Interview: Glen Keane of “Over the Moon”

Interview: Glen Keane of “Over the Moon”

Posted on October 23, 2020 at 11:54 am

I’ve been a huge fan of Glen Keane for as long as I can remember.  As a Disney animator, he worked on classics like “The Rescuers,” “Aladdin,” “Beauty and the Beast,” “Tangled,” and “Pocahontas.” And now, for the first time, he has directed an animated film, the gorgeously designed and heart-warming “Over the Moon.”

You have probably seen Keane as a child. His father, the legendary cartoonist Bil Keane, created the Family Circus comic panel, based on the Keane’s own family and with the distinctive round shape. The comic is still run by Keane’s siblings.

Copyright 2020 Bill and Jeff Keane

Keane gave a virtual interview to Critics Choice members this week. He told us about having his father work from home, drawing Family Circus, and how much it inspired him. When he was very young, his father told him, “I am a cartoonist, but you are an artist,” which made him feel, he said, as though he had just been knighted with a sword. His father gave him a book to get him started, called Dynamic Anatomy, which got him started on understanding how to draw the human figure. One day, when he was about 8, some kids on the school bus made fun of him for drawing nude figures, the classical images of the discus thrower and The Thinker. He said at first he was uncomfortable being laughed at, but then he thought about how much he liked drawing and he said, “I’m different! I like it!”

“Over the Moon,” inspired by a Chinese legend, is the story about a young girl who builds a rocket ship to the moon so she can meet the moon goddess. Keane said that the stories he most loves to tell are about “characters who believe the impossible is possible.” “Over the Moon’s” Fei Fei was “the ultimate.” She has the science and math skills to think through the engineering challenges and the faith that the moon goddess is really there.

Copyright Netflix 2020

I asked about the most important element of character design. He said, “They exist before you design them. It’s a weird thing, but that has been my experience. Like the Beast. I had hundreds and hundreds of drawings of him, but I would look at them and think, ‘I don’t recognize him.’ I like the buffalo head shape, the lion’s mane, the boar tusks, the cow ears to make him friendlier, and then suddenly — that’s him. I felt like he was looking at me. It’s a revealing of the character. For Fei Fei, I wanted to see that intelligence, that spark, thinking her way through things, but also that faith.” He said he focuses on the hair — making a joke about compensating for his own lack of hair. But it is always a symbol of the struggle of the character. “For Rapunzel, her hair was irrepressible, uncontainable. For Pocahontas, it showed the spirit moving in her. For Ariel, the hair always looked like it was floating in the water. Tarzan was like a wild animal with the dreadlocks. And for Fei Fei, her chopped off hair is a constant reminder of that chaos in her life. That design choice dictated so much, too. hHer eyebrows had to be really bold and strong. And if you’re going to make a mistake in design, don’t let it be in the eyes. They are the windows of the soul.”

Copyright Netflix 2020

Keane told us about his first assignment at Disney, one brief scene in “The Rescuers” of a character named Bernard sweeping the floor. But he couldn’t get it right. “I thought I was single-handedly going to destroy Disney’s reputation. Pencil points were breaking off.”

Keane asked Eric Larson, one of the “Nine Old Men,” the legendary Disney animators of films like “Pinocchio” and “Cinderella,” for advice. “I thought Eric was going to give me some kind of a formula.” Instead of guidance on the movement, Larson asked, “What kind of a guy is Bernard? Does he care about his job? Of course he does! He wants to sweep up every speck off that floor.” “Within seconds he was the character,” Keane told us. “I realized that sincerity was make-believe. That’s been the thread for me in everything I’ve done, to live in the character, to believe in it, the passion of becoming something you can see and feel in your heart.”

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Animation Directors Interview

Interview: Arnon Goldfinger of “The Flat”

Posted on November 1, 2012 at 8:00 am

After documentary filmmaker Arnon Goldfinger’s grandmother died at age 97 in Israel, he brought a film crew to her apartment where she and his grandfather lived from the time they immigrated to what was then called Palestine just before World War II.  He was fascinated by their home, which seventy years later looked as though it had been transplanted from their birthplace in Germany.  The books on the shelves were in German.  They always spoke German in their home.  Most of their lives were lived in Israel, but they lived as though they were still in Berlin.

Goldfinger thought he would learn something about his grandparents as the family sorted through their belongings.  But he could never have imagined what he would find or where it would take him.  His grandmother had saved issues of one of the most virulently anti-Semitic newspapers distributed in Nazi Germany.  This discovery led to a journey that illuminated one of the strangest friendships imaginable, represented by an artifact that is almost unthinkable — a coin with a Jewish star on one side and a Nazi swastika on the other.  The movie also focuses on the strain this inquiry put on Goldfinger’s relationship with his mother, who was almost as passionate about not finding out the answers to his questions as Goldfinger was about seeking them.

I spoke to Goldfinger when he was in Washington, D.C. to show the film, which opens tomorrow.

What did you think you were going to film?

To be honest, I just wanted to be there with the camera and document the world I knew was going to disappear very quickly.  I thought it would be an even quicker process.  I knew this flat all my life and I had an ambivalent feeling toward it.  On the one hand, I had an attraction to this world, to this culture, to those books, to the secrets, the mystery.  On the other hand, as an Israeli it was so foreign, so German, so connected to the tragic happenings in the Holocaust.  It was only later I had an idea to make a film, but even then the idea was just something very short.  People would ask, “What can you learn about someone from what they leave behind?”  This shows you can learn a lot.

What does your mother think about the movie?

I was very afraid of course.  Our relationship was close before and if it would stay like that, it would be fine.  But I was surprised.  It brought us closer.  She was very supportive of the film.  After the first screening, when she first saw it, she said she saw it was important for her, too.  When her friends saw the film, they said to her, “We didn’t know, either.  We didn’t ask.”  She felt that she was not alone.

Why was your mother reluctant to know more?

She was really raised in a German house.  I remember as a kid, hearing her argue with her parents in German.  But when she went out of the flat, she was in Tel Aviv, the Mediterranean combined with bohemian, a place of vibrance.  She lived two lives.  But like all of the people of her age, she wanted to leave the past behind her, as you see when you look at her flat, not even any dust from the past.  Your house is the place you want to live in.  And she wanted to live with with barriers to all the historical items.  Before I made the film I thought it was her character.  But now I understand it’s a barrier from all the pain and sorrow.

You met with Edda, the daughter of the Nazi couple who were your grandparents’ friends.  Tell me something about your impressions.

They were lovely people, very friendly, welcoming, warm.  That made it harder.  If they were nasty it would have been easier for me.  During my research I would think, “Maybe it’s not possible, maybe it’s not right” that this friendship existed between my grandparents and the Nazis.  If I called someone out of the blue and said “My grandparents knew your parents, I would not recognize one name.” But the way she recognized it so immediately, the way she knew and was so glad to hear from me in such an open way and with such memories — I don’t remember even one gift my parents’ friends gave me — but for her, she remembered so much.

What about her father, the man who was your grandparents’ friend while having an important role in the Nazi party?

I found much more about him than what is in the film.  It was important to say that he did not live the Nazi party.  He was involved in anti-Semitic propaganda.  But he wanted to stay in contact with Jews.  I found all kinds of other things about him, nothing that would change your mind, no smoking gun, but you could ask yourself, “Did he have an alternative?”  The way to describe what happened was this.  Nobody knew what Hitler wanted, but everybody knew if they did something Hitler did not want, it’s the end.  It was a classic regime of terror.  There’s a book called Alone in Berlin that described life in the war. It’s horrible.  I am a Jew; I don’t so much identify with them, but still I can understand and ask the question, “Could he do something?”  If you look at his career, you won’t find him in the concentration camps.  He is in the headquarters, spying, thinking.  For me, it’s enough.

One of the most shocking moments for me was when Edda told me that she knew my family had lost someone in the concentration camps.  She did not have the details right.  She thought it was my grandfather’s mother, not my grandmother’s mother.  She’s a little mistaken with the details but it shows that she and therefore her parents knew some of what happened.  That means my grandparents were sitting over there in the garden where we were, discussing the death of someone from their family with a man who was a Nazi.  Did they ask him if he received their letter asking for help?  Did he tell them he could not help them?  There were a lot of lies over there.

My favorite character in the movie was your grandmother’s friend.  What a beautiful face.  I felt I knew your grandmother by seeing her friend.

She was my grandmother’s closest friend and like an aunt to me.  When I first approached her, she did not want to be filmed.  She was the only one, and I could not understand why.  It took me almost a year to persuade her.  But she said, “I will give you half an hour, but you come alone.”  I told her I had to bring a cameraman and a sound man, and she said, “No, no, no.”  In the end, it was only me and the cameraman.  I figured she would see it is not threatening and she would let me stay longer.  The cameraman said, “Be careful.  Remember who you are dealing with.  Ask the questions you want in the beginning not as usual at the end.”  After 32 minutes she told me it is enough.  Three months later she passed away.  Her daughter was so happy that I captured her in her beauty.  There’s such elegance in those characters.

Why did your grandmother keep the Der Angriff newspapers even though they were filled with anti-Semitic propaganda?

There was something emotional about it, a memory from a very, very important event in their life.  The idea was to keep an eye on the Nazi and push him to include more Zionist material in his story.  There may be a possibility my grandfather even edited the article.  It was something very vivid at the time and maybe she forgot about it.  She never opened it again.  Maybe she forgot about it.

What are you going to do with them?

I think maybe give them to the Zionist archive in Jerusalem or to Yad Vashem.

Why does this movie touch people so deeply?

The film is telling an amazing story about a Nazi and a Jew, but really it is a movie about family, what you know about your family, what you want to know, what you can know.  Those questions anyone can identify with, especially in America, a place of immigrants.  Some people who see the movie tell me, “I want to ask my parents more about our history.”  And some say, “I need to get rid of a lot of the things in my house!”

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Directors Documentary Interview

Interview: Lorene Scafaria of “Seeking a Friend for the End of the World”

Posted on June 21, 2012 at 8:00 am

Lorene Scafaria wrote the screenplay for one of my favorite romances of the last several years, Nick and Nora’s Infinite Playlist.  And now she has written and directed another romance, “Seeking a Friend for the End of the World,” with Steve Carell and Kiera Knightley as neighbors who meet just as life on earth is about to be wiped out.  I spoke to her about the role that music plays in both films (she is also a musician), and how contemplating the end of the world clarifies your priorities.

I want to begin by asking you about the music, because I know you, yourself, create music and music seems to be important in both this film and “Nick and Nora.”

It’s true, yes. I’ve got a pattern going, I think. But music is just so important to me, personally, obviously, and so I liked the idea that we’d have this sort of soundtrack for humanity in there  What it really came down to in crafting the characters and everything, I just thought—what do you really want to consume at the end of the world? You know, besides as much food as humanly possible? And I feel like you know, really people dip back into music, that just is sort of a universal love for people, whatever the music may be. And so I did love the idea that certainly this girl is carrying around a bunch of records that, unless she finds the player for it, she’s just holding onto these possessions, but that this music has meant so much for her and her life that she will hold on to them.   I’ve just always thought of music as a sort of collection of memories so that’s how I decided that it should be a major part of the movie.  I knew I wanted it to be kind of classic rock, the kind I grew up with. I feel like friends’ older brothers got us into the Dead and Doors, really, so we were listening to that version of classic rock. I wanted to have that sense of nostalgia and feel like these could be songs that Dodge could be listening to or should be or would have if he were the kind of guy who really absorbed culture like that. They’re actually part of Penny’s collection, and so in a way I was using it as sort of dedications between the characters in a way.

The names of the characters seem very meaningful: Dodge and Penny.

Dodge, certainly, to me, is a man trying to outrun something and a guy who’s been sort of avoiding life his entire life—so Dodge felt very appropriate for him. I also loved that it was a very American name. And Penny — it’s like when you find a lucky penny.  She was that little shiny copper thing for him to find.  And Pen also means swan, so there’s something in there for both of them.  Ridiculously, if you looked at all the names, you would find embarrassing things like that throughout. There was the character Roache that Patton Oswalt plays.  He’s the kind of guy who’d survive the apocalypse, you know? The roaches of the world, they’re going to be fine.

Tell me a little bit about moving from being the writer to being the director and what you as a writer learned about writing from directing?

It’s now so much harder to write because I feel like I have this newfound perspective on it where I actually don’t feel as much of a free writer, now.  I’m thinking of things a little too much from the director’s chair.

More logistically?

Yes, I’m sort of skipping ahead to, “Well, if I’m filming this…” That’s probably a good thing in the long run, to hone in on it.  It’s definitely making me think so much more as a writer, now. When I started, I always wanted to direct.  I directed a lot of theater when I was younger and always loved working with actors and then I made a short film a few years ago that I call the longest short, because it was like a 30 minutes.  It was not something I was ever going to enter into festivals, I just wanted to prove to myself that I could maybe tackle a feature someday. With this one, I just was desperate to do it.  From the very beginning I always wanted to be able to tell the story through to fruition and I can’t believe how satisfying it was.  I’m a list-maker so I love to make lists and cross-things off. I’m not very organized, I just like to make lists.  When we are filming something like the trucker’s scene and we get to cross something off a list. It’s been in my head for three years and it’s just so rewarding to see it through all the way. I’ve always enjoyed having a vision for the big picture and with this, so much was specific on the page.  It was really fun to be able to do it all, actually.

One of the great things about your concept is that it’s tremendously clarifying; everything else drops away and you have to think about what your priorities are. I loved the way that, on their journey, Dodge and Penny meet people who deal with the end of the world in so many ways—mostly different forms of denial.

I try not to judge too harshly what it is that everybody would want to do in that situation, especially because everyone is dealing with their own mortality at the same time. I sort of loved that the two of them have these “higher callings” in a way—you know, at least they’re about human contacts and relationships and regrets and closure and all of that, and those always seem like the truest pursuits. I did so much research on what people would do, talking with as many people as possible about what would you do, what would you take with you, what would you want to hold in your hand? And you know, there were some very interesting answers across the board, but the most common was to be with family, to be with friends, to be with your loved one.  I really liked exploring what happens if one person doesn’t really have that loved one, where do they go? And I do think someone like Dodge certainly would chase the past. I think most people would, I’m not sure everybody would be like, “I’m going to meet somebody new!”  She’s lived her life much more to the fullest than he has, but has maybe her own regrets, like seeing her family.

One of the things that’s nice about it is that Dodge would not have done his some-day thing if not for Penny. She gave him a reason.

Yes, and through something so tragic.  I don’t think any of this would’ve happened without the end of the world.  That’s the kind of thing that is interesting.  Sometimes the most tragic moments in your life, you’re like—“Why is this happening to me?” and it takes a little while, but then you think, “that might’ve been the best thing that’s ever happened to me.”

If you’re a writer, that’s where you get your material.

It’s all therapy for me. You’re just seeing my glorified therapy session.


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Directors Writers
Interview: Charles Martin Smith of ‘Dolphin Tale’

Interview: Charles Martin Smith of ‘Dolphin Tale’

Posted on September 21, 2011 at 8:00 am

Before he was a director, Charles Martin Smith was a teen actor who appeared as “Terry the Toad” in “American Graffiti.”  He starred in Carroll Ballard’s “Never Cry Wolf” and appeared in films like “The Untouchables” and “Starman.”  While he continues to appear as an actor, he has most recently been more active as a writer and director.  He did both for his new film, “Dolphin Tale,” opening this Friday, inspired by the true story of Winter the dolphin, who now has a prosthetic tale.   It was a delight to talk with him about breaking the first rule of show business (“don’t work with children or animals”), what he learned from George Lucas, and why the color blue is so important in this film.  He made me laugh as soon as we met because he started “directing” where we would sit.  “I often say I became a director because I like to boss people around,” he told me, “but it’s just a line.”

They say it’s always a problem to work with kids and animals, but in this movie you did both.

I might be the only filmmaker that really gravitates toward that.  I really like working with kids.  And I really like working with animals!  They’re so pure and honest and they’re never really acting, at least not in my movies.  Well, maybe Rufus .  People sometimes try to impose things on them, a character they have in their own mind.  I think it’s much more interesting when working with an animal to find out what that real animal does and try to capture their essence and their behavior.  It’s almost a little bit of a documentary type feel.  We’ve got the real Winter playing the real Winter.

Have you worked with dolphins before?

I haven’t.  I’ve been interested in them and interested in science.  You hear all about how intelligent they are but you can’t comprehend it until you really spent time with them.  They’re certainly as bright as we are.  The first thing I did when I got involved with the movie was go to Clearwater, Florida to spend time with Winter, just to observe her behavior.  She does all kinds of interesting things.  She’s very playful; she loves toys.  She’s still young, the equivalent of a 10-year-old kid.  She loves her blue mattress and her rings.  So we put that in the movie.  I wanted to give her a special ring with something cute and iconic so I thought we’d give her a yellow duck — do you know how many different versions of rubber ducks there are?  We spent months designing this thing.  The expense we went to!  She makes that Tweety Bird sound all the time, so I said, “Put it in the movie!”

And working with kids?

I like kids.  I find them fascinating.  They give you real things.  Since I began as a child actor I understand what they’re going through and it’s great to see them blossom and learn.  I am not just a director but an acting coach and teacher on set and I love that.  I really made an effort to keep the kids real, to act like real kids.  So many movies have “movie kids.”  I didn’t want to do that.

There were no kids in the true story but when Alcon developed the project they wanted it to be kid-centered to make it more accessible.  I wanted to bring something of a magical quality to it, some wish fulfillment.  How many kids have their own dolphin?  Having the aquarium be this grand, mystical place that Hazel has complete run of and where she knows all the turtles and dolphins.  And the houseboat, so she had a fun place to live with a crows nest she could decorate herself.  And Rufus.  All to bring a slightly magical fantasy element.  I originally conceived Rufus as a seagull, but Alcon suggested a pelican — a true collaboration. 

And two 11 year olds save the day.  It would not really happen that way, probably, so that is a little bit of a fantasy, too.  But that made it even more important that the kids were grounded in reality and acted like real kids.  When Clay tells them he has to close down, Hazel runs.  Kids don’t want anyone to see them cry.  Cosi (who plays Hazel) is amazingly gifted, so good, so real, as good as any adult actor I’ve ever worked with.  She had just been in community theater, never done anything in movies or television.  And she’s a good kid; they both are.  They both come from very religious families, Christian families.  They’re such good kids.  I’ve never had a set before with no profanity, not even from the crew!

You did an amazing job of achieving a really sun-drenched look that really felt like Florida.

The wonderful cinematographer was Karl Walter Lindenlaub.  He did a lot of big sci-fi films like “Independence Day” and “Stargate” and he did a Scottish film, “Rob Roy” that showed he could do lovely things outdoors.  We talked a lot about the hot look and we certainly had hot weather.  I wanted a sort of sci-fi feeling to the movie, that first scene, under water.  We meet the pod under water and see how inquisitive Winter is.  I wanted to see the world she comes from. In a way, it’s like another planet, an alien from one planet that washes up, stranded, on another and is rescued by a boy.  I wanted to do that with the look of the film, too.  I wanted the underwater to be all blue and rich.  And then we made the neighborhood drab, and took all the blue out of it, all oranges and rusts and earth tones.  And then the aquarium is a blue building — which it really is.  And inside, that’s a set actually, he walks in and sees all the blue, watery, rich look and it’s like he’s underwater.  Then he goes back to his world and it’s all brown again.  But gradually we had some blues show up in his clothes to show how his worlds were coming together.

What did you learn from the directors you worked with as an actor?

I picked up stuff from everybody.  I worked with a lot of great directors.  George Lucas was very good in the way he directed young actors on “American Graffiti.”  He’s not generally thought of as an actor’s director.  But one of the things he did was cast good actors and get out of our way.  I learned so much about the importance of casting.  But he said, “I wrote the script; you can change any line you like.  I have an in with the writer!”  Some directors want every single word done the way it was written but that’s too stultifying to a child.  And he would ask us what was comfortable and organic and honest for us he wanted to do and he would build the scenes around that.  But the one I learned the most from was Carroll Ballard.  No one deals better with the subject of nature and man’s collision with wildlife than he does.  The way he edits, structures things, he’s always been my hero.  Every day on this movie I would think, “What would Ballard do if he were here?”

I loved the real footage at the end.

That was what I saw the very first day, seeing children with disabilities coming and being inspired by Winter.  The editor, Harvey Rosenstock, got the footage and cut it together beautifully.  It was so good we didn’t want to run it with the credits over it.  It works too well; it’s too beautiful.

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Directors Interview
Interview: Duncan Jones of ‘The Source Code’

Interview: Duncan Jones of ‘The Source Code’

Posted on March 31, 2011 at 8:00 am

Duncan Jones, with only two films, has already established himself as an exceptionally able director. He wrote and directed his first film, “Moon” with Sam Rockwell, and it was remarkably assured, impressively creating a fully-realized future world that was believably normal — and on a tiny budget. His first big-budget film is another sci-fi story, “Source Code” with Jake Gyllenhaal as a man sent back in time by a military operation to relive the same eight minutes over and over until he can locate a bomber. I met with Jones in the wonderful circular Chimney Stack Room at the Georgetown Ritz and we had a great talk about my home town of Chicago, where the movie is set, about the movie’s secret tribute to the 1980’s television show, Quantum Leap, and about how his father, rock idol David Bowie, got him hooked on science fiction.

I’m from Chicago and I loved all the Chicago scenes in the movie!

I’m so glad. You’re the first person I’ve talked to other than the people who worked on it who can say we got it right. It was the first time I’ve ever been in a helicopter and it was stunning to be able to fly through the skyscrapers in Chicago. Incredible, amazing.

I loved seeing The Bean in the movie.

It’s a beautiful park. That whole area is lovely. And a great city.

And you used the Chicago commuter train through much of the movie, with its characteristic double-decker seating.

We took the real train a number of times to get a feel for it and take reference photographs and everything. And then we built our own in Montreal. The funny thing was that the real trains, a lot of the carriages date back to the 50’s and 60’s. They’re beautiful, but they look so period in some ways. We had to update the interior a bit or people would think he was really time-traveling!

I had just finished “Moon” and was doing the press tour for that. In Los Angeles, I had the chance to meet with some of the people I wanted to work with, and one of those was Jake Gyllenhaal, an amazing actor, very handsome, very talented. I was pitching ideas to him, and he said, “I have this script you should really read,” an original spec script by a young guy called Ben Ripley. It was a great read, fast, started off with an incredible ten pages and then keeps up that pace the whole way along.

I made my suggestions – I said, “I think the tone is quite serious. I wonder how you might feel about injecting a little bit of humor into it.” He liked that and we agreed that was what we wanted to do.

For you as a director, it is a real challenge as your main character repeats the same eight minutes over and over again to keep it fresh and interesting and different for the audience.

Yes, one of the most terrifying aspects of this script for a film-maker is how do I keep going back to this same event six or seven times and not bore the audience to tears. I had a graph and I literally worked it out on a visual level how each iteration would be different, whether we used a different angle or went to a different part of the train or move to the upstairs, always keeping variety there. And then narratively, we made sure there was no replication, always something new going on, something learned by Jake, a new relationship, new people. You still have the same eight minute event with continuity but no sense of replication.

We also get a montage taste of other trips back but about six in detail.

Why was the humor important?

I am a big science fiction fan myself. I see it divided up into hard sci-fi and soft sci-fi. Hard sci-fi is where you extrapolate into the future from where we are now and work out incrementally how we get from now to this point in the future. “2001” is a good example of a future you can believe might exist and you can see how we could get there. You understand it could actually happen. Soft sci-fi is a little more fantastical. It can have dragons or magic. And for me, time travel is in a gray area between the two.

I have a hard time believe it is possible but I love it as an idea and I understand the theoretics of it. My approach was, “Let’s use humor to cajole those like me who might not believe that it is possible,” to just say, “Take this leap of faith with me into this world where it is possible, just accept it because the story and the ride is worth it.” Humor does that. It is a very powerful tool in film because if you can get the audience and the protagonist to be laughing about the same thing, to be sharing a joke, in a way, or finding something amusing, the audience bonds with the character automatically.

When I saw the film, I wondered if you had changed the original ending.

We did, but not in the way you’d expect. There was a very sweet, romantic ending that beautifully finished that side of the story, the relationship side. But I am a sci-fi geek and I wanted to deal with this loose thread back at the facility.

It is a challenge to create a character who is interesting enough to play the villain but – without giving too much away here – not so interesting that he throws the movie out of balance, given the direction things end up going in the last third of the film.

I saw this documentary, “The Nuclear Boy Scout,” about this boy in the Midwest, about 15 years ago, trying to qualify for a Boy Scout merit badge in nuclear physics, incredibly smart but no comprehension about right and wrong and built a breeder reactor in his mother’s back yard, just going to antique stores and the library. He was able to create a breeder reactor. The government had to clean it up. Just because you’re smart doesn’t mean you have good judgment; that was where we started. As for casting, if you go with a bigger name, it makes it immediately obvious that if you do that you draw attention to that person. The actor we found, I had seem him at a casting session on video and I said, “There’s something about that performance in particular that captures what I saw in that documentary.”

You pay tribute in the film to some other sci-fi movies.

There were lots of references and parallels, including Quantum Leap, the TV show. My homage to that was the voice of the father: it’s Scott Bakula. He actually says, and we slipped it into the dialogue so it’s very organic, “Oh boy.” So the fans of the show will get that!

Throughout the film there are subtle homages to Hitchcock, here and there. The soundtrack has a Hitchcock vibe to it, and the setting on the train and the clock tower.

Who did the soundtrack?

Paul Hirsch, the amazing editor we had on board – he edited “Empire Strikes Back, “Ferris Bueller’s Day Off,” “Ray” – he’s a legend. He recommended Chris Bacon, this very young composer he had just worked with. We met with him at 11:00 at night, the day his wife had just given birth and he looked like a walking zombie. We hit him with all this information and told him what we wanted, something mischievous and mysterious, and said, “Can you write us something to see if you’re the right guy?” and four days later he came in with the opening theme as is.

It sounds like you worked very fast on this film.

Jake was finishing “Prince of Persia” and was going to disappear to do press for it. So we had about 35 days, about the same as “Moon.” I think that helps give it a sense of urgency; that energy does translate sometimes.

Have you always been a sci-fi fan? Books and movies?

Books first in fact. My dad is an avid reader and ever since I was a kid, I would read an hour a night. He always wanted me to read so if ever I was finding it difficult to get interested in something, he’d pull out Animal Farm or The Day of the Triffids to get me back in. “Blade Runner” is the be-all and end-all for me in science fiction. I strive to make something one day that has the sense of scope. It feels like you could pan the camera away from the actors and you would still be in that world.

My next film is science-fiction, too. My first film, “Moon,” was made for very little money. This is more of a Hollywood film. I’d love to take one of my own projects and make it with a “Source Code” kind of budget.

What do you look for in a project?

Empathy. The idea of identity, who someone is, whether the person they think they are is who everyone sees them as. Mostly that the audience can understand and feel for the main protagonist, that connection between the audience and the person whose story you’re seeing. My next one is science fiction and then I’m going to take a sabbatical and try something different.

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Behind the Scenes Directors Interview
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