By Tze Chun
In the polarized economy of the near future, corporations offer financial incentives to their high-ranking female employees to pay for chemically accelerated surrogate births. The surrogates, for the most part, are people on the lower end of the economic spectrum — often immigrants or people looking to make their rent. Though the windfall to a woman who agrees to be an accelerated-birth surrogate is substantial, there are side effects. One can only undergo three surrogate births before becoming sterile.
Silver Sling follows Lydia, a Russian immigrant in her late 20s, as she tries to decide whether or not to agree to her third surrogate pregnancy. If she does, she will be able to bring her little brother over from Russia to care for him, which she had promised her dying mother she would do. But making good on that promise will end her own dreams to have a child with her devoted boyfriend, Stephan. Lydia, motivated by her familial responsibilities, chooses to undergo a third accelerated pregnancy.
As she begins the process to be accepted as a potential surrogate, Lydia meets Ana, a nurse on her first day at the Silver Sling clinic. While Lydia is gruff, hardened by her time in the U.S., Ana is kind and unassuming. But beyond their visible differences, Ana and Lydia have something in common that Lydia would never have imagined — a secret that will unite them.
I did my thesis on the science-fiction films of Andrei Tarkovsky. If that’s not a film nerd badge of honor, I don’t know what is. For those who don’t know Tarkovsky’s work, he was a filmmaker working in Soviet Russia in the 1960s through the 1980s. He made the original Solaris, which Steven Soderberg remade in the early aughts with George Clooney. He also made Stalker, which was recently turned into a video game (I’m not kidding). For all you filmmakers who think that getting notes from producers is painful, imagine getting them from the Communist Russia censor board.
Tarkovsky taught me a couple things about science fiction. Firstly, don’t dwell on the technology. Tarkovsky supposedly hated 2001: A Space Odyssey and made Solaris as a response, but he did take a page from Kubrick’s set design. As a result, Solaris is filled with flashing switchboards, computer ticker tape, and ’60s sleek hallways, something that probably seemed futuristic at the time, but now dates the film. You half expect Don Draper to walk in at any moment holding a martini and tell the switchboard girl to connect him to Los Angeles. Tarkovsky himself lamented the production design in Solaris, and set Stalker in a rural landscape. As a result, Stalker feels far more contemporary when watched again.
In Silver Sling, I tried wherever possible to minimize the presence of future technology. There’s a videophone, but it’s pretty simple. We also took pains to minimize the ‘futuristic-ness’ of our production design and wardrobe. We wanted it to feel like the Silver Sling agency could be something that could crop up in midtown next year, in five years, or maybe it could even exist right now if the technology were there.
Secondly, sci-fi is not about the future. It’s about the present. Stalker, made in 1979, deals with nuclear paranoia and a link between genetic mutation and radioactivity, all the fears that would become actuated with the Chernobyl disaster seven years later. Solaris has large segments about bureaucracy and the finite reach of government, certainly relevant topics in Tarkovsky’s time. Both films also find room to deal with redemption, guilt, and sacrifice — all the big topics that Russian artists like to tackle.
This is which is why I was so excited to hear about FUTURESTATES. With my short Silver Sling, I was interested in dealing with the contemporary issues of immigration, surrogacy, and motherhood but within the framework of a speculative future. Silver Sling follows a Russian immigrant as she decides whether or not to go through with her third accelerated surrogate pregnancy, which will render her sterile. I wanted to explore how in contemporary New York City, immigrants function as a life support system for the five boroughs. They cook food, they nanny children, they take out the trash. What if they literally became the life support system for the city’s future generations?
— Tze Chun, Director
About a third of the dialogue in Silver Sling is in Russian, which is completely foreign to me.
One of the first things that you think when you’re directing a scene you wrote in a language that you don’t understand or speak is “Wow, this may have not been the best idea.” You realize how much of a director’s “bullsh*t meter” involves pairing the meaning of words with an actor’s intonation. This comes into play sometimes when watching foreign films. I’ve heard Swedish people say that Ingmar Bergman’s dialogue is banal and the acting overwrought. I still refuse to believe that, but how can I be sure? It’s not like I’m gonna learn Swedish just to prove a point.
So, you’re on set, and the sun is beating down, and you’ve got two hours to shoot this scene, and luckily one of your producers speaks Russian and is telling you when lines get flubbed. But you have no idea what the actors are saying. So what can you do? You concentrate hard on the monitor so no one can see the panic on your face, I guess. But, in concentrating on the monitor, patterns start to emerge. You forget what you’re listening to, and you look at the faces. You listen to the intonations over the course of an entire line and think of the meaning of that line rather than individual words. And before you know it, you’re telling the actors what to do, and checking off sections that you feel are strong, and thinking of which lines to pick up.
I wish I could say that by the end, it’s like clockwork. But it’s not really. You end up doing twice as many takes simply because you’re worried about having enough in the editing room (and what if the actor flubbed a line and I didn’t know it and my producer missed it?). You hope when you switch angles that you got what you wanted and can sort it out in the editing room. Still, it’s a pretty educational experience.
I’ve heard that Scorsese sometimes doesn’t even watch the monitor during takes, he just listens to the headphones. There’s something to be said about looking at parts of the performance rather than the whole. Maybe it’s one of those things where you master one thing, and that helps you master everything else?
I dunno, I’m just glad I got through it ...
— Tze Chun, Director
Writer / Director
Tze Chun is a filmmaker working out of New York City and Los Angeles. He was born in Chicago and raised outside of Boston, and received his bachelor’s degree in film studies at Columbia University. Tze Chun’s debut feature Children of Invention premiered at the 2009 Sundance Film Festival and went on to be one of the best-reviewed and most-awarded films of the year, winning 15 film festival awards. In 2007, Chun was named one of Filmmaker Magazine’s “25 New Faces of Independent Film” for his short film Windowbreaker, which screened at Sundance 2007 and more than 30 other international festivals. He is currently reteaming with producer Mynette Louie on his second feature, You’re a Big Girl Now.
A New York-based independent film producer, Louie produced Tze Chun’s award-winning Sundance feature, Children of Invention and co-produced Andrew Bujalski’s critically acclaimed Mutual Appreciation. In 2008, she was selected by IFP as one of two emerging American independent producers to participate in Rotterdam Lab. Currently, Mynette is in post-production on P. Benoit’s Ayiti, Ayiti, a Sundance Lab project, and is developing several narrative features, including Eric Lin’s Why We Pull the Trigger and Tze Chun’s You’re a Big Girl Now, with which she was selected for the 2009 Sundance Creative Producing Fellowship. She is also on the Selection Advisory Committee of the Sundance Institute’s Feature Film Program. Mynette previously worked at the Hawaii Film Office, where she authored the state’s production tax credit, and in business development and marketing at SportsIllustrated.com, Jupiter Research, and Time Magazine. She received a bachelor’s degree in East Asian Studies, focusing on Chinese literature and film, from Harvard University.
Dave Saltzman is a freelance producer, assistant director, and production manager. Recent credits include Tze Chun’s Children of Invention, Eric Mendelsohn’s Three Backyards, and P. Benoit’s Ayiti, Ayiti. He began his career in film at Journeyman Pictures as director of development and worked in production on such acclaimed films as Cold Souls, Sugar, and Momma’s Man. A graduate of Syracuse University’s Newhouse School of Public Communications, Saltzman has produced documentary programs for CourtTV, National Geographic Channel, and Bravo, as well as commercial content for clients like MAC Cosmetics, The New York Times, and Subaru.
Dasha Tolstikova has produced a number of short films including Man (directed by Myna Joseph), an official selection of Sundance, New Directors/New Films and Cannes. She was an associate producer on No Impact Man (Laura Gabbert/ Justin Schein), which premiered at the 2009 Sundance Film Festival and was released by Oscilloscope. She also supervised the production of Eric Mendelsohn’s feature film Three Backyards, and is currently developing a feature project about the atomic bomb.
Karen Chilton — “Ana” Originally from the South Side of Chicago, Karen Chilton is a New York-based actor and writer. Most recently, she had a principal role in the indie feature, Inside a Change, directed by Rik Cordero. Her supporting role in the award-winning independent film, Half Nelson, directed by Ryan Fleck and starring Ryan Gosling, garnered outstanding reviews in the U.S. and abroad. She also appeared in the short film version of that feature, Gowanus, Brooklyn, which won the 2004 Sundance Film Festival Short Film Jury Prize. Karen is also an accomplished voiceover artist and narrator. Her upcoming projects include a featured role in It’s Kind of a Funny Story, directed by Ryan Fleck (Focus Films), and a principal role in the stage play Reiki on the Plains for the HB Studio Living Room Plays Festival, directed by Peter Finn. Her published works include the biography of jazz pianist Hazel Scott (University of Michigan Press); I Wish You Love, the jazz memoir of legendary vocalist Gloria Lynne (St. Martin’s Press); Saying Grace, a solo performance piece for the stage; and the full-length play Convergence, winner of the 2004 New Professional Theatre Writers Festival.
Karen Chilton — “Ana”
Originally from the South Side of Chicago, Karen Chilton is a New York-based actor and writer. Most recently, she had a principal role in the indie feature, Inside a Change, directed by Rik Cordero. Her supporting role in the award-winning independent film, Half Nelson, directed by Ryan Fleck and starring Ryan Gosling, garnered outstanding reviews in the U.S. and abroad. She also appeared in the short film version of that feature, Gowanus, Brooklyn, which won the 2004 Sundance Film Festival Short Film Jury Prize. Karen is also an accomplished voiceover artist and narrator. Her upcoming projects include a featured role in It’s Kind of a Funny Story, directed by Ryan Fleck (Focus Films), and a principal role in the stage play Reiki on the Plains for the HB Studio Living Room Plays Festival, directed by Peter Finn. Her published works include the biography of jazz pianist Hazel Scott (University of Michigan Press); I Wish You Love, the jazz memoir of legendary vocalist Gloria Lynne (St. Martin’s Press); Saying Grace, a solo performance piece for the stage; and the full-length play Convergence, winner of the 2004 New Professional Theatre Writers Festival.