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June 16, 2009
Interview with Duncan Jones, Director of Moon
Posted by CoolerKing in Interviews
Duncan Jones is the talented, fascinating young man whose directorial debut, the psychological science fiction drama, Moon, is about to thrill audiences around the country. Moon is a fantastic film about an astronaut (Sam Rockwell) stuck in a space-station on the moon where he mines an energy-producing substance and sends it back to Earth. His three-year assignment with only a robot pal (voiced by Kevin Spacey) to talk to is finally coming to an end, but his last few days on the lunar surface prove to be more than a little unusual. After an accident, he discovers a younger version of himself who claims to be starting his three-year assignment. More psychological sci-fi than action, Moon is one of the best debuts of the year and Jones recently down with MovieRetriever to discuss the film.


MOVIE RETRIEVER: Let's start with something that you might not get asked about every day - the score. Clint Mansell's (The Fountain) excellent work is my favorite of the year and almost acts like another character in the film. Can you speak about the importance of his work on Moon?

DUNCAN JONES: Clint's big time. The opportunity to have him on this film didn't seem very likely. We thought he would be way out of our budget. I had met him before. I knew him a little bit from before we had made the film. I knew I could get to him. It was just whether or not he'd be willing to do it. We'd shot the film and we had already started doing the cut and in the offline as a temporary track, we had been using some Requiem for a Dream tracks and some stuff from The Insider as well. Clint's was the music that I really wanted us to have. My producer and I talked about and thought all he could do is say no, so let's get in touch with him. I went the indirect route and talked straight to Clint. Clint's English. He loved the project and I showed him some rough cuts and he got very excited about it but I think there was a little element of patriotism there as well. A little British, independent, science fiction film.


MOVIE RETRIEVER: Whenever there's a little sci-fi film, people like to compare it to other films. When I talked to Sam last year, he compared it to Silent Running. I've heard some compare it to Solaris. From you, what were the direct influences on Moon?

JONES: Silent Running is a fair one. Outland is a fair one. On the visual side, the first half, the human habitation section of Alien, as a visual influence. For the character of GERTY the robot, obviously HAL from 2001. That's a fair reference. For people who haven't seen the film who say, "Oh it looks like just a 2001 remake." It's NOT. It's nothing like 2001. But you can't get away from the character of HAL in GERTY. There's definite lineage there. Those were the main sci-fi influences.


MOVIE RETRIEVER: Were there NON-sci-fi influences?

JONES: Most of the stuff was quite personal, to be honest. Story-wise, it was really something that I came up with because I wanted to address a few things in my own experience - the idea of being able to meet yourself and talk to a younger version of yourself and maybe give yourself a little slap. Or tell yourself that everything is going to be okay. That was something I found interesting and assumed that everyone has gone through - wanting to be able to tell the younger you that either everything is going to be fine or that you need to change something. I thought that would be interesting drama. Also, while I was writing, I was going through a really painful, horrible, long-distance relationship that was a heartbreaker. I wanted to talk about that - the paranoia and what you go through when you're trying to maintain a long-distance relationship. So, again, that was a very personal thing that became incorporated into the story.

MOVIE RETRIEVER: Isolation is certainly a major part of the film. How do you create isolation for Sam on a film set when you have fifty people behind the camera? How do you sell that he's alone when modern audiences are keen to the idea that LA or wherever you shot it is just around the corner?

JONES: One of the things you can do is have a 360 degree set with lighting integrated into the set. Our cinematographer had a very small crew with a very lightweight lighting rig that he could bring around with him. We kept a fairly quiet set. And Sam being the only actor as well - there was an immediate sense of loneliness for him. Yes, there's a crew, but crews and actors tend not to buddy up most of the time. They're quite separate entities. So, Sam was quite lonely and isolated on the set. He had the makeup people that he'd see when we went up for makeup change. But other than me, who kept a pretty serious demeanor on set... it wasn't like a Tarantino set. It was a very different approach.


MOVIE RETRIEVER: Did you get any rehearsal time?

JONES: Yes, I was very fortunate. We had about a week of rehearsals in New York. Sam, myself, and one of Sam's actor buddies. We broke the script down and went through it scene by scene. We tried a lot of improv. We tried to get into how differentiate the two Sams. What made Sam #1 and Sam #2 different? Sam had a lot of details about the background of the character that didn't even make the script. I would either know it or I would make it up in a way that could be cohesive with the rest of it, so we both felt comfortable knowing where things were coming from.

MOVIE RETRIEVER: Why have a screenwriter write your story? Why not write it yourself? (Jones has story credit but Nathan Parker screenplay.)

JONES: I always write collaboratively. My regular writer is this guy named Mike Johnson. At the time that I needed to do Moon, he was working on Guy Ritchie's Sherlock Holmes. We have a number of films that we've written together. In this case, it was my first feature and it was Nathan's first feature. It seemed like I was going to get my opportunity as a director and Nathan needed his opportunity as a writer, but it was very much a collaborative work.

MOVIE RETRIEVER: Did you always have Sam in mind?

JONES: It was written FOR Sam. I met with Sam about three years ago to discuss another script - one that Mike and I had written together. He loved it but it was slightly too ambitious as a first feature and it wasn't something that we were going to be able to make. But Sam and I got along very well and we just started talking about the kinds of roles that he wanted to play as an actor and I told him that I would write something for him because I wanted him to be in my first film.


MOVIE RETRIEVER: What was the most surprising thing about Sam as an actor and what he brought to the character?

JONES: It wasn't so much a surprise... First of all, Sam is by very nature very improvisational. This film requires the antithesis of that in terms of how we shoot it. It's so technical. One of the pleasant surprises is that we found a way of working together where Sam was still able to have his improvisational input even during the shoot and I was still able to do technically what I needed to do. But I'm not sure if there was any big surprises. Sam obviously brought a lot more humor to the role than was originally intended but that was HUGELY to the benefit of the film. Sam very much explained to me why he wanted to do that. As a story, it's so down in parts that you really need those moments of levity to let the audience breathe and feel the rest of the story. I learned from that and it's something I will carry with me.

MOVIE RETRIEVER: How did you and Sam manage the jump between the two characters?

JONES: We did have, in the back of our minds, some rough archetypes. Sam #1 was kind of a little more hippie-dippie. He'd kind of mellowed out over the years and he was a little bit bumbling in some ways. We didn't want to play it up too much but it was a way to immediately get into that character and then we could tone it down. Sam #2 was kind of angry, a bit aggressive, but he does actually change over the course of the film and he mellows out and becomes much more sympathetic and almost brotherly to Sam #1. Those were the two types and it was really gauging where they were over the course of the film.

MOVIE RETRIEVER: You mentioned seeing yourself younger but Sam #2 has the same arc of seeing himself older.

JONES: Absolutely. And that's why Sam #2 is so pissed off at Sam #1. "That's me?!?! This idiot is ME?" That's something that Sam Rockwell and I talked about a lot. Sam #2 would be seeing this thing and thinking, "There but the grace of three years go I."

MOVIE RETRIEVER: I'm not sure we all want to see ourselves in three years.

JONES: (Laughs.) It's like those YouTube people who take a picture a day.

MOVIE RETRIEVER: What inspired the design of the base? I love that it's not too slick.

JONES: Our big homage is to science fiction films of the '70s and '80s. There's two homages. There's the type of film in that it's about a character, a blue-collar guy, and how the environment affects them as opposed to lantern-jawed heroes going from one set piece to another. That was one homage. The other homage is obviously the aesthetic. That was straight out of films like Outland and Alien. Those were the two touchstones. The work of Ron Kolb, Syd Mead, Douglas Trumbull, Ridley Scott.


MOVIE RETRIEVER: It sounds to me like you're a sci-fi fan in general.

JONES: Definitely.

MOVIE RETRIEVER: Why do you think it's so prominent this summer? Moon, Terminator, Star Trek...

JONES: We thought we may be restarting a whole interesting in sci-fi and then you get to the summer and there's a load of science fiction films. (Laughs.) Everyone must have been thinking the same thing. Star Trek makes total sense. There hasn't been one in awhile and I think J.J. did a great job of reinvigorating it.

MOVIE RETRIEVER: You liked it?

JONES: Yes. Watching it, it did sort of remind me of some things about Star Trek that I missed that WEREN'T in the film. But I'm sure that... It was a good starting place for a new franchise and it was a great starting place. If J.J. decides to do a sequel, I'm sure he will venture into the territory that I miss from the TV show - the idea of venturing to new places. That side of it.


JONES: I think you're a very, very brave man to try and make a sequel to a James Cameron film. I think Cameron himself is one of the few people to make a successful sequel - Aliens - from the Ridley Scott film. But I wouldn't try and do that. (Laughs.) You've got to have very special chops to do a sequel to a James Cameron film. I can't wait for James Cameron's Avatar. That should be really interesting. But other than Avatar, which we'll have to see, they have been fairly stereotypical Hollywood films. Some work better than others but this is very different from anything else.


MOVIE RETRIEVER: Did you use miniatures?

JONES: Yeah.


JONES: A couple of reasons. One was, again, trying to recreate that aesthetic from the old films. Speaking of Cameron, he used them for all of the Aliens stuff and it still holds up. It looks fantastic. And we were lucky that were still a couple of old-timers out there who worked on those films that were willing to come and work with us. I'm not sure we could have done it without them. Bill Pearson, who built our miniatures, built the Nostromo. These are really specialized guys. Special effects-wise, science fiction films had really reached a high point with practical effects with Alien, and then everything disappeared because people went with CG. The craftsmanship disappeared because people weren't paying for it any more. We were only able to get Bill Pearson because he runs this little shop at Shepperton building props for other films. He doesn't even really get to do what he used to do any more. This film was a unique opportunity.

MOVIE RETRIEVER: It's so illogical. Recent CG films look so much more dated than miniature films. I, Robot already looks more dated than Aliens.

JONES: Absolutely. To give credit where it's due, we have a hybrid look - it's miniatures with post-production on top of it. It's something that those old films weren't able to do but it definitely keeps within the spirit of what they would have wanted to do. And some of our most ambitious effects shots are ones that you don't even notice.


JONES: Hopefully, Mute. It's another science fiction film. It's the other side of the coin from Moon. Moon is this small, quiet film about isolation and alienation. Within the same timeline of Moon, I want to tell a city film, a story that takes place in future Berlin and it's a thriller. It's very much paying homage to Blade Runner. It's that vibe. And Sam's actually agreed to do a little cameo in it and we'll do a little epilogue about what happened to Sam in the next film. It's very much the other side of the coin.

MOVIE RETRIEVER: I don't want to lock you in but are you only interested in sci-fi?

JONES: Just these first two. I think these work as a companion set. It kind of worked for Ridley Scott and for James Cameron to do a pair of science fiction films first. (Laughs.) Kinda. If I could get anywhere near that, I'd be very happy.

- Moon is playing in select cities now and opens around the country this month, including in Chicago on June 19th, 2009.

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Posted by CoolerKing in Interviews - June 16, 2009 at 12:06 PM
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