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[GUEST POST] David Simpson on Writing the POST-HUMAN Series and Adapting it for Film

is the author of the Bestselling scifi series, Post-Human, and the director behind the Post-Human short film proof-of-concept. He holds an MA in English Literature from the University of British Columbia and resides in West Vancouver, British Columbia with his wife, Jennifer.

Writing Post-Human and Adapting it for Film

by David Simpson

Post-Human has been my dream now for over ten years, ever since one night in February of 2005 when I read an article about futurist, Ray Kurzweil (currently the director of engineering for Google) and his vision of a future in which humans would have nanobots in their bodies and be able to download upgrades periodically, downloads that would improve their health and ultimately lead to immortality. His vision inspired my novel, Post-Human, and I wrote the entire outline of the book in one night and the first chapter as well (and the version people find today in the bestseller is 95% the same as what I wrote that night). The vision was as clear as anything I’ve ever had, and I don’t know if I’ll ever experience inspiration like that again. It was breathtaking.

Of course, at the time, I was a nobody graduate student in English lit at UBC. I was racking up scholarships and academic awards, but that doesn’t mean much in the publishing world. I finished Post-Human in 2007 and had no luck publishing it…I couldn’t even get an agent or publisher to read it, let alone reject it.

Then, in 2011, a miracle! I read a story online about Amanda Hocking, the second indie author ever to sell one million ebooks on the Kindle, and I had the same sort of eureka moment that I had when I originally conceived of Post-Human. In Canada, the Kindle wasn’t (and still isn’t) a big deal, so what should’ve been obvious to me if I was in America, that reading was going digital, was a surprise! I was working as a teacher, but by then I’d written a sequel in my spare time and both books were ready to be converted into ebooks and uploaded via direct Kindle publishing. Almost immediately, the books started to sell, and I began to see that I had a hit on my hands.

Now, in late 2015, after having written five books in the series (and one unrelated horror novel) I can safely say that I’m the most downloaded Canadian scifi author since the era of the ebook began, and I’m established as a full-time author, having had over a million downloads of the Post-Human series.

But there was always a problem in my view—the Post-Human universe was incomplete, because as much as I dreamt of being a novelist, I equally wanted the books to be adapted for film.

The battle to get the adaptation done was another war, and another labor of love. First, I started working on a graphic novel adaptation because I knew it would serve as a great visual to help people who don’t necessarily like to read their science fiction. I’m still working on it but I have 60 completed pages of a planned 180 pages, and they were really helpful when working with the various production companies that showed interest in the last couple of years. Unfortunately, however, as hard as I worked on making a proof-of-concept happen, I kept running into the same problems, which were that even if I found good people, I was having a hard time communicating the look of the film to people who couldn’t get pre-existing scifi films out of their heads. Especially troublesome were the gorgeous Alien and BladeRunner by Ridley Scott, which, though beautiful and iconic, have influenced concept artists and filmmakers so much that they attempt to make everything scifi look like them, even if it doesn’t fit thematically.

 

 

Post-Human, though action-packed, philosophical, and sophisticated, isn’t a dystopian series on the surface. It isn’t BladeRunner. The Post-Human world is seductive in its beauty, in its cleanliness, in its light. It makes it easy for the post-humans to give up certain freedoms in exchange for the incredible convenience, the freedom of flight, and the promise of eternal health and life. In short, it was a vision that had never appeared on screen before, and after struggling for years to find a production company that would understand, I finally realized that I needed to direct and produce the film myself.

It wasn’t easy by any means. A year ago, I knew nothing about cameras. I threw myself into the research while continuing to write my series and illustrate my graphic novel, and managed to convince my very reluctant (but awesome and supportive) wife that I could “hack” the film industry with the help of an incredible, yet inexpensive camera I’d learned about called the Black Magic Pocket Cinema Camera. It cost less than $1000, but, with the help of a “smart” lens mount, it was capable of capturing images that rivalled cameras that cost more than $100,000, thereby letting indie-filmmakers create spectacular short films, films that I devoured on Vimeo.

I watched hundreds of short films and behind-the-scenes films on Vimeo to learn about the latest and greatest digital technology and found the best-reviewed and cheapest equipment I could that would facilitate the Hollywood-esque aesthetic I was hoping to achieve.

Still, I had to convince my wife that this could work. Keep in mind that, despite having over a million downloads since 2012 on the Kindle, the vast majority of those were free promo downloads, and we’re by no means rich! Though I feel so lucky to be a self-sufficient novelist, we were talking about spending a significant amount of money on a project, money that could be spent on rent. She knew we’d need a 3D printer for the helmet, we’d need to pay for a location, we’d need to pay for insurance, for the actors, the camera equipment, including tripods, sound equipment, sliders, a glidecam, a glide gear body-mount, and essentially, start our own small production company.

But my wife is awesome. She was scared as heck, but she went into it with me like she does all things, as an amazing partner, and we were on our way.

After an exhaustive search, I found two extraordinary actors. My goals in this regard were completely unreasonable: find actors that have A-list capability and looks, but are up-and-comers that I can actually afford. Luckily, I live in Hollywood North, Vancouver, British Columbia, and was able to discover Madison Smith (Supernatural, Legends of Tomorrow) and Bridget Graham (Pixels, Manhattan Undying, Hemlock Grove), two extraordinary young talents that I knew were as strong as the best acting has to offer, and who happened to be perfect for their roles.

Then I found an incredible location after searching for months with no luck. Spectacular locations in Vancouver are everywhere, as Vancouver is routinely ranked as one of the world’s most beautiful cities, but finding a location that isn’t simply an investment opportunity with no occupants and a group of investors who immediately say no when you approach them is near impossible. So imagine my excitement when I managed to negotiate three hours for my crazy, tiny indie project with a powerful, yet kind lawyer who might just happen to have the most beautiful home in all of West Vancouver! It would cost me $1,000 an hour to film, they didn’t believe I’d get out in time, but when I told them my crew was only three people, my wife, an 18 year-old NYU film student, and myself, they agreed to give me a chance.

Knowing our filming schedule would only allow for two takes for each shot, the cast and crew got together two days prior to filming to rehearse and block all the scenes, and we worked really hard behind the scenes practicing the set-ups for the cameras. The rehearsal day ran all day, was exhausting, but was crucial—we’d have been creamed on the filming day without it.

The opening of Post-Human called for it to take place just after dawn, and we scheduled our filming to take place between 7:00 AM and 10:00 AM, which meant the cast had to be cabbed to our place for 5:30 AM for hair and make up. At about 4:30 AM, the final touches on our 3D helmet, the planned visor, failed. We’d had four different options we were going to try and all of them looked awful. After months of intense planning and three days straight with no sleep after rushing the production to meet our lead actress’ travel schedule, barely getting our insurance for the location and the actors in time, my wife, Jenny, had the first and only panic attack I’ve ever seen her have. Panic attacks are terrifying, not only for the person having them, but for the people who witness them. She was crying, hyperventilating, and her eyes were wild with horror. She was sure we were going to blow it.

I held her, soothed her with calm promises of a CGI mask that would look way better than a practical one (promises I didn’t believe at the time but that turned out to be incredibly true) and we pushed on through. Then the hairdresser we booked arrived, and we were off to the races.

Honestly, I can barely remember filming day. I’d spent three days straight finishing up the 3D printed helmet, dealing with the actors’ union, dealing with the insurance for the location, transporting actors across the city, and truly had not slept. I had three hours exactly to complete the shots I needed to make my dream a reality, and I was under a $1,000 penalty/bounty if I failed. The pressure was on, it was intense, and we all, cast, crew, and director, felt it.

But then the magic happened. Though it took us thirty minutes to get our equipment into the home and to set up for the first shot, when I finally called, “Action!” for the first time, it was magical. The location was a dream, a gorgeous beach house built into a little nook on the shoreline of West Vancouver, and it caught the sound of the ocean in a way I’ve never experienced before. It was serene, the moment was surreal, and that first shot is the waking up shot in the film. What a beauty!

I ran between set ups after that and we actually got more footage than we needed, and when it was finished, I hugged everyone involved and I have to say it was one of the best moments of my life! Even though there was still a ton of work left to do in post, I knew, just as I did when I wrote Post-Human, that I had something special.

After a search that lasted two months, we finally found visual effects help in the form of Michael Eng, a southern gentleman from Nashville, Tennessee that actually says, “Golly,” when speaking to you and is completely sincere when he says it. He’s the kindest, most gentle man you’ll ever find, Jenny and I became fast friends with him, and he shared our belief that technology was allowing smaller and smaller groups of people to make incredible film a reality.

After six more weeks of working on the visuals, and one excruciating week overcoming issues with the audio technology, we finally had the final product. It was amazing, and the day we finally shared it with our fans for the first time is one of the best days of my life.

So I hope you’ll watch the short, that you enjoy it, that maybe you’ll even share it to help us along in our dream to get a full-feature film made of Post-Human (and we’d like it to launch a franchise of films after that). I hope it inspires the would-be filmmakers out there too, and shows all of you that, if you boil things down to their fundamentals, a movie is just a camera, some actors saying lines, a location, and some sound. Everything else that you add to it is a choice—choose what you need, and only what you need, and then the only thing holding you back is your own creativity, your own story, and your own will. It’s not easy to make a short film, especially in the manner we did, but it’s much easier than it was before this incredible technology became available, and if I can do it, so can you!

With enough will, dreams really do come true.

2 Comments on [GUEST POST] David Simpson on Writing the POST-HUMAN Series and Adapting it for Film

  1. Thank you David for the awesome insight into the ups and downs of your film-making experience. I’m looking forward to the next Post Human book and the film “when” it comes out, as I have do doubt it will.

    Well done on your achievements to-date. I for one, am watching this space.

  2. Nell Brown // November 7, 2015 at 9:36 am //

    I read the first of David’s series for free and was amazed and intrigued from the start! I have been a staunch supporter ever since, due to the story, but also to the authors talent and humble admission that he has not done this entirely alone. I love his dedication to learning things from the ground up to present the concept in a new media, which is very different. I also love that he has included Jenny in chronicling the Post Human journey.

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