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Christopher Webster [Film Festival 01.14.09] movie news interview scifi dystopic

"There's a reason that 'indie' and 'science fiction' are not often seen together in the same sentence...the film was a technical and logistical mind-f*ck! But... we pulled it off." -- Duncan Jones

Duncan Jones' Moon has quickly become one of the most anticipated films premiering at this year's Sundance Film Festival. A highly ambitious film, both technically and dramatically, Moon looks to have the potential to end up changing the face of indie sci-fi forever.

Of course like many of you, I won't be at the Sundance Fest this year (fingers crossed for next year), but as a special treat for those of you itching to know more about the film, we've got for you the whole story of Moon as told through the experiences of the film's director Duncan (don't call me Zowie) Jones.

Warning: If you've been living in a cave all year, some of what Jones discusses may seem spoilerish. For those of you who more or less know what Moon's all about you may proceed with impunity.


How did Sam Rockwell come into the part? And Kevin Spacey?

Moon was written for Sam Rockwell. I’d met with Sam about a year before making Moon to talk to him about another project. He had loved the script, but was after a different role than the one I had in mind. He tried to convince me, I tried to convince him, but it wasn’t going to work out. He asked me to keep him in mind for other projects, and we started shooting the shit. It came up that Sam was into sci-fi and that if I had something in that genre, he would love to see it. As soon as the meeting was over, I got to work. I needed to write a sci-fi film starring Sam Rockwell!

So it’s less than a year later and I get the script of Moon to him and Sam reads it. He likes it… a lot. But he’s understandably nervous. I’m new to features and how are we going to pull it off at an indie budget? Also, he’s on screen for so much of the film! There’s a lot of responsibility… but he’s intrigued as well. He loves the script and seems up for the challenge of performing against himself. He keeps telling me how amazing he thinks Jeremy Irons is in Dead Ringers, and I’m telling him that if that impresses him, he’s not going to believe what we are going to do in Moon. But it takes a while to get him to commit. About three months of me and my producer biting our nails, until we finally hear… we’re on!

We were fortunate Kevin Spacey fell into place soon after we had finished filming. He was already aware of the project, had liked the script but wanted to see a rough cut of the film before he made a decision. As soon as we had something we were happy with, we got it across to him. Even though the film was rough at that stage, with its temp sound and placeholder visual effects, Kevin was knocked out by just how good Sam’s performance was. He signed on then and there.

What type of preparation did you need to do prior to shooting?

Sam and I did a week of rehearsals in New York to help feel out what worked and what didn’t in the script. Sam’s buddy, the incredibly talented Yul Vazquez, helped us out, playing foil to Sam as needed. We honed, improv’d and improved the script to such a point I ended up having to do a substantial rewrite when I got back to London. I can’t tell you how much goodness came out of those rehearsals though. The difference between hearing scenes read in your head, and seeing how they work when an actor as good as Sam gets hold of them is huge. Unnerving.

The technical side of the shoot required military precision; I don’t want to give too much away as it might be a spoiler, but when you see the film, there are a number of “how the hell did they do that” moments. I’m very proud of that fact, especially with us being an indie.

Have you worked with writer Nathan Parker previously?

I have not! Nathan came into the picture because my usual collaborator, Mike Johnson, was working on the Robert Downey Jnr Sherlock Holmes script. Mike and I go back a bit, having gone to film school together, and we’ve written a number of projects together, hopefully one of which will be my next film.

I was introduced to Nathan through my agent. I am pretty hands on when it comes to writing, but I f***ing hate first drafts. I write extensive, usually 20 or 30 page treatments and beat lists, and then I hand it over to the writer I am working with to get my first draft done, then I alternate drafts with the writer. In the case of Moon, Nathan did the second draft as well based on my notes, as I was crazy busy shooting a commercial at the time. That’s pretty much the way it worked with Nathan, and I was very happy with what he did. He’s an easygoing, very talented guy.

Was there a particular scene that stands out in your mind when you were shooting the film?

In all honesty, the film was a technical and logistical mind-f*ck! There is a reason that “indie” and “science fiction” are not often seen together in the same sentence, but I’m so excited that we pulled it off.

There was a particular scene that became so complicated and so technical that all of us had to take a step back, delay shooting the scene for a few days while we thought it through a little more, before coming back to it. It was worth it though; it ended up becoming one of those film moments where the audience are going to be talking about it afterwards, trying to work out how we did it.

What was the biggest challenge making the film?

You know who Takeru Kobayashi is? His nickname is “Big Wave,” and he’s the Japanese world speed-eating champion. He has a world record for having eaten 53 and a half hotdogs, with buns, in just 12 minutes.

Basically Moon was the film making equivalent.

We made a honest to goodness science fiction film, with an exciting, intense, heart-wrenching story, an amazing performance by an extrodinary actor, choc-full of gorgeous special effects in 12 minutes, and with the help of only one, small Japanese teenage boy. Ok, not that last bit. But we did do it in 33 days and with an indie budget.

What do you want audiences to walk away with?

I’m a nerd, I’m a sci-fi geek, but I’m also a hopeless romantic and a lover of movies.

I want other nerds to leave the theatre tapping away on their I-Phones, looking up Helium 3 as a potential fuel for fusion power generation, and discussing the prospects of Lunar mining.

I want sci-fi geeks to be jumping around excitedly, chattering about how cool the rovers, harvesters and base were as they stuff their faces with post-movie pizza. I want them to be outdoing each-other trying to catch all the little homage’s paid to sci-fi films of the past, and talking about how Moon rates compared to Outland, Silent Running and Alien.

I want the romantics to be teary-eyed, having a little shared moment with the people they love, or calling them up if they are far away.

But most importantly I want people who love movies to say, "That was pretty damn good. I wonder what these guys are going to do next…"

How was your story, its conception, structure and/or execution, shaped by the forces affecting cinema today?

Moon was a challenge to write. There were a set of pretty stringent criteria that we had come up with for ourselves, in order to give us the best chance of getting the film made.

I had to keep in mind a very limited budget, keep the cast as small as possible, write something that would best be done in a controlled, studio environment all while utilizing a very specific set of visual effects that would maximize production value for minimum cost. All that, and we didn’t want it to feel like a little British film. To quote Donald Rumsfeld, these were the "known knowns'."

I knew from before I began that I wanted Sam Rockwell to play the lead; I was writing it specifically for him, so it had to have something fundamentally challenging or at least exciting for him to get his teeth into as an actor, but the film as a whole also needed to have main stream appeal.

I have always been a fan of science fiction films. In my mind, the golden age of SF cinema was the 70s, early 80s, when films like Silent Running, Alien, Blade Runner and Outland told human stories in future environments. I wanted to make a film that felt like it could fit into that cannon.

Gavin Rothery, my concept artist and long time fellow nerd and I, also knew that by going in that direction we could use old school techniques, model miniatures, a retro, (and cost effective,) production design and then build a layer of contemporary CG effects on top of it to create a hybrid live action/CG look. It’s something we had done numerous times in commercials, and it creates a sumptuous and textured look; beyond what you get with pure CG. But its something you don’t see much of in feature films.

This became the underlying armature I would have to build my story on top of. These restrictive but in some ways inspiring criteria.

It didn't take long to nail the location. The Moon always seemed to me to be an obvious place to do a science fiction film; it's floated above our head since civilization began, and yet it still remains so mysterious. It's a location that everyone could relate to, and I wanted Sam's story to be something that everyone could also relate to.

It occurred to me that I could address many of the criteria we had set ourselves if Sam were to play multiple roles. Sam would get a challenge as an actor, I could keep my cast small and as a team we could focus most of our efforts on achieving a very specific type of visual effect. Cloning seemed to fit well into the embryonic story of a man stuck in a moon base I was playing with. But cloning is just about bodies. Identical twins are technically clones. What matters is what's inside, and if thats the same... or in Moons case, three years apart, what happens? Thats when I got excited. It was a pure, universal and important question that I didn't believe I had seen addressed in many films, (filmophiles out there, if Im wrong, please forgive me,)...

“If you met you in person, would you like yourself?”

I think it’s the most brutal, honest and human question there is… and that makes it perfect for Sci-Fi.

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S (13 years ago) Reply

“If you met you in person, would you like yourself?”
Not in film as far as i know, but a few times in scifi television.
Atleast one episode of startrek. (riker got split into two - they didn't like eachother)
Outer limits i think had several episodes on the subject of self.
And i think in some SGA parallel universe episode aswell, but can't be sure.

Looking forward to this.. been dying for a proper dish of oldskool space scifi since.. well, the eighties.


Eric (13 years ago) Reply

Just saw 'Moon' and loved it! It's amazing that in the same month we've seen one the of the worst, most anti-humanity sci-fi films ever (Revenge of the Fallen), and one of the best most heartfelt (Moon)


Joe McAvoy (13 years ago) Reply

I love Sci Fi and I loved this movie. The scene where Rockwell calls his daughter, leans back and cries 'I want to go home' (when in fact, he as clone had never been home) moved me as a human and challenged me intellectutally. Wonderful. Thank You.


Liz (12 years ago) Reply

How about "Multiplicity"?

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