Following my two enthusiastic viewings of Errors of the Human Body, I was luckily able to have a short correspondence with the director of the film, Eron Sheean. Although Errors is his feature directorial debut, Sheean had previously written and produced the Xavier Gens film, The Divide. Sheean is, in my opinion, definitely someone to keep an eye on in genre cinema. Check out our chat below, and for more on this film, read my very positive review of Errors of the Human Body from earlier in the week.
YOU WON CANNES: This film is very reminiscent of early Cronenberg, and I’m sure I’m not the first to make this observation. What did you draw from his work as inspiration, and what else was an influence on the creation of this film?
ERON SHEEAN: I think it’s inevitable there will be some comparisons, just by virtue of the fact that the film deals with science, biology, and the natural habitat is one of sterility and coolness. With Errors, we are more grounded in real science as a jumping off point. I am a great admirer of his films, his artistic output and conviction to his ideas. There are few filmmakers that can claim to have created their own genre. In terms of structure, I was more influenced by film noir and the subjective journey of the protagonist in which the audience has to experience the world as he does. I love unreliable narrators…
YWC: What is the relationship your film has to Germany? Why did you choose to set it specifically there?
SHEEAN: I had a short film in Berlinale many moons ago and met a scientist who was one of the directors of the Max Planck Institute for Molecular Cell Biology and Genetics, in Dresden, Germany. They were running an artist residency program at the time. I came over from Australia a few months later to hang around and learn about molecular biology in the hope of developing an ‘artistic project’. It was only supposed to be for a few months, but turned into over six years. I managed to convince them to let me develop a feature film based around the institute and some of their bizarre and fascinating research projects.
The institute was primarily the shooting location and inspiration, as it was the research projects that inspired the initial script. I also managed to get quite a few scientists to play extras! They were very generous and also very progressive. They gave us the freedom to shoot in that beautiful place and made space and time for us. We had a brilliant mouse trainer who we dubbed the mouse whisperer. I think the MPI really understood the importance of the wider implication of communication between the sciences and the arts.
YWC: From that, how exactly did the concept for Burton’s Disease come about?
SHEEAN: Burton’s disease is an isolated case of a random genetic mutation, which leads to formation of tumors all over the body. Dr. Geoff Burton discovers the mutation that causes the disease. The human genome contains about 98,000 ancient retro-viral sequences, which make up around 8 percent of our genome. Most of these viruses are inactive due to silencing mutations, but some have been shown to be active in human cells under special circumstances. Scientists hypothesize that active endogenous retroviruses may cause or facilitate diseases such as multiple sclerosis (MS), AIDS and even schizophrenia.
In Errors, Burton’s syndrome is caused by one such virus, embedded in the genome for thousands of years without activity and awoken by a random mutation in the child. The virus causes an unusual infection… at first showing symptoms of the flu, then tumors. Such a virus does not exist and it’s an entirely fictional idea, however, there are examples of viruses that are undergoing positive selection, which suggests that they are a positive trait and their presence provide an advantage to the organism.
So in other words, I was interested in the concept of retro viruses and what happens if one is awoken.
YWC: The characters in this film are all so well suited to the story, they are the perfect balance of sexy and creepy. How did you assemble this cast?
SHEEAN: Sexy! That’s a first, but sexy scientists – they do exist – I married one!
Michael Eklund, who plays Geoff, I had worked with on The Divide, and he made a great impression on me, not just as an actor, but in his work ethic and dedication – and he’s simply a great human being. I also thought that beneath this removed cool character, he could still elicit empathy from the audience, subtly, but it was there. He’s a tragic figure.
Karoline Herfurth, who plays Rebekka, was a German actress I admired so I was really happy she accepted the part, and it was not easy for her because it was in English and she had to learn a lot of complex science speak and make it sound like she knew what she was talking about. Tomas Lemarquis , who is the other lead, that plays Jarek I met through a Berlin casting agent who I also knew of. He was an excellent collaborator also and brought the necessary creepy factor! The entire cast were great collaborators and I was really fortunate to get them.
I just remembered one anecdote – Michael had a lot of scenes with mice and he was like the mouse whisperer, they loved him and were so chilled out in his company. Then I did a scene where Tomas has to pick up a mouse and it bit him every time. We had to keep cutting and reset and then every time it would bite him again! I think mice are very sensitive to vibes and Tomas had channeled his nefarious character so well the mice picked up on it!
Errors of the Human Body is currently available in select theaters, and to watch on Cable VOD, SundanceNOW and other digital outlets.