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Exclusive: Khalil Sullins talks Listening, Image Comics and Donald Trump

Exclusive: Khalil Sullins talks <em>Listening</em>, Image Comics and Donald Trump

Amber Marie Bollinger as “Jordan” in LISTENING. Photo Courtesy of Young Medium.

In a exclusive interview, Pooya chats with “Listening” writer/director Khalil Sullins about his new cerebral sci-fi thriller and what he would say or do to Donald Trump if he had mind control powers.

I don’t know. I don’t want to jump into politics, but…

That’s right FadFans, join us as we have a diverse and wonderfully interesting conversation with Khalil Sullins about everything from “Listening,” to the unbelievably chilling state of mind control technology in the real world.


So, without further ado… here is an exclusive look into the mind of Khalil Sullins.



Hey Khalil, how’s it going?


Khalil Sullins:

Alright, how you doing Pooya?



I am doing well, excited to talk to you about your thrilling debut feature “Listening.”


Khalil Sullins:

Thanks so much.



I’ll go ahead and jump right into it. Can you describe “Listening” in your own words?


Khalil Sullins:


LISTENING (Official Movie Poster)

The initial seed of an idea for “Listening” was – what if someone invented telepathy. So the movie is really a sci-fi thriller and fun popcorn entertainment, but it’s also a film that raises some interesting questions, hopefully, and gets into some esoteric ideas – but in a fun thrilling way. It’s about our relationship with communication technology in general. The whole film, in some ways, is a metaphor for the internet, and social media (Facebook, Instagram, Twitter) and how we’re all plugged into our phones all day. We have all these new methods to express our thoughts and feelings faster than before, but it doesn’t make us better communicators on a human level. So yeah, there is some irony in the fact that David, the main character, invents telepathy, the latest greatest form of communication, but he doesn’t know how to talk to his wife, he doesn’t know how to talk to his daughter, his best friends. These relationships crumble. We also explore the implications of what inventing telepathy would mean on not just a personal and interpersonal family and friends level, but also on a societal level and government and global level as well. So the film does get into some aspects of privacy of thought – where governments and corporations would probably be very interested in knowing what’s going on in all of our brains. They’re probably already out there trying to influence our thoughts through advertising and tracking what we’re doing online all the time. So yeah, it’s interesting to me and I wanted to explore the topic through a film, but in a fun sci-fi way.



I definitely noticed some Orwellian tones in the film, especially towards the end. On a deeper level, what inspired you to make “Listening” as far as this being your topic and what other directors and films may have inspired your process.


Khalil Sullins:

I love a lot of filmmakers. I love [David] Fincher and [Christopher] Nolan, [Darren] Aronofsky and [Martin] Scorsese. I love a ton of filmmakers. Cohen brothers, [Stephen] Spielberg, on and on. We sort of looked at other filmmaker’s first films. So, Aronofsky’s “Pie,” or “THX 1138,” or of course “Primer,” Shane Carruth’s movie, “Mean Streets,” and “Following,” Nolan’s first film. I guess, sort of trying to make a bold statement with the first film. Throw everything we could in there and try tell a visually exciting film, but also have something to say. When I was in film school I sort of saw that a lot of student films that I’d seen looked and sounded great, but they were sorta failing on a script level. So in film school and after I tried to spend a lot of time on writing actually. I thought it was a normal path, but on the festival circuit now I’m seeing it’s not the most normal path – that I didn’t go out and shoot short films or make anything else, I just spent a lot of time writing. I wrote 7 or 8 feature scripts before I felt like I had one that was worth investing three to five years of my life into actually making.

Artie Ahr as “Ryan” and Amber Marie Bollinger as “Jordan” in LISTENING. Photo Courtesy of Young Medium.



Based on the research you did for the film, how realistic is the technology we see? Did you take what you saw in reality and extrapolate a bit?


Khalil Sullins:

The film is a hard sci-fi film, meaning all the science you see in there either actually currently exists or is still theoretically possible. So when I first had this idea of what if someone invented telepathy, the first step was doing a couple months of research. I don’t have a science background at all, so when I say research I mean just finding anything I could online. Going on Wikipedia and clicking every word that didn’t make sense to me when I started researching brain computer interfaces and stuff like that. Started reading the source articles, different tech blogs, some scientific journals. Yeah, it sort of took what was going on with brain computer interfaces and electro encephalography and all that, then what what was going on with nano-technology. I found this article were scientists had created these nanotube transistors that could be embedded into human cells, were ATP powered [Powered Transport Proteins] and could exist in the human body theoretically. So then I thought, well what if we created nano tube electrodes that could be injected into the brain. So rather than tracking a hundred neurons in the brain, you could track a hundred billion neurons in the brain. I thought, yeah maybe this makes sense for movie logic, but probably would never work in the real world. But then, a couple months after we finished production my brother sends me an article from MIT Technology Review and scientists had invented exactly that. These nanotube electrodes exist out there in the real world now, they’ve injected them into the brains of lab rats. It’s crazy, they even look like our film with computer chips coming out of animal’s heads and wires connecting them and stuff. So we sorta joke now – by the time the movie comes out it’s no longer a sci-fi thriller, it’s a historical drama (Both Laughing). There’s a retro feel to the whole movie with the technology and the computers and stuff. I wanted it to feel so real that it’s almost like – maybe this happened a few years ago. Maybe this happened last year in your neighbor’s garage and you just didn’t hear about it. I kinda wanted it to feel really gritty, and almost like it was a past film in some way.



What was the most interesting, bizarre or perhaps terrifying mind control tech that you found while researching the film? Did that make its way into the film or was it TOO insane to work in there?


Khalil Sullins:

I was honestly surprised to see how far we’ve already come. You can buy video game controllers right now that are just sorta helmets that you put on your brain. You train these things the way you would voice recognition software back in the day, where you might just think up, up, up and it sees oaky these four neurons are firing when you think up. And then down down down and so on and suddenly you can be playing video games with your brain. A lot of what’s going on out there is for more practical purposes, like controlling prosthetic limbs with your brain. I saw an amazing video of a monkey or an ape of some sort that they’d plugged computers into his brain and plugged it into a robotic arm that was in-front of him. The monkey would just think that he was hungry and it would grab a banana, and was feeding himself with this robotic arm that was connected to his brain. You see it and you see what’s going on, but you still don’t quite believe it. It seems like sci-fi when you’re watching it. But yeah, this stuff is out there already.



Well, since the film does deal a bit with telepathy and perhaps mind control… If you could make a mental suggestion to any one person, who would it be and what would you suggest?


Khalil Sullins:

(Laughing) Oh my god. (Laughing) Yeah, that’s a really tough one. What would I suggest? I don’t know. I don’t want to jump into politics, but it’s kinda crazy seeing Donald Trump out there in the world right now. (Both Laugh) I’d give him a thought or two. I don’t know where I would go with that.



Doug Mattingly as “Test Subject” in LISTENING. Photo Courtesy of Young Medium.



Perhaps a future producer you want to ‘suggest’ make your next film?


Khalil Sullins:

Yeah, sure. It’s a golden age for movies for me right now. I grew up reading comic books and all that stuff. I’m a huge comic buff and a huge Star Wars fan. The fact that they’re making all these things that I loved as a child, I hope that they keep doing it so that I can take my shot at a comic book film, or a Star Wars film, or something like that. Yeah, sure. I wouldn’t mind ‘suggesting’ that out there.



Let’s go ahead an suggest it using this article. If you could direct any comic book film, what would you choose. It doesn’t have to be an existing franchise.


Khalil Sullins:


Wolverine (Marvel) | Batman (DC) | Spawn (Image)

Growing up my favorite characters were Wolverine, Batman and Spawn, from an Image comic. Right now my favorite comic out there is a comic called “Saga” from Brian K. Vaughan, he is a genius. That comic is amazing. I don’t know how you would ever turn it into a film, but I would love to take a crack at that. Robert Kirkman’s “Invincible” is a great and fun superhero comic book series. It would make a great film too, or television series too. There are so many great properties out there. “Fable,” Bill Willingham’s comic series is great. There’s a ton of stuff that I’d love to do. Another “Hulk” Movie? Oh my gosh, we should definitely get another “Hulk” movie.



You brought up “Spawn.” It’s been quite some time since the first “Spawn” came out, you think it’s about time for a reboot?


Khalil Sullins:

Yeah, McFarlane’s actually working on a script. I know that right now. He’s sorta been putting that out there on Twitter and stuff, so hopefully it actually gets made. I don’t know exactly what happening with it, but yeah – “Spawn” was a great comic book series. I grew up during the Image era of comics, so I love all those, where comic book artists took the reigns. All the stories weren’t always the best, but the artwork was great. I wanted to be a comic book artist growing up. Hopefully some of these cool Images we saw growing up get to be budget/big-screen.


Click HERE to read FilmFad’s review on Khalil Sullins’ Sci-Fi Thriller “Listening,” or  check out some of FilmFad’s other reviews HERE.


Listening - Artie Ahr -

Artie Ahr as “Ryan” in LISTENING. Photo Courtesy of Young Medium.



Jumping back to “Listening,” would you say that you’re more of a Ryan, a David… Or a Jordan? And I mean of course personality-wise not… gender.


Khalil Sullins:

(Laughing) Yeah… um… (Laughing). I am probably the most like David. I’m not the loudest guy. It’s not inspired by real life in terms of you know like – David isn’t me, some people might make that assumption, but definitely he would be the closest to myself. Although I do make cheesy jokes pretty frequently, so in that sense Ryan might be a little bit like me too.



The effect used for the mind-link scenes is very unique. How’d you arrive at that and were there other methods that you tried first? Was this the first use of that technique in a feature film?


Khalil Sullins:

We call it Flicker 3D and, as far as we know, this is the first time it’s been done in a feature film. It’s pretty common in still photography. They call it stereoscopic still photography. You basically take two pictures from about eye distance apart, and if you flicker between the two you can get a sense of depth perception. We sorta did the same technique but with our own jerry rigged low-budget thing, with two motion picture cameras on one tripod. We did a lot of testing to find the right frame rate (and settled on 3 frames per second), where you set the parallax, and where you sorta get the audience’s eye to go. I had seen it originally – I had another filmmaker friend who was living on my couch at the time. He showed me this Blue Roses music video that was really cool and all in black and white and they used this Flicker 3D technology. I knew for the inside the mind sequences, because it’s a hard sci-fi film, I didn’t want to get into these fantastical fantasy images of rainbows, unicorns, dinosaurs with lasers on their heads, or whatever people think about/or what I think about. By just coming up with a unique visual technique for the inside mind sequence paired with sound design, we could feel like we were entering a different world and telepathy space without sacrificing that hard sci-fi tone.



It was really unique and made the film all the more visually appealing to me.


Khalil Sullins:
Well thank you.



I appreciate your time and I hope you make a sequel, because I know you left it in a way where you could potentially do that.


Khalil Sullins:
(Chuckles) Yeah, totally.


I’ll definitely be looking forward to that and your other stuff man.


Khalil Sullins:
Cool, thanks so much. Had great time talking to you.



Khalil Sullins was a very down to earth and interesting guy to talk to. I look forward to seeing what projects he moves onto next, as he will be one budding creator to keep an eye on.


“Listening” releases in theatres and on Digital HD on September 11; You can Pre-Order a copy on iTunes Today. #HideYourThoughts

The cerebral sci-fi thriller “Listening” is Khalil Sullins debut feature film. Watch the trailer for “Listening” below and you can follow Khalil Sullins on Twitter @KhalilSullins

About The Author


Since his wee lad-dom, Pooya has been a sommelier of cinema. It was likely some acting bug, fallen from the dust riddled ruby curtains of an enchanted old stage that did it. Those cinematic scarabs must have burrowed deep into his brain, irreversibly altering his mind, turning the poor boy down a dismal path. From his earliest years the strange boy would aimlessly wander the aisles of countless video rental stores, amassing his trivial knowledge with vigor. These actions befuddled the boy’s parents, who still would lovingly oblige his unusual attraction to the motion picture. Often seeking refuge in the cushioned seating of his local movie theater, the odd adolescent would immerse himself in the scripted and effects riddled realities unfolding on the screen before him. During his collegiate years, he was twice spotted on stage performing bizarre theatrical rituals before awe-struck audiences. When he departed from academia, he left behind his youth in exchange for a labor routine, but the strange young man never lost his long-cultivated love of film. Recently, Pooya was approached by to join their budding team of entertainment bloggers. After hours of coaxing and an undisclosed number of honey jars, he accepted their offer. Finally he had come full circle. Finally, at, he was home.

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