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Five Questions with Antaine Furlong

17 September 2021

Director Antaine Furlong on the set of Ascendant

Antaine Furlong is a director, writer and producer, and has made his feature film debut this year with Ascendant. Antaine studied at the Institute of Art, Design and Technology (IADT) in Dublin, Ireland until he dropped out to continue working on set – then going on to become a respected finance executive and business entrepreneur. Antaine is now back in the film world.

1. First of all, where did the concept for Ascendant come from?

The initial concept started back in 2009 while working in Sydney in a highrise. A maintenance engineer was servicing one of the many elevators, controlling it with a tablet device of some kind. Being someone who’s afraid of heights, I thought that would be a neat idea, then proceeded to take the stairs. But in 2019 Kieran (my co-writer) and I rewrote an aged script, and tried to modify it to be able to work in this extremely competitive market. It was important to us having daughters that we made a film with a female lead, who’s self belief grows in a very male dominated story.

2. Ascendant is the first in the trilogy. How did you decide how much to give away?

This was extremely difficult for me for a number of reasons. We’ve been exhausted by films made with limited settings, Saw, Buried, Panic Room, Cube, so to make something that doesn’t fit into those categories had its challenges. Then there was the fact of budget, and I have an enormous imagination and a thirst to keep pushing, so to make a psychological sci-fi thriller within a limited setting, with such a low budget was like a child being told they can only pick one sweet from a candy store, while exciting was also left unfulfilled.

It was very restrictive, we just didn’t have the budget to make the story expansive, so every decision was carefully made as it impacted the VFX budget, 400+ VFX shots were not cheap. Especially at this level of quality. I looked at this film more like a one person theatre play. We focused on the story through dialogue, rather than hopping from one scene to the next with multiple characters building on the story like most films are made. You’re forced to listen or you miss plot points. This one film is kind of like a prologue. The next however we have creatures, and enormous story arcs and even more VFX with greater characters, especially Aria and her twin sister, but that’s for another time and place, just not for a while. I’ve had people around the world ask me if there will be another.

3. Ascendant’s focal point is an elevator. What did you need to consider or which tools did you use to make sure the elevator was part of the narrative?

The Elevator was always a character in this film, it’s the Cocoon. It’s function from start to finish is a journey, it’s how she learns of her father, the lies, the secrecy, the Russian villains and their motives, but it’s how she learns about herself, like the journey of a caterpillar becoming a butterfly. The final images are very much similar to that metamorphosis and how the elevator interacts with her.

4. Charlotte Best who plays Aria Wolf is amazing in Ascendant. What did you see in her when she auditioned for the part?

Aria is a very humble, intelligent creature, who made a decision when she was a child hoping it would save her family. She sacrificed who she was born to be for this to happen, so she hoped. Years later when that future comes knocking, she has no recollection; it requires someone who has the skillset to play humble, innocent. I looked at over 100 people for the role and in the end I felt she suited Aria more so than others.

I was always worried about whether she could do this, it was difficult enough for Ryan Renolds with the film Buried, Charlotte’s experience has been primarily TV, this was Buried on steroids. I think it was stressful for all of us, it’s not a comedy, it’s an intense piece of work that required her to be stressed out everyday for 4 weeks. But I made the call and asked her to join the team and thankfully she accepted, because I believed she could do it, it was just a matter of how to keep her stressed out for four week and keep that continuity going, which required many techniques, either camera, editing, hair/make-up, or even my style on a daily basis had to change to support her in that process. She did great.

5. What’s next from here?

Well I’m new to Australian film, while it’s been my home for over 15 years, I’m Irish, so meeting new people in the business and at Sydney Film Festival will be exciting. I am working on a number of projects, and talking to a number of distributors about my next, they all seem very excited and supportive about what my next is. The most imminent is broader than Ascendant, it’s also a first for Australia, a genre film, it’s mostly outdoors (Phew) lots of flawed characters, relationships, story plots, amazing VFX, intensity, and plenty of twists until the very end. So I’m pretty pumped about it and also looking forward to shooting the best of Regional Australia for it. So fingers crossed we get it up and running. It’s a very unique spin for this genre in the world. Other than that I am working on a few novels, hopefully you will get to see one of them at the bookstores late next year.

Ascendant is an original, intense, suspenseful thriller that centres around a young woman, Aria Wolf coming into her power. It packs a punch and has a lot of heart.

Ascendant will be released on DVD and Blu-ray this October.