Kill Switch is a notable piece of filmmaking in more ways than one.
The movie’s inventive conceit sees it told largely from a first-person perspective, much like a video game. Here’s the gist: Will Porter (Dan Stevens), a highly paid employee for a mysterious corporation, seeks to save the world (and his family) after an experiment for unlimited energy goes terribly wrong and he winds up in a parallel world with a “Kill Switch,” an item that just might save everyone.
Stevens, who played the Beast in the $1.2 billion-grosser Beauty and the Beast, has a busy schedule and a fee that normally would be out of the price range for this film, but thanks to some creative filmmaking, the actor was able to complete almost all his work in just four days. He was on set for flashback scenes that were shot conventionally and showing Stevens’ character.
“All the POV stuff, we didn’t have the budget to allow him to be on set all the time. So what we did was we shot it with a stand-in,” says writer-director Tim Smit.
After shooting Stevens’ scenes, the skeleton crew went on to make the rest of the film, and Smit labored at home on the visual effects. Two years later, Smit called Stevens up to ask him to perform voiceover for the first-person scenes, something the actor did in just two hours.
“For him, it was a commitment of four days. We kept in touch, and then suddenly two years later, ‘oh shit! I’ve got to do the movie again,’ ” says Smit with a laugh. “He did an amazing job, I should say … He pretty much did it real time.”
Smit based the project partially off of his 2009 short film, What’s in the Box? (See below.) In addition to the story-telling challenges of shooting a movie in first-person, it was hard for the camera operator as well.
“It’s truly demanding to wear such a system throughout a shoot, even though Kill Switch was only shot in 18 days. It was very demanding on his head and neck,” Smit says.
Smit says it was also a challenge for his other actors to act opposite a camera.
“It was nice for him to spend four days on set and come back a couple of years later, but for the performance, during the POV scenes, it was acting against a lens, there’s no reaction against something like that. It was very difficult for the actors in the POV scenes to act,” says Smit.
The film looks more expensive than its modest budget, in part because Smit also did the visual effects himself. His background is in visual effects, so he assumed that would be less challenging than being a first-time director. But he learned wearing multiple hats was more challenging than he thought.
“It was difficult. It was stressful. I spent so many hours behind the computer,” says Smit. “It’s a very valuable lesson for next time to delegate more, to hire people.
As for what’s next, he’s got an affinity for original sci-fi concepts, but he doesn’t expect to making shooting in POV his signature trademark.
“My next project will have a visual appeal, but it will focus on the character side and more on the narrative than Kill Switch might have done. That was the whole nature of this project, to focus on this concept of POV and this experience. To me, the biggest challenge lay in that character side, and I think that’s something I want to improve next time,” he says.
Kill Switch is in select theaters and on demand now.