Initially grabbing our attention when it screened as part of Toronto International Film Festival’s online coverage (the festival put a selection of shorts on Vimeo for a limited period), Ray Wong’s subtle-slice of sci-fi Burnt Grass has stuck with us ever since that first viewing. Part relationship drama, part clone-centred science-fiction narrative existing in an identifiable universe, Burnt Grass feels like it falls into the recently coined ‘low-fi sci-fi’ genre – shunning special FX in favour of a strong premise and a thrilling narrative.
Inspired to create his story after dating a girl with an identical twin sister led to fears he’d one day mix them up, Burnt Grass not only presents an unusual and intriguing situation in its narrative, Wong’s film does that thing we all want films to do – it actually makes you think about the scenarios it presents. What would you do in that situation? Would you use the power to your own advantage or would you just walk away? Watching Burnt Grass, I couldn’t help but start to think about how I would react if this opportunity was placed in front of me (not that I’m expecting it to – I do know this is fiction!) and that’s a powerful and impressive thing for a story to do.
Admitting, in an interview I conducted with Wong over on Directors Notes, that budget constraints largely influenced the approach to his production, the director didn’t want financial restrictions to limit his film, but instead used them to find a more imaginative way of working:
“When you are constrained by the size of your budget you are forced to find other ways to tell your sci-fi tale, and focus on things like story and character, which is the most important thing anyway. I love the idea of stripping everything down to its essentials and telling your story with just the necessary pieces in front of you. If you can plant the idea of what this sci-fi mechanism is early on, you never really have to go back to it again, because you let the audience do the work and it gives you the freedom to explore the relationships in front of you. We knew we could never afford high-end ways of approaching the visual effects especially when it came to doubling the Sally’s. All we could really do were split screen and body double techniques. So the challenge was to figure out how to utilize those in a way that wasn’t so glaring to the audience. If you can hide it in the storytelling and the performance, these low-fi techniques go a long way. Alex Paxton-Beesley who played Sally was really amazing and her performances hopefully made the audience forget that process. You really just believe the two of them are interacting with each other for real. In fact many people have come up to us and asked if we actually shot with twins.”
Currently directing commercials and working on adapting the Burnt Grass universe into a feature which Wong says “takes the kernel idea in the short and really takes the story to new and interesting directions” – lets hope we get to see that sooner rather than later.