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Marina Antunes [Celluloid 07.08.20] scifi

Gavin Rothery has been in the entertainment business for a number of years, first as a comic book artists and then as a concept artist for video games before getting his toes wet with movie-making when he and long-time friend and collaborator Duncan Jones created Moon.

After working with Jones on the development and production of the highly acclaimed sci-fi film, Rothery decided to take a crack at movie-making on his own and a decade later, we have Archive.

The film stars Theo James as George, a scientist working on an a life-like AI that will integrate human memories and essentially allow individuals to live on forever in artificial bodies. Featuring impressively sleek designs, assured direction and a knock-out performance from James, Archive is an impressive debut feature from a talented director with vision and while some of the concepts aren't exactly new, the film is wonderfully effective.

We had a chance to catch up with Rothery in advance of the film's release on July 10.

Quiet Earth: You come at filmmaking from a really interesting place, specifically as a conceptual artist working in video games and films. How did you get into that industry?

Gavin Rothery: I got into games through my illustration. I used to work in comics artist back in the day and that got me in the games industry. And then I met Duncan Jones at a games company and he was just finishing a film school and he is a writer at a games company who wanted to be a film director. So we just hung out, became friends, ended up working together for 10 years.

I was a CG artist and the concept artist and we just basically worked on everything together. We did some commercials, some promos and stuff and eventually, after like 10 years of working together trying to make a film, we were finally able to make Moon.

I wasn't really thinking about film at all until I met Duncan. He kinda like pulled me into it just by doing stuff. I knew in part it it was because we were living together and me being enthusiastic and just helping him basically. And then when we made Moon. That whole film came from just me and him figuring stuff out in our flat so I was right there the whole way through. By the time we finished the movie, Duncan had moved out to LA and he was trying to get me to move out there. I had just met a girl here in London, so I stayed behind and I just doing my own thing. The whole process was completely demystified to me at that point. I'd seen the whole thing and I just felt like I could do it myself. So I figured I'd just have a go see what happens.

So you made your first short film, The Last Man?

Yeah. I mean, I'm sounding quite glib like "I'll just have a go just the film." It was a nine year slog. I had to meet the right people. I had to learn how to write to be able to get their story the way I wanted it. It took off and on nine years but it's worth it. I'm here now but it was a lot of hard work.

How long did it take you to write the script and did the story change over that nine-year period?

The story was quick. I had that story in 2011 and it was all there and I was trying to work with another writer. I'd never written a script before and I've always had a lot of ideas and I could talk to them. It took me about two and a half months to figure out the story back in 2011. At that point, we could have gone to the pub together, sat down and said over the pint and I could have told you Archive and it would have sounded great and you would have got it but I'd never written a script. I didn't even understand the concept of doing a treatment.

So my deal was that I'd find a writer to work with. I will tell them what I want them to write and they can give me the script. So I spent nearly four years explaining exactly what I wanted and he just wasn't coming back to me with the right stuff so I decided to have a go at myself. I was really frustrated and figured I'd just figure it out myself. Lots of other people have done it so it can't be the most impossible thing ever. I just needed to the careful. I needed to figure out my own process and just make sure that at any point I could wind it back and modify the process if things weren't working out. So that's what I did.

One of the things that was really annoying over those like nine years taken to do this is that when another film comes out, one which is somewhat in the same space, I'm just like, "Oh my God, I'll go see that immediately. What if they've told the same story I wanted to tell?" So that's been a little bit frustrating, but at the end of the day, we've got to where we are now.

The thing is the ideas are quite zeitgeist now, but they weren't quite as zeitgeist back in 2011. The whole thing about post-death survival and robotics and AI... all that kind of stuff, is getting more and more prescient as time goes on. I guess it's kind of inevitable, but these kinds of things caught up. I'm just glad I got to a point where I could get the film made.

Once your script was done, how did you start approaching people about giving you money to make the movie?

From my perspective as a writer/director, I've got a lot of cards in my hand because I'm generating my own material. By the time I got to that point what I really need is a good producer that can get the money and is committed to the project and they will make the other things happen. So I only really need to make one thing happen and the producer will do the rest. I got really lucky.

And I will say this to anybody who is getting into this: if you pull it off and you look back, there are going to be times when you look back and realize that you got really lucky. So don't feel back. Take those lucky breaks and seize them with both hands go and build on top of them as quickly as you can and push it forward. So if you get some luck, happy days! Just recognize it and see it and go for it.

I was doing the whole grind and thing of trying to stand on top of what I'd done previously and Moon put me in a good position because the production company I worked with on the Archive, Independent, when we were doing Moon, we took them in to see if they wanted to produce and finance it. And they passed on the film. And then we went off and got the film made ourselves and then came back and they bought the film for distribution and made a lot of money on sales.

Internally Independent were trying to make another film, but actually to produce this time. What happened was that a really good friend of mine actually ended up becoming the editor on the film, Adam Biskupski, he's worked for the independent before. He's also worked with Lynn Ramsey, who'd worked with them before. So they knew each other. And what happened was my producer Philip [Herd], was looking for a bunch of people to get together and talk, to get a bunch of trust of brands together and talk about how they might be able to get project together. He asked if anyone had any ideas and Phil [Hunt] said "You don't need to do any of this stuff. You just need to talk to my guy Gavin who made Moon with Duncan."

So I actually had a very easy time with finding a production company because they were looking for something that I had and the reason they wanted it was because of what I'd already done. It wasn't a done deal by any means but it got me a producer and a production company. So that was one of those fortune moments.

And at that point they went on to get the other things together because this was before I actually got the script together. So that was all done on a treatment and conversations.

How did the robot designs come together?

There are three robots in the film and there is an evolution there. And the whole thing is back to the storyline, the idea of being, you spent a lot less time on J1, and J2 than on J3 because she's the final version. As far as designing myself, I knew that we would be restricted with money, so it was going to be actors in costumes which is great I mean, that's Star Wars right? I'm totally into that. So J1 and J2 we're always going to be actors in costumes and so would J3 but J3 needed a little bit more, she needed to be obviously a machine. So opted to, very early on, commit a chunk of the budget towards the sole visual effect of taking her legs off, just so that helped dehumanized her into an obvious machine.

Aesthetically designing the robots I was just following my nose. I really, really wanted to make sure that they couldn't express themselves with a face. I really wanted them to have that kind of blank slate. I did a thing in the direction which was a kind of a bouncing effect and what I was keen to do was let Theo [James] guide the performance of the robots. So when you look at the robots, especially with J2, whenever J2 and Theo are talking, J2 isn't really doing much. The performance is actually coming from Theo and how he reacts to her and how he gives her space to work around him. That stuff was all set up quite consciously because I just felt if I could pull it off, it would enable the actor to drive the performances and that would keep it very tight and very dramatic. I didn't need somebody in that kind of big boxy costume walking around going "I am a robot." That cliche stuff. I was just keen to kind of let the actors push it. The movie is really an actors' film.

You mention Theo James and he's quite impressive here but it's not the type of rile we usually see him in. Was he a bit of a gamble?

I wouldn't say he's the only gamble. The whole thing in a gamble. You just have to follow your nose and try to the do right thing.

The thing about Theo is that when you meet him, it's quite clear how much that guy's got going on. He's one of those guys that could have a very easy career if he wanted to, cruising on the handsome man in film to get paid with all the girls swooning over him and driving off in his sports car. He could be one of those people who could like have a very nice life by just doing that. But he's not like that. He's a super smart guy, annoyingly h funny and just a really lovely bloke.

When I met him, we spent a bit of time hanging out and stuff. I felt like there was a lot of Theo that we'd never seen on screen. And also, I would say his theater work, he does quite a bit of stage work, to see him perform on stage... he really shines. Watching him on stage, just completely taking over a play... I was just so impressed with how he did it. He has the whole audience with him.

I could tell that he had what Archive needed and I was super excited about the possibility of that kind of performance coming out of nowhere so when people watch the film, it’s like seeing a new Theo. I mean he was hitting the scenes, he worked it all out. Just being able to work with people like that is just wonderful.

And Stacy [Martin] is so good. Finding a believable partner for Theo was tricky because he's Mr. Handsome and coming up with a believable other half was something we concentrated hard on getting just right because so often the vision of love that you're presented is two beautiful people kissing in front of the sunset and like that trope. And I just wanted to try and get the emotions and get more of a real connection between George and J3 and portray Jules as a woman that would appeal to George.

What's next for you?

The big question! Well, hopefully I'll get to make another film. I honestly have a folder on my hard drive with probably about 30, 40, 50 projects, all at different stages of interest. It's just things that interest me. I'm sure most of these are never going to be anything but hopefully, one or two of them might become something. I don't want to go into too much of it right now, but I am working on a sci-fi piece that I'm super into and that's going to be the big thing that I'm pushing. I also have a comedy thing which I'm working on with an one of my old comic compadre so we're working on a sci-fi comedy. And we're working on my site by comedies. I've got a couple of things in the works and hopefully, I'll be able to bring them to you after we get out of this pandemic business.

he studio was able to make a theatrical release happen now for Archive. The film will be playing at the virtual cinema screening, on demand and digital July 10.

LA Vineland DI City of Industry, CA
LA Mission Tiki DI Montclair, CA
LA Van Buren DI Riverside, CA
LA Rubidoux DI Riverside, CA
WDC Alamo Drafthouse Winchester Winchester, VA
MIN Emagine Theatre East Bethel, MN
MIN Emagine Theatre Lakeville, MN
MIN Emagine Theatre Eagan, MN
MIN Emagine Theatre White Bear, MN
MIN Emagine Theatre Monticello, MN
MIN Emagine Theatre Rogers, MN
MIN Emagine Theatre Willow Creek, MN
CLE Atlas Midway Mall Elyria, OH
CLE Atlas Great Lakes Stadium Mentor, OH
CLE Atlas Diamond Center Mentor, OH
CLE Atlas Shaker Square Cleveland, OH
CLE Atlas Lakeshore Euclid, OH
CLE Atlas Eastgate Mayfield Heights, OH
IND Tibbs DI Indianapolis, IN
SD South Bay DI San Diego, CA
DAY Dixie DI Dayton, OH
LEX Hillside Theater Hazard, KY
TOL Skye Cinema Wauseon, OH
TRI Cinema 4 Rogersville, TN
BSM Grand Theatres Bismarck, ND
RAP Elks Twin Rapid City, SD

Recommended Relase: Ex Machina

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Digger (1 year ago) Reply

Fantastic little sci-fi film, that didn't have to resort to cliched violence to get the story moving. Well done.

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