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The Creator of "Primer" Discusses His First Film

Interview with Filmmaker Shane Carruth


Shane Carruth directs Primer

Shane Carruth in "Primer"

Oct 21, 2004 - Two things set me at ease at the start of my phone interview with the creative mind behind "Primer." First, Shane Carruth admitted he sounded a little rushed answering his cell phone because he had trouble operating it. Prepping for the interview, I had been a little worried Carruth would speak a software engineering language I wouldn't be able to follow. The intimidation factor went way down with the cell phone comment. Secondly, Carruth has an extremely warm, inviting voice. That's always a big plus when doing interviews over the phone.

Listening to Carruth talk about "Primer," it would be easy to believe the guy's been doing interviews for years. But he hasn't. This software engineer-turned-critically acclaimed writer/director scored big with his feature film debut, winning the Grand Jury Prize at the Sundance Film Festival by creating a movie The New York Times labeled "an ingenious first film" and the Village Voice called "the freshest thing the genre has seen since '2001'."

"Primer" is the story of two young engineers who, while tweaking one of their inventions, discover the device they've created has unexpected capabilities. Their discovery will allow them to do what they want, whenever they want. How they handle their discovery and deal with the consequences of their actions makes "Primer" the most intriguing, thought-provoking sci-fi/thriller of the year.


Does it feel surreal to be doing so many interviews?
It really does, yeah. Luckily everything that’s happened for the most part, except for a few shocking things, has kind of been gradual. And I find myself doing a ton of work so that I’m never like sitting around, eating Bon Bons, thinking about how strange it is that I can do interviews. There’s usually enough grunt work for me to feel like, “Okay, I’m still a grunt, still doing stuff that’s actually meaningful instead of just hyping up a film.”

You said ‘a few shocking things’. What are you referring to?
Well, I mean getting into Sundance. Getting the Grand Jury Prize. And I guess just realizing for the first time that this film is going to be in theaters. People are going to be able to see this on a screen in multiple cities. Those are all really amazing deals. I didn’t expect all that.

Did you expect after completing “Primer,” you’d just go back to your normal life?
I don’t know. No, I guess I didn’t. It was a huge risk. I quit my job that paid fine. I could have had a family and probably survived as a software engineer pretty well. But I quit all that to do this. I guess more than the money, it was the time. The fact that I was getting older and older and if this thing didn’t work, honestly I don’t know what that would have meant. I think maybe I thought medical school or something. To be honest with you, software engineering really wasn’t doing it for me and I don’t know what I would have done. What can you do when you’re 30 and not feel like you are wasting your time?

Be a medical student?
Yeah, I figured that’s the one thing you can get away with (laughing). Even if you’re 40, if you say you’re in medical school it still has some weight.

At this point you can’t imagine going back to being a software engineer?
If I get to make stories for a living, that would be the greatest thing. I guess the other side of that is that it’s kind of good to know that if it doesn’t work out, if I find myself in some situation where I’m just involved with filmmaking – I don’t know – outside of some urge to tell a good story, then I can always just go, “You know what? Forget all this, I’m just going back to engineering.” If that’s the worst my life ever gets, it’s not so terrible.

It’s a strange path you’ve taken to becoming a filmmaker. Was this a childhood dream?
No, not childhood. I know it wasn’t until college that I had this weird awakening as far as story, how important story was or what it could do. That it was anything besides some kind of preoccupation, that there was such a thing as subtext and irony and everything we want to get out of good novels. Once I realized that, a good portion of my life was spent – at least in my spare time – writing short stories. I was writing half of a novel at one point (laughing). Or trying to write a whole novel but it didn’t work out.

I guess this is just like this thing that’s been growing since college. I moved to screenplay format and then it was just a matter of time before I wondered if it was possible to execute one of these things. So it’s been since college, I know that.


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