USA | 2 minutes | 2020
Thriller, horror short film by Nevin Millan
Starring Nevin Millan
The last remaining virologist on earth attempts to save the world from a mutating, radioactive virus.
CineAsian Films (CAF): The Mutation definitely feels COVID inspired. How did you come up with such a simple, yet effective premise?
Nevin Millan: Sure, yes, being quarantined due to the COVID-19 pandemic was certainly a driving inspiration for “The Mutation”, but that’s not all. There was a filmmaking challenge put forth by legendary horror producer Roger Corman in April 2020. He challenged filmmakers to create a short film, 2 min or less, shot only where you’re quarantined with whatever you have on hand, and must be shot on a mobile phone. Given those constraints, I knew I wanted to do something pulpy horror/thriller, but I just wasn’t sure what and the countdown to the challenge deadline was approaching. In addition, being a father of 2 young children, I knew the time period I had to shoot was an hour in the afternoon during their nap and late at night while they were asleep. Not only that, I only had myself to work with…nobody to run the camera (my wife wasn’t keen on giving up sleep to help with this!) Given those constraints, I figured the concept had to be pretty simple and I had to put most of my efforts into the set, acting, and editing, as opposed to fancy camera techniques.
One evening, my wife suggests we try a new facemask product she had picked up a few months prior…hey, it’s a quarantine, why the heck not? So, I play along and we do a bentonite clay mask on our faces. When it dried up, it looked like grotesque crackled monster skin…and even more gross as it was peeling off. That’s when the light bulb went off and the idea of a mutated virus that turns people into creatures popped into my head…that mask stuff was PERFECT creature FX! I sort of worked backwards from there.
As I dug into the concept a little bit more, I framed it into these confessional vignettes (easy to shoot by myself!) as sort of a Kafka-esque morphing of this doctor who had good intentions but succumbed to the very virus he had intended to cure. And while the story can be taken at face value – a mutating virus that destroys the humanity in us – for me, it soon became an allegory for the disinformation-age we are currently living through. Lies, untruths, and misinformation are like a virus – they’re put out there into he world, but then they mutate and take a life of their own. Soon people around us that were once level headed become unrecognizable monsters storming the US Capitol. With the parallels of misinformation + COVID-19 infecting humanity simultaneously right now, this short seems more like a cautionary tale now than when I shot it in April 2020.
CAF: What were some of the biggest challenges you faced while making this short?
Millan: Aside from coming up with the concept for the Corman challenge, it was WHERE to shoot this and HOW. Since the main character is a virologist, I figured he needed to be in a lab. So I took over our kitchen for 2 days and created the “lab” set with stuff I had laying around the house. Since each confessional happens months apart from one another, I had to meticulously plan what was going to be on set, how I was going to have my character look to show the progression of time, as well as the lighting to subtly communicate these transitions.
And it was super challenging to be messing with all the lighting, sound, and camera technical aspects while also trying to act. Since the Corman challenge had a 2 minute maximum trt, each confessional scene had to fit into very specific, tight time constraints. I did take after take until I landed in the right predetermined time frame for each section…oftentimes changing dialogue on the spot in order to conform to the time. I also did all my own makeup FX, which at 4AM after gong at this for hours you start to think…”what the heck am I doing this for?” haha. But I pushed on and I’m glad I did.
CAF: How long did it take to do all the VFX makeup?
Millan: The makeup was key in pulling this off. To create the illusion of time elapsing between each vignette, as well as evidence of the virus taking him over, it had to be somewhat convincing. My hair was pretty long since it had been 5 months since my last haircut, so I knew that I would end with my hair fully out. So with cleverly placed pins and clips, I made it look like my hair was shorter on the other scenes. I also grew out my facial hair and shot in reverse order. This way he would look more scruffy and haggard as time elapsed in the film.
I raided my wife’s makeup and my daughter’s colored pencils and between those supplies was able to create the “rashy lesions”. The lesions themselves were made from that same bentonite clay mask that I used for the creature face. The black oozing from the eyes and my mouth was an activated charcoal toothpaste that I use. I was the most fresh-breathed creature ever, ha! In terms of time, the creature face didn’t take that long…just enough time for it to dry up – application took maybe 10-15 min, and then another 15 min for it to dry before I could start shooting. The lesions were time consuming….that took about 45 min to fully apply, then test on camera to make sure it looked decent.
CAF: What are some projects you’re working on right now?
Millan: I was lucky enough to act in a film last October. The film is called “Vengeance Turns”, a female-led western. I had a supporting role as the lead’s love interest…a half-South Asian, half-Native warrior character. They followed all Covid safety protocols and cranked it out in a few weeks. I’ve also been writing a lot and will be looking to try and pull off another quarantine shoot this year…this time a feature (unrelated to “The Mutation”, however). I also have a new non-profit I started called “Cultural Cornucopia” that received a grant from the Roddenberry Foundation. The intention is to support culturally diverse, unproduced, American playwrights. I’m looking to get that off the ground this year.
The Mutation is one of the many great projects shared with CineAsian Films through our submissions process. If you’d like to join them, submit your film.
Director, Writer, Producer, Editor: Nevin Millan
Shot by Nevin Millan on an iPhone X