Elliot and Zander Weaver: Filmmakers
Elliot and Zander Weaver are brothers based in the UK who self-produced their first feature film Cosmos.
TSM: It’s great to have you here, and thank you so much for interviewing for the magazine.
EW: Thank you for asking us.
TSM: What inspired you to get into filmmaking? And tell us a bit about your background in it.
EW: My brother and I grew up, like most kids, loving movies and watching movies as little boys and brothers together. Then when we were very young, we were introduced to filmmaking primarily by our dad, who was a cameraman in television. One night we were coming back from a family trip out, and he and our mom said, “when we get home, should we make a little film together?” And we were like, I don’t know what that means. I think I was about five and Zander was about three, and it was just a game for us. We got home, and the home video camera out, and we filmed our toys in our bedroom sort of moving around and coming alive. From that moment on, we had such a fun time as boys in that experience that it just planted this seed in our minds that this is something that we could do. Then as we got older we did it as a hobby with our school friends as play. We realized that people do this as a job, and if it’s something that we dedicate ourselves to, maybe we can make a career out of it too. We grew up loving movies and just wanted to spend our lives making them if we could.
ZW: In kind of more professional capacity, we left high school. There were about three years between us, so Elliot left first. When we both got out, we both didn’t go to university, college, film school, or anything. We thought we’d jump straight into the industry at the ground level, and try and gain the experience that way. We were fortunate to have the insight of our dad. He said that we were better off going straight in and getting that experience, even if in a low position of trying to get our name out there. That’s what we did. We worked our way up through the ranks doing such as camera work and some editing. We worked on commercials for brands like Vodafone, PlayStation and Bentley. We also did a huge number of corporate films and a lot of local corporate work. Eventually, we moved on to documentaries, and we produced and directed about nine hours’ worth of TV documentaries completely independently. However, our heart was always in movies and narrative feature films. So as soon as it felt like the right time, we made that jump to feature films and movies. That’s where we are now, and where we hope to continue.
TSM: Tell us a bit about your film Cosmos, and the inspiration behind making the film.
ZW: Cosmos is this story of three amateur astronomers who come together, and they have a hobby group or an astronomy society. They kick out a car with all manner of stargazing equipment, computers and telescopes. They drive out into the night and set up camp kind of in the middle of nowhere. They do this for fun, go out, look at the stars, and listen to the sounds of space. On the night that we join them in the movie, they intercept a signal from outer space. They immediately start to think, is this from an alien species, you know, are we not alone in the universe? The idea is that we’ve seen that kind of story from the perspective of NASA or SETI, so large government organizations. However, we thought that seeing it in the movies, that story of the first contact told through ordinary people and amateurs, would make a really cool idea for a film. The documentary work that we did before was a big inspiration for wanting us to share this kind of story because we had the privilege of interviewing engineers and scientists who worked on the Apollo program in the USA in the ’60s and ’70s. We were blown away by their characters, their personalities, their experiences and their knowledge. The footage that we watched gave us such inspiration while making these Apollo documentaries; how level-headed and calm they were and how young these people were when they took on such a responsibility. We wondered whether we could take those people, those characters, and make them the heroes. In movies, the scientists are often in the background, or they say something important. Then the hero takes over, and we thought, what if we could make the scientists the heroes? That was the goal in Cosmos.
TSM: Can you share a bit about your process from its concept to the final creation?
EW: We work together really closely and daily as brothers, and we direct together. Some people say, “How do you do that? How do you go about that? Do you not get into arguments? How are the disciplines divided? It’s all we’ve ever done since making that little film in the bedroom together as little boys, and it’s all we’ve ever known. That’s what we love about filmmaking. So the process from start to finish is really one of collaborating, trying to knock our heads together, and come up with the best idea for the film. After we set our heart on the movie concept, we wrote and completed the script over a couple of months in 2013. Then together single-handedly, we pushed through the film, through production, the shoot and post-production. The film has been made in a bit of an unorthodox way because it’s a very low-budget movie. We made it for about $7,000 in total over five years. Predominantly, the film team consisted of three actors, a crew of three: myself, Zander and our mom. The reason for making it was because, before Cosmos, we tried to get another project off the ground and found that difficult. We just got very frustrated with the delay. So we thought, let us create a project that we can do ourselves, not have to ask permission, or not have to go and find any help.
ZW: We needed to get our foot on the directorial ladder, really. It’s this chicken and egg scenario where you go and look for funding. People say, “well, you need to make a movie first, and then we’ll trust you to take the money and make a movie.” We go, “well, how do I make a movie without money?” Eventually, we just decided to look at what we’ve got available and write a film based on that. We’re going to go out, and we’re just going to make sure that nothing can stop us this time and go for it. It was a five-year journey, and all the primary roles were fulfilled by us, except the acting in the film and writing the soundtrack. We shot the film, lit it, recorded the sound, directed it, and then in post, we edited it, sound-designed it to the visual effects and the colour grade on the poster. We’re very proud of it.
EW: It’s very personal. As a result, you know, you can watch it and everything you see, you think, Oh, I remember doing those sound effects, or hearing that visual effect. As Zander said, our goal was to get our foot on the ladder as directors. The story is subjective, it may or may not be for you, but from both technical and filmmaking points of view, everything you see in the movie is us. These are all our ideas, and for better and for worse, you can engage where we are. We also learned so much through the process of that process as well. So it’s not really an accurate reflection of where we are because of what we’ve learned. But it was a valuable tool in that sense.
TSM: From what you’ve learned, what would you do differently next time with your next project?
ZW: For the next project, we were going to raise the budget for it. So we actually had got quite a bit of interest after Cosmos and did plan to get over to the states to start having meetings in Los Angeles talking to producers and things. But obviously, with everything that’s going on in the world at the moment, that’s not happening. However, it’s still going on in the background. In the meantime, what we’re doing is writing another script. We plan on producing it in the UK, but this time with a budget. The goal is about a million pounds. What we learned from the process of making Cosmos is the value of having a budget. Paying people helps things move forward quicker, and you can collaborate and have a team. That’s really what movie-making is all about. With this next project, we’ll very much be looking forward to pulling in very talented people and being able to work alongside them. We’re not interested in being egomaniacs, in control of everything in a movie. It’s just that the circumstances of our first film kind of dictated that and how it had to be.
EW: I would say the other thing that we learned from Cosmos was that moving forward, if we can scale up films, we want to maintain that friendly, intimate family feeling. Through the film Cosmos, we all became incredible friends. So, it would be lovely to try and keep that low-budget indie vibe.
TSM: What do you love most about the filmmaking process?
EW: I like seeing and being on the inside of something. I think it’s a bit like being a magician, where you can entertain people with magic and they’re blown away by it. You know it’s not really magic, and the secret, but you get such joy out of pulling that card out. You know there are lots of moving parts, and there are lots of frustrating times, and you know you’ve put things together that weren’t shot at the same time. However, when you can sit with an audience, or you can read an email from someone who’s just like, “Oh, you know, I totally believe those characters, and I was rooting for them,” you’ve pulled off a great magic trick. I love that feeling of having created something that’s given someone some pleasure and joy.
ZW: I love seeing it coming together. So whatever stage that is, whether in production, the inception of the idea when you’re completely free, just playing music and just bouncing ideas off each other and getting excited about a new story. Whether it’s casting actors and then starting to bring the lines to life or looking down the viewfinder and seeing a shot thinking, yeah, this is it, this is the movie, or of course, post-production when it all starts to really come together with the cutting, the sound design and music. I love seeing that process of it, the creation of it, which becomes a real thing until eventually, you can sit and watch it with an audience, and it’s a movie. It’s this very special, magical experience.
TSM: Where can readers see the film?
ZW: Cosmos is available worldwide on a variety of platforms. In the US, it’s on Apple TV, Amazon Prime, and many others like Hulu. If you’re outside the states, it’s available everywhere on Vimeo on demand. The best thing to do is probably go to our website, which is https://cosmosmovieofficial.com. There’s a button there, and you can put your country in, and they’ll show you where you can find it wherever you are, and it should be available. We get a real kick and the thrill out of people watching the movie and getting in touch. If listeners and readers do watch it and enjoy it, we’d love to hear from you.
TSM: Which films and filmmakers have had the most impact on your filmmaking?
EW: Since we fell in love with films at such a young age, we obviously watched certain movies and were inspired by many filmmakers since then. The most influential filmmaker in our childhood, and particularly on Cosmos, was Steven Spielberg. We grew up watching films like Hook and ET, little boys falling in love with the magic of movies. Growing up, we studied his filmmaking craft, and it’s actually an invisible craft like some people do. Some people can say he’s very heavy-handed in some ways, the way he holds and pushes an audience in a certain way. Personally, I love that because I like to be taken on a ride and feel like I’m in confident hands. As we grew up, we studied his filmmaking style, and then as we’ve grown up, we’ve obviously been inspired by other filmmakers, such as Christopher Nolan, Ridley Scott and Scorsese. And, of course, all the great filmmakers from the past. However, when it came to Cosmos, for example, we felt like we came full circle when we’d like to make a film. There was a love letter to the movies that inspired us to be filmmakers. So maybe we can pay that forward. A young audience member might watch Cosmos and want to stargaze or make movies. Actually, one of the biggest rewards we’ve ever had is a few emails from parents saying, “you know, my daughter or my son has watched your movie, and they want me to get them a telescope for Christmas, or whatever.” We think, Oh, we’ve made it, this is it, this is the top of the mountain for us.
ZW: Ultimately, with our films, we want to tell stories that make people really feel emotions and connect with the characters. A lot of our stories have a lot of warmth to them. We have all these intentions that fall so heavily in line with Spielberg, what he achieves and how he can talk to audiences worldwide. However, if we can get the kind of connection that Spielberg achieves when he makes movies, we will die very, happy men. We’ve got a long way to go, I’m sure.
TSM: What kind of impact has the pandemic had on your creativity this year?
ZW: As I mentioned, we had plans to get up to Los Angeles and have a manager over there. He was setting up meetings for us with production companies, all very exciting. Then the pandemic came around, and travel got shut down. We didn’t think that travelling and pushing ourselves out there in this world seemed like a sensible thing to do. Immediately, we thought, Okay. Covid is posing challenges to film production because of the proximity of all the people on the set. How is that going to impact movie-making? There have been all these Covid regulations come in the film industry that is actually very expensive. We thought right away how we’ve just made Cosmos with a limited team, a small crew and a small cast. Why don’t we try and write something again that will be a small cast and crew but this time, we’ll budget and raise the money for it. So we’ll be able to make it quicker, and it won’t take us five years this time. Let’s use those skills and everything we learned on Cosmos and implement them at this moment. So, we wrote a script that fits that criteria, and that’s what we’re going to push forward and do in 2021. Isn’t it always weird and interesting how these things come along and change your plans? However, now looking back, we were happy with the script we wrote that would not have existed if we had not gone to America weren’t stopped. So to have that kind of challenge confront us, that’s caused us to create a new story.
EW: As Zander said, we have finished this script, and we are totally in love with the character that we’ve written. The story is very personal as well, very autobiographical. That would not exist had the pandemic not hit. So I guess you just need to roll with the punches sometimes and see what happens. If you can, try and find an opportunity or a way of turning a disadvantage into an advantage, I think we can all keep moving forward as creatives.
ZW: It’s such a turbulent time for everybody as everything is changing. I think that can be quite exciting. In so many ways, there are new opportunities to find creativity and tell new stories. As long as we can keep reframing it in our minds, I think we can feel empowered.
EW: It’s an interesting time for this, and as Zander said, I think streaming things like Netflix, and Hulu were embedded. They weren’t going anywhere, as people had already fallen in love with them, but it was one thing done this year, and it just absolutely cemented that streaming into the heart of probably most people’s lives. For the film industry, particularly in recent years, there was resistance from top echelons of the movie industry to acknowledge things like Netflix. I think there is no way that the high end of the film industry can shun what streamers have offered audiences. I would imagine the future of the movie industry is in streaming, and we may even find that theatres become streaming houses. I think streaming is probably the future of movies, we may not see cinemas disappear, but I think streaming will be king. So that’s exciting. For filmmakers, a theatrical release is obviously a dream but an expensive process and quite a limiting one. More filmmakers never get their movies in theatres than those that do. So we’re streaming now. Filmmakers can get movies out there and online, and audiences can find them. Economically, it’s not a choice whether it can be released or not. If you make a movie about something personal to you, hundreds of thousands of people worldwide can connect with it. Thanks to streaming, they can find it, so I think it’s a good thing.
TSM: If you had the power to do something in the world today, what would it be and why?
ZW: We are animal rights activists, so we’re both vegans. If I could click my fingers, I would end the kind of speciesism. I would have a big push for the world to treat the planet with the respect it deserves. Climate crisis and change are a big problem, so we’re confronting animal agriculture which is a massive part of this. There are also ethical and moral concerns with it, and I don’t think it’s part of our future. If I could, that’s what I would do along with a million other things, like gender inequality and racial inequality. It would be wonderful to have the ability to create a world where people are treated equally and get equal opportunities. That goes for all living beings, I believe.
TSM: What is one of your favourite quotes (or lines) that inspires you?
EW: One of my favourite quotes is at the end of It’s a Wonderful Life, which is the classic that we all adore, and it’s a movie that is special in our hearts. We watch that movie every Christmas Eve. At the end of this movie, Jimmy Stewart’s brother comes home, and the family struggles for money throughout it. He says to his big brother, George, “the richest man in town.” And he is obviously referring to the fact that you know a man or a woman who has friends that are never poor. I think there is such meaning in that quote.
ZW: That’s a great choice, and I would agree with that. There’s also a quote by Steven Spielberg in which he says, “if one person can do something, then anybody can learn to do it.” When we were younger, my dad printed that out on a picture for us and put it on our wall. We were so in love with movies, and it was a reminder that if you want to make movies, you can do it.
TSM: Anything else you’d like to share? And where can readers find out more about your work and connect with you?
ZW: People can connect with us on social media, and we’re very active on there. We’ve pledged ourselves that we respond to every piece of correspondence that we get. We will reply to anyone who watched the movie or anyone who wanted to ask us about filmmaking or the journey of making Cosmos. You can find us at https://www.facebook.com/EllianderPictures, https://www.instagram.com/cosmos_movie, https://twitter.com/CosmosMovie and https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCtb-quiZBfjNBAbRSxNf4Vg.
We do live streams, where we get the cast in, Q and A’s, script read-throughs, and all sorts of fun events. If people feel like connecting with us, we welcome it. We’ve even got a filmmaking community that focuses purely on the filmmaking aspects of Cosmos, where we all discuss our own projects and help each other out. People are welcome to join.
TSM: Thank you so much again for doing the interview and best of luck with your next project.
ZW: Thank you very much for having us. It’s been a pleasure. It’s always great to meet new people and connect.