What were you up to in high school? If you're David Raskin (played by Jonny Westin), you were working on perfecting your dead father's time machine alongside your friends.
That's the premise of "Project Almanac," a new film directed by Dean Israelite, his feature-length directorial debut. Produced by Michael Bay's Platinum Dunes and Paramount Pictures, "Project Almanac" promises to be a mash-up of genres, found footage married with time travel and sci-fi, with an emotional arc.
David, alongside a group of friends (played by Sofia Black D'Elia, Amy Landecker, Michelle DeFraites, Ginny Gardner, Sam Lerner, Patrick Johnson, Gary Grubbs, Allen Evangelista and Katie Garfield), works first to understand the plans to a time machine he discovers, and then to perfect the mechanism and understand the consequences of going back to change the past.
MTV News visited the film's Atlanta set during filming in 2013, and can now share these six secrets from the set.
Just because it's a movie about time travel doesn't mean it's not realistic.
Director Israelite emphasized that "Project Almanac" had to look like the teens it stars would be able to make it. The friends take turns passing a video camera around, lending a found-footage element to the film. To pitch himself as director for the project, Israelite created a video with his friends over the course of three days and edited it together to create a sort of mood reel for the movie.
"I always thought that the movie had to be really raw, very edgy, and that everything had to be super grounded and feel very real. If this was going to be a story about kids discovering time travel and building a time machine, then we needed to believe that they really did it," he said. "From day one, my take on the movie has been grounded, real, raw, and in terms of the kids and what they bring to it, real sort of recklessness and youth and a joy to all of that." In making the film, Israelite said he wanted it to be "as real as possible, as non-big-sci-fi as possible."
For example, don't expect an android or even remotely sleek-looking time machine. Since the kids are meant to have built it from old plans, Israelite describes it as a "MacGyvered" machine. Viewers will recognize an X-Box, pieces of smart phones and TV cables, among other elements that the kids would be able to get their hands on, jury-rigged together to create a time machine.
...but it is still sci-fi.
Another challenge, Israelite said, was figuring out how the time machine's effects would look. Don't expect the characters to walk through some glowing blue portal into another time, but things will get totally messed up. The idea was to show the "regular world reacting in irregular ways" when the machine's switch is flipped.
"There’s going to be weightlessness involved, because it has this electromagnetic energy. All of the metal objects around you start to levitate, a bunch of stuff just starts to shake," he said. "There’s shockwaves that emanate out form the time machine and so when you’re outside it’s almost like this huge storm starts to brew...So when they are down in the basement and they turn the time machine on, all of the tools start to levitate and spin and the glass starts to shatter and freeze and maybe go backwards and reform itself, the camera starts to levitate, because it’s metal, so it starts to take on a life of its own and the characters have to yank it out of mid air."
There are plenty of hats to be found.
In the scene Weston and Co. were shooting while we were on set, midway through the movie, the characters wandered in a field, the scene of an all-out outdoor music festival. The location was dripping with extras, all decked out in festival-appropriate attire.
An incomplete list of hats spotted on "Project Almanac" extras: a leopard print fedora, a white-on-black pinstripe fedora, a metallic beer mug hat, a rainbow mullet wig, a peacock feather fascinator, a furry black top hat, a flower crown, a blue baseball cap, a red fedora with a zebra print band, a baby blue balloon hat, a feathered angel halo, a red fez, a yellow teddy bear skullcap, ladybug antennae, a cowboy hat, a rainbow yarmulke, a headdress, a feather headband, a gold-leaf Roman crown, an orange cowboy hat, a gold circlet, and a sequined trucker hat.
The music festival is...pretty legit.
Headwear aside, the music festival is pretty legit. There's a giant waterslide, people dancing in totally illogical ways to several different beats and, most true to form, one of those giant walls asking people to write what they'd like to do before the world ends. This carries thematic meaning for the characters, and David even has a cute moment in front of it trying (and failing) to do the thing he really wants to do -- kiss the girl. Among the scrawls on the wall: "I hope to sit on a jury." "I need to ask for a raise." "I will contain my enthusiasm." "Reinvent the internet." "Think of something better to write on this wall."
It's all about the iPhone.
The film is meant to be shot entirely on iPhones, a habit that cast members are well acquainted with. "Everyone knows everything at all times, the world is so connected," Allen Evangelista said. "I’ll know what my friends are doing that morning and all I do is check who’s awake by looking at who’s on Instagram. I see someone like something, that means they’re awake! I can call them to hang out."
But just because it's meant to be shot on tiny screens, however, don't expect relatively low-quality cell phone footage.
"No, we’re shooting it on a RED," Fuller laughed. "I mean, Michael Bay’s name is on this movie. It’s gotta look a certain way. If it doesn’t, that will not be good for me."
The title of the movie itself might be a "Back to the Future" reference.
"You definitely can’t make a time travel movie without talking about 'Back to the Future,'" producer Brad Fuller said. Asked if the title was a reference to the infamous sports almanac in 'Back to the Future II,' Fuller laughed, and said that while the reference isn't direct -- it's the name of the time machine project the main character's father was working on in the movie -- it does mean that the character may have been a fan.
Writer Andrew Stark confirmed the connection, and warned viewers to look out for other Easter eggs. "The movie is fraught with sort of Easter eggs and secrets, and little moments and things that harken back to many different parts of mythology," he said. "One of which being that, in our head at least, the original people who started designing the blueprints were fans of time travel movies and certainly some wise-ass in this sort of DARPA covert operation decided to name it after something he was a fan of."
He didn't think of it on his own, though. You can thank a random word generator for the inspiration, and then Stark connected the dots himself to choose the word. "I'd love to take the full credit, but somewhere is a website that you just keep pushing spacebar," We just got lucky that that word came up."
"Project Almanac" hits theaters January 30.