The long and winding road
For the truly curious, here are the eight major drafts of the script.
Notes: we often wouldn’t finish a draft before scrapping it, so some of these have scenes summarized in prose and some don’t even have an ending. Also, the dates represent the last edit to that draft, so they were started before that. Also also, we are terrible at character names, so we generally name them after the actor we have in mind. The wife, played by Sara Steinbrueck, was called “Sara” in early versions but eventually “Maria”.
Draft v1: July 12, 2012
A bit Matrixy and way too much world-building exposition, though I like the bookended monitor shots. Paul is wry and defiant, and it has a cool ending. This one would have been way more production than we could handle, and while it had a good energy, was missing the sense of loneliness and toil that originally attracted us to the story.
Draft v2: May 2, 2013
This one followed many, many intermediate conversational drafts. We re-set the film in a garage (specifically, Kenny’s garage) for practical reasons, and Paul is now a university professor rather than a research physicist. We introduced the character of Marcus, a student prodigy, to help Paul complete the portal and give him someone to interact with outside of a computer. They had a terrific dynamic, but it stole all the attention from Paul and Sara. It would make a great beginning to a longer film, but we discarded it for not being correct here. The red light makes its first appearance.
Draft v3: May 27, 2013
This draft is very discombobulated, with lots of mid-script note breaks and two endings. It follows Paul through the entire portal creation process, from concept to success (and failure). We get some nice (if cheesy) relational dialogue between Paul and Maria (née Sara), and their daughter Emily plays a pivotal on-screen role. We also introduce quantum entanglement as a fairly on-the-nose thematic metaphor. There was a really good movie buried, but the choice to show the entire process simply made the film too large.
At this point, we were already set-dressing Kenny’s garage with machine junk, flea market finds, and borrowed electrical gear. We also had a hard production schedule based on everyone’s availability: July 18–22, 2013. We still didn’t have the story nailed down.
Draft v4: June 17, 2013
Kenny’s first crack at writing the script. (Normally, we hammer out the story on index cards, then Justin writes the actual script.) We were growing desparate and decided to introduce the character of Sam, Paul and Maria’s son. (Again, in our limitless creativity, named after the actor we had in mind for the role, Sampson.) The story changed from Paul’s toil for Maria to Sam’s doubt about Paul’s toil. Sam became the audience’s eyes, wondering if Paul was noble or insane.
Draft v5: June 24, 2013
I tweak Kenny’s draft, trying to make the dialogue more natural. Something just still didn’t feel right. Navigating Paul and Sam’s dynamic required so much dialogue that nothing was happening. We had a complete story, but neither of us loved it much, and production had to start in less than a month.
Draft v6: July 15, 2013
The version that nearly broke us.
After rehearsals with Paul and Sampson, we tried to compress the dialogue and infuse it with personality, but just created caricatures of a crazy-haired inventor and a petulant teenager. I introduced an eery moment where Sam imagines his mom beckoning him from across a vast rock-quarry-turned-swimming-hole (which, thanks to dozens of calls, we actually got permission to shoot at), but Kenny had very cogent concerns about both the production difficulty and the hallucinatory tone. With less than a week before filming was to begin, he gamely hitched his wagon to this draft, but I was feeling rotten about dragging everbody along behind a story nobody really liked. Stress levels were very high.
The calibrator (blinky light panel) made its first real appearance, though it had been under construction by Chris Groskopf for weeks.
Draft v7 (Rescue Edition): July 16, 2013
At 1am on July 16, three days before principal photography was scheduled to begin, I closed the v6 draft, opened a new document, and typed out v7 in an hour. I stripped everything down and went back to the original idea that attracted us to the story: a solitary man toiling on a loop to bring his wife home. I emailed it to Kenny at 2:01am and went to sleep. By 8am, we’d decided to go with it. It required some painful last-minute casting scrambles, but we had our film back.
(Thanks to some insane connections, we actually got approval from Stephen Malkmus to use “Two States” on the soundtrack, but it ended up feeling wrong. I always liked it, though, and still wish it had worked.)
Draft v8 (Shooting Script): July 19, 2013
We finished the final tweaks on our first day of principal photography. Everything in this script was shot, which (if you compare it to the finished film) means we left lots of dialogue and one entire character on the digital cutting room floor. Pour one out for Maria’s brother, Davi.
In fact, here’s something Kenny will kill me for including: the Davi Dream Sequence, totally ungraded and unmixed and un-Cinemascoped, starring the game Steven Ladd as Davi. Please excuse the accent. It… it was my very bad idea.