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Filmmaker Update: Ben Nabors and Michael Tyburski

Ben Nabors and Michael Tyburski, two filmmakers who have received Sloan support, have new film projects in the works. Their feature film PALIMPSEST, which received a grant to be developed at the Hamptons Screenplay Labs, is about a man who tunes indoor environments. Every space has the hum of electronics—refrigerators, lights, air filters—which we tune out, but the main character in this narrative feature tunes in, adjusting the various noises so that your home has just the right pitch. He becomes charmed by one client in particular. PALIMPSEST is a romantic drama, which was recently shortlisted for the Sundance Producing Labs. The predecessor to the feature—a short film by the same name—is streaming online.

Of the science in the film and the experience of working with a science advisor, the writer and producer Ben Nabors says,

“For our feature script PALIMPSEST we have been working closely with two scientific advisors Andrew Fink Ph.D and Carl Schoonover Ph.D, both of whom are postdoctoral fellows in the Columbia Neuroscience Axel Lab. We've also presented phases of the project to a group of scientists and writers affiliated with Columbia University, called Neuwrite. I've been a member of Neuwrite for several years, and the experience of workshopping ideas there has been extremely useful, particularly with this script.

Our project is very much about the science of sound, but it's also about the experience of a scientist. This is another benefit of working with scientific advisors on the script—it gives us a unique look into their lifestyles, successes, and setbacks. Being a scientist seems a lot like being a filmmaker, in the sense that you often strive to create something (or prove something, or capture something... you get the idea) that doesn't yet exist. Often, you have to convince yourself and others that something is there, or that it's worth pursuing, before you have any hard proof yourself.

Our protagonist is a scientist on the fringe of his community who sees something that others don't see. He believes in his theory so devoutly that it borders on obsession. Scientific history is full of these personalities, though sometimes they're visionaries and sometimes they're flops.”

The same filmmaking team, Nabors and Tyburski, made a short film called ACTOR SEEKS ROLE. Like PALIMPSEST, ACTOR SEEKS ROLE has scientific themes. The film is a sardonic drama that features Alex Karpovsky as an aspiring Meisner-trained actor who has an unexpected talent for medical acting. He channels his method into performing various ailments in a mock-hospital for medical students. Tyburski directs and Nabors wrote and produced the short, which was featured on the New Yorker’s website. It was winner of the Grand Jury Award at Boston’s Independent Film Festival, and winner of the short film contest at Hammer to Nail.

The pair often work together. As Tyburski says,

“We’ve collaborated on a few scripts together now; two shorts and now the feature. Our writing process is always the same. We both discuss an idea together very thoroughly, then we go off and write independently. When we regroup, we always go back and forth with revisions and many subsequent drafts amongst each other. We’re both very particular about seemingly the most minor of details, so we tend to discuss every beat in length. I think because we are both so meticulous, we work really well together as writing partners that way.

When we go into production on a project our roles are more refined, as I direct, and Ben creatively produces. We’re both still there as writers as well though, as shooting is always really just another major draft revision, and it’s important that we both foster the story all the way through together.

With the feature for PALIMPSEST, we’ve fortunately been able to take our time in developing it over a longer period of time then we’re used to. I think that’s worked to our advantage, as it’s given us time to explore our story in greater depth and find things in the script that take time to reveal themselves.”

PALIMPSEST is currently in development.