Drones are as accessible as iPhones these days. Anyone can get their hands on one—to take videos, race, or simply enjoy as a toy. Minnesota filmmaker and director Matt Osterman’s latest work, “Hover,” takes this technological phenomena one step further and explores a not-too-distant future where drones are used for a more sinister purpose.
Osterman, 40, resides in Minneapolis and has three sci-fi films under his belt, including “Ghost from the Machine” (2010), about a guy who attempts to use an electromagnetic device to bring his parents back from the dead.
“Hover” centers around Claudia, played by the film’s writer, Cleopatra Coleman (“Last Man on Earth”). Claudia is a caregiver whose job consists of aiding farmers with assisted suicide. When her partner suddenly dies under mysterious circumstances, Claudia soon realizes it’s not a random act of violence that took him, rather a corporation that designs and manufactures drones capable of doing agricultural work—and, apparently, much more.
We sat down with Osterman to talk about the idea behind his latest movie, what it was like working on a low-budget production for SYFY, and whether or not he thinks drones will actually take over the world someday.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
How did you get involved in this project?
I was sent the project by a friend of a friend, producer Travis Stevens, [who had] signed onto this project—a script that was already optioned by SYFY. He’d worked with SYFY in the past and, [since they knew] Travis a little bit, they put their heads together and said, “Hey, we think Matt might be good fit for this.” So they sent it to me, and I read it and wanted to play in that sandbox.
What was it like to work with a screenwriter who doubled as the film’s star?
I wasn’t sure how that was gonna play out, because there’s a lot of collaboration that happens between the director and the writer, and the director and the actor. In this case, it was the same person. So I was incredibly nervous about that, but it turns out she was amazing and super talented and it wasn’t an issue. When I was given the script they even said, “Hey, we have a few things in here we wanna address yet. A few things we think you could help with.” So I worked with her for three months prior to shooting, moving things around, massaging things, adding some more sci-fi angles to it, because that’s where I came from and I knew that world well. So I was able to add a lot of value to it.
Where did the idea come about to use the drones as the main villain or tool?
When Cleo first had the idea, she wrote a short script about two compassionate care providers that help with assisted suicide. [In that script] they went to a farmhouse and in the background was a drone doing farm work. SYFY read it and they were like, “Hey, this is awesome. And we love these drones. Can we start amping up the drones?” She took that and ran with it.
And you see it today, how there’s all these drones now. It’s getting to the point where it’s gonna get creepy here pretty soon. Not that I’m gonna wear my tin foil hat, but I’m scared of these things. So it made sense to make those the villain—to keep them emotionally unattached. They’re not this stalker out for revenge or anything, they’re just these autonomous machines. Which is even more frightening I think.
How did the assisted suicide aspect come about?
That started with Cleo. She had read an article about the Final Exit Network (people who actually travel the world and help people with assisted suicide because it’s illegal in most places). They do it under the dark of night and she was just fascinated by that. The story started with that kind of character stuff, and it just kind of worked tonally. It also worked for the sci-fi piece of it—it was there from the beginning and I loved it. We tried to heighten it as much as we could.
What other topics did you specifically want to address in the movie?
Unchecked technology combined with people in power. Those two things are kind of a scary proposition. These tools are only becoming bigger, stronger, faster, scarier, and more deadly. We’re traveling down this river with a blindfold on and it’s gonna get worse before it gets better, so we wanted to explore a world where these people are using some of these tools kind of undetected. We wanted to kind of pose a question like, “Hey, how are we going to react to this as a society? What’s gonna happen?” Ultimately it’s a movie and hopefully it’s fun and people enjoy it, but this stuff is real and in the pipeline, and it’s gonna be an interesting place to watch develop. But I’ll be doing it from my bunker.
Your last movie, “400 Days,” about astronauts participating in a simulation gone wrong, was also a low-budget sci-fi film. What were some lessons you learned from that project that were you able to apply to “Hover”?
A lot. At this budget level you’re basically paying people what they’re worth. You don’t have a lot of extra time or extra toys, so the same rules apply [from the first low-budget film I did]. From my previous two features I just learned how to shoot for maximum effect—get the right kind of coverage you need for a scene in the shortest amount of time possible, utilizing some tips and tricks to figure out things like how to combine two shots into one. You know, those tried and true indie production techniques that I think saved our bacon a lot of times.
I don’t wanna make an analogy that film is like battle or anything with real-world consequences, but having gone through the ringer a couple times on these productions, [making a film is] really, really hard. And to have gone through the process a couple times, it kind of battle-hardens you a little bit. So I think I was just prepared for the daily grind: the 18-hour days, the leadership, teamwork, and all that kind of stuff. I think it takes a specific mindset to jump into that full force, and luckily I have some experience to back that up.
What’s up next?
There are three scripts that are all in various stages right now. I’d love to shoot something here [in Minnesota] next year. There’s enough of a talented crew base here, and certainly enough visuals and locations.
“Hover” is available on iTunes, Amazon, VOD, and many other streaming services.