Cinematographer and producer Tim Wu is well-known in horror circles for films such as Imitation Girl (2017), Darling (2015), and Pod (2015). Travis Tips was the cinematographer on Imitation Girl and Tim was the camera operator. An independent science fiction film starring Lauren Ashley Carter, Imitation Girl has been making a splash on the film festival rounds this year. I had a chance to talk with Tim from the Philadelphia Unnamed Film Festival (AKA the PUFF Film Festival) where Imitation Girl premieres on Thursday, September 28th.
Michelle: Hi Tim, thank you for taking the time to talk with me! I just screened Imitation Girl and it’s a really beautiful film. What appealed to you the most about this project?
Tim: Thanks! Well, Natasha is one of my business partners at Illium Pictures so I’m obligated to automatically like everything she puts in front of me — but I’m lucky because everything she puts in front of me is pretty. Damn. Great. So, outside of all the usual things (awesome script, great director, extraordinary talent, etc. etc. etc. other assorted compliments about Natasha and co.), the big thing for me was that Imitation Girl was our first fully original feature and marked our company’s move into the wonderful, wonderful, high-risk, low-return world of independent feature filmmaking.
Michelle: You have an impressive history as a cinematographer. How challenging was it to do both camera work and act as co-producer on this film?
Tim: OH, STAHP. The ‘ol producer/cam-op combo … yeah, #DoNotRecommend. Forrest McClain honestly did most of the heavy lifting for the film (he still had hair when we first started the project). I was there to help out with the logistics wherever he needed, but I was actually still producing a lot of the commercial stuff we were doing at the company while shooting Imitation Girl because that stuff is what was (quite literally) keeping the lights on.
Michelle: Natasha Kermani is an exceptionally talented writer and director. What was it like working with her on this project?
Tim: Natasha and I have worked together for about a million billion years now (give or take a few years), so of course it was a great experience working with her. I think we’ve always worked well with each other because we don’t take anything TOO seriously which tends to keep the stress at bay. I mean, at the end of the day, it’s just movies. This business is so intimate — a good 90% of our hiring decisions stem from “well, who do we want to hang out with for 12 hours a day?” There are really objectively talented and accomplished people that I just won’t work with because they’re a pain the ass on set or are too high and mighty about themselves. Our crew on Imitation Girl were all just people we liked hanging out with who happen to be really really good at what they do.
Michelle: This isn’t your first horror/science fiction film. Do you prefer working with one genre over another?
Tim: I’d say as a camera operator, horror can be a lot of fun (sometimes) but as a producer, holy crap would I prefer science fiction. I’d take a controlled spaceship set any day of the week over night exteriors in the woods (although our next movie is almost entirely outdoor night exteriors in the woods, so … thanks, Natasha).
Michelle: The visuals are amazing in this film. There is a noticeable difference in atmosphere in the scenes with Imitation and the scenes with Julianna. How did you achieve the two different moods for characters in terms of cinematography?
Tim: Oh that’s 100% Travis Tips, our uber-talented DP on the film. All I did was push the little red button on the side of the camera and point it at the set. The color palettes he and the gaffer, James Herron (our third partner at Illium), crafted for the different locations were really something. I particularly loved the warmth of the brother’s bar in New Mexico.
Michelle: Did you have a preferred camera for this film and, if so, why?
Tim: The camera we used for the film was the Sony F55, which Travis actually owned. So Producer Tim preferred that because it was the cost-effective choice, haha. Objectively, though, the range on that camera is really impressive and, in combo with the older Cooke S2’s, I thought gave the film a great natural warmth and grain.
Michelle: I’m a big fan of Lauren Ashley Carter. This is the third film you’ve worked on with her. What do you like most about working with her as an actress?
Tim: Oh, it’s always incredible watching her work — she’s by far one of the best actresses I’ve ever worked with. (I mean, she learned Farsi for the role in a matter of months.) Especially with this film, it was great seeing her branch out from horror because the first two films I worked with her on (Pod and Darling) were 12 hours a day of her screaming at a trillion decibels straight into camera with me less than a foot away. What I like about working with her, though, circles back to what makes Natasha and I work well together — she’s just truly easy to work with (which can definitely be a rare trait for actors).
Michelle: What was it like working with Lauren as she was playing two very different roles?
Tim: There was actually a good block of time between shooting the New Mexico portion and the New York portion, so, in many ways, it felt like shooting two entirely different movies since none of the other characters overlapped. There were only a couple days where Lauren had to Jekyll & Hyde it and pop back and forth between the two characters, which was super impressive to watch but also kind of a logistical nightmare because of the wardrobe, hair, and make-up changes involved.
Michelle: Do you have a favorite behind the scenes moment from when you were shooting the film?
Tim: I’d say it was when I made Natasha drink green chile flavored white wine from a Wal-Mart when we wrapped the New Mexico portion of the shoot. There’s a video of it deep in my Instagram that’s probably my finest work.
Michelle: I understand you shot in New Mexico. Was it a challenge to achieve some of the stunning scenery we see in the film?
Tim: Ohhhhhhhh the weather in New Mexico… It was absolutely gorgeous but, yeah, there was a day where it’d go from perfectly sunny to torrential hail within a matter of seconds and just keep going back and forth and back and forth. There was a day where the rain had turned the only road to our location into a mudpit and a couple of our vans got trapped. There was a day where the wind was kicking up so much sand and dirt I had to operate through sunglasses. SO YEAH, I HAD A GREAT TIME. Real kudos to Lauren, though, because she had to go through all the same shit but, you know, also act.
Michelle: This isn’t just a science fiction film, this is a film with a message. What do you hope people take away from the film when they leave the theater?
Tim: I hope people walk away from the film thinking “Oh man, these guys are like, really good at making movies. I’ve been looking for something to do with this extra $20 million in cash I have lying around. I’m gonna give it to these guys tax and paper trail-free to make more movies.”
Michelle: I’ve been hearing a lot of good buzz about the film, even before I saw the screener. What has it been like screening Imitation Girl at film festivals this year?
Tim: It’s truly been surreal to watch the film make the rounds and hear people’s reactions to it, especially at these horror and genre festivals. When we got invited to FrightFest in London, my first thought was honestly “Um, they watched it, right? The most bloodshed is her pricking her finger while washing dishes. And even then she just puts on a band-aid on and goes on with her day.” My favorite, though, has been reading each festival programmer’s version of the synopsis of the film in the programs and Natasha and I going “Oh man, we’re definitely stealing that description for the press kit.”
Michelle: Are you working on any new projects that you can tell us about?
Tim: Star Wars: Episode X, but it’s been stuck in development hell for a while now, something about the studio wanting to replace Natasha as the director with Tyler Perry. Until that gets sorted out though, we’re in pre-production for our next film which is going to be a period thriller set in 15th century Cornwall, UK. We actually did a scout down there after Frightfest in London, which may or may not have just been an excuse to visit the sets of Poldark (it was definitely an excuse to visit the sets of Poldark).
You can follow the production company Illium Pictures on Twitter and Instagram at @IlliumPictures and follow them on facebook at Illium Pictures.