by Angela Bourassa (@angelabourassa1)
Our memories of our own pasts color the way we interpret the world around us, the things we believe, and the values we hold. But how much can we really trust our memories? What if something we’re convinced happened to us gets rejected as madness by the people around us?
That’s the big idea that director and co-writer Fulvio Sestito explores in his new independent sci-fi film, Beyond the Sky. The story centers around a man whose father became convinced that his mother was abducted by aliens when he was a child. Now grown, the man sets out to prove that alien abductions aren’t real, but he quickly gets pulled into the mysterious world of one claimed abductee.
I recently spoke with Fulvio about the genesis of this story idea, the value of research, and how locations can be both the bane and the beauty of independent productions.
Angela Bourassa: Where did this story begin for you and your co-writers? Did you start with the basic idea of making a movie about alien abductions, or was there a particular character you wanted to bring to the screen?
Fulvio Sestito: The idea started with wanting to tell a very personal story about a documentary filmmaker whose childhood memories shape his view of the world and drive him to explore the alien abduction phenomenon.
I knew right away that this story could not be simply written, it had to be experienced. I traveled to several UFO-themed conventions and met one-on-one with people who honestly believe in the phenomenon — or profit from it.
I interviewed and later became friends with many abductees who shared their experiences, down to their most vulnerable emotional trauma. Soon, the story of the film started carving its own thematic path, dealing with universal themes of how our memories can define and shape our reality. But the deeper I would dig, the more questions I would find. Clues led me to experience strange sightings of my own and to the Pueblo Indians of New Mexico. Needless to say, what started as a research trip turned into a transformative spiritual journey that made me question my own beliefs on the subject.
Back in LA, myself and producer Rebecca Berrih wrote the initial treatment based on that trip and fleshed out the main characters. I knew I was too close to the story and needed a fresh perspective, and that’s when I teamed up with screenwriters Rob Thomas and Marc Porterfield.
Angela Bourassa: With multiple people developing the story and script, what did the outlining and writing process look like?
Fulvio Sestito: Because I had so much material to work with from my own experience diving into the world of alien abductions, the first outline wrote itself fairly easily. A lot of what actually happened to me during that research trip became the base for the story. Thematically, we knew we wanted to tell that story from two different points of view. First, that of Chris, a documentary filmmaker who — because of his traumatic personal connection to the subject — wants to debunk the alien abduction phenomenon. His view of the world is somewhat Machiavellian, objective, detached, and cold. The second point of view is that of Emily. She believes she was abducted when she was seven years old and again every seven years since. Her world is subjective, mysterious, creative. She knows what’s been happening to her is real, but can’t really prove it. This arc, starting the film from Chris’s objective point of view then gradually transitioning to Emily’s as Chris’s beliefs are challenged, became our main focus while Rob and Marc were writing the script.
Angela Bourassa: What about this story stood out to you? Why was this the movie you wanted to make?
Fulvio Sestito: One time during my trip I remember vividly talking to somebody who was describing their terrifying experience of being abducted. Regardless of whether I believed they were really abducted by aliens or not, I was convinced this was absolutely real in their mind. I remember feeling their discomfort and frustration as they could not objectively prove or disprove their story. That’s what I ultimately wanted to capture in the film. What it would be like to live life knowing an experience as traumatic as alien abduction is real to us, but not to everyone else. An emotional tug of war between subjective and objective reality. And ultimately, if everything we experience is filtered by the sum of our memories, our beliefs, and cultural surroundings, where do we draw the line between subjective or objective reality?
Angela Bourassa: From a writing and directing standpoint, is there anything you wish you would have known when you first started this project?
Fulvio Sestito: Locations, locations, locations! After experiencing the striking beauty of the New Mexico plains as well as the timeless textures of the Indian reservations, it was clear the visual structure of the film was going to become a character in the story. In a quest for authenticity, we chose to shoot in actual locations, including a real UFO convention in Arizona and an Indian pueblo. We ended up shooting in thirteen different locations across three states and with only 22 days of principal production — a quest that proved to be a logistical nightmare. Although I love the way the film looks because of its authenticity, I do wish we would have had more days, because we ended up spending lots of time moving things around and less time making sure each scene was as perfect as it could be.
Angela Bourassa: What advice would you give to other writers and/or directors of independent sci-fi films?
Fulvio Sestito: Personally, I love completely immersing myself into a subject I am passionate about. The fact that I was able to spend so much time researching the alien abduction phenomenon before even writing a single word, I think made a huge difference. Sci-fi in particular is one of my favorite genres because through it we can explore a very real theme or subject but present it in a context that allows for unlimited creative cinematic expansion. Because of that, research becomes even more important, because it grounds the universe we want to create in reality and a set of consistent governing laws.
Beyond the Sky will be in theaters, on VOD and Digital HD on September 21.
Angela Bourassa is the founder of LA Screenwriter and the co-founder of Write/LA, a screenwriting competition created by writers, for writers. A mom, UCLA grad, and alternating repeat binger of The Office and Parks and Recreation, Angela posts articles through @LA_Screenwriter and unique daily writing prompts through @Write_LA.