It feels like the world at large is finally starting to come to terms with the full weight of what happened during the COVID-19 pandemic. Zach Clark‘s The Becomers is very much a pandemic movie. While it never once mentions that coronavirus by name, the masked characters and various other protocols depicted on-screen leave little doubt as to when exactly the movie takes place.
The Becomers Is a Film About 2020
During a time when most indie film studios were shying away from showing the real craziness that was happening in the world, Zach Clark decided he was going to take on this shared experience head-on.
“Why?” He asks rhetorically when addressing the fact that studios didn’t want anyone on camera to be in a mask, even though everyone behind the camera was wearing one. “Why can’t we make stuff that reflects this giant crazy thing that we all went through?”
“It’s just 2020 as a movie, basically. I wanted to make a movie that felt like what that year felt like. You know, that year felt crazy, very disjointed. But within that, there was also this sort of simplicity. And I did see a lot of good in people that year.”
Despite the very direct imagery and symbolism, Zach isn’t really concerned about it affecting the movie’s shelf life.
“I’m not worried,” he affirms. “Not because I’m, like, so confident in the movie, but because the movie to me is so much about this thing that we all went through, that’s who it’s here for. Setting it during the pandemic, all these things were very conscious, to make it about this thing we all went through.”
“You know, we still make movies about World War II. I wasn’t alive then, that was a long time ago. Can I not relate to a movie set during World War II?”
Producers Joe Swanberg and Eddie Linker Approached Zach Looking for Content
Most indie filmmakers face uphill battles trying to find backing to get their projects off the ground. But Zach Clark has made quite a name for himself over the past decade-plus thanks to the great films White Reindeer and Little Sister. So, when it came time for the gears of the film industry to slowly start turning again, his name was high up on the list of producers hungry for fresh new films.
“Joe Swanberg and Eddie Linker, who produced the movie, called me in February of that year and asked if I had any ideas for low-budget genre movies, wanting to put together a small slate of small genre movies that would be shot in Chicago.”
So Zach set about conceptualizing a story that would work for the budget being presented, something that reflected what he and the rest of the world were currently going through.
“They said, ‘If you have ideas, you can make a movie.’ Normally when you make a movie, you spend forever coming up with the idea, and then forever finding money for it. This was sort of the opposite. I was presented with, ‘Here’s the budget, now you just need an idea.'”
A Small Crew for a Small Budget
The movie is not made on a huge budget, and its whimsically campy sci-fi special effects are evidence of that (in the best way). Clark brought on his own cinematographer, and the cast and crew were local, for the most part. The crew was small, and all the actors were non-SAG.
Because this was written so quickly, a lot of stuff in the movie, and a lot of stuff in anything, honestly, just instinctively felt right. You know?
Union actors were avoided specifically because the costly nature of SAG’s COVID protocols likely would have eaten up a large sum of the film’s budget, but that doesn’t mean they didn’t follow common sense health measures as best they could.
“We had very straightforward, common sense COVID protocols. Everybody reported to their first day with a negative COVID test, and then we masked as much as possible, and we ate meals outside, and everybody ordered their own individually wrapped thing.”
The Actors Had a Big Job and a Short Amount of Time
The film’s budget also meant that they didn’t have a lot of time for the shoot. Which, in a movie where multiple actors need to portray ostensibly the same character and make it feel authentic and coherent, can seem like a problem. Clark broke down the process:
“As many of the aliens that could came and hung out for a few hours before we started shooting. We didn’t do rehearsals or any sort of acting exercises or anything, but I just wanted everybody to kind of know each other already. And I just sort of talked about the general approach to things.”
Luckily, scheduling was on their side in a big way.
“I think it really helped us that as we were shooting the movie, the way it was scheduled was that each actor who played the main alien, their first scene would be them playing the human version acting against the actor who was playing the alien. So there was a sort of passing of the baton.”
The Becomers Takes Influence From Iconic Classic Sci-Fi
Despite its cultural relevance and very dark beginning, The Becomers notably hearkens back to some classic, more humanistic sci-fi. Clark explained:
“I watched all of the original Star Trek during the pandemic, which I’d never seen before. I’d seen the movies, I think, as a kid. But when I started watching it I was like, I have no memory of any of these episodes, and I really fell in love with it. And I also, over the past few years, read all the Dune books. So I think, for me, those were where I was taking the most from, in a genre way.”
This goes from the special effects to the designs of the aliens themselves — the aliens are never named in the film, individually or by race. But behind the scenes, Clark and crew affectionately refer to the primary aliens as “X” and “Y,” and their design subtly (or not subtly, you can decide when you watch the movie) puts these names on display. It also applies to the various gizmos and gadgets that show up in the movie. It’s clear Clark deliberately paid homage to sci-fi from before the age of CGI, Star Trek in a particular.
A lot of the aesthetic came from Star Trek.
“I really just love old science fiction movies from the ’50s and ’60s, old B-movies, and so I was watching a lot of those,” added Clark, “I really love old Hollywood movies. Melodramas and stuff. So I think those emotions, the sort of big, swingy, romance emotions, that’s old Hollywood in me.”
Clark’s one of the most interesting yet underrated filmmakers today, and hopefully we don’t have to wait six or seven years for another film. It seems like he’s ready to make something new already, though.
Every single time I make a movie, the next thing I do, I want to get as far away from it as possible.
The Becomers had its premiere on Saturday, July 22nd at the Fantasia International Film Festival in Montreal, Quebec. It was shown again a week later, on Thursday, July 27th. Make sure to watch this space for more information on the film’s wider release.