Strange Thing 2

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By Pirjo Leek

Alrik Bursell’s short sci-fi film Strange Thing is a story of how a lazy breakfast at home turns into a spine-tingling rollercoaster ride. Mixing the familiar and domestic with the strange and unexpected, it delivers a smart concoction of original story and homage to the sci-fi greats in film history. The director spoke to us about his inspiration, the process behind making his movie and his love for the weird and wonderful genre of sci-fi.

Director Alrik Bursell on set
Director Alrik Bursell on set

How did Strange Thing come to be? Where did you get the idea for the film?

Strange Thing was my first professionally made short film and I had probably written about four or five other scripts before Strange Thing was born. I had just decided to scrap an idea I was working on and I was just about to go to bed when my wife Beth turned to me and said, “What if a doorway just appeared in our apartment?” I suddenly jumped out of bed and ran to my computer and wrote until 4am and the first two acts of the film were done. From there I had a bunch of different ideas about what would be on the other side of the door and I finally landed on what you see in the film.

As I understand, Strange Thing is an end-product of a successful Kickstarter project. How did you find the process of raising funds this way?

I was aware that Kickstarter is a good way to raise money to make short films. A couple of my friends had done it for their own projects and it seemed pretty easy and straightforward from the outside. I couldn’t have been more wrong. I put a lot of time and effort into planning my campaign and spent about half of it completely dedicated to promoting and running the campaign, which of course wasn’t enough of a commitment. I managed to reach my goal but I had to put a portion of my own money into “˜goosing’ the campaign to guarantee its success. The next time I run a Kickstarter or any other crowdfunding campaign, I plan to put even more time and effort into formulating the campaign and building a team of people who would help me promote and run the campaign while it is live.

If you think of famous ‘things’ in film history, then the first one to spring to mind is The Thing. Was the title inspired by John Carpenter’s 1982 cult film?

Strange Thing was most certainly inspired by The Thing, not only as far as the title goes but I was aiming for a similar tone and style as well and I think there is no denying that the creature in my film shares some similarities with the creature in The Thing. I was really passionate about creating a film that lived up to the legacy of “˜80s science fiction movies like The Thing and Terminator which is why I tried to focus on using as much practical effects as possible and hopefully creating a look that is reminiscent of the films of that time.

Hali Lula Hudson and David O'Donnell star in Strange
Hali Lula Hudson and David O’Donnell star in Strange

There is a subtle reference to Star Trek in your film in the form of robes which nicely emphasises the clash of the domestic and the strange. Besides The Thing and Star Trek, were there any other films which influenced the making of and/or are referenced in Strange Thing?

Yeah, I was totally inspired by Star Trek, sort of because I wanted the Kris character to be a total nerd but also because I wanted to tell a story that felt like it was living up to the same type of science fiction that Star Trek popularized. There is also a more obscure reference to the fans favourite Next Generation episode “Skin of Evil” in which Tasha Yar is killed. At film festivals, there was usually one Trekkie in each audience that would be able to tell me which episode inspired the monster from the film.

As for other references, the opening shot is an homage to the opening sequence in Brian De Palma’s Blow Out and in addition to the monster being inspired by the ‘tar monster’ from “Skin of Evil”, it is also heavily influenced by the T-1000 from Terminator 2 and/or the creature from another James Cameron film, The Abyss.

Is sci-fi the genre closest to your heart? What is it about the genre that captivates your imagination?

I would certainly say that sci-fi is certainly my favourite genre to work in and that’s the realm in which I have the most fun creating stories. I’m not exactly sure why I’m so inspired to tell sci-fi stories, I think it’s because I have this feeling that there’s more to the world than we can see and that in great sci-fi, we are always diving into that general concept, in one way or another.

I love exploring the unknown and the ‘what ifs’ of the world while keeping it rooted in a sense of reality so for right now that’s what I am trying to accomplish with my films.

"At film festivals, there was usually one Trekkie in each audience that would be able to tell me which episode inspired the monster from the film."
“At film festivals, there was usually one Trekkie in each audience that would be able to tell me which episode inspired the monster from the film.”

The monster in Strange Thing is a great oozing mess of mud which protrudes from a tiny puddle. How did you find the process of working with VFX? Did it pose a challenge for the actors?

That’s funny that you should say that because in the beginning it was our intention to do as much as we could practically and that we were going to only use VFX to tighten up the shots and remove the puppeteers and that sort of thing. For the shot where the monster rises from the puddle, we actually built the puddle of ooze in the forest and I had our SFX mastermind George Schminky laying on the ground with his arms immersed in ooze and operating the puppet from the inside.

The first couple passes actually kept the ooze creature mostly intact and as we continued to refine the shot we took more and more of the puppet away and turned it into the thin ooze structure you see in the final film.

So really working with the VFX in most instances wasn’t so difficult for the actors because they actually had a physical puppet to react to. There is one shot where the monster is 100% VFX, which is the wide shot of Kris running up the hill away from the creature as its neck extends out towards her. For that shot, I just told Hali (Lula Hudson) how big the monster was going to be and how it was going to be moving and she came up with the performance you see in the film.

From that point it was all up to Alan Cecil our VFX artist to create the creature to match Hali’s movements and after many revisions, we got it just right.

"I love exploring the unknown and the 'what ifs' of the world while keeping it rooted in a sense of reality"
“I love exploring the unknown and the ‘what ifs’ of the world while keeping it rooted in a sense of reality”

What are your plans for the future?

Since Strange Thing I have made three other short films, two of which you can find online at the links below, and I am currently raising for my first feature film called The AlternateThe Alternate is about a videographer who discovers a portal to another dimension in which he has everything he has ever wanted, the film career he dreams of, the perfect version of his wife and the son he never had. When he finds out that the alternate version of himself is cheating on the perfect alternate version of his wife, he decides to steal the life he has always deserved.

I am very excited to tell this really exciting and fun science fiction story and I’m just really grateful that I’ve had the opportunity to make the movies I’ve made and I hope I can keep on making movies for the rest of my life.

I also do a weekly podcast about filmmaking called “˜Making Movies is Hard’ where my co-host and I talk about the struggles of being an independent filmmaker.


Learn More about Alrik Bursell’s work from these Links:


Zombie vs. Drone

The Rage (coming soon)

The Alternate (pre-production)

Making Movies is Hard


Watch Strange Thing free on

Strange Thing

Find more shorts on FilmDoo here.

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