Needle in a Timestack John Ridley
Cynthia Erivo and Leslie Odom Jr. in Needle in a Timestack, from writer-director John Ridley. Photo by Cate Cameron/Lionsgate

Screenwriter John Ridley didn’t feel the need to explain time travel in Needle in a Timestack, his romance drama starring Orlando Bloom, Freida Pinto, Cynthia Erivo, and Leslie Odom Jr. as two sets of couples who find their pasts and futures disrupted by that very thing.

The 12 Years a Slave executive producer and screenwriter told MovieMaker why he felt it was better not to try to explain the “unexplainable” in Needle in a Timestack, which was inspired by a 1982 short story by Robert Silverberg.

“One of the things that was important to me and that I loved about the short story is that it didn’t try to explain time travel. At the center of the story, there isn’t this giant data dump where somebody tries to explain something that’s unexplainable. I appreciate that Mr. Silverberg didn’t try to explain love, either,” Ridley said.

“But the story treated both love and time travel as very real — as things that we just have to deal with. The nexus of our lives is technology and personal relationships. Is technology taking us away from interpersonal relationships? And can interpersonal relationships survive every exponential increase in the technological aspects of our lives?”

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The studio behind the movie, Lionsgate, also understood what Ridley was going for more subtlety than sci-fi grandeur.

“Even though this started as an indie film, I can’t say I got the support that people normally associate with an indie film. Ironically, when the studio Lionsgate stepped in, they gave me all that support. They loved that it was not a typical sci-fi story where there had to be these big, explosive, sci-fi moments,” Ridley said. “But rather, if you went back 30 or 40 years ago, the lives we live right now would seem like sci-fi. And yet they’re very normal, and they’re not extraordinary. Part of the point of the story is what happens if time travel just becomes a part of ordinary life. I chose to trust the audience. You’re going to get people who need a larger explanation, either about time travel, or about love, or the relationships. I’m at this point in my career where I’m not trying to chase all audiences. I’m trying to relate to very specific audiences and really cultivate those kinds of audience members.”

And yes, Ridley knows his approach is quite niche.

“But that’s OK — that’s gotten me here,” he said.

A version of this story first appeared in our fall print magazine, on newsstands now.

Main Image: Cynthia Erivo and Leslie Odom Jr. in Needle in a Timestack, from writer-director John Ridley. Photo by Cate Cameron/Lionsgate.

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