Oscar-winning actor John Ridley returns to movies with “Needle in a Timestack”
John Ridley was in Los Angeles, working on a TV series set in New Orleans and talking about a time travel movie shot in Vancouver before COVID-19 and finally coming out this month.
“You know, my life is strange,” said Ridley, the Oscar-winning writer and filmmaker who grew up in Mequon. “Look at the things that I was able to do and the things that I was able to accomplish, and there are times when it seems a little unreal.
The time travel film, “Needle in a Timestack,” hits theaters nationwide on October 15, including the Oriental Theater in Milwaukee. It will be available on demand the same day and will be released on DVD and Blu-ray on October 19.
“Needle in a Timestack” has run for over three years – about the same time it will end up spending on “Five Days at Memorial,” the limited TV series about the horrific drama that unfolded on the New York Times. -Orléans hospital during Hurricane Katrina. The Apple TV + production is slated to air next year. And he started working on a Shirley Chisholm biopic with Oscar-winning actress Regina King.
Ridley has also been active on the print page, writing stories about the first Black Batman, compiled earlier this year in the graphic novel “Future State: The Next Batman”; “The Other DC Universe Story,” a five-comic book series offering a different take on DC Comics, released as a graphic novel in November; and a new Black Panther series for Marvel Comics later this year.
And it all adds up to his ongoing work with No Studios, the creative hub he launched in downtown Milwaukee. (No Studios, 1037 W. McKinley Ave., will host an early screening of “Needle in a Timestack” at 6:00 pm October 13. Admission is $ 10, free for No Studios members. Go to nosstudios.com for more details.)
“More than anything, I am very grateful to have had the opportunity over the course of my career to work on multiple projects at the same time,” said Ridley. , write them, throw them, shoot them, post (-produce) – it’s just a huge time lag, even in our days of fast-paced storytelling.
A time travel story about people, not science fiction
Directed and adapted by Ridley from a story by science fiction master Robert Silverberg, “Needle in a Timestack” takes place in the near future, where people are given the opportunity to time travel and, sometimes intentionally, change present them by changing something. in the past. Sometimes the changes are tiny; sometimes they remake other people’s timelines – and after a few hours those affected forget about the past they have lost.
Nick (Leslie Odom Jr.) is an architect, married for almost a decade to a photographer (Cynthia Erivo) named Janine. When they both experience a time lag, he becomes convinced that Janine’s ex-husband Tommy (Orlando Bloom) is determined to get her back. The more time changes with his memories of who he was, it forces Nick to find the best way to get back to where he knows he needs to be and who he needs to be with.
When Ridley, an avowed sci-fi and fantasy fan, first read Silverberg’s story in the 1990s, he loved it. But not just because of science fiction.
“He didn’t try to explain (time travel), he didn’t try to explain love, he just treated those two forces as forces of nature,” Ridley said. “In some ways it was incredibly simple, in other ways it was incredibly complex. I just liked it all.”
A film “on the taking into account of time”
Filming began in June 2018 in Vancouver, and the project was in post-production when the pandemic brought it to a halt. While the pandemic didn’t affect the story Ridley was telling, he thinks “Needle in a Timestack” speaks a little differently in a COVID world.
“It’s not a political movie, and it’s not a movie that really tries to make a statement about that level of regret, but it’s definitely about being mindful of the time and trying to keep it. make the most of it in our relationships, in the way we deal with people and interact with people, and don’t leave it for regret, don’t leave it for a moment in the future to say, ‘Oh, I would have loved having done that and said this or called someone ‘”he” Because times are fleeting, and over the past year we’ve learned that more than anything else. ”
When he set about writing the screenplay, Ridley chose to change the original story as little as possible, including minimizing special effects.
“I love sci-fi. I enjoy images where there’s a lot of ‘zooming’ or flashing lights… and lasers and stuff,” Ridley said. “But I really appreciate the maturity of Mr. Silverberg’s storytelling, and it was really about adults questioning love and relationships.”
Unlike many of Ridley’s projects, most notably the Los Angeles riots documentary “Let It Fall”, Jimi Hendrix’s biopic “Jimi: All Is By My Side” and “12 Years a Slave”, for which he won an Oscar for screenplay in 2014 – “Needle in a parking meter” is not focused on racing.
But having a diverse cast was crucial for Ridley. In addition to Bloom and Tony Odom and Erivo winners, “Needle in a Timestack” stars Freida Pinto (“Slumdog Millionaire) and Jadydn Wong, a Canadian actress whose parents were born in Hong Kong.
“For me, it was very important to tell a story that was rooted, (to) tell a story that was about choices, and regrets, and the past that is ruled by a BIPOC (Black, Indigenous and people of color) actors that you don’t normally see,… or certainly not often enough, see very mature films made on very regular human attributes, ”he said.
“It’s a different muscle”
Making a feature film like “Needle in a Timestack” is a very different experience than filming a limited TV series, a narrative approach that has occupied much of Ridley’s screen-making time in recent years, from “American Crime “and” Guerrilla “at the next” Five Days at Memorial “.
“It’s a different muscle. I think on this project that I just finished (‘Five Days at Memorial’), I pulled a muscle,” Ridley said with a laugh. “… Do eight episodes, follow emotional arcs (of the story), remember in episode 7 what you did in episode 1, especially on a show as big, as rugged as’ Five Days at Memorial ‘is a bear. It’s a lot It’s a lot to quarrel and fight.…
“With ‘Needle’ it’s an hour and 40 minute film, the focus, the approach, the execution – there are efficiencies in that.”
With “Needle in a Timestack” finally coming out and “Five Days at Memorial” getting closer to the end, Ridley is also keeping control of No Studios in Milwaukee.
During COVID, the Creative Center, which is headed by COO (and Ridley’s sister) Lisa Caesar, has had to adapt, investing in technology to boost its production and live-streaming capabilities of online content.
RELATED:No Studios was created to bring together the creative community of Milwaukee. When COVID-19 got in the way, they got creative themselves.
This investment has led to other collaborations, including one that began Oct. 5 with WISN-TV (Channel 12) to provide “organized and community content” that is broadcast live from No Studios.
Prior to that, he was traveling from Los Angeles to New Orleans for an additional shoot of “Five Days at Memorial,” most of which was filmed earlier this year in Toronto.
“Sometimes people say to me, ‘Oh, why are you working so much? Or ‘You work too much,’ or things like that, “Ridley said.” I love the job. I like the process.