Duncan Jones cut his teeth on the sets of Labyrinth and The Hunger, but for his directorial debut, he opted for something that didn't star his dad (I'll let you guys and girls mull over the common thread).
Rather, Moon is a showcase for star Sam Rockwell, who gives what is surely one of the year's more uniquely layered performances. As the film opens today in NY and LA before rolling out in the weeks to come, Jones spoke with Cinematical about shooting sci-fi on a small budget, releasing an indie in a season of blockbusters, and cracking his skull out of pure giddiness for a movie.
Which one, you ask? We'll tell you after the jump...
Cinematical: What's it like putting out a film of this scale in the middle of the summer, amidst all these blockbusters?
Duncan Jones: Yeah, it's difficult. I'm sort of relying a lot on the expertise of the people who we're working with. Now that the film is made, the whole distribution of the film and how we promote it is something that I haven't ever really done before, so I'm kinda relying on the good people at Sony Classics to educate me and steer us in the right direction. They seem to feel that it's the right approach, and I'm just happy to finally have the film out there for people to see.
Cinematical: That hasn't stopped you from traveling from festival to festival, from town to town to promote the film...
DJ: Well, that's kinda what you have to do, because it's a small, low-budget independent film, and you can't really afford to bombard the airwaves with trailers and put posters up everywhere. If we had a bigger cast, we'd have all of the actors going out and talking to everyone as well, but because Sam Rockwell is on his own for most of the film, and because he's doing Iron Man 2, that kinda just leaves me. So I've been doing as much of the promotion of the film that I possibly can.
Cinematical: Are you sick of the film yet?
DJ: [laughs] No, actually. No, I'm not. I'm incredibly proud of it. We did something that we thought we could do, but it was incredibly ambitious in the first place, and to make a science-fiction film in the U.K. with five million dollars and one actor, and to make something that was still entertaining -- I think it'll be exciting and interesting for people, so it's something we should all be proud of.
Cinematical: In terms of the size and ambition of the film, one of the key things is that, for the effects, you used a lot of models, and I was wondering if that was as much budgetary constraint as it was homage to the sci-fi films of yesteryear.
DJ: It was definitely a mixture of things. Back when we were planning the film and talking about those old films, it was immediate in our minds that they managed to pull off these huge visuals and do it with model miniatures. In particular, if you look at a film like James Cameron's Aliens, there's some amazing model work in that, and it still holds up today, so I think that, as long as you have the expertise -- and that's kind of the hard part, is that they kinda reached a high point in this model miniature effects back in the early eighties. Then everybody went on this CG kick and we lost an awful lot of the talent, of people who used to do that, and we were very, very fortunate. We were based at Shepperton Studios and there were some old-timers who were based there, and we were actually able to get some of those guys who knew how to do all that stuff. I mean, there's a real expertise, a real craftsmanship in doing it properly.
Cinematical: How do you feel about balancing spectacle, particularly in this genre, with the ideas behind it? Moon is driven by a very existential question, and yet, if someone gave you $100 million, would you say, 'I could throw in a couple of explosions here'?
DJ: [laughs] Yeah, absolutely. But I think the thing is, I don't think those things have to come into conflict at all. In fact, I don't think you should have to make a decision of one over the other. If you have the budget, special effects are there to serve the purpose of telling a story. CG is a tool, special effects are there as a tool as well, and all of those things should do the job of telling the story. You can throw all the money that you've got at a film, and if it's a great story, it's just going to make your film better, but if you have a terrible story and the characters aren't particularly interesting or engaging, then it's still going to be a flat film. I'm as guilty as anyone else -- if a film has got huge, amazing effects in it, I may go and see it just for that, but as a cinematic experience, it isn't going to be anywhere near as engaging or exciting as seeing a film that's deep and rounded and a fully entertaining experience... But don't worry, if I do get some more money, I'll be throwing in some special effects.
Cinematical: You mentioned James Cameron, and you've made it apparent that you're a fan of Ridley Scott. Who else would you count among your influences, whether filmmakers or in other media?
DJ: I like David Fincher and Luc Besson and obviously Kubrick, guys like Akira Kurosawa from Japan. Actually, I'm a big Terry Gilliam fan, and I love Robert Altman films. So that's sort of the filmmaker side. Author-wise, I used to read a lot of George Orwell and John Wyndham, William Gibson, Phillip K. Dick of course, J.G. Ballard. Those are sort of my sci-fi mainstays. I have pretty eclectic influences anyway, because I'm like a magpie. I just find things that appeal to me and latch onto all sorts of things.
Cinematical: Do you ever see yourself doing an adaptation, or are you content right now with sticking with original work?
DJ: An adaptation of a piece of literature, I'd certainly be interested in. As far as what's going on right now with great films being remade... the idea of taking a film that already works and remaking it, I find kind of problematic. I guess if you have someone like Ridley Scott who's willing and interested in making a film before Alien, you can't have a problem with that. The man knows what he's doing. But a lot of these films that are getting remade right now, whether they be sequels or prequels to amazing films -- I think sometimes it's worth having a bit more ambition and a bit more guts in having new ideas and giving original material a shot.
Cinematical: Your follow-up project, which -- if I understand correctly -- was actually your initial screenplay, was it Mute?
DJ: That's right, yeah. Mute is another sci-fi film based in a future Berlin, and it's a thriller, but it takes place in the same timeline, in the same universe as Moon.
Cinematical: Is it true that Sam [Rockwell] might pop up in that as well?
DJ: That's what I'm hoping for. Sam and I did discuss it a couple of times, and he liked the idea of coming in and doing a little cameo, and I think we've got a nice way to do it. I think it could be a cool little moment in the film.
Cinematical: Are you necessarily so interested in sci-fi that that's what you'll keep doing, or do you think you'll ever say 'screw it, I'm making a musical Western'?
DJ: [laughs] Um, musical Western? That could be kinda fun. No, I don't know if I don't do that, but I'm absolutely going to do things other than sci-fi at some point. In fact, there's another film that I'm sort of attached to called Escape from the Deep, which is a WWII submarine film, and that's really an amazing opportunity, because it's actually a true story, an incredible, unbelievable true story. I think there's a ways to go before making that project into a film -- we're still working on a script at this stage -- but that's a non-sci-fi film that I'm certainly excited and eager to do. There's a couple of genres that I'd be willing to do something in, but it's either coming up with a story or finding an amazing story or, as you say, an amazing piece of literature that could be adapted. I think that would be the way to approach it.
Cinematical: Do you think you could get Kevin Spacey to play the voice of the submarine? [Spacey voices Moon's computer character.]
DJ: [laughs] The voice of the submarine itself? I don't think so. If I ever had the chance to work with Kevin Spacey again, I'd rather have him as a proper acting performance.
Cinematical: What stands out to you as a favorite summer movie memory or experience?
DJ: Memorable ones? I remember cracking open my head at Flash Gordon when I was a kid. I got so excited after the film -- I was pretty young -- I got so excited that I was jumping around and hit a metal bar, so that will stick with me. [laughs] I love big summer popcorn films, I enjoy that. I enjoyed Star Trek this year and I know I'm going to enjoy Avatar when that comes out later on this year... Lots of summer films have had a big impact on me.
Duncan Jones on his five favorite sci-fi films of all time