Ivan Sen on his sci fi love story ‘Expired’

Ryan Kwanten as Jack in the sci-fi film, EXPIRED, a Lionsgate release. Photo courtesy of Lionsgate.
Photo courtesy of Lionsgate.

Writer/Director Ivan Sen (Goldstone, Mystery Road) proves he can do it all with his new science fiction feature Expired. Ivan not only wrote and directed the film, he also scored, edited and did the cinematography for Expired.

Synopsis: In a futuristic Hong Kong, assassin Jack (Ryan Kwanten) crosses paths with a nightclub singer, April (Jillian Nguyen). As Jack becomes increasingly drawn to April his body mysteriously deteriorates.  Jack tracks down reclusive life extension scientist Doctor Bergman (Hugo Weaving), in a search for answers.  Doctor Bergman unearths Jack’s long buried secret and is forced to confront his own murky past.  As the net that connects them tightens, Jack and April struggle for love as they face their past in a loveless world that is on the cusp of immortality and extinction.

Check out my interview with Ivan!

How did you come up with the story?

Ivan: Well, whenever I write a film, I start with a location. And for me, the power of that place is what grows the characters and the growth of characters then informs the story. So yeah, I mean, I took a plane to Hong Kong 10 years ago, and I just felt that I found the next story there. I was just very excited about the atmosphere that that city had and I just got this hunger to tell story set in Hong Kong. And the characters just grew out of that place. Hong Kong is a competitive city and a competitive culture, and this is in a competitive future world that involves the story of love. This is the story that grown from this city with this competition. And so, a futuristic version of Hong Kong that you see in the film is a natural kind of expression of now and talking about how this competitive world forces people to kind of limit the connective human traits of love and trust, as they’re not really required to allow you to survive in this future world.

Was this filmed completely in Hong Kong?

Ivan: The film was filmed in Hong Kong as well as in different studios in Australia but it was very important for the film to feel like it was set in this futuristic version of Hong Kong. So we actually shot more than half the film there in a very short amount of time. It was a bit crazy. There was a lot of running around. And when we got back to Australia, everything just slowed down and we could concentrate on the intimate details of the three characters.

Were there any films or other stories that kind of inspired the way that you shot the film?

Ivan: Not really, because I first went to Hong Kong over 10 years ago, so I’ve had a lot of time to work out how I was going to tell the story from a visual perspective. I am a fan of Hong Kong cinema, and have watched a lot of Hong Kong films and and I just love the way they shoot on the streets and capture the energy of the climate. A lot of the films capture the whole neon aspect as well. So yes, it was much more like that place informed everything

I loved the colors, they’re my favorite part. 

Ivan: They have emotion as well and I think that’s why I was drawn to creating a romance set in Hong Kong because, for me, it’s very it’s such a romantic atmosphere, that place.

Ryan Kwanten as Jack in the sci-fi film, EXPIRED, a Lionsgate release. Photo courtesy of Lionsgate.
Is this movie titled Expired or Loveland

Ivan: When you sell a film, it can gain all types of different titles depending on the territory. So different territories can have different titles, but usually the English world sticks to one. The North American release has its own separate title, which is Expired, but the film’s original title is Loveland which was released in Australia. 10 years ago it was called Loveland, but different territories feel like they market towards different audiences and so, a different title can pop up with that as well.

You wear a ton of hats with this film- writer, director, editor, producer, cinematographer, etc… Why put on so many hats for this film? 

Ivan: Well, it’s not just for this film. I do a lot of different roles for all of my films. It has always been that way from when I started filmmaking, actually. Before I started filmmaking, I was a photographer and I’ve always been used to directing people with a camera in my hand and as a stills photographer, you do that all the time. And so, I don’t know, that just kind of evolved into the filmmaking process for me where I control the camera and the editing and music, and I’ve always been a composer as well, before I started filmmaking. I’ve had these kinds of traits before I became a director or a filmmaker and so I just kind of brought them with me into the filmmaking world. And for me, it’s like painting. I feel like making movies is like making a painting. When a painter creates a work, you don’t often have people criticize and ask them, why are you making this painting all by yourself? 

What was it like reuniting with Ryan and Hugo for this film? 

Ivan: Well, they’re both amazing human beings to be around, even if you’re not working. They’re just great company and very generous and supportive when you’re making the film. I had written the role of Dr. Bergman specifically for Hugo Weaving and so when he got the script and he actually liked the idea of his character, that was a big relief because sometimes you write a character for someone, if they say, ‘No,’ it’s like, ‘oh no, what I’m gonna do now?’ But Hugo is such a great, supportive, generous, human actor, and the same with Ryan. Ryan worked on a film I did previously as well, and it was just a small role, but it was enough time to realize that we had a bit of a connection. And he was very excited about doing this film and he was just 100%, ‘whatever it takes. I’ll do whatever.’

What was it like working with Jillian?

Ivan: Julian was amazing. I mean, she’s such a raw talent. She hasn’t made a lot of films before and this was a very big step for her. And she just took it and just ran with it. She just enjoyed the challenge of, I mean, it’s probably more challenging for her than for Hugo and Ryan because she’s had a lot of different elements to her role. She needed to be able to dance and sing and speak another language and maintain a whole scene while speaking another language. She actually had a very big task to fulfill but she just smashed it out of the park.

Jillian Nguyen as April in the sci-fi film, EXPIRED, a Lionsgate release. Photo courtesy of Lionsgate.
Do you have any standout memories from filming?

Ivan: I think just the whole Hong Kong shoot was a very profound experience for me because I had spent so much time in Hong Kong running around the streets with the camera, solo, as I was developing the screenplay and working out how I was going to make this sci fi on the budget that we had. And so to actually arrive on the street with the actors and with the crew, it was an amazing experience. I mean, it was so fun. We shot half the film in that area in a very short amount of time and that experience will stay with me forever, I think.

Are you going to go back to Hong Kong to shoot again?

Ivan: Well, that’s the thing, it was too short for me. I’d love to get back to Hong Kong and make another film but I am working on a long form series to shoot there. And hopefully that will happen in the near future.

Were there any challenges that you faced while filming?

Ivan: This film is a sci fi which is set in a futuristic city and I guess the biggest challenge was to present this futuristic world in an authentic kind of realistic way. That was always going to be a challenge, but that was all about preparation. Everything’s preparation. You just need to prepare and then you have that ability to be really efficient in everything you do and be focused. I just think creating the future world was always the challenge. For me, things are never perfect. There’s always things you want to improve or whatever. But yeah, I think we kind of got there in the end.

How long was the preparation process?

Ivan: Well, I mean, you could say it’s been 10 years. I have made other films along the way of course, but every trip to Hong Kong was preparation. I think I’ve been to Hong Kong, I don’t know, over 80 times or so, at least. So every trip was preparation. But for the actual film that was just very standard, like a few weeks of kind of preparation before the crew arrived, but it’s too late then, you kind of have to work out what you’re doing maybe a couple of years before you actually do it… It’s different with different projects. This was a sci fi, so it needed some special preparation whereas other films I’ve made have been the opposite. 

Is there anything that we didn’t touch on that you would like to add?

Ivan: I just think it’s, it’s a unique film that offers a combination of elements that we don’t usually see from one film. It’s a romantic, sci fi drama/thriller all mixed together and kind of trying to be this whole piece. It’s rare to come by that these days.

(L-R) Ryan Kwanten as Jack and Jillian Nguyen as April in the sci-fi film, EXPIRED, a Lionsgate release. Photo courtesy of Lionsgate.
Expired will be available in Select Theaters, on digital, and on demand March 18th!