Getting Caught on 7 Splinters in Time

Director explains mindwarping time travel flick before screening

Sometimes you don't know what a film is really about until it's done. Sometimes, that's even true for the moviemaker. Gabriel Judet-Weinshel is still dissecting his debut feature, 7 Splinters in Time. "I've almost been working it out after making the film," he said, "but there's some triangulation between memory, time travel, and film making."

Austin Pendleton and Edoardo Ballerini in 7 Splinters in Time, screening as part of Other Worlds Austin's year round Orbiter program

If Primer is a master's thesis in temporal mechanics and determinism, then 7 Splinters in Time is free jazz, and Judet-Weinshel finds echoes and frequencies in the form and the content. "Film is a form of time travel," he said. "It's a form of bricolage. You're cutting up time."

In its culture mash-up, 7 Splinters is not steampunk, it's steam beat poetry. The mindbending, time-wrinkling film (which debuts in Austin June 27 as part of SF festival Other Worlds Austin year-round programming) stars Edoardo Ballerini (Ignatius D'Alessio in Boardwalk Empire) as Detective Darius Lefaux. He's a cop with major lapses in his memory, now challenged to face a seemingly insoluble crime: his own murder. Or rather, the murder of a man who looks so like him that even his fellow cops can't tell them apart. When other doppelgangers start turning up, including the possible killer, Darius takes a trip to a place that, as one possible witness puts it, string theory becomes string cheese.

What (chrono) triggered this timelooping drama? "It was born of desperation," said Judet-Weinshel. Prior to 7 Splinters, he actually had a couple of feature scripts in development "in Hollywood-ish. I don't think we got that close to anything that you could call Hollywood, but we had meetings, and I had an agent and I had a short that I wanted to use as a springboard." Unfortunately, that was in 2008, and the recession made studios more risk-averse than ever.

But studio backing or not, he said, "there was this desperation that I had to get something made," and so he took inspiration from a quote from Pablo Picasso: I do not search, I find. He and cinematographer George Nicholas started filming for filming's sake. "I just had some images that I had floating around in my head," said Judet-Weinshel, "and I felt if I didn't have them down on celluloid I thought I would explode."

At this point there was no script, but these semi-random images – many of which ended up in the final film – were enough for him to raise some production money, and then they cut a teaser trailer, and then that became the basis of 7 Splinters (or, as it was known at the time, Omphalos). However, this was the beginning of a long, micro-budget process. Those first images were caught on the first weekend of November 2009, then primary shooting began in 2011, "then we took a couple of years in edit, and then I stupidly took it on myself to do the score, and then we had 300 effect shots."

While Judet-Weinshel didn't have a time machine, there could be a suspicion of precognition in his casting. Aside from snagging Ballerini fresh off The Sopranos, and great character actor Austin Pendleton (a face so familiar that there's even a documentary about him, with everyone from Natalie Portman to Wallace Shawn singing his praises), he also Homeland and Big Little Lies star Sarah Sokolovic before she started her ascent to household recognition. In hindsight, a pretty smart decision that looks smarter with time.

“We hadn’t been sleeping in two days, and suddenly Greg started speaking in this babbling, Jon Luka way, and I thought, if I can find some way to capture this, it’s something special.”
But that long completion process allowed for experimentation, a la experimental jazz. The rhythm and meaning of the film appeared in the edit booth, and sometimes it arose through disruption – most especially in the character of John Luka, the film's other unreliable narrator. While Darius is "fragmented quite literally, [Luka] knows what's going on, and doesn't know how to communicate that in an acceptable way." Part shaman, part conspiracy nut, part beat poet, much of Luka's communication is in the form of speeches to a hand-built cardboard camera. He doesn't trust off-the-shelf equipment, as he explains in a freewheeling monologue that brings in untrustworthy tech and eating other people's teeth. That scat rat-a-tat came from actor Greg Bennick, who Judet-Weinshel knew from his days as a street performer in Seattle. "We hadn't been sleeping in two days, and suddenly Greg started speaking in this babbling, Jon Luka way, and I thought, if I can find some way to capture this, it's something special."

That sums up Judet-Weinshel's method: find the most beautiful parts of other jigsaw puzzles, and somehow find the ways to make them fit into something new. It's like those initial images that he just had to capture, or a pivotal scene in the gorgeous Angel Orensanz Center, a Gothic Revival synagogue on Mantattan's lower east side. He almost filmed a performance there a few years ago by the tenor Neil Shicoff – that fell through, but 7 Splinters let him come back to capture its warm hues and wooden expanses.

That moment stands in stark contrast to the deliberately digital feel of Darius' world, or the grainy blur of the flashback sequences. Nicholas and he shot most of the film on early model Red digital cameras, but then would switch to Super 16 and even 35mm. Those were deliberate choices, taken to optimize those happy accidents and long-gestating images, and lead to him embracing the the film as a genre piece. "I certainly didn't set out to make an explicitly sci-fi film," he said, "and I'm not a huge connoisseur of the genre [but] in the same way horror allows you certain stylistic extremes, it opens things up."

Other Worlds Austin presents 7 Splinters in Time, June 27, 7:30pm at Flix Brewhouse, 2200 S. I-35, Round Rock. Tickets at

7 Splinters in Time is also available to order now on iTunes. You can also buy the score here.

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