Of mice and scientists – interview with Eron Sheean, director of „Errors of the Human Body”

Without any doubt, this production is exactly what we are looking for in today’s science-fiction (in this case even more „science” than „fiction”), so we decided to contact the director of „Errors of the Human Body”, Eron Sheean.

Eron tells us about a unique place where the film was shot, the actors, he worked with: Michael Eklund („The Divide”), Karoline Herfurth („The Reader”), Tomas Lemarquis („Noi Albinoi”), about some crazy mice and how we all end up. Moreover, above you can see the exclusive photo of the movie. Enjoy.

I’d like to ask you about the title „Errors of Human Body”, I mean is there any deeper meaning standing behind it, or it simply derives from the story told in the movie? Human body is considered as perfectly designed system, where everything has its place and order. You’re not convinced of such idea?

The title comes from a great book called Mutants by Armand Marie Leroi, which investigates what we consider 'normal’ and then looks at the deviations of the form of a human being. The title in the context of the film is meant to suggest such an idea, but it’s also meant to suggest that these Errors are not merely physical, but emotional and psychological and that all these things are of course connected. The whole nature of research is to try and establish what is normal in a healthy organism and when things go wrong is namely to do with a communication breakdown. In the film this is explored as a biological breakdown in the form of disease and a communication breakdown with Geoff’s inner state and honesty to others. Actually a lot of characters are dishonest in the film!

The „Errors…” project is developed in collaboration with Max Planck Institute for Cell Biology and Genetics. That’s quite unusual partnership, I have to admit. How did you arouse their interest?

Yes, it sure was an odd and fortunate collaboration. The story behind it is, which is quite long, so I’ll try to be concise – I had a short film in Berlinale many moons ago and met a great scientist who was one of the directors of the MPI in Dresden and they were running an artists residency program at the time. I came over from Australia a few months later to hang around and learn about molecular biology, it was only supposed to be for a few months but turned into over six years. I managed to convince them to let me develop a feature film based around the institute and some of their bizarre and fascinating research projects. It’s not a documentary – it’s a fiction film with some real science as the jumping off point for the story.

What is their part in production of the movie? Is it only lending the locations plus scientific consultation or is there something more?

It was primarily the shooting location and inspiration, and I managed to get quite a few scientists to play extras! They were very generous and also very progressive, I mean, it’s amazing they gave us the freedom to shoot in that beautiful place and made space and time for us. I think they really understood the importance of the wider implication of communication between the sciences and the arts.

This collaboration clearly proves hard-sf, scientific approach to the subject, doesn’t it? Dis you make any compromises during writing the script, I mean giving up some threads or motifs as they could be too incomprehensible for the wider audience?

I tried very hard not to dumb down the science, as much as that’s possible in a film. I also tried to be true to the way scientists speak given the odd language that exists, that to the layman is incomprehensible. The other thing that was important was to try and capture a cross section of scientist types. I remember at the beginning I really tried to avoid cliches but in the end it’s impossible to avoid entirely because these cliches are born from such people. The science, in particular the concept of regeneration of damaged tissue via genetic manipulation, was the source of inspiration for the science story, the leaping off point. Being a film, it takes that concept further, to the next level – the WHAT IF factor.

What’s Your personal oppinion on crossing boundaries in biomedical sciences such as genetic manipulation? Are we – as a species – somehow obligated to change and upgrade ourselves?

I believe that it’s a natural step to our evolution, that we create the tools to intervene with our organism, I mean we have done that in some capacity forever. That said, it is a slippery slope and just because we can – doesn’t mean we should.
The quagmire of ethics will always exist and that’s what EOTHB deals with on a variety of levels.

What was the hardest part in creation of such low-key, down to earth sci-fi film?

Raising the money to make it! I was driven to make something more akin to the 70’s, a thinking persons sci-fi that treats the audience with respect – at least that was my intention. The film is not an easy pill to swallow, meaning it’s not pop-corn, it’s much more character driven, though it’s not always so 'down to earth’ as it takes a few fantastical turns.

You decided to gather part of the budget via crowdfunding.. What was your experience in using Kickstarter as a raising platform? Do you think that this kind of project financing will spread and become a standard in the industry?

With any independent film it’s a scramble to piece together the money, and at the time I didn’t want to beg family and friends on an individual basis, so it seemed like a good idea to try crowd funding because it doesn’t put pressure on people the same way and the project is there for everyone to see and make up their own mind. The experience actually lead the company I work with to develop their own crowd funding site that is film specific as we found Kick-starter was not that well geared toward filmmakers and we also wanted to continue the relationships by using a crowd funding site as a platform for the filmmakers to continue to promote their own films.
So, I’m slipping in a bit of shameless self promotion and your readers can take a look at our filmmakers answer to Kickstarter called FilmInteractor: www.filminteractor.com it’s all very new!

You have gathered pretty fantastic cast in „Errors…” – maybe they aren’t Hollywood superstars (yet), but they are for sure very talented and characteristic artists, who have bright future ahead of them. I’d like you to describe in few words Michael, Karoline and Tomas and what features distinguished each of them during making the movie (except the fact that they all are 100% professionals, because that’s quite obvious). Maybe some anecdotes from the set?

I was very blessed with the cast I got, they were all extremely professional, experienced, and tolerant of the difficult conditions the film was made under. I put poor Michael through some pretty tough situations. On one occasion he had 7 hours of full body prosthetics then he had to crawl around in a factory when it was minus 14c and we shot for over 12 hours, so the guy had no sleep and the conditions were nasty. But he is so dedicated he made it much easier on me! All the actors had challenges of course, Karoline Herfurth was not only working in english, which is not her native tongue, but she had to to do all this mind boggling science speak, and get it right with only a few takes, but she killed it. Tomas was playing a Polish character so he has to try and get the accent right, which was very hard. They also all liked each other so the chemistry and playfulness was intact.

It’s really what you desire, a competent unpretentious cast and that’s what I got! I just remembered that Michael had a lot of science with mice and he was like the mouse whisperer, they loved him and were so chilled out in his company. Then I did a scene where Tomas has to pick up a mouse and it bit him every time. We had to keep cutting and reset and then every time it would bite him again! I think mice are very sensitive to vibes and Tomas had channeled his nefarious character so well the mice picked up on it!

Are there any sci-fi writers who influenced you in any way, or did you look for inspiration only in „real” science, so to speak?

I didn’t look to any authors in this case, I really wanted to be guided by the real place and people, the whole strange vibe of Dresden in winter, the inner colourful organic worlds under microscopes, the austere laboratories but warm people.
The story did take a long time to develop because I had too many options as far as interesting scientific topics, it was like adapting a great novel and trying to find which line of the story to pursue. It was also a question of making that science story have a human dimension. In the end it really deals with what happens when the scientist becomes the specimen…

Yet after the teaser it seems you didn’t forgot about the suspense and, let’s name it, „entertaining” side of the movie, I suppose that’s very important for you, not to forget that a movie is first of all a movie, not a scientific manifesto or anything like that? :)

Exactly, the delicate balance of entertainment and thrills with a story rooted in something meaningful and important. It’s the hardest thing to achieve really. The film also gets quite strange in places and it was a risk leaving safer dramatic territory and start twisting genres. That has a lot to do with the journey of Geoff Burton, played by Michael Eklund, as his grip on reality slips so to does the film’s conventions. Also I didn’t want to make any heavy handed statements and I especially didn’t want to make a one sided piece about the dangers of genetic research, I tried to explore the grey areas instead especially the human dimension and the personal costs of a scientist suffering from a terrible incident.

You are also the screenwriter of Xavier Gens’ „The Divide”. The apocalypse there was caused by nuclear attack. In „Errors of the Human Body” comes from within, from inside of human body. Two sides of the same coin, I could say. Are you particularily interested in such apocalyptic concepts? Do you want to go further that way in the future?

The Divide is apocalyptic with a capital A. Errors is not really so bleak, actually one could argue it has a happy ending, but then again that’s my sense of humour. The apocalypse in Errors is a personal crisis in which a man does not deal with deeper feeling of guilt and grief. I’m not really fixed on apocalyptic stories at all.

In your opinion, which of these concepts could be more possible in the future of humanity? Will we blow ourselves up or rather will it be some kind of a deadly  virus that will spread all over the world?

I think we will create a deadly virus then blow ourselves up trying to eradicate it, only to rebuild ourselves from the remaining DNA, only to do it all over again in a few thousand years…

I know your wife is Polish. Have you ever been in our country? What do you know about Polish cinema?

Ha, indeed she is, a scientist I met when researching for Errors. Actually we got married in Leba. I have spent a lot of time in tri-city but still to see Krakow. Also made some great kayak trips through the Polish wilderness.
That’s one of the great highlights of Poland the amount of untouched wilderness. I’m no authority on Polish cinema, but I know of the usual suspects. I love the twisted humour in Polish cinema, actually there is some similarities with Australian cinema in that respect. I need further educating, but I can’t see myself mastering the language anytime soon. There are a few oddball love letters to Poland in the film, the lead antagonist is a Polish scientist played by Tomas Lemarquis (who is in fact Icelandic) who has a thing for old Polish protest songs and electrical cigarettes.

Can You tell us a little bit about your plans and future projects?

I don’t have a shortage of ideas, and they range form animation, which is my background, to harder edged genre/drama films, but a lot will rest on how my first feature is received. It’s always going to be difficult getting the exposure one needs to find your indi film and to reach your audience, so I’m grateful for websites such as Opium to help raise awareness of the film.



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