Interview: David A. Hamilton
Copyright 2008 David A. Hamilton. All rights reserved
An interview with Distant Salvage writer/director/actor David A. Hamilton
By Jane Wilkes (September 9, 2008)
Distantsalvage.com spoke to the Distant Salvage creator about the finished film and what it took to see
it through to completion.
Q: You’ve described Distant Salvage as a father/daughter art project. Did your daughter
enjoy working on the project?
A: As far as I know (laughing). I think she did and I think we have more then exceeded
our goal. We made a short film that we can be proud of and I think she’s now more apt to
pursue creative things on her own. She has gotten very good at digital photography and
has entered numerous photographs in the county fair. As a result, she now has a wall full
ribbons, so I’m quite proud of that.
Q: Where did the story come from?
A: It’s based on a short story that I wrote in high school. In that story, a man’s wife dies
and her spirit is able to communicate with him through anything electronic. Since we
knew we wanted to make a futuristic film, I took that idea and had the wife’s conscience
transplanted into a robot.
Q. How many drafts did the script go through before you nailed it down?
A. One major rewrite and several smaller ‘tweaks.’ The major overhaul came about when
my wife read the first draft. She thought it was a good script, but a major bummer. Also,
she had originally not wanted to be on film at all, but later changed her mind. So with that
in mind, I created a new opening sequence (the destruction of Fran’s Folly) and an
entirely new second half of the film (the assault on the space station).
Q. How hard was it to build the robots?
A. The robots came about pretty easily once I learned that Styrofoam could be carved
and sanded. I started saving anything that was Styrofoam and seeing how I could fit the
pieces together in interesting ways. The CAN-426 robot was actually the prototype for
the DAWN robot.
Q. Is it true that CAN-426 was not in the first few drafts of the script?
A. Yes. He was the prototype robot and I felt that he looked too comical to play DAWN. I
felt that DAWN should have a ‘melancholy’ look and CAN just didn’t have that. When
people would come over to the house, and see CAN in the basement, they would just fall
in love with him and then be very disappointed when they would find out he wasn’t in the
film. So, I worked him into the script for a quick scene where he is outside of this crashed
spaceship. He had been the ships entertainment robot and doesn’t quite comprehend
that the ship has crashed and that he’s been sitting in the woods damaged for several
years. After we filmed that scene, I felt guilty just leaving him stranded there in the
woods. So I adjusted the script to have Cyborg Eddie rescue and repair CAN. I’m glad I
did, since I think the scenes between Eddie and CAN play really well.
Q. How did you get the robots to move?
A. I designed them to be puppets. I did some on-line research on puppet creation and
just went forward from there. In several shots, we are using traditional puppetry methods
where we are below camera moving the puppet. In other scenes, we are above the
robots manipulating them with fishing line attached to key points. I guess it’s a good thing
that I could not afford a high-definition camera, because I think then the fishing line
would have been obvious!
Q. What previous experience did you have in film?
A. Besides watching films? Um, none. Everyone involved in making this had no prior
experience with the exception of some acting in high school plays by a few of the cast
Q. Wasn’t that intimidating?
A. Yep. We just approached it with a sense of fun. This was an adventure, and I have to
say that I was amazed by how many people were willing to put their faith in me and risk
looking stupid and feeling foolish.
Q. What are you the most proud of now that the film is finished?
A. One thing that I am very proud of is the story. Everyone that knows me was expecting
a comedy or parody so they were surprised that I wrote something with so much drama
and character conflict. Overall, I think I am the most proud of the family and friends that
allowed me to realize a dream that I have had since I was a child – being able to see
myself in a film where I’m the hero saving the day. Flying a spaceship and firing a laser
gun was pretty awesome as well.
Q. The effects work is pretty impressive for such a limited budget. How did you pull that
A. I was very lucky in that I came across the website for a British software company
called FXHome. They specialize in software for creating FX on your desktop. Without
that software, the movie would not have looked nearly as good as it does.
Q. Did you consider hiring someone to help with the visuals?
A. Yes. But our stated goal was to ‘do it ourselves.’ This film was intended to be a
father/daughter art project where we would create what we needed as cheaply, and as
creatively, as possible. Basically, we went with the idea that there was no budget at all
and that we could only spend money to buy art supplies, wigs, masks, etc. So hiring an
outside firm to work on the visuals would have been cheating. Thankfully, FXHome
allowed us to stay true to our original vision without spending a tremendous amount of
Q. How did the idea of ‘no budget’ shape the creation of the film?
A. I wrote the scenes with the robots so that they had limited motion. Press a button.
Knock on a door. Turn right. Turn left. That kind of thing. Nothing like what you would
see in a big budget film where the robots would have been all over the place doing all
kinds of amazing things. In our universe, they are used for mundane purposes, like
piloting the ship, cooking meals, and as entertainment. Basically, the type of things
people would actually use robots for if they were readily available today.
Q. There are fair amount of miniatures used in the film. What can you tell us about them?
A. I grew up on 70s science fiction, Star Wars, Space 1999, and Battlestar Galactica.
What I loved about those shows was the amazingly detailed models. I had dozens of
model kits as a kid, and if there wasn’t a model kit available of a ship I liked, I tried to
carve one out of wood. So I guess it was just a natural progression for me to build my
own ships out of balsa wood and plumbing parts.
Q. Were all of the ships made that way?
A. Both of the principal ships were made that way. The Nellybelle and the Georgia. The
Nellybelle is the salvage ship that my character captains and the Georgia is Cyborg
Eddie’s ship. Again, because of the limited budget the scenes with these ships were
limited to fly left, fly right, take off, and land. They were basically trucks in space used for
getting the characters from point A to point B. The other ships were made from ‘found
objects.’ Basically, whatever we could glue together that looked visually interesting on
film. Fran’s Folly was two water bottles and an Easter egg dye cup. The derelict vessel
was a coffee can and a candy dispenser. The space station was electrical boxes and
Q. You only had one camera. What kind of challenges did that create?
A. The biggest challenge was that it would throw off the rhythm of the actors. It was hard
to just play a scene from beginning to end. Often, one actor would be holding the camera
on another actor while the actor on film repeated their lines several times. It made for an
odd process, but it all came together well in the final edit.
Q. Is there anything that you would change if you had the chance to go back and do it
A. Yeah, I think I overwrote some scenes. Too much talk. I would trim back on the
dialogue and increase the overall pacing. It’s a learning process. I now understand that
what sounds great to me on paper, doesn’t always translate well to the screen.
Q. Will there be a sequel?
A. Oh man, I just don’t know. This took over four years to complete. I have some other
projects that I want to explore, but the thought of not revisiting these characters is
depressing. I think I’ll just take a break from it for awhile and then see what happens. I do
intend to self publish the screenplay and some of the background information I created
for the film. I actually spent quite a bit of time creating back stories for the principal
characters. I also have a prequel comic book that I’m working on. It tells the story of how
the Branson family came into possession of the Nellybelle and DAWN. I hope to have
that available some time early next year (2009).