with Director Maurice Haeems
*** CHIMERA ***
presented to James Morazzini
1. Could you tell us a little about yourself?
I had always wanted to be a writer but, under (self-induced) pressure to pursue an “employable” profession, and to capitalize on my affinity for math and physics, I instead chose to enroll at one of the best schools in India to study engineering.
Over the next 25 years, I earned degrees in engineering and then in finance, lived and worked around the world (London, Hong Kong, Singapore, Taipei, Mumbai, New York, Palo Alto, Atlanta, Dubai and Los Angeles) and enjoyed successful careers in mechanical/fluid engineering, investment banking, and software entrepreneurship.
As I was approaching my 47th birthday, I had the feeling that “my time was running out”. I was getting bored and wanted to change careers again, but this time I would not let my career choice be motivated by pragmatic considerations.
I decided to pursue my fourth career (and first love) – storytelling and filmmaking. For my 47th birthday (October 6), my birthday present to myself was an eight-weeks filmmaking class (October and November). That year my Christmas present to myself was an eight-weeks screenwriting class (starting in January the following year). It was in this class that I wrote the first draft of the screenplay for Chimera.
2. Some of CHIMERA’s plot was influenced by some tragic events in your life; did this make it easier or harder to write?
Those events (to which your question makes reference) did not influence the development of the characters or the plot or story, but I do acknowledge them as influences because they led me to dive into the science that is depicted in Chimera.
Writing/directing, as much as reading/viewing, requires a certain disassociation from reality and an immersion into the fictional world, in order for the outcome of the activity to be satisfying. Thus, in a way, my involvement in writing and making Chimera was, perhaps, a form of escapism.
3. The two children in CHIMERA are played by your son and your business partner’s daughter. Tell us a bit about casting and working with them.
When I first came up with the germ of the idea for Chimera, before even a single word was ever written, I knew that Quint’s two children (Miles and Flora) could only be played by Raviv Haeems (my youngest son, 12 years old at the time) and Kaavya (the younger daughter of my business partner and fellow producer, Jay). This was non-negotiable.
The kids had never been in front of a camera before or done any acting, yet they conducted themselves like consummate professionals. They always arrived on set fully prepared, with their lines memorized, having thought through the emotional beats and the interpersonal dynamics of the scene. They always had a great attitude, always ready to try something different and unexpected, and always ready to go the extra mile to make the scene better. In every sense, it truly was a great pleasure to work with the children.
I will admit that, without realizing it, in the early day of the shoot, I was very hard on my son Raviv. Looking back, now it is apparent that I was unnecessarily tough and demanding, but in that moment, it just seemed to me, because of the deep and intimate knowledge that a parent has of his child, that I knew him and I knew that he was capable of doing and giving more. To his credit, Raviv was a really good sport and just gamely kept trying to do what was being asked of him.
I really appreciated that, midway through the third or fourth day, Ian took a moment to pull me aside and point this out. Initially, I was taken aback, but I thought carefully about what he was saying. I am so glad that I took Ian’s advice, and eased off. After that, we all had much more fun on set. Thanks to Ian’s intervention, to this day, Raviv and I are able to look back fondly on Chimera as a father-son project where we enjoyed collaborating.
4. As a first-time director, you managed to put together a really solid cast on a low budget. Can you talk about how you were able to accomplish this?
As any low budget independent filmmaker will attest, the most critical factor in attracting talent is to have a great casting director (sometimes the filmmaker themselves). We were fortunate to have the indomitable Mark Tillman on our team. He believed in our project when no one else would and, for nearly 4 months, he worked tirelessly – knocking on doors, calling in favors, cajoling agents and managers, taking each rejection in his stride and never giving up. He is the sole reason we were able to assemble such an amazing cast.
5. You obviously have a deep interest in the research the film deals with. Could you tell our readers a bit about that?
Some 10,000 years ago, if an individual made it to the age of 15, the life expectancy was an additional 30 to 40 years – for a total of 45 to 55 years, but due to high infant mortality rates, the life expectancy at birth was only about 30 years.
This remained largely unchanged for the next 9,900 years. Even as recently as 1900, according to the WHO, the global average lifespan was just 31 years. By 1950, that rose to 48 years and by 2000 to 65 years. Driven by advancements in medicine, infant mortality rates have plummeted and that is the single largest driver of the increase in lifespans over the 20th century.
Only relatively recently, has the focus shifted from childhood diseases to non-infectious, chronic illnesses in adulthood. Researchers are making amazing breakthroughs in all areas of medicine and science, and especially in genetics, regenerative medicine, organ harvesting, cryonics, and the science of longevity. My hypothesis is that the next 50 years will yield tremendous advancements in this area. If the trend-line continues or accelerates, soon the average human could live to be 100-120 years old. The science behind this is fascinating, as are the social ramifications.
6. Something I find interesting is that despite your enthusiasm for this technology, the film is anything but a celebration of it. Everyone involved is, at best, flawed. Was that paradox intentional, or did the script just evolve that way?
What we consider a technological breakthrough is simply man uncovering and understanding how some aspect of the universe works and then harnessing the potential unleashed by that insight. The more advanced/refined the technology, the more it reveals of the secret inner workings of the universe. As a science-fiction writer, I am extremely enthusiastic for the technology, and in awe of its power, its beauty and its purity.
Invariably, the biggest problem with any technology and its application is the human factor. As you have pointed out, everyone is, at best, flawed. This is not something made up for the story, but simply a statement of facts. Humans, like all living beings, possess an instinct for self-preservation, and more so than any other species, we are driven by the profit motive. Though we may fool ourselves into thinking otherwise, we are incapable of prioritizing the greater good or another individual’s well-being over our own interests. This “flaw” defines us, and so, in my opinion, a story without flawed characters is fundamentally unrealistic and uninteresting. In writing Chimera, I have tried my best to avoid that.
7. As a follow-up question, did the lack of a clear-cut hero/heroine make writing the script any harder?
Chimera does have heroes/heroines – it is just that these characters are not perfect or altruistic, and so they may not fit the typical save-the-day “hero” mold. Every character in Chimera is the hero of their own story within this world, and they each take considered and deliberate actions that, from their perspective, appear to be correct, just, and ethical.
8. CHIMERA has some great effects and is fairly gory; especially for a film of a serious nature. Was that your plan going into the film? Also, who did the effects?
Chimera is my attempt to tell this story without compromises. I have tried to capture whatever it was that each moment in the story needed and if it happened to be gore, violence, or nudity then Chimera does not shy away from it – and on the flip side, Chimera does not gratuitously exploit it either.
Obviously, we could not film everything that was written and so we had to rely on effects – a combination of practical and CGI, accomplished on shoe-string budgets by our talented and dedicated crew.
9. As I mention in my review, CHIMERA is not a feel-good movie. It’s grim and emotionally rough. In fact, the film ends with some of the bleakest scenes in any film I’ve watched lately. Was there a message to this, or was it just how the story went?
I am just trying to do my job as best I can. As writer/director, I consider it my primary responsibility to make a film that entertains. If it also achieves other objectives, that is a bonus.
I will also be the first to point out that I have no authority to deliver any messages. Nothing I did during the writing or making of Chimera was from the objective of delivering any message. The message of Chimera, as with all films, is open to the subjective and personal interpretation of each viewer.
I did frame certain storytelling rules and followed them as best I could. Chimera is set in the present time, not in the future; and it all takes place in this dimension, not some parallel one where the laws of physics do not govern. When I set out to write Chimera, one of the rules I set for myself was that the story had to be compatible with the known reality of our world.
With these constraints, I tried to devise an ending that would be inevitable and yet unpredictable without feeling forced or inorganic. An ending that would be satisfying and memorable. An ending that would tie up all the loose ends of the story, but also leave some questions open for speculation, interpretation and discussion.
While writing the story I did consider many different endings but today I cannot imagine any other possible ending for Chimera.
10. Tell us a little about your next project. Is it still going to be THE ARCHETYPE?
I continue to be enthralled by advancements in biotechnology, the extension of human lifespans, the potential and the dangers of gene editing, and the science/fiction of immortality and transhumanism. I have completed the script and begun development on my second feature (The Archetype) which further explores these themes and their impact on human relationships.
The gene editing in The Archetype is modeled after the CRISPR/Cas-9 and the zinc finger nucleases techniques. The science is moving really fast, an example of which is described in the Nov 15 AP report: US scientists try 1st gene editing in the body. While the applications of genetic editing are dramatized in my story, the fundamental idea (of tailoring/tweaking the genetic makeup to alter the characteristics of a living being) is the same
The idea that ‘The Archetype’ examines is, of course, fictionalized and the science is projected maybe a little further out, maybe 50-100 years in the future, and so in a way this is more of a leap than CHIMERA, but I think it is an equally interesting story that deals with an equally compelling ethical dilemma related to a fascinating area of emerging science.
Thanks to Mr. Haeems for taking the time to answer my questions. We wish him all the best on the release of CHIMERA and look forward to covering his future projects. If you haven’t read it already, here is our review of CHIMERA