"It was a real swing for us!" Writer-director Sam Odlum on sci-fi comedy Time Addicts

“It was a real swing for us!” Writer-director Sam Odlum on sci-fi comedy Time Addicts

To celebrate the UK release of Time Addicts, combining time travelling sci-fi with deadpan comedy, we speak to writer-director Sam Odlum about his ambitious debut…

In Time Addicts, best friends Denise and Johnny are in desperate debt to their volatile drug dealer and agree to a sketchy job to pay off their last hit – breaking into a decrepit stash house to steal a bag of mysterious drugs. But whilst getting into the house may be easy, escape proves more troublesome, as the pair find themselves trapped inside with a mysterious figure.

With no way out and not one to miss an opportunity, Johnny smokes the new drug and promptly travels into the past, triggering alarming new events in the future. Separated through time, Denise is left alone to confront her past, their dealer Kane’s real identity, and her very own existence.

Starring Freya Tingley (Hemlock Grove) and Charles Grounds (Crazy Rich Asians), Time Addicts is a mind-bending and original film from the executive producer of The Babadook. Sam Odlum (pictured above with actor Joshua Morton) tells us more…

What inspired you to write the story of Time Addicts?

It started out as a short film. Back when I worked on the short, I felt like there wasn’t anything like it at the time, especially in Australia where the film industry tends to be a bit conservative. I’m a big sci-fi fan and I love Philip K. Dick’s novel, A Scanner Darkly. I really admire how he was able to make it so hilarious and heart-breaking while existing in that sci-fi world.

In Time Addicts, tapping into the time travel aspect of the story, it gave us an opportunity to see what these characters do and mess with their past and future selves. It took a few years to get the short film together, but it was received very well and as I intended. It wasn’t something I’d planned to make a feature film about, but I felt like we had more to say. Then, the short unexpectedly made a good proof of concept. I actually don’t think we would have got the feature made if we didn’t have the short film to show people and help them understand the idea.

You combine sci-fi with some pretty dark comedy, what was the inspiration for that?

I’m a big fan of sci-fi and always have been. I like stuff that manages to be quite contained and still tell a bigger story with the tools at your disposal. I read a lot of sci-fi novels and of course, watch all the movies and shows. Twelve Monkeys was a big inspiration, with so many interesting characters and ideas, even down to how they shot with Dutch angles. When it comes to time travel, I personally gravitate towards stories that are a bit more deterministic, which I think Twelve Monkeys is, rather than changing the past or future.

Something else that inspired me, and I think came up after writing my first draft, was Dark, the German series on Netflix. An amazing undertaking given how it builds and expands over three seasons. It was also inspiring when it came to the choices of colour. I had a lot of conversations with our cinematographer Marcus Cropp on how we could use a colour palette in each of the different eras.

When it comes to comedy, I don’t set out to make things overly funny, it’s more about how these characters really think and speak. I may well have some subtle, biting comedy inspiration from shows like Veep or Succession, but I just try to keep the characters based on reality. Hopefully, we captured that.

Since this is my first feature, my main goal was to have something with a strong voice and which hopefully hasn’t been seen before. Some people don’t even get to make a second film! There’s always a fear that a film won’t land, but for me, it’s an even bigger fear to have something out there that I wasn’t fully invested in, and wonder what could have been.

Time Addicts combines sci-fi and dark comedy.

How long did it take to write and shoot the film?

I started the script right before the pandemic. We filmed in 2022 and in Melbourne we had a lot of lockdowns, so that gave me time to rewrite and develop the script, which I like to do anyway. After we got the green light, we shot the film in 20 days and stuck pretty closely to what was written. Given the nature of the story and time travel elements, making references to the past and future, we couldn’t stray from that too much, so there was a lot of mental arithmetic given the continuity.

The actors had a lot of input into their characters and dialogue during a week of rehearsals, which was very good, and it meant we really got a handle on these characters. I wanted to approach it like a drama, rather than try to be a comedy. Then, if some of these crazy situations end up being funny, we can hopefully entrust that to the script.

The performances, especially from Charles Grounds and Freya Tingley, are fantastic. How did you find your cast?

We got really lucky with the whole cast. Joshua Morton came on board early, which was great, because Kane has a lot of heavy lifting in the script. Josh brings so much to that character and, of course, becomes even more important as the story goes on.

Elise Jansen, who plays Tracey, came on board next I think. As soon as we saw her casting, we knew she was brilliant and later got her in for an audition with Charles Grounds as Johnny, which worked really well. His character was probably the hardest to cast. We wanted someone who could deliver the comedy but also had a sensitive, likable side. If we didn’t get that part right, we knew it wouldn’t work.

Finally, for the character of Denise, we needed someone who could go toe-to-toe and match Johnny, not buying into any of his bullshit. But she still needs to be somebody we root for, as we become increasingly involved in her journey, probably more so than Johnny’s. Freya Tingley totally nailed that. So yes, we got really lucky.

Freya Tingley and Charles Grounds play Denise and Johnny in Time Addicts.

After the shoot, how did you find the editing process, and were there any happy accidents that weren’t planned?

One big thing, an idea I had before shooting, was the thought of hearing conversations in the house bleeding through periods of time. I liked the idea but, while writing, I just didn’t have the bandwidth to figure it all out. In the edit, we were able to explore how much we wanted to hear, and when. But of course, if you change something in one scene, you need to change it in another! So, I was probably a bit of a punish to our editor Cindy Clarkson, who was fantastic. I was quite pedantic about some of that stuff, but it was cool to do and I feel like it brings a certain unpredictable chaos and heightens the senses.

What do you hope audiences take away from Time Addicts?

I really hope people see this as something new and different, and it’s something they haven’t seen before. It was a real swing for us and I’d love to continue that approach through the next stages of my career, maybe fitting into a certain genre, but leaving audiences not quite knowing what to expect. I love films like that, so I hope to do more, and I really hope this resonates.

Time Addicts is out now in selected UK cinemas. Buy & Rent it on Digital platforms from 27 November