NOTE: An earlier version of the following article was published on the author’s Medium blog on February 18th, and can be read here.
In a bleak future society known as the Mist, the wealthy who live below it are separated from the impoverished ones that suffer above it. For the latter, an all but extinct form of technology is their only means of survival. Thus in the exciting sci-fi thriller The Long Dig, the quest to preserve that technology is undertaken by a ragtag team of treasure hunters who must overcome a variety of dangers while taking a path that they hope will lead them home again.
Starring Kate Hackett (Classic Alice), Paul Todd (Classic Alice, Candice), Sarah Cortez (Dear White People, Angie Tribeca), Graham Outerbridge (Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.) and Cliff Simon (Stargate SG-1, NCIS), The Long Dig introduces the world of Electric Purple Studios’ new tabletop role-playing game Aeronauts, which will debut later this year.
The Long Dig is streaming on FanGirl Nation and Electric Purple‘s web pages (links below), and will screen during a five film shorts block beginning at 6 PM on Friday, March 20th at the Chicago Independent Film and TV Festival. The event takes place on the campus of Chicago’s Columbia College, located at 1104 S. Wabash Ave, and tickets to attend the festival are still available via its FilmFreeway page (also linked to at the end of this article).
Hackett, who also co-produced The Long Dig and co-wrote the film’s screenplay with its director Tom R. Pike (Personal Space) co-stars as Eve, a brave yet troubled explorer who leads her fellow scavengers into a treacherous mission through the dank atmosphere of an abandoned transportation facility.
Joined by goofy yet knowledgeable tech expert Seamus (played by Todd) and mysterious nomad Laren (played by Cortez), Eve fights to keep the priceless technology she seeks from the grasp of her former ally-turned vengeful thief Ioseph (portrayed by Simon).
Via her role as Eve in The Long Dig, Hackett was thrilled to portray a kind of character she had long desired to represent on camera; one who possessed outward confidence, leadership and resourcefulness in the midst of personal self-doubt.
Hackett and I recently chatted about how her work in The Long Dig exhibits both a different yet rare kind of cinematic female protagonist, as well as the considerable talents she offers as an actor/filmmaker.
Chris Hadley: How did the idea for making a film (The Long Dig) to introduce the Aeronauts game’s universe come about, and what inspired you and Tom to make this project?
Kate Hackett (co-star, “Eve”, co-writer, The Long Dig): It was really an effort to find something to work on with Tom; we had wanted to work together for a long time and struggled to find something. The story he showed me, which was written for the game’s book, was exactly what I had been itching to play! A strong, capable woman leading a group with a sense of pathos to her — it was kismet. We figured the rich environment was perfect for a film, so we approached the game’s creators and struck a deal!
CH: How did your work on web series (Classic Alice, etc.) lead you to and prepare you for doing The Long Dig?
KH: I knew that I could shoot an insane amount of material in a short amount of time. I also knew people I could tag in and bring back — our wardrobe department from Classic Alice was also our wardrobe on The Long Dig. I’d worked with Dana Shaw and Kate Welsh on Classic Alice, and obviously Paul Todd was in both. It was a great way to bring fun people back again and I also had a few tricks up my sleeve this round that I had to learn on Classic Alice. For example, crafty: on Alice, our amazing producer Lex rounded up free food in exchange for some social promotion. We did the same thing on The Long Dig!
CH: How did you and Tom work to develop and adapt the film’s storyline and characters, considering that both were connected to the larger universe of the Aeronauts multi-role player game?
KH: The characters were really only part of a short story within the game’s roleplaying rule book, so it wasn’t hard to pull them into something larger. What we (needed) to do was really flesh out the backstory – especially for Eve. Why is she there? What’s so damn haunting? That kind of stuff. Theo was also an original character we brought in to help fill out (Eve’s) background and highlight some original concepts to the universe that would be unfamiliar to viewers.
CH: Talk about the character you play in The Long Dig (Eve), as well as the others involved in the story.
KH: I think Eve is a really interesting character we don’t get to see very often: she has the elements of your “antihero”, but she’s a woman, and I really love that. She f*cked up in a big way and her response to that is to own it, which doesn’t make her particularly sympathetic. After years and years of playing very sympathetic women, it was such a cool change of pace to play someone who keeps things bottled up to a fault.
She’s haunted and trapped in her own demons but still tries to lead her team in a positive way, even though she feels like she’s failing. Eve comes from the wealthy below-grounders, the section of her tribe that rules and leads and has safe homes below the mist. She was born into immense privilege, and she f*cked it up.
Laren (Cortez) is a little bit more the “innocent” of the group; she is also carrying her own baggage, which you find out about in the final twist, but she acts with a heart that Eve won’t allow herself to have. She comes from a tribe of nomads who live in the mist, which makes her suspect — who lives in the mist?
Seamus (Todd) is a loudmouth doofus who 100% messes up everything he does but it’s all a terrible accident. He’s lovable and dumb but he’s the only one who can make the solution to preserve the old tech they need to go home. He hails from the lower class above-grounders in Eve’s tribe, so they share a background, but they also don’t.
Graham Outerbridge plays Theo, another above-grounder. He’s our gate into Eve’s past and Eve’s downfall. Ioseph (Simon) is our “bad guy”; he was a member of Eve’s team who runs off to join the baddies in our world, people who want to steal the tech Eve just found. He is opportunistic and self-motivated, not entirely unlike Eve.
CH: What was the production process like for The Long Dig, including for its special effects and action sequences?
KH: Long. We knew we were going to be very tight on time on set so we spent a lot of time rehearsing and planning — not enough, but a lot. It’s tough to do that when you aren’t on the set and with the camera though, so even though we had marked out the general choreography (and some of it really was a dance; it felt like theater), cameras change everything. Camera has to rehearse movements too, so it was still a long two days.
The VFX (visual effects) process was a lot of trial and error; we got mark-ups of basic shots and picked elements we wanted (which I shared copiously with my patrons, if you want to see)! All the gunshots you see are also VFX, as is some of the mist (we did a lot practically with a machine, then added when and where we needed it).
We kept playing with the monster (seen in the film) until we liked the look and then we tried to sink it into the reality of physics. From there, we created movement and pacing and plugged him into the movie. That sounds a lot faster than it was, but programming him took a long time. For a while, we had a Cookie Monster placeholder in the film while we finished the remnant and, frankly, Cookie was a joy to work with. We all miss him.
CH: What were the most challenging aspects of making The Long Dig, and how did you and the film’s cast and crew overcome those challenges?
KH: Shooting an action film in 2 days. We didn’t really overcome it so much as (we) gritted our teeth and plowed through it, but I can’t imagine shooting a 15 page action short in 2 days ever again. We were blessed to have an incredible editor who was able to hide a lot of our mistakes.
Watch The Long Dig on FangirlNation:
Tickets to see The Long Dig and all films screening at the Chicago Independent Film and TV Festival can be purchased here:
Find out more about The Long Dig and the Aeronauts tabletop game on Electric Purple Studios’ web site:
Help support Hackett’s ongoing creative work by donating to her Patreon page: