The Director of 'Project Almanac' Talks Time Travel, Going From Assistant to Director, 'Power Rangers' and More

The Director of 'Project Almanac' Talks Time Travel, Going From Assistant to Director, 'Power Rangers' and More

Jun 10, 2015

If you like time travel movies, then you're kind of obligated to see Project Almanac, which hits Blu-ray, DVD, and DigitalHD this week. It's about a group of nerdy high school friends who uncover plans for a time machine that one of their father's never lived long enough to actually build. So, naturally, they build it. And it works.

But, as you can probably guess, giving some teens the power of time travel is not a great idea, and soon it becomes a matter of fixing the mess they've created by defying space and time.

Project Almanac is a fun, slick, entertaining entry in the time travel genre, and it was the directorial debut of a one Dean Israelite. Unless you were familiar with one of his short films before this, you probably don't know his name. But you will soon enough. Thanks to Project Almanac, Israelite has landed directing duties on the big screen Power Rangers reboot. And it was our pleasure to recently pick his brain about Project Almanac, his career so far, and what's to come next. What was the most difficult scene in Project Almanac to construct in order to sell the time travel to audiences?

Dean Israelite: The hardest thing for us to really crack was to be able to communicate a kind of reality, and a violence and a chaos that came with time traveling. We never had the money to do the R&D to figure out how to create an aesthetic that would let us show time travel in a way that other movies hadn't already done. So it wasn't about what time travel looked like, but it was about what it did when you turned on this machine. Once you came at it from that angle, it really opened things up. Then it became about how are we going to affect the environment. The real challenge was figuring out the real effect and visual effect crossover. One of the movie's strongest parts is its character dynamic. How'd you calibrate that and were there always this many in the early versions of the script?

Dean Israelite: Yeah, there were always this many characters. In the script it ran the gamut of how nerdy, how outside the high school experience were some of them? Should they be not geeks at all? We worked hard to find the reality in that situation. We wanted to have a contemporary take and what I learned doing this movie is that... I'm 30, so it wasn't even that long ago that I was in high school, but even in that time it's changed. I think with social media and the way teenagers are able to connect with each other, they're able to find their own groups in high school the way people used to in college.

That finding of your gang is happening earlier and earlier now, and so we're trying to tap into that. They are outsiders in the high school experience, but within their own group they're awesome. They're entertaining to each other and aspirational for one another, and I think that dichotomy gives it a sense of a reality and contemporary feel. Going off IMDb alone, there's a bit of a leap on your resume from being an assistant on Battle Los Angeles to a director on Project Almanac. How'd you pull that off?

Israelite: I went to film school at AFI. I got out of AFI and was lucky enough to work for Jonathan [Liebsman]. I could have probably been his assistant forever, but I didn't want to do that. I wanted to be a director and I had a bunch of shorts under my belt. My final thesis short had done very well at festivals and we won some student Emmy's and stuff. So that actually got my foot in the door with some agents, but they all asked what I wanted to do, so I started writing scripts that I would want to direct. While I was an assistant on Battle LA, I would spend the nights and weekends working on the script. So by the time we finished that movie, I had a finished screenplay and my short, and so that got me a manager and an agent.

So what isn't reflected on IMDb is the few years of real hustle. I managed to get cast for that movie. Ashton Kutcher was going to be in it and we were prepping the movie, but then he got another part and the movie fell apart. But I had made a lot of relationships on it, and so then we tried to get another movie going for JJ Abrams' Bad Robot. That ended up not happening, but some other producers heard about it and then asked me to take a look at the [Project Almanac] script. I really had to win the job. I shot a trailer for the movie to show them that, as a first timer, I could handle the movie.

So, yeah, there was a lot of grinding to make the leap. The first news I could find on Project Almanc said it was about a kid who tried to win a science fair contest.

Israelite: Maybe at one time there was a draft like that, but it was never like that when I came on. There were definitely drafts before I came on. There were some talks of including a science fair at one stage, but that felt derivative and we moved on. Project Almanac was finished a while ago, but its release date slid around for over a year. What does that kind of downtime do for your career?

Israelite: It's a very good question. This was a huge responsibility for me because it was my first movie, and I did worry that it would make the downtime harder to get new projects, but I did manage to get a bunch of stuff set up before the movie came out. That was mainly because we did a bunch of screenings around town. We did one at Comic-Con and then screened it for all the agencies here in town. So people had either seen the movie or heard really positive things about it, so I was able to use that good word of mouth to get into rooms and start getting projects up. Two of those projects were WarGames and Power Rangers. Is one of those next for you?

Israelite: Power Rangers is next. We're in a soft prep phase right now doing a bunch of design work. We're creating, or I should say re-imagining, the world in a cool, updated, contemporary, really fun way. I think it's really exciting and we're on a really interesting, surprising track. I can't wait to start shooting, which will be in a few months. Did Joseph Khan's Power Rangers short create a big headache for you?

Israelite: No, but I wasn't on the project yet. I've only been on the project for, I think, four or five weeks. To me, I think it's just a demonstration of how vibrant and vital the brand is. I think it's really exciting that it got so much play. It's encouraging that there are adults, like me, who are still fans and grew up on it and still want and have an interest to see the Power Rangers matured and brought to screen.


Project Almanac is available now on Blu-ray, DVD, and DigitalHD.


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