Cleveland International Film Festival } March 25 – April 5, 2020 } Tower City Cinemas

Sci-Fi, Yes, but with a Human Touch

April 04, 2019   |   posted by Lara Klaber in Filmmakers


The co-directors of “Freaks,” Adam B. Stein and Zachary Lipovsky, met 12 years ago as contestants on the television show “On the Lot,” “basically an American Idol-type show,” as Stein describes it. The two were collaborators and competitors for a million-dollar development deal at DreamWorks.

They separated after the show, but they continued to return to one another after, as Stein put it, “finding the nature of our collaboration very rewarding.” The two recently finished directing the big-budget Disney film, “Kim Possible,” which they worked on after finishing “Freaks.” Stein says, “We love working and collaborating because we can build on each other’s ideas and solve problems together.”

The skills, challenges, and camaraderie of their collaboration come to fruition in “Freaks.” Although the movie can be generally classified as a sci-fi thriller, it tends to meld and break genres. Part of the reason for this is that the movie is told from the perspective of a child played by Lexy Kolker.

Lipovsky elaborates, “When things are scary for her, the movie feels more like a horror movie and when she’s full of wonder, it starts to feel more like a Spielberg Amblin movie… so the mix of genres is motivated from her character journey.”

The film focuses on the relationship between father and daughter. Emile Hirsch plays the father, and the directors highly praise his work. “We wanted it to feel real, intimate, and character-based, so we knew the story would capture small moments of the family relationships and go deep on the emotions—that was more important to capture than a big sci-fi story,” Lipovsky says.

The film attracted two-time Oscar nominee Bruce Dern, who was 82 years old at the time of shooting. Stein remarks that Dern is always looking for “deep, grounded characters,” but has shied away from science fiction since “Silent Running” in 1972 because of its lack of depth in emotion. “But luckily Bruce saw something in our story that he wanted to sink his teeth into,” says Stein. “He really connected to the father-daughter story, because of his own relationship with his daughter.”

The focus is not on the science fiction, but on what the devices of the genre can reveal. Stein comments, “One of the things that makes science fiction so interesting is how it can hold up a mirror to our own world.”

“Freaks” has become more relevant in recent times. Without going into too much detail, Stein remarks, “When we were writing the movie, the idea that children could be torn away from their parents and detained by the government was science fiction; now a couple years later it’s happening in America.”

While the film investigates major issues, travels between genres, and has excellent characters, Stein and Lipovsky keep it grounded. “We were very focused on keeping it intimate and just see the impact on a single family,” Stein concludes.

W. Connor Drake

PHOTO: From left, Adam B. Stein, originally from Miami, Florida, graduated from Harvard University and the directing program at the USC School of Cinematic Arts. Zach Lipovsky, from Vancouver, Canada, started in the business as a child actor.

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Related Screenings:
04/04/19 @ 5:00 PM – Freaks
04/05/19 @ 11:30 PM – Freaks
04/07/19 @ 11:25 AM – Freaks

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