Interview: Duncan Jones

We talk to Moon director Duncan Jones.

_J1T1449SciFiNow recently had the pleasure of interviewing Moon director Duncan Jones, and among all the sci-fi related chatter we learnt a great deal about this exciting new talent. You can read the interview below.

What can you tell us about the origin of Moon’s story? How much of it was based on concerns over where modern science is currently heading?

In a sense, the setting, the world we described in the film was secondary to the human character drama. But what was there from science was based on a non-fiction book by Professor Robert Zubrin, who used to work with NASA. He wrote a book called Entering Space, which is all about how you would go about colonising the solar system in a financially viable way. His argument was that we can’t rely on government entities to push the space program through to the point where we colonise the solar system, so it would have to be done by private enterprise. One of the early chapters of that book was about going to the moon and setting a Helium 3 mining facility in order to harvest Helium 3, which could be used as a fuel for fusion power.

The film presents some unforeseen consequences of that plan, doesn’t it?

I think there are some very tongue-in-cheek similarities between what a Helium 3 mining facility might do, and what the petro-chemical industry does today. If you put a profit driven company in charge of excavating resources on behalf of humanity, they’re going to find every possible way to squeeze as much money out of it. And if you’re not able to keep them accountable then they’ll be cutting corners. And that’s what we’re able to describe, even though our company, Lunar Industries, is technically a green energy company.

If human drama was the influence for Moon, rather than science, was there another work of fiction or perhaps a personal element that contributed to the idea?

Oh, absolutely, there was definitely a personal element. When I met up with Sam [Rockwell, Moon’s lead actor], we were discussing making a film that referenced those old films from the Seventies and Eighties like Outland, Silent Running and Ridley Scott’s Alien. What we loved about those films is that they were about blue collar working people, in space, and we thought that those kinds of believable characters weren’t being presented in science fiction any more. That’s really what we wanted to do, and the whole idea of loneliness and isolation, being far away from the people that you love was something that I wanted to talk about, because I felt that I had some experience of that when I went off to graduate school in national Tennessee for three years. And the whole idea of long-distance relationships was something that Sam and I could both relate to, because our respective girlfriends were both living far away when we were writing and making the film.

What kind of lengths did you go to in order to create that kind of mood on set?

Well the set itself was a completely self-contained 360-degree environment. The inside of the base we built completely so that you would go in through the airlocks at the beginning of the day when we were shooting, and they would close the door behind us. It was almost like being there, shooting on location, other than the normal Earth gravity. I think that had a big impact, particularly for Sam who was performing on his own, and we had a very small crew. I think it helped give the whole film a sense of isolation.

Sam Rockwell has to portray a number of different personae within the film, if only one character. How did you draw those different performances out of him?

I was very fortunate that my producer, Stuart Fenegan was able to ensure that we got a full week of rehearsals before the shoot. And we were able to really break down the script, work through it and differentiate between these two different main characters that Sam Rockwell performs. And I think that gave us a huge lead once we got to shooting time, so that we could then concentrate on the technical side of things. But even when we were shooting, we were still refining it and Sam and I were still discussing how to differentiate the characters. It was an ongoing process.

We found the role of GERTY, the robot, fascinating…

Well, I mean, you’re from a science-fiction publication and I think if anyone’s going to appreciate what we’re trying to do with homages… There are quite a few in the film and one of the most obvious is the parallel between GERTY and HAL 9000 from 2001, and that was all part and parcel of it, to create this speaking robot part. During the writing process, I had to ask myself: “Do you pretend that HAL didn’t exist or do you accept that and play upon peoples’ expectations, because of their history of robots and thinking machines?” And that’s the route that I want to take, to let the audience have certain assumptions, let them think that they’re ahead of the game. And that makes it more fun for us when we take the film in a different direction.

Next: Robots, creativity and Mute