The Movie Waffler Interview - CEREBRUM Director Arvi Ragu | The Movie Waffler

Interview - CEREBRUM Director Arvi Ragu

arvi ragu
Arvi Ragu discusses his new sci-fi thriller.

From visionary new filmmaker Arvi Ragu, and starring Christian James (Hell Fest, Nashville), Alexxis Lemire (The Half of It), and acclaimed actor James Russo (Django Unchained, Beverly Hills Cop), Cerebrum is available On Demand in the US from May 4th, with a UK/ROI release yet to be announced..

To make ends meet, Tom signs on as a guinea pig at a home-based lab, but when he commits a crime he cannot remember, he must risk his own sanity to reveal the truth.

Ahead of the film’s premiere at WorldFest April 25, we caught up with Ragu.

arvi ragu

How did you get into the crazy game of filmmaking?

I have a BS in Mechanical Engineering and MS in Computer Science. I was on a path to the Geek Hall of Fame before I caught the movie-making bug by way of a happy accident. Graduate school required me to take a minimum number of credit hours to qualify for a tuition waiver. No required computer science courses were available one particular semester, so I signed up for a theatre acting class. What began as a filler class ended as a lifelong interest. Several private classes in LA and Austin followed. While acting in several short films and feature films, I fell for the mechanics of filmmaking and went on to create short films. They led to my first feature film - Cerebrum.

Most usually cite a movie like Star Wars or Rocky as their earliest inspiration – what about you?

I grew up watching movies, but I never experienced them as inspirations, just excuses to avoid school books on Sunday evenings. But when I started acting in movies, I became interested and motivated to learn the craft. Forrest Gump was the first movie to inspire me. I peel back a new layer every time I watch it.


And did any of those influences help shape what would become Cerebrum?

Not Forrest Gump, but definitely Ex Machina. It was a movie that made me think, “What if?”. Simple storyline beautifully executed. A few other movies inspired my writing of Cerebrum: The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo for its suspense, and Hell or High Water for its colour palette.


Is it fair to assume you might be a fan of Cronenberg and Nolan?

I am a through-and-through Christopher Nolan fan. He is a master of holding audiences in suspense while telling complicated stories. And just as you think you figured out the next story development, he throws another twist at you. Throughout writing Cerebrum, I considered “What Would Mr. Nolan Do?” and aspired to write like him. If I desire to meet another creator, I desire to meet him.


You clearly don’t like making sci-fi or horror just for the heck of it – you’re all about a smart story first and foremost?

True sci-fi, to me, calls on plausible science, yet blurs the line between reality and fiction. Cerebrum does this. A lot of research went into the possibility and potential of memory backups, feasible storage methods, and science’s definition of “memory”. (A bunch of neuron connections, but what complicated connections!) I also challenged a sci-fi film cliche - the blue-grey urban lab - where everyone wears spotless PPE and walks on white tile floors under uniform fluorescent lighting. Why can’t a guy from Texas set up shop in his barn and shift a few science paradigms?


Give the readers an idea of what Cerebrum is.

Cerebrum is a science-fiction thriller about a guy who volunteers to test emerging memory-transfer tech. When he commits a crime he cannot remember, he risks his sanity to expose the truth.

The film is three layered.

Layer One is science fiction -  a man who invents a cure for Alzheimer’s by digitally copying a person’s memory and replaying it when required.

Layer Two is a thriller - the protagonist commits a crime he cannot remember, he has to trust his questionable memory to unearth why he committed the crime.

Layer Three - the deepest - follows an estranged father and son in the healing process.

Subtlety and innuendo niche themselves between the layers throughout the movie.


Is there a lot of pressure on you with a film like this, being that it’s a major film for you?

Pressure? What pressure? Hahaha! The first feature is always hard.  I sure hope I don’t rely on its success to define my worth. That said, I did shift my other career - the one that pays the bills - into low gear so I can concentrate on movie making. Therefore, in my head, Cerebrum’s success becomes a bit more precious. Pressure mitigated and roadblocks overcome make success sweeter.


In terms of creative choices, were there ever disagreements between you and the producers? Or was everyone on the same page as to what this was?

A mentor told me, “The director’s job is to bring out the best in people around them then stamp their name on the end result.” Filmmaking is a collaborative process with no room for ego in the process. If someone calls you out or has an idea to offer, take the time to listen. If it works, good; take it and run with it. If not, say no and stick with your vision.


If an awards show played one scene from the film, which would you suggest they choose to show?

Without giving too much away to your readers, a scene portrays the protagonist learning for the first time a truth from his youth. In childhood, he was too young to understand its significance and consequences. It’s a pivotal moment during which he finally understands motivations behind his dad’s decisions; it changes the course of the film. All three actors delivered phenomenal performances to create a standout scene.