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Christopher Webster [Film Festival 11.07.08] post apocalyptic movie news interview scifi horror dystopic

If you were lucky enough to be at this year's San Diego Comic Con, or just one of the throngs of horror nuts in attendance at the 2008 Toronto After Dark Film Festival, you may have caught The Mutant Chronicles in one of only a handful of the film's big screen showings. You would also be considered lucky.

Love the film or hate it you can't deny that The Mutant Chronicles makes a bold statement about the possibilities of low budget scifi - that, if you get the tools in the right hands, amazing worlds and adventures can be put to celluloid (a word i use lightly as not a lick of film was used to make the film).

Recently, I got a chance to chat with director Simon Hunter, the mastermind behind what I consider to be one of the most adventurous science fiction films in years. We talked about MC's so-called "work in progress" status, whether or not it'll ever be released, and why critic Christopher Tookey is a douche.


QE: The production design of The Mutant Chronicles is all over the map. What were the main inspirations behind the creation of the world, and why did you approach the film this way?

SH: I was trying to get a fresh take on the sci fi angle - my main worry was that, with the budget we had, we could not compete with larger films if we tried the more familiar scifi landscape, (Aliens, and other such films) so we decided to try an alternative universe idea.

What if in the future we had a world that existed with only coals and other fossil fuels? We thought this is what might emerge from some large scale conflict on the planet. So, the future is the past if you see what I mean.

I wanted everything low tech - after all have we not seen little bleeping devices as the monsters get nearer a hundred times? Therefore when our heroes are traveling underground they are heading back in time, to a world buried under years of conflict. This would give us an interesting pallet to draw from - like old cities and worlds forgotten. The deeper you went down the older the world. So when our heroes are trying to get into the machine, the world around them is what remains from Roman times.

I wanted The Mutant Chronicles to at least be original, we actually wanted to go further and have everyone with gas lamps and wind up flash-lamps but it was too expensive. I wanted everything dirty and smoky - it's a very unusually look.

In order to create this world we shot the entire movie green screen which has never been done before on this budget level. We used older techniques like traditional matte paintings and miniatures to give the film a retro look. We had a small group of artists who worked night and day for many months creating our world.

QE: It's been reported that, in its current state, The Mutant Chronicles is still a work in progress. Is this actually true? If so, are there any new parties involved in this? Did anything come of the Comic Con screening? And, is there anything you would like to see improved in the film?

SH: The comic con screening went very well, also we had a great screening at the AFTER DARK festival in Canada so we have managed to get US distribution for the movie.

If the distributor would like to spend some more money on the picture then that's great. In a sense it's up to them if the movie is finished. I know there are areas that we could improve - there always are. Of course you always want to go back to a movie, usually the day after you finish a cut. Everyone did such a tremendous job on the film and whilst it's easy to criticize various images, we had to get the movie done.

I would have loved to have got rid of some of the voice over and plot explanation scenes - that was more an over reaction to preview audiences not getting the world.

I am very proud of the work so many people contributed to this film. Many people gave their heart and souls to this film I can assure you. This was a lower budget movie which people gave everything on, NOT a high budget movie that was rushed out. Every shot, every moment, had to be considered and thought about. It was the hardest thing I have ever done.

This film was a B movie, it was meant to be quick, fun, rough and entertaining in the best way, but a b movie does not mean that people did not work hard on it - in fact the opposite is true.

QE: Of course I have to ask about the ending... is it the original ending? Are there plans for any sequels?

SH:The shot of the machine going to Mars was a last minute addition that I put in. I think it retrospect it was a mistake - a kinda of scary twist but it wasn't called for - so I wish we could take it out. We had a tax deadline to finish the film for so it was very rushed and we could have taken a few more weeks just to tweak things like that. My fault, and I hope it does not ruin the movie for too many people.

QE: If not a theatrical run, is there at least a DVD release on the horizon? If so, when, with who and will there be various versions of the film included?

SH: Acutally, there will be a theatrical run in the US in the spring - a deal is being done at the moment but I cannot say more than that! So get ready!

QE: Do you have anything to say to the haters? Are you surprised at the varied response the film is getting?

SH: I really tend to not read anything in the internet as it's just not good for you. But I looked at the imdb user comments the other day and I would say this to the haters; that they have every right to dislike the movie, they are just fans and I am sorry if they don't like the film, maybe they will like the next movie I do. Just because we worked so hard on the film doesn't mean they have to love it.

The look of the movie seems to be a love it or hate it affair. I went for a painterly, unrealistic but highly stylized look, that is not to everyone's taste. Everything was bigger and more irregular than it should be in real life.

I suppose I am disappointed that nobody seems to give us credit for at least trying to be original both technically and creatively.

It's funny you hear people using the term CG - CG means computer graphics, i.e. something created from scratch in the computer, but there was very little of that in MC, very little. Mostly we were compositing backgrounds that had been shot live action, either miniatures, photos or digital matte paintings made up from various sources. For example the machine was just a miniature, nothing CG there at all.

The real problem for us was shot volume. In the cutting room there were often two people ( and one of them was me!) and we would have fifty or so shots coming in to the cut - we would have to comment on them and see how the shots effected the cut - but there was little margin for error. We tried with very, very limited resources to create a world. No one has done this before and we worked round the clock for two years on the project, all day and often long into the night. I have made a feature before and shot hundreds of commercials and shorts, I know when you are pushing people to the limits and nothing I have ever done has ever pushed people as far as this.

Every day for two years we tried to think of interesting ideas on how our world might look. A retro steam powered world- an alternative universe is what we were trying to create. Then, after all the hard work and brain storming, you read someone like Christopher Tookey, a film critic in London, say 'there isn't one single original idea in the movie'- that upsets you.

QE: For the tech-heads out there, what technology were you using to make the film, do the compositing, and get such a unique look?

SH: We shot on the viper film stream camera onto S2 data drives and never shot a frame of film. Everything including our ultra high speed photography was shot digitally usually with prototype cameras like the Phantom-HD. That gave us 0-1000 frames capability at full 1080X1920 res which was amazing. Remember, this was a few years ago now when the Red and other camera had not arrived on the scene.

We had our cutting room in the same room as our VFX artists so I could see work at an early stage that allowed us to get work turned around quickly. There was no running off to a preview theatre and see projected finished shots - it was a much more hands on approach than that.

We did nearly 1800 shots for the same amount of money that would normally buy you about one hundred. We had to make the money go around and I felt an impressionistic approach was better. Photo-real effects would have been beyond our budget. The alternative to a green screen approach would have been to have run around on a studio back lot as there was not money free for building enormous sets. The movie really would have seemed cheap and worse than that it would have seemed very familiar. We shot with a Viper camera in the film stream mode, which gives you a 4:4:4 color space. That basically means our reds blues and greens were separate channels of information which allowed us to comp our shots much quicker than normal. There vfx artists could get a key very quickly and easily.

QE:What's next after The Mutant Chronicles? Got any dream projects on the back burner? Anymore epic, mind boggling scifi?

SH:I am working with Paradox (the company behind MC and Conan) on a project but I cannot say more at the moment -(it's not Conan!) I will let you know. I would love to do a thriller - that is my favorite genre and I have a few pet projects I am pushing.

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Blake Faucette (13 years ago) Reply

I applaud his decision to do something different visually. When we did Dogs Of Chinatown, we knew we couldn't compete with much bigger budgeted films so we chose to make it very stylized to hopefully stand out from the pack. Some people like it and some don't but at least we weren't doing the same old thing. So Simon, I feel your pain. I for one will be picking up the Mutant Chronicles dvd. I'm very interested in how it was put together so hopefully there's a bunch of behind the scenes footage. I'm much more impressed when someone can take a small budget and do something like this. Sure there are films like Transformers, Spiderman 3 and Indiana Jones 4 but did money make those better? I'm more interested in watching a film that someone was passionate about making. Sounds like this film falls into that category. Agentorange - great question about what equipment was used to make this film. Us tech-heads thank you.


agentorange (13 years ago) Reply

Heh, no problem Blake. Even though I didn't understand half of what he was talking about I still find myself fascinated by the tech side of things (and I know others out there do as well). I'm takin' notes for when I make my own picture one day.... *crosses fingers*


Q (13 years ago) Reply

"Even though I didn't understand half of what he was talking about"

No s*

"Some people like it and some don't but at least we weren't doing the same old thing."

Yeah, right

Money doesn't make a film better Blake Faucette. It's yhe writing, the story, the plot, the actors and the acting is what makes a film good... and this film had none of that.

This interview doesn't make the film better at all. It's still crap.

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