Daniel Byers is the Director of Skyship Films. As a documentary filmmaker, he’s tracked cartels along the rivers of Honduras, chased the elusive snow leopard through the mountains of Afghanistan, and rafted through the icebergs of glacial lakes in the shadow of Everest. His documentary films have been featured at numerous international festival screenings, events, and museums including the Smithsonian, Dallas Museum of Art, UN Climate Change Conferences, Banff Mountain Film Festival, DC Environmental Film Festival, and International Wildlife Film Festival, as well as on the UK Guardian, BBC, and National Geographic. When not in the field, Daniel has a love for crafting fantasy, horror, and historical adventure films with his narrative studio, Dark Tower Films. He recently completed principle photography on his first Feature, “Banishment.” He is currently pursuing an MFA at Columbia School of the Arts.
Q & A
If the world you created in your film became a reality, is that a world you would want to live in? Is there a Sci-Fi world you’d buy a one-way ticket to?
Penumbra's horror revolves around how little we know about the know universe. 95% of it – dark matter and dark energy - is something we can't even see. Would I want to encounter malicious aliens who can control gravity and are comprised of something my senses aren't capable of perceiving? No thanks!
Name a Sci-Fi character you relate to on a spiritual level?
Probably Jim Raynor from Starcraft. Just a small town boy trying to do the right thing who gets dragged into something a whole lot bigger, but never lets it destroy his sense of right and wrong.
Friend or Foe: humanoid robots with advanced artificial intelligence? What if robots start making their own Sci-Fi films? Will you support them in their endeavors?
If that comes to pass, we'll either have bigger problems or no problems.
Who would be in your sci-fi team?
I guess Predator? Let's elevate the stakes of this game.
You’ve gotta go through some bad ideas to get to the good ones. Tell us one of your bad ideas. How do you get past the bad ones to find your spark?
I think usually in the bad ideas there's a good idea hiding out. For me, the bad idea is usually a cool concept or world with no characters, or worse, boring characters. Booze and coffee help.
Do you consider yourself part of a sci-fi community? Or when your brain is in the future and your body’s in the present, is that isolating?
I think broadly we're all more isolated these days, while simultaneously having access to content and voices (like Sci-Fi) that would once have been fringe and harder to find. It's the double-edged blade of online interconnectedness. My strongest motivation still comes from the close friends and collaborators I share interests with.
Do you consider yourself more of an analog or digital person? What kind of balance do strike between the two? Is there a disconnect between the technology you make films about and the technology that you make films with?
No, I think it's the stories that count, the tools that we use to tell them just define the terms on which we're able to work. An LED projection stage, a VR headset, a game, a film – they all offer different opportunities in how to experience a story. We told stories with our own biological tools, like language and memorization, for a long time before we ever used technology. The tools will change, but the hunger for stories is part of us.
When you’re creating the props and sets that make a new world, where do you look for inspiration? How do you create objects that are relatable but unfamiliar?
I've mostly worked on period films and post-apocalyptic ones. In my film Bloodyback, an 18th Century French & Indian War film (with Zombies!) I worked a lot with historical re-enactors and living history museums for accuracy. For a film I'm currently working on set in the Paleolithic, I'm drawing on archaeology and living indigenous cultures for inspiration. I make nature and indigenous culture documentaries as well as fiction, so I take a lot of ideas from the diversity of landscapes and people I've been able to explore and befriend.