The 2000s Sci-Fi Time Travel Thriller Classic Made For Almost Nothing Is Being Forgotten By The New Generation

By Douglas Helm | Published

Truly DIY films with shoestring budgets are still few and far between in Hollywood today, with many “indie” films having multimillion-dollar budgets. While it’s good to see original ideas get the money they deserve, there’s still something special about watching a cult classic film that was made for pennies on the dollar. As far as indie DIY sci-fi films, the time travel film Primer is in rarified air, though you wouldn’t know it based on the fact that it’s not available to stream anywhere.

There’s Nothing Like Primer

Primer was released in 2004 and follows two engineers, Aaron (Shane Carruth) and Abe (David Sullivan), who stumble across the invention of time travel. When they expand on their idea to test time travel on humans, they encounter dark and psychological consequences. The film became a cult classic after its release for its realistic depiction of invention, philosophical questions, and refusal to dumb things down for the audience.

Made For Less Than The Catering Budget On Most Movies


Primer was a truly independent effort, as Shane Carruth wrote, directed, produced, edited, and scored it. It was also Carruth’s directorial debut, and he starred in the movie, as well. Reportedly, Carruth also made the film for just $7,000 and a crew of just five people.

Carruth cast mostly family and friends in the movie and cast himself as Aaron after he couldn’t find actors who “could break … the habit of filling each line with so much drama.” Primer is truly an impressive effort, and the film even made it to Sundance, winning the Grand Jury Prize at the festival in 2004. And if you’re someone who loves hard sci-fi, then you’re really going to enjoy this film.

Years Of Effort

Carruth reportedly spent two years in post-production, almost giving up on Primer on several occasions due to how much effort the film took to make. The behind-the-scenes info on the movie also shows the lengths Carruth went through to make the film. For one, he studied physics to make the dialogue more realistic, and he made the special effects and settings as unglamorous as possible to depict how invention usually looks, rather than the Hollywood depiction of invention that usually has a lot of bells, whistles, and triumph.

Meticulously Planned

Along with making Primer on a shoestring budget, Carruth had to use Super 16mm filmstock to shoot the film. Since the number of takes for scenes was very limited and constrained, the film was storyboarded to an extreme degree. In other words, the film took a lot of effort to make happen, and it’s not surprising that it became a cult classic after the fact because everything comes together in an extremely engaging way.

Limited Viewing Options

With how strong the cult following is for Primer, you would think that the film would have gotten a lot more love in the streaming era. With streaming, you should have access to these kinds of films that you might not find normally if you weren’t already a fan. Unfortunately, the best way to watch Primer outside of buying a physical copy right now is to buy it on video on demand, which you can do on platforms like Apple TV and Amazon Prime Video.