Somnio Fielding on Film
Since Travis Milloy “stumbled into his profession” of screenwriting, he has always “thrown as many balls in the air as he could.” “When I started, I was doing well, but nothing was getting produced, so I decided to just write my own script, and shoot it with my friends,” he said. “I wasn’t trying to appease anyone, and it worked.” Hastings Filters
The experience taught him that if you “write what you believe in, you can be successful.”
“I started writing like that again, and that formula seemed to work,” he said. “I considered the budget, and kept the number of characters low. All of my scripts got purchased or optioned. I had about 12 scripts, and that happened five times. I was my own crazy process until my agent told me to stop.”
Audiences probably know Milloy best from his cult sci-fi horror film, Pandorum (2009), which starred Ben Foster and Dennis Quaid; Milloy served as executive producer and screenwriter; Christian Alvart directed. “Fans didn’t embrace Pandorum at first,” he said. “Some said it was too much like Event Horizon or Alien. One year later, someone wrote about another film, saying that “it’s no Pandorum.’ Christian and I are still big fans of each other, and I still work with the producing team from Pandorum.”
As much as he enjoys writing, Milloy really loves being behind the camera. And yet, it’s been nearly 20 years since he made his first feature, Street Gun. That’s why he’s so excited to be in post-production on his indie sci-fi thriller Somnio. It tells the story of Frank Lerner, a man falsely arrested and thrown into an automated prison. He must outsmart the computer to escape and find his way to the outside world that may already be destroyed.
“I get an idea then I write the script from that,” he said.
His idea for Somnio concerned prisons of the future, and how they might become fully automated. Initially, he was going to have 12 characters – all on death row – who never saw another human, not even guards, and whose food and lights were being controlled by a computer. Of this scenario, he asked himself: What if all of that went wrong? What if the computer began executing people before their time? Eventually, Milloy decided to focus on one character, and stay in that one prison cell. The character doesn’t know what’s going on, just that he’s being interrogated every day, being forced to relive the day of his suspected crime until the evidence is found to convict or acquit him. Milloy thought of it as Inceptionesque or Groundhog Dayesque.
Somnio: Frank Lerner
“It’s about artificial relationships, something we experience every day, with Facebook and Siri,” he said. “We text, Tweet, and send emails. What happens when we don’t have contact with people?”
For the most part, Frank interacts with the computer, and a woman, namedm Gabby, who he once met. “She’s imaginary, but part of the program,” he said. “If you were locked in a prison for years, how long will you last before going crazy?”
Milloy has worked within the studio system, knows it well, but wanted to avoid it while making Somnio.
“I didn’t want to give this to the development machine,” he said. “This one I didn’t give to my agent. I got really tired of that process. You are just circling the barn.”
Milloy explained that studios receive about 200,000 screenplays a year. “Anyone can write a script, but not everyone can write a good script. The studio’s job is to find one, in all of those, and agents help the flow. It’s so competitive. I was getting frustrated working in that machine. I asked myself: What excites me? I wanted to tell a story, and make a movie.”
The problem was: He didn’t have the money to make it. “I had nothing; the enemy is that I needed more money, but I know that if people see the train leaving the station, they want to jump on board.”
Milloy got busy. He rented an industrial space in Canoga Park, a suburb west of Los Angeles, and started building a set. “It took me one year to build with one power drill,” he said. “I used about 7,000 screws. Everyone thought I was crazy. I thought if I have this space and this set, I can get actors to come on the weekends to shoot. I had to pay rent every month – on a studio lot, it would have cost me five times that amount per week – so I was already invested in this.”
He was invested, but others were more wary. “There was a lot of hesitation,” he said. “People in business thought I was crazy. I did only private investors. I stayed out of the system. If you go with a studio, they tell you they need a star and a director with a proven track record. A relative gave me the first chunk of money to get things rolling. The second investor, I had never met before. He was a fan of Pandorum, and we had only emailed back and forth. I had never met him. He knew about Somnio, and said he would invest; that he would finance the rest of the film. I thought he was maybe a 14-year-old from Glendale and that it must be a joke.”
But it wasn’t. The British investor wired the money as promised and brought his entire family to California last August to visit the set to meet the cast and crew. “I never even talked to him before,” Milloy said. “He loved Pandorum.”
While the set was being built, everything else came together, specifically finding a cast and crew members. Two weeks into the shoot, Milloy said he stopped and looked at the footage. “I asked what was missing, so we shot more,” he said. “We went to other locations; El Mirage Dry Lake Bed in San Bernardino; a coffee shop in San Fernando, the Continental Divide in Colorado, downtown in Denver and L.A., and California City. Our ‘army” traveled around and we slowly got the pieces together.”
He began production in mid-June, and shot a total of 33 days.