This time last year Alex Haughey and his creative partner Brian Vidal were making their film festival rounds across the country with their sci-fi thriller, Prodigy. Taking home Best Narrative Feature at the Santa Cruz Fest, they got to sit down with Alfred Hitchcock’s granddaughter for a Q&A. Alex remembers that moment as “a trip.” Which, why wouldn’t it be? He went from making an homage to an ’80s favorite in high school to showcasing his work around the country — and soon, the world.
Prodigy will soon be shown at a film festival down in Brazil in May. Sooner than that, fans of movies that grab your attention within minutes and don’t let them go until the credits roll, Prodigy will be available March 13. Alex Haughey was kind enough to sit down and talk about where he’s been, Prodigy and what’s next for the filmmaker.
By the looks of it you started making moves a little more than a decade ago, but for many creatives, the official start date of their passion comes years before anything found a resume. When did you first take an interest in writing and filmmaking?
Alex Haughey: I always loved movies, but making them didn’t really occur to me until I took a Broadcast Journalism class in high school. That put a camera in my hand and forced me to play around with the basics of storytelling. I ended up taking to it naturally, much more so than my classmates, and I quickly became known as the video guy in my community.
My senior year, I wanted to go out with a bang, so I organized my friends to help me create a 45-minute remake of the original Ninja Turtles movie. We went all out. You can imagine a bunch of 18-year-olds running around the neighborhood playgrounds in green tights and shells with plastic weapons. It sounds ridiculous, but we had a good enough reputation that we were able to organize a premiere that was attended by over 300 people, who cheered enthusiastically throughout the show. At that point, I knew what I was meant to do.
You seem to have a special place in your heart for penning scripts that leave audiences on edge. Do you like to watch thrillers as much as you like writing them or do you enjoy a nice laugh or perhaps a rom-com when you have downtime?
AH: I definitely find myself gravitating toward thrillers when it comes to telling my own stories. However, I don’t really have a favorite genre. I like any film (comedy, drama, action, etc.) where the precision of the craft is on display. I think that films succeed when the structure of the narrative is thoroughly conceived, and that thoroughness is then applied to every element of the production. That is a very roundabout way of saying: I like anything good.
I was lucky enough to watch your latest, Prodigy, from the comfort of home thanks to the wonderful gift that is the Internet. How else do you feel advances in technology have helped filmmakers today compared to even ten or so years ago?
AH: I came up in the digital age, and I love the way that revolution enabled me and so many others. Filmmaking is in the hands of anyone with a phone now, and I am excited to see where that takes the medium. I do think there is danger there, with it being significantly easier to capture a high volume of footage, which allows artists to cut corners. However, I am a firm believer that the pros outweigh the cons, and that those truly dedicated to the craft will be able to identify the pitfalls and avoid them.
Okay, let’s talk about Prodigy now. Great movie. I’m very grateful that it had a clear beginning, middle, and ending and was not a Marvel movie that took 17 hours (although Black Panther could’ve been 28 and I would’ve sat smiling the entire time). However… were there any scenes that got booted during editing or anything you wish you could’ve shot but didn’t have time to?
AH: We were working with such a short script, and on such a tight schedule, that we didn’t have the luxury of excess scenes. I think this worked out well for the film, as it became imperative to identify the function and importance of each scene to the overall narrative. What we did have was a lot of dialogue heavy scenes, several of which were cut down significantly in the editing process to keep the pace moving at a good clip.
Since we’re on the subject, what are your thoughts on those long, drawn out films as both a fan and someone behind the scenes?
AH: I think making this film only made me more critical of movies that have ancillary scenes that don’t add anything to the story. I find myself having less and less patience for poor structure, which is present in a lot of the studio movies I see these days.
Watching the movie I got Exorcist meets Stranger Things meets kind of heartfelt movie of the week thanks to the sincerity of the movie’s protagonist, Fonda. Where were you and Brian coming from when you first got started on the script?
AH: We knew we would get a lot of Stranger Things comparisons with the powerful young girl. However, our biggest influences going in were Silence of the Lambs to help build the suspense surrounding Ellie, Good Will Hunting as Fonda begins to dig into the inner workings of this talented youth, and 12 Angry Men as he tries to change the opinions of the experts observing. Fonda, specifically, was written as a modern-day Atticus Finch whose eternal optimism carries him through even extreme adversity.
The game of chess plays a pretty vital role in the movie. Were either of you experts or was that an element you had to do a little Googling for?
AH: More than Googling, I did my best to learn to play, as I only had a basic understanding of the game. I did some reading and downloaded an app, but I also played constantly with my father-in-law, who is a very good player. I got to the point where I played him to a draw, at which point I deemed myself worthy of writing that scene.
What’s next for Prodigy, and also yourself?
AH: Prodigy is on the home stretch, heading toward its digital and DVD release on March 13th. We are very excited to get the film out to a wider audience and see what the response it produces. I am trying to get my next project off the ground on a few fronts. I am very excited about a new script I am writing. I have a previous script into an agency, where I am trying to package it to take it out for financing. I also work with a close friend in the interactive world, and we have a long-gestating game project that is close to a green light. I’m hoping the success of Prodigy will help springboard these projects into production!