur: I found the original short film particularly moving. The repeated inquiries into Adam's true identity and the suggestion that he was now “who he had always been” were suggestive and yet open to interpretation by the viewer—almost like a Zen koan, inviting a deeper look at one's own ultimate identity. Did any particular spiritual tradition or school of thought inform the original short film?
Alex: We made the short film as part of this year-long project where we asked our audience to send us 1-sentence constraints that we’d have to follow in our next film. One of the constraints for Anamnesis was: “The dialogue from one scene must be exactly the same in one scene as it is in another,” which fortuitously led to the idea of posing this question “Who are you?” to Adam throughout the movie. I definitely wanted to tap into a “Zen koan” feel with those repeated inquiries. Only at the end does he understand the at-first puzzling answer, “You’re who you’ve always been.”
Over the past several years, I’ve been really interested in Western-born philosophers who take the deep wisdom embedded in Eastern religions (Buddhism in particular) and translate/update them for the modern age. Alan Watts was one of the first to do this in the 50’s and 60’s, and hundreds of audio recordings of his wonderful lectures are widely available online today. Listening to him speak is both enlightening and incredibly fun (he’s got a delightful British accent and a sharp sense of humor). I’m also very interested in the work of American philosopher Ken Wilber, who has pioneered a movement to see the world “integrally,” integrating the truths of science, psychology, art, spirituality, etc. I believe I actually discovered the word “anamnesis” while reading an article by Wilber.
Arthur: In the original short, Hannah is seemingly portrayed as a powerful lucid dreamer, for example creating portals from one dream scene to another. “I know my way around in here,” she remarks to Adam at one point. In the series, it's less clear that she's lucid dreaming. Based on the short film I see her in the series as dreaming lucidly, probably assuming that Sean is a character in her dreams. Is that an accurate interpretation? Will we see Hannah coming forth again as a powerful lucid dreamer in her own right in future episodes?
Alex: I’ll be honest, when we made the short film, we weren’t even sure Hannah was a “real” character or simply a figment of Adam’s imagination fashioned after his memory of Hannah. Once we had the opportunity to create a web series based on the short, we came up with the premise that it was actually the real Hannah, and that she was somehow sharing a dream with Adam.
All that said, I’d argue that Hannah wasn’t particularly lucid in the short film. She “knew her way around” and kind of went with the flow, but really it was Adam’s subconscious driving the whole dream forward, she was just along for the ride. When she wakes up in Episode 01 of the web series, Hannah has a very foggy memory of the dream, and only remembers it in flashes when she comes across dream signs in her waking life (the water glass spilling, the copy shop, etc.), which further suggests she wasn’t fully lucid.
The first time I think Hannah actually becomes lucid in the series is Episode 04, when Sean calls to her attention that they’re in a dream and teaches her about reality tests. In a lot of ways, the long-term trajectory we see for the characters in Anamnesis is a journey from being “asleep” to becoming “lucid” or “awake”—in more ways than one.
Arthur: I've recently finished re-reading Patricia Garfield's excellent book The Dream Messenger: How Dreams of the Departed Bring Healing Gifts, which explores the various kinds of dreams people have after a loved one has died, and the role such dreams play in the healing process. This seems like a rich potential territory to explore in Anamnesis. Might Adam start showing up in Hannah's or Vera's dreams in future episodes?
Alex: We’ve definitely talked about this as a possibility. We’d love to bring Adam back in some fashion. If Hannah continues to become more lucid in the dream world, it’s kind of inevitable that he’ll show up in some form or another.
Arthur: Is there any significance to the names of the characters? “Vera,” for example, reminded me of veritas, truth, the idea that “the truth shall set you free.” She certainly seems happy to break rules in an attempt to uncover the truth.
Michael: In general we didn’t choose the character names specifically because of their meanings. For the most part, we based it on which names sounded good and felt like they matched the characters. Vera is a name I’ve always liked, both because of how it sounds and because of its meaning, and I think it fits Vera’s character really well for exactly the reason you mentioned. Noah’s name is also an obvious reference, but that wasn’t the only reason we chose it for him. We love it when elements of a story can have deeper meanings, but I also think you can go overboard with that to the point that it’s hitting the audience over the head with it. Inception, for instance, is not subtle at all when it comes to character names having deeper meanings—which while cool, I found more distracting than anything else.
Arthur: Whereas the original short is completely self-contained, the series continues to get more complex and mysterious episode-by-episode, leaving the viewer hungry for more. Are you planning to make more episodes? If so, do you have an overall story arc in mind for the show? Can you say anything about specific ideas or themes you'd like to explore in future episodes?
Alex: When we were brainstorming what we wanted to do with the web series, one of our main inspirations was Lost, which unraveled an incredibly intricate mystery over several seasons. We wanted to see if we could pull off the same kind of science-fiction mystery in the world of lucid dreaming—but actually know where it was all going, from the very first episode. So yes, we definitely have an overall story arc in mind for the show. It will probably change and evolve if we get to make more episodes, but there are clues hidden as early as Episode 01 as to what’s coming next.
Arthur: You explore a number of dream themes in the series—lucid dreaming, of course, but also night terrors and out-of-body experiences. In future episodes, do you plan to explore a greater variety of dream and dreamlike states, such as false awakenings, sleep paralysis, hypnagogia?
Michael: If we get to make more episodes we would absolutely want to explore more of these dream / dreamlike states. I get excited about there being so many interesting experiences to be played with, that they all lend themselves so well to film. The medium of film can convey the dream experience better than any other, in my opinion, and we have a lot of fun as filmmakers coming up with ways to translate these dream experiences to the screen. In particular, I find the idea of sleep paralysis terrifying...so it’d be fun to play with that on screen.
Arthur: The first season of Anamnesis was made possible through a highly successful Kickstarter campaign, in which you raised 151% of the money you were asking for. If you make more episodes, how do you plan to finance them? How can fans of the series support you in making more episodes?
Michael: Figuring out how to finance more episodes is the main challenge we’re facing right now. It blew us away that we surpassed our funding goal on Kickstarter, and we combined that with funding from FilmSkillet.com, whose founder, Jeremy Norris, reached out to us and essentially convinced us to make the web series in the first place. But even with these combined funds, Anamnesis was primarily a labor of love. We didn’t have enough to pay most of the cast and crew, and almost all of the money went to locations, food, and equipment rentals.
If we were to make more, we would have to be able to pay all the cast and crew for the excellent work that they do. And considering the first five episodes are about 70 minutes long, each season is essentially a feature film. So we would need the budget of an indie feature film. Crowdfunding a next season would definitely be an option, but we’re also trying to reach out to websites like Vimeo, for example, who are getting into the original content market. Having a distributor for the series that could also help fund another season would be absolutely great. So the best thing fans can do to help us make more episodes is share the series with anyone and everyone. The more we can show that we have a large group of dedicated fans, the more likely we can raise money via crowdfunding and the easier it would be to convince a potential distribution partner.
Arthur: What do you think of YouTube's plan to start offering an ad-free subscription service? How might that affect Finite Films?
Michael: I understand that YouTube has been trying to figure out how to make a profit since they first began, but this feels somewhat like a betrayal of what has made YouTube so popular in the first place. There is a freedom and accessibility that YouTube has (which admittedly comes with some chaos and a lot of junk) that I think may be tainted by a subscription fee. Especially if they keep forcing unskippable ads onto every video to make the viewing experience more unpleasant in order to convince people to pay the subscription fee.
On the other hand, if it means that they’re helping content creators like ourselves get something more out of it (financially speaking), then perhaps they’re incentivizing and enabling people to make more quality content. Ultimately I think it will depend largely on how much the subscription fee is, and how optional they make it feel. If it’s $2.99 a month, maybe that’s an okay deal that feels worthwhile; if it’s $19.99 a month and every YouTube video has a 2-minute unskippable ad—then I think that will be bad for views, for content creators, and for YouTube. I guess we’ll just have to wait and see.
Arthur: What has been the reaction of the lucid dreaming community to Anamnesis? How do people without prior experience with lucid dreaming react to the show?
Alex: Honestly, we’ve been blown away by the reception we’ve had in the lucid dreaming community. We wanted Anamnesis to represent the experience of lucid dreaming in a more accurate way than we’d seen in other films and TV shows, and so to have such a positive response from the community has been incredible. Our fans in the lucid dreaming community really are the primary reason we want to find a way to finance and produce more episodes. We’ve also had great responses from our non-lucid-dreamer fans, and we’re now looking to try to expand our audience beyond the lucid dreaming niche into communities that value thoughtful science fiction / drama storytelling.
Arthur: Are there any particular resources—books, websites, etc.—that you would recommend to people wanting to more deeply explore lucid dreaming?
Alex: Are You Dreaming by Daniel Love provides a great introduction to the world of lucid dreaming. He developed the CAT (Cycle Adjustment Technique) for generating frequent lucid dreams, which he outlines in his book. Our friend Jay Mutzafi (aka Lucid Sage and host of The Lucid Dreaming Podcast) highly recommends Stephen LaBerge’s Lucid Dreaming: AConcise Guide to Awakening in Your Dreams and in Your Life as a great place to start one’s lucid dreaming practice. And finally, www.world-of-lucid-dreaming.com has a ton of resources for anyone looking to lucid dream.
Arthur: Thank you for producing such an excellent short film and web series, and in particular for the realistic portrayal of lucid dreaming. I wish you great success and will certainly be doing my part to help spread the word. Is there anything we haven't covered in the interview that you would like to add?
Alex: We’ve had a lot of people ask us if they can buy Season One of the series on DVD, and we’re currently putting together a DVD / Digital Download package that will include some exclusive special features. For updates on all things Anamnesis, people can follow us on Facebook, Twitter [@AnamnesisSeries], and Google Plus (and subscribe to our channel, Finite Films, on YouTube).
From the very beginning, Anamnesis has been a true labor of love and we’ve only made it this far because of the support of our fans. If anyone has any ideas or suggestions for how we can continue to reach out to the lucid dreaming community and rally support for future seasons, don’t hesitate to shoot us an email at email@example.com.