Duncan Jones makes his feature film debut as director in the new Sony Pictures Classic MOON, which opens in limited release on June 12th. MOON is a science fiction adventure with a human interest element that moviegoers will enjoy. I had the pleasure of chatting with Duncan to discuss his newfound journey.
Eclipse Magazine: Duncan, how did you get involved with the film?
DUNCAN JONES: Well, I wrote the original story because I had a meeting with Sam Rockwell. I wanted to work with him on my first feature film because I done commercials for a few years. I had the opportunity to meet with him. I fed him the script and he really liked it. It was for different project. He actually wanted to play a different role than the one I wanted him to do. So we met up in New York so we can run into each other, that didn’t work out but we got on really well. We started talking about bring some films we both love and the kind of roles as an actor that he was interested in playing. That gave me the genesis and the material to come up with something for him. So, I wrote MOON for Sam Rockwell.
EM: Why did you choose MOON to be your debut as a feature film director?
DJ: It was going to have to be very low budget. It always is for a first film. but at the same time. I wanted to make something which looked more ambitious and more commercial in someways. I wanted to be a science fiction film. I wanted to do something which gave Sam Rockwell a challenge as an actor. These were all kinds of consideration. We look at the things together. While I was writing the film, it was really a shopping list of ideas about what would I see in order to make it work as a feature film.
EM: How did go about casting the characters? We touched on how Sam Rockwell was cast. How about the other cast members?
DJ: As you know there is a limited number of cast in the film, but there are a few important people who are in the film. There’s Sam obviously and there is also Kevin Spacey who does the voice of Gerty, the robot in the film. I am a fan of science fiction films. Obviously, Gerty is a fond memory of HAL from 2001. I knew that anyone else like me would be
kinda bringing that memory of HAL when they see the film. I wanted to play with the linkage because I can shake up what their expectations to take them in a different direction. Kevin Spacey’s voice really helped me do that. Like HAL, Gerty has a history of people making assumptions about him.
EM: What was it like to work with Sam Rockwell & Kevin Spacey, two of the most versatile actors of today?
DJ : It was a very different experience. With Sam I was working with him a huge amount of the time. All the time we were very close, always working & talking about things. We were together for thirty-three shooting days and we did rehearsals before then. Sam & I are very close in age. We have similar backgrounds and going thru similar situations in our lives at the time. We had a lot of things in common. It was very easy for me to communicate to him.
Kevin Spacey, on the otherhand, he was involved very briefly towards the end of filming because it was just of voice recording. The great things was that when Kevin read the script, he really understood the science fiction references like HAL from 2001 and Huey, Duey, & Louie from Silent Running. He was able to get into character immediately. We played around with a few variations on voices. We had a little bit of extra time. So just for the fun of it, he did a Christopher Walken impersonation which was comical.
EM: How will Moon set the tone for today’s audiences?
DJ: Well, what we try to do is try to tell a human story. Although is science fiction, you will get a visual feast. It’s visually very beautiful, the film we made. It is about the present. It’s about Sam’s character and what he goes through. It’s about very human questions such as “If you met yourself in person, would you like yourself or would you allow seeing your faults?” That’s what it was about the old science fiction films that I loved. They focused on human questions and it helps human beings fit into these future environments. I guess it can relate to an audience from any time really.
EM: I have read somewhere that you have always been a fan of science fiction films. And you referred to the golden age of SF cinema being the late 70’s early 80’s that told human stories. Which movies from the golden age do you enjoy?
DJ: The film I have been thinking about lately is Westworld which what I thought was amazing science fiction for its time. It addresses the question what it really means to be a human being. It’s a really nice use of science fiction & technology to set up an environment to really investigate that question.
EM: In the movie, the audience is part of Sam Bell’s journey as he is the only Man on the moon facing isolation for 3 years? Did you research about the human condition while on the moon because to me you really captured it in this movie.
DJ: Actually, no not that much. I have personal experience because I was in graduate school. I had locked away in my room working for a long time. I think a lot of people these days almost get that experience being in that position. A lot of the socializing we do is on IMs or email or things like that. There is a lot less human interaction than there used to be. We can all relate to this idea of not having direct human communication all the time.
On a serious note, there was this great book by Robert Zubrin called Entering Space. It was all about colonizing the Solar System. I got a lot of good starters from that book.
EM: How does the book transcribes to your inspiration for “MOON”?
DJ: There was a particular chapter in the Zubrin book about colonizing the Moon. What he put his finger on is that only way to go about doing this is if we do it in a way which is financially viable. It pays for itself, if it becomes profitable as a business. You can see how people like Richard Branson who basically taken the entire infrastructure of space travel/tourism industry. If we were to go to the Moon, it’s going to be because we have a need to go there or a way to make money there.
Helium-3 Mining is his argument, his reason to do it. It’s a resource that we could use for fusion power for the future. It could use for a clean burning fuel for potentially near limitless supply of energy for the future. His book is worth reading about the Helium-3 as a resource. That’s is the hard science behind the film.
EM: What is the one thing you have learned about directing your first film that it will your life lesson for hear on out
DJ: I used to do commercials before I did the feature. The difference doing commercials and feature film industry especially independent films is with commercials you basically shoot something as many times and taking as much time you need to get it right. With feature films, you really need to pick your moments. A lot of the times, you could just throw your plans out of the window and come up with an entirely new way to do things. That’s one of things I learned while doing the feature is that its okay to do that. I was very meticulous in my planning when I did commercials. With feature films, sometimes, you have to shoot from the hip and learn to do things on the fly. That was my biggest lesson and I liked working that way.
EM: How did it feel when you first heard the news that your debut was selected for the Sundance Film Festival, what was you initial reaction?
DJ: It was massive boost for the prospects of the film. Sundance is the premiere place to go when you have an indie film. It was a very difficult decision for us because it was like “Do we go to Sundance?” or “Do we try to save the film and maybe go to Cannes in Europe?” Since, Cannes is the place where you take indie films in Europe. To me, it was more important to go to Sundance to get the American audience like it and enthusiastic because seemed to be a natural home to the film.
EM: Can you tell us about your next project?
DJ: Basically, it’s along the lines of Silent Running, Outland, and the original Alien. The working title is Mute. It’s going to be my lost thoughts of Blade Runner, one of my favorite science fiction films. I’m very excited about it.
EM: What would you advise up & coming directors today if they want to get into directing. How would you start and where would you go?
DJ: If you want to get into directing, the first rule is don’t feel you have to attend film school. Try to get on the set of professional films if you can or basically anything you can shoot yourself can be a wonderful experience and you can learn a lot. Try to surround yourself with other people who are also interested in being part of t.he thought project. If you can get together a small team of three and act professionally as you do in what you are doing, you create that momentum of being together to achieve a common goal rather than fighting against the world on your own. You can find a good editor, director, writer, and actor. Teamwork is what its all about.
EM: Moon will be released to limited on June 12th. Duncan, it’s a pleasure and I wish all the best in your future success.
DJ: Thank you so much.