Instructions Not Included, written and directed by filmmaker Alex Evans, is a science-fiction short best described as an introspective, humorous, and deeply philosophical reflection on what it means to be human. The film centers around young astronaut Tom Ford (Jack Galer) who, stranded alone on a space station, begins to question the reality of his situation when a case of déjà-vu begins to dawn on him.
Meet the Director
Alex Evans was born a storyteller. Growing up just outside of Norwich, a picturesque city in East Anglia which had only one cinema with a single screen until the late nineties, the young English filmmaker suspects that his love for telling tales nurtured his desire to make films. “I’ve always loved to tell stories,” says Alex, “so I suspect that might be the root of my obsession. There’s something about the way people look at you when they’re really engaged in what you’re saying. I think making films is just an extension of that.”
Alex first got hooked on the prospect of creating cinema after watching Jurassic Park for the first time on VHS. “I was absolutely hooked! Every aspect of it fascinated me,” Alex recalls. “The production design, the effects, the music and the casting. I must have watched that tape a hundred times. It inspired me to make films just like it. To create these rich and diverse worlds and explore them with a camera.” As such, once he laid hands on his dad’s chunky, broken Panasonic video camera, Alex spent a good deal of his childhood adopting a Steven Spielberg persona. “I had to pretend I was making these big Hollywood movies,” says Alex. “Later on I got a little Mini DV camera and that’s where the real work began.”
*Instructions Not Included
Originally conceived as two separate films that Alex had been working on, Instructions Not Included eventually emerged due to overlapping concepts and production possibilities. “I originally had a rough draft about an astronaut who was stuck in space, with only his automated navigation to talk to,” explains Alex. “The other film, which would become the narrative, stemmed from an idea I had whilst lazing around at home. I realized that if someone didn’t tell me to do something, then I wouldn’t do anything at all. That got me thinking about what would happen if people stopped doing anything unless they were instructed to.”
After tossing the idea around, Alex ended up with a story about a small cul-de-sac of 50s style America houses, in which the occupants would be delivered an instructional video tape for the day by an over-the-top mailman. Within the film, one of the characters would be delivered a blank tape by mistake. Because the last instruction he received the day before was to make sure he got his instructions, the protagonist would set off on this grand quest to find them and accidentally uncover the truth – a concept running in similar vein to iconic film, The Truman Show. “This film was well beyond my means at the time, which is why it was eventually packaged into the space theme I had so wanted to make.”
Alex’s film is made quirkier by a humorous cartoon sequence in Ford’s instructional video, which the director says was stylistically influenced by the Men in Black ride at Universal Studios. “Before you get on the rides they have these immersive themed queues,” explains Alex. “In this case, an instructional video that prepared you for the ride. It was called ‘The Story of Doofus and Doright’ and it was an animation about two contrasting young agents and their misadventures.”
A Word on Sci-Fi
After watching Instructions Not Included, it’s clear that Alex’s obsession with Jurassic Park – cheekily paid tribute by Ford in the film – left a lasting impression on him; specifically, the imaginative pushing of scientific boundaries. “I do, as it turns out, have a certain passion for science fiction,” Alex acknowledges. “Something I didn’t realise until quite recently, actually. Almost every film I’ve ever written has had at least a degree of sci-fi to it.” Some of Alex’s favourite sci-fi films include Moon, E.T., Sunshine, About Time, Star Wars, Alien, The Martian, Inception, and Super 8, the vast majority of them sharing one thing in common: space travel.
Instructions Not Included follows in the footsteps of Alex’s favourite films as being not an epic, passive adventure into black holes, but rather, an intimately active character development that unfurls with the backdrop of the galaxy. The narrative blossoms rapidly within few minutes, and as Tom’s thoughts grow profoundly reflective in his unique situation, it feels as though the director and writer is communicating a greater message to his viewers.
“There was one central idea I had in my mind the whole time we were making the film,” reflects Alex. “It was important to me that this big reveal, this big mystery behind the curtain, had to be kind. It sounds daft but there are so many films that take a darker view on the way people treat each other. I wanted to show that even in the darkest time, Ford had people watching his back. In this case, people he didn’t even know.”
On creating a space-station
“The student films I’d worked on previously had always had such a bland aesthetic,” says Alex, discussing the visuals of his set. “Without a budget you have to take what you’re given unfortunately. With Instructions, I decided that I wanted to own every inch of the canvas. I spent a lot of time designing and redesigning the set. It started off as a much bigger room with a bed and large window. It gradually got smaller until it became just a 6’ cube with a bigger circular window on one side.”
“I was very selective when choosing items to dress the set. I wanted this cacophony of mismatched eras to make it seem as if this place had been thrown together in a hurry. I was keen for it to have a sense of realism, so I spent time watching films praised for their scientific accuracy like Gravity and Interstellar, as well as looking at the International Space Station itself for ideas.”
Ford spends his days in what appears to be a spacecraft interior, which was constructed using familiar objects (bonus points if you spot the egg cartons). The mise-en-scene is charmingly realistic, with furniture from a hodgepodge of eras, including a vintage television set, VHS player, and car seat, being juxtaposed against more advanced technologies including fairy lights, a computer headset, and a MacBook. Physical appearances of the characters themselves hint at modern times: Ford, with his mussed hair and Dickies overalls, has a tribal tattoo encircling his forearm; his guardian, Odessa Wilde (played by Katie Loizou), happens to be wearing a crop top. When I ask about the significance of the memorable character names, Alex makes a valid point: “Can you imagine if Han Solo was called John Smith?”
Looking to the future
Alongside working on a couple of shoots here and there, Alex is nearing the completion of his latest short film script, working title ‘Project Amblin’, which he hopes to shoot this summer. “If you know what Amblin is then you know what sort of film we’re trying to make,” says Alex, hinting at Steven Spielberg’s groundbreaking entertainment company, known for producing classics including Back to the Future, Gremlins, Casper, and more. “It’s something very close to my heart and our most ambitious film to date. I’m also planning a director’s cut of Instructions Not Included with some scenes that were cut for timing reasons. So keep an eye out for that!”
That Alex has boundless potential as a filmmaker can be gleaned from the humanitarian morals, well-paced dialogue, and elegant plot of Instructions Not Included. If he communicated so many ideas in a twelve-minute short, one can only imagine what he will bring to a feature-length film.
As Alex continues to write, produce, and direct, he is adamant that his future career plans very much involve filmmaking, and almost certainly, more science fiction. “The best piece of advice I got when I left University is to keep making films. So that’s exactly what I plan on doing!”
Screen Writer / Director Alex Evans – interviewed by Melissa Legarda
Jack Galer as Tom Ford
Katie Loizou as Odessa Wilde
Writer Melissa Legarda