Dalila Droege, the talented writer, director, and producer of the indie horror film No More Time, has been making the festival rounds. No More Time follows a couple who flees a big city in Texas, seeking refuge from a virus outbreak in a small Colorado mountain town. However, the town proves to be far from idyllic, with mysterious disappearances and unsettling characters complicating the couple’s quest for safety. As the husband and wife grapple with the virus’s effects, their actions take a dark turn, adding layers of suspense and intrigue to the narrative.
The film was born during the fall of 2020, when the world confronted the unprecedented challenges posed by the pandemic and societal unrest. Dalila and her team felt an urgent need to create a film that would candidly express their feelings about the state of the country, resulting in a satirical allegory that ingeniously encapsulated their experiences.
PH: Hi Dalila! Can you share a bit about your professional background?
Dalila Droege: I didn’t grow up with film - my family didn’t even own a video camera. My first exposure to film as an art form was when my brother took an Ingmar Bergman class and was bringing back all these Bergman movies to watch. From then on, I was really interested in making films, but also saying that felt like the equivalent of saying I wanted to be an astronaut. I had been a very sheltered homeschooled kid who ended up in classical music, which is a very isolated kind of profession. At some point, I met a fellow classical pianist turned filmmaker, who assured me that my skills in music would translate into film and encouraged me to take my first film class. Once I was making films, it felt like I was finally where I was supposed to be. I was working with and learning from other people, which had always been my goal. And instead of having to focus on a narrow skill set in order to excel, I got to expand and grow in so many directions - working with actors, writing, cinematography, sound design, etc. When I’m directing a project, I really feel like the best and strongest version of myself. Making my first feature, “No More Time,” was by far the most fun I’ve ever had.
PH: What are some of your previous works and how have they shaped you today as a professional?
Dalila Droege: I made quite a few short films before I made “No More Time,” starting in film school and continuing into my first few years in the industry. At one point I was in love with a certain kind of naturalism in film and wanted to make movies like that, but my films always contained elements of magical realism in spite of myself. I’ve always had this stylized aspect to my work. I made a short film called “The Girls of Alden,” shot by the wonderful Carl Herse when we were both still in school, which was my first push from magical realism into something approaching horror. That film was about a homeschooled girl growing up in a super conservative religion who starts seeing another child, who may or may not be real, living in the woods around her house. It was a turning point creatively. Prepping it, I watched a lot of horror films for the first time in my life. I had suffered from something called “blood phobia disorder” where you can black out just from hearing about or watching gore on a screen. Thankfully, I’ve gotten a bit better about this!
My husband, Jay Keitel, and I made a short a few years ago called “Tehachapi,” starring Amy Seimetz and AJ Bowen and Matt Peters, in which I tried to marry a naturalistic style of performance with those elements of magical realism that are always there in my films. In the film, a brother and sister meet people who seem to present different versions of their father who has just died. I’m a big fan of storytelling that takes place on multiple levels of reality and describes the permeability of time. The stories of Haruki Murakami are a great example of this. It’s a hard thing for films to do.
With “No More Time,” I’ve gotten closer than ever to this style I’ve been working towards. It requires naturalistic performances within a world of genre and magical realism, and they are stories that take place within multiple layers of reality, or multiple interpretations of reality. “No More Time,” for all its ideas, is a fun midnight movie, and that just gave us so much freedom to exaggerate and have fun with genre, color, and sound. It turns out the midnight movie would be the perfect place for all these things to come together for me. I think it’s kind of hilarious that the
sheltered, homeschooled, Jane-Austen-reading kid that I was grew up to make a horror film, but it totally makes sense. How could I not make a horror film?
PH: How did this film come about No More Time? What was your inspiration?
Dalila Droege: My husband, Jay Keitel, and I had worked with Mark Reeb and Jennifer Harlow on many different independent films over the years. Mark and Jenn were living in Crested Butte Colorado, having moved there from Austin Texas a few years ago. They called us up in July of 2020 and basically said, ‘this sucks, let’s make something.’ So we went out there and spent some time in the spectacular natural beauty of Crested Butte and started fleshing out the story.
It was the summer of 2020, we were all in lockdown, debates about covid and mask wearing were exposing all kinds of divisions among neighbors, and the presidential election was looming. On top of all that, the country was in turmoil over the killing of George Floyd and protests across the country were being met with more violence.
Around the same time, with the lockdown it felt like the natural world was experiencing a bit of a renewal and healing itself. Animals were reappearing in urban environments. The air was cleaner. Our film became an allegory for what we were experiencing. Ultimately, we decided to make a story in which humans have failed for good and nature is taking back the planet.
PH: What were some of the challenges of writing, directing, and producing a project and how do you navigate those?
Dalila Droege: I feel like writing and directing are two sides of the same coin. When you know you’re going to direct a project, you write it as a director, knowing how you’re going to film something or how a certain scene will feel. It’s easier because you get to use a certain amount of shorthand. Producing and directing, on the other hand, are often at odds with each other. It’s difficult to be in both mindsets at the same time; there is no way you can direct at the same time as you are producing. You have to switch those two brains on and off.
For a lot of indie directors, producing is inevitable. The short time frame of our project and limited budget meant I was going to have to be lead producer on the project. I am very grateful that Alex Clayton came out to be our on-set producer so that I could focus on directing. (She also did art-directing, costumes and make-up, so she was a very essential person!). My friend Laura Klein came out to help produce, as well as what she normally does, which is first AD. Our dear friend Elric Kane came on board as a producer in post to be a creative sounding board, and was instrumental to us finding the shape of the film. And it certainly helped that the DP was Jay Keitel, both because we had worked with each other before and were able to communicate very quickly, but also because he has a great producing brain and was able to help us plan and troubleshoot to get what we needed, no matter the circumstances.
I think this goes for all projects, but especially those where you have limited pre-production time and a limited budget. It is crucial to hire the right people for the project and to be able to trust them to help make the film better. We were a tight knit, tiny little family on this one, and in spite of our ambitious schedule, it was a dream job.
PH: This was an intense six-week journey from concept to shooting. Tell me what that timeframe was like - how did you manage to get everything done?
Dalila Droege: When we first began talking, Mark and Jenn already had locked shooting dates because of a free location, which became the main house in the film. So, we had 6 weeks from idea until our first shoot day. Jenn and I created the story (with scene ideas from Mark and Jay), I wrote the script, and Jay created the look of the film and shot it entirely by himself.
I wrote the script really quickly, faster than anything I had done before. That was exciting, but also scary. I knew I wasn’t going to be able to prepare this film the way I had other projects in the past. We weren’t going to be able to have everything storyboarded and planned out. We worked out a process where we would be open to things happening in the moment, and allow the film to evolve as we made it. But it did feel a little like jumping off a cliff. We had no idea if things would come together in time.
I was literally finishing the shooting script as we drove into town to start filming the next day. Our first two weeks of shooting, we scheduled a half day of prep/half day of production. We bought an inexpensive camera package, which meant we weren’t beholden to the cost of rental days, so we could be flexible with our shooting schedule. And we assembled a tiny but mighty team of people to help us pull it all together. Crested Butte provided us with a wealth of material, both in terms of the local talent (both Tuck, the Native American spirit, and Gail, the not so friendly neighbor, are local actors) and the unbelievable surroundings. We couldn’t have made the film anywhere else.
PH: How does the location, which is set in the breathtaking backdrop of Crested Butte, Colorado, masterfully weave elements of horror, thriller, and magical realism to create a cathartic experience for the audience?
Dalila Droege: Crested Butte is a magical place. It literally takes your breath away - you’ll turn a corner and gasp. It doesn’t look real. There is a shot in our film, in the last montage sequence, that looks just like a Miyazaki animation, like there’s no way that that view just exists. There were foxes running around our location house every day. One day, we were on our way to film a scene in the woods and passed by a herd of hundreds of sheep grazing in the woods. It was surreal. That ended up in one of our favorite sequences in the film.
We set out to make a story in which humans have failed for good and nature is taking back the planet. So one thing we really needed to achieve was creating the feeling that nature is a real and powerful character in the film without a huge special effects budget. We found a local drone op (before “No More Time,” he had only ever done drone for real estate and sports videos), and we would go out in the mornings and evenings to film the natural world. He was an avid hiker and knew the best spots to capture what we wanted. Sound also played a crucial role in creating this character. Our sound designer, Mary Ellen Porto, had gone to that area of Colorado for high school and had many fond memories of being outdoors there. She used birdsong and other sounds native to the area, and she created a really visceral soundscape to back up the visuals. Zak Engel, who composed our score, really ran with my suggestions to go way weird and percussive. The music and sound design work together to create this kind of creeping,
omniscient, threatening feeling. And very crucially, we found Neal Jonas, who did our visual effects in his spare time. He created the beautifully drawn animation of the trees blinking their eyes and the final transformation at the end of the film. It is great to hear that audiences really feel this presence of nature as a force in the story, and is it because of all these talented people that we pulled it off.
PH: How do you envision your role (and the industry as a whole) changing in the next 5 years?
Dalila Droege: We are in such an important time right now with the WGA and SAG strikes and the debates about the role of AI. People are scared for their livelihoods and their ability to provide for their families, and rightly so. I don’t know how all this is going to shake out, but I do know that writers and actors and other creatives in the film and television industries are the reason that films and shows are watchable and meaningful to people’s lives. And also a good show can’t be made without a talented and hardworking team of “below the line” people who are compensated in a way which makes their lives sustainable.
Art fulfills a need within society and technological advances can’t change the nature of that need. I think there are a lot of people who see independent films having a bigger role to play in the next few years, and I’m 100% on board with that. All those people on the picket lines right now are fighting not just for their working conditions but for the existence and continuation of the kinds of films and shows that inspired all of us to work in this industry.
The creative work is and will be the same, and we all will just have to keep creating, however we can. Maybe there will be more people doing this outside of the studio system. For myself, I just have to keep writing and making work. I want to grow my career within the industry, but I also have to stay true to the creative vision I’ve been working on for most of my life. The people I admire, especially the female directors and writers I admire, are all dealing with how to make work and get it out there while staying true to their inner creative compass. It’s not easy.
I think it’s very important not to lose creative momentum. You can’t wait for permission. You have to make it happen, one way or another.