ARQ is a “personal time-travel story”

Director Tony Elliott talks us through new Netflix sci-fi thriller ARQ

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The latest innovative-looking sci-fi thriller to be added to Netflix – following on from its world premiere at this year’s Toronto Film Festival – ARQ follows an engineer (Robbie Amell), whose invention causes a time loop during a robbery attempt. Armed with this tech, he tries to save his former lover (Rachael Taylor), while at the same time uncovering the mystery of who attacked him.

We spoke to director Tony Elliott (who has previously written for shows like Hunters and Orphan Black) about how he became involved and what to expect…

Where did the idea for ARQ come from?
I actually had the idea quite a while ago, back in 2008 originally. This trope is a part of a canon of time-loop films that obviously have existed before and I wanted to try my own take on it. So I just kind of took a very scientific, rational perspective on it and thought, “How can I make just time looping seem scientifically relevant?” and from that I built a larger world that had more thematic comments regarding society and the environment, and of course a much more personal story to that so it’s kind of more like building blocks how it came about.

And how did you keep the track of the time loops in the narrative?
It’s a very complicated narrative, even though it takes place on the same day, and what kind of makes it even much more complicated is trying to keep track of everything that happened before, what happens next, how those things change each time and how you suddenly find yourself in exact same room where you were just two minutes ago and you go back and so much have changed.

I worked on the script for such a long time making sure that every loop made sense, that all the characters’ arcs and motivations really rang through and were authentic emotionally, but also worked consistently with what happened previously, so I had lots of diagrams, as well as a very visual ways to keep track of all the many turns and twists.

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Robbie Amell and Rachael Taylor star in ARQ.

Was there any space for improvisation? Did the cast have ideas that you later incorporated?
It’s funny, because I had worked on the script for many years. We read it many times over and really made sure the logic was air-tight – not only emotionally and narratively, but also scientifically. I was pretty confident by the time we started shooting, but of course probably on day three Robbie Amell was like, “Hey, there’s this little thing, does this make sense?” Oh my goodness, how did I miss that?

So fortunately I had Robbie there – such a smart guy, and he just caught on this really small thing that showed how we understand that script at a much deeper level. And then Rachael Taylor just brought such an emotional true-life to it that deepened the character and understanding, so we would work together and kind of tweak the character as well. They just made the story so much richer.

How did your involvement come about?
I wrote the script in 2008, and it was optioned with a different director, and he had tried to get it off the ground for five years, so then he essentially turned the property to me. I just finished directing a sci-fi short that turned out well, and it was a great calling card. Then I met my producers, and within a year we had Netflix and it was pretty much all systems go.

If you had a time machine would you go back to the past or would you go to the future?
Ha, that’s a really good question. I think it depends on the day you ask me but I think today I want to go to the future, I think so. To see how well ARQ turns out with the launch and what my next project is.

How far would you go?
What are the limitations? Being a screenwriter I always ask ‘what are the rules?’. I would be tempted to go 100 years in the future to see are we going to be ok as a society, as a species, ecologically? That’s probably what I want to know.

ARQ is available to watch on Netflix now. For all the latest movie news, pick up the new issue of SciFiNow.