Duncan Jones (Source Code)

Duncan Jones: The Interview (Source Code)

Shakefire sat down with Duncan Jones, director of the award winning sci-fi drama Moon to talk about his latest sci-fi adventure, Source Code. 

Shakefire: How were you introduced to the project?

Duncan Jones: It was something Jake actually introduced me to. I was in LA doing some final, final press for Moon. Internationally I was traveling around and stopped in LA. Had the opportunity to meet with a few people who I really wanted to work with in the future and Jake was one of those people. I tried to convince him to do this film which is never going to happen [laughs] and he said, “That sounds great. One day we should do that, but in the meantime,” and he gave me the Source Code script and said, “Maybe this would be good.”

So I read it and I thought it was terrific. It was a great start, the first 10 pages; it starts with a bang, and it just kept going. It was really fast paced. To me it seemed so different than Moon; more than one actor, different locations, and it was so fast paced compared to Moon. So I got excited and told him my feelings about the script, things I loved about it, things I would want to change, and Jake agreed. He said, “Yeah, I like your interpretation. Let’s go do it.” And that’s how it started.

SF: There are certain themes Source Code shares with Moon; replication, deceit, etc. Was that originally in the script or did you bring that on board?

DJ: Oh yeah. I think that side of it; the structure, the conceit, the basic setup of the film, was always there. I didn’t make any suggestions about changing the script although I did tweak the ending. My interest was really in changing the tone of the film because it felt very serious when I read it, the script. It took itself very seriously. It was like an episode of 24 and it was quite grim. I think for this film you actually get more out of it – the audience will connect and enjoy it more if it’s lighter, if it’s funnier, if we inject some humor into it so that was kind of my big spin on it.

SF: What were the challenges associated with repeating these sequences in having to keep going through the motions to re-establish the train?

DJ: That was the big fear. I read the script and was like, “This is great. It really works. It’s exciting. How do I make sure the audience is as excited visually as the read is?” Sometimes there’s a disjoint between what works on the page and what actually works in visual storytelling. That became my main objective, to come up with a graph, a system, in which each of the repetitions would be visually different where narratively there was something different going on each time. So although this is the same eight minutes, essentially you’re seeing completely different things every time. That was really what I had to do.

SF: Why eight minutes? Why not five or 10?

DJ: When I came to the script, it was already eight minutes. I know they tried different variations on it. The argument I heard was that if you go any longer than that, it becomes difficult to maintain the real tension and speed of the script and if you go any shorter, it becomes difficult to actually get anything done within that time period that allows you to build up the plot so eight minutes is what they worked out as the effective amount.

When it comes to the actual film itself, you have poetic license when you’re editing so I think maybe one of those sessions gets close to eight minutes. Most of them are either shorter or longer depending on what the event is.

SF: You have to keep repeating the same characters and situations in eight minutes. With Christina, we don’t really learn anything new about her but still have to build a relationship with her. What was it like approaching a story where you have to connect an audience to a world they re-enter every eight minutes?

DJ: Well the most essential thing is getting the casting right. That would have just dropped dead if there was no obvious chemistry between Jake and Michelle and I think that was the first thing we had to get right. I’d seen Michelle Monaghan in Kiss Kiss Bang Bang and the fact that she managed to keep up with Robert Downey Jr. was enough reason for me to have her come in and see how it worked out. And fortunately she’s very smart and very talented but the most important thing is she’s very brave. She’s willing to go with her instincts and then if I make a suggestion, she’ll try it. If I make a crazy suggestion that might not make sense, she’ll try it. Both her and Jake were willing to take that kind of direction and on this film I think it was really important.

The great thing was we had a week of rehearsal time before we started shooting so all the mechanics, all the structural stuff, the key lesson that needed to be learned in each scene, we already had that kind of down before we started shooting. That meant when we did started shooting, Jake and her could be very improvisational, already knowing where the A was, where the B was, where they needed to get to.

SF: What was it like transitioning from a small film such as Moon to more of a Hollywood blockbuster like Source Code?

DJ: Well I brought my producer which was seriously a massively important thing to do. To come from a small independent film, especially a foreign independent film, and to come over to the U.S. and throw yourself into the mix of Hollywood producers and better known actors I think I could have easily been pushed around a lot but I had three people really working in my favor. I brought my producer from Moon and we used to do commercials together so we worked together for a really long time and I knew he had my back. That’s Stuart Fenegan.

But then I also had Jake on my side. Jake was the one who wanted me to direct the film. There was a lot of responsibility on his shoulders amongst the producers for me being the director. I think he felt a real obligation to stick up for me, and it wasn’t difficult because we were in agreement. We kind of had a shared vision of what we wanted to do.

The third person was Paul Hirsch. I don’t know if you know Paul Hirsch but he was the editor of the film and he is a legend in Hollywood. He edited Empire Strikes Back, Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, he won an Oscar for Ray, he did the first Mission Impossible film; he really is one of “the guys” in Hollywood. For someone that experienced and that respected in the industry to say to me literally after the first week, “I’m your editor. I’m not the producer’s editor. I don’t work for Jake. I don’t work for anyone else. I work for you.” That was amazing. To that I had those three guys looking after me I was good.

SF: You’ve said that you wanted to explore other genres. What other genres in particular?

DJ: I was massively jealous, but also excited, when Tarantino did Inglourious Basterds. I’m a huge “guys on a mission” fan of those kinds of movies; Dirty Dozen, A Bridge Too Far, especially those World War II ones. I used to love those. By the time I’m ready to make one of those films I think Inglourious Basterds will have been long enough ago people will be ready for another kind of film like that. I’d love to do something like that.

SF: What upcoming projects do you have going on?

DJ: Yeah, I’m writing a science fiction film right now and unfortunately as much as I’m enthusiastic about talking about it I can’t say much more than that. It’s going to be, I think, as different as Source Code is from Moon. It’s still science fiction but it’s going to be a whole different third part of the triangle.

SF: Will it be city-based sci-fi, like Mute?

DJ: Well…like Mute but makeable, haha.

SF: Was Mute that project you said to Jake…

DJ: Yes, haha, it was. I think every Hollywood actor has had Mute passed to them at some point and they’ve said, “This is really interesting but I don’t get to talk. I don’t know if I’m ready to do that yet.”

SF: As a film maker you said you’ve been inspired by Blade Runner. What other films/filmmakers do you look up to?

DJ: Generally visual guys. Generally the people who are storytellers but also have that handle on the visuals. Obviously Ridley Scott. Terry Gilliam. He’s really interesting and an amazing filmmaker and when he gets it right, it’s brilliant; powerful stuff. David Fincher these days. Fincher I think is fantastic. I love The Social Network and obviously Fight Club and Se7en; amazing films. So those kinds of people.

SF: With movies like Source Code and Inception do you think that we’re going to be seeing more grainy type sci-fi movies coming out of Hollywood as compared to the big robot style movies?

DJ: I think off the back of Inception, all things are possible, haha. Um, it’s tricky. I don’t know. I think Source Code is very unique in that it is kinda this mid-budget area and it does sort of tackle something I would argue fairly original, certainly more thought provoking than it could have otherwise been done. Now whether other films in that budget range will make that kind of commitment, I don’t know. I think on the indie level you can certainly do it, and I think that already happens. I think on the big budget level, not so much unless a guy like Chris Nolan says that’s the kind of movie I want to make. So I don’t know if it’s really affected anything. I think Inception was fairly unique but I think any director who’s at that level can make that happen if they choose to make those kinds of movies.

SF: Do you think that because of the success of Moon there still is an audience out there willing to look at hard sci-fi or do you think that the bigger you want to make it the more accessible it has to become?

DJ: I would have to go back to Inception. I think if you have the right combination of director and actors who are able to draw in the audience you should be able to find a way to do it. I think you have to be realistic; you’re spending millions and millions of dollars of other people’s money when you make a movie. You have to at least approach it in a way where you can see how you can make that money back for the people investing. It’s not a game. It’s not just for fun. Somebody else’s money is in your hands. You have a responsibility to try and deliver something that people want to come and see. Hopefully there is an audience out there for the thing that you’re making but you have to approach it like a grownup.

I don’t want that to sound like a killjoy. I think you can make amazing films with that mindset. I mean, Fincher is a great example. He does really unusual projects and he does them in a visually stunning way and gets great performances out of people and people want to go and see his films. But he wants to make money for the people who invest money into his films. He’s not just doing because it would be a great idea or just be fun. He’s approaching it in the right way. 

Matt Rodriguez
Interview by Matt Rodriguez
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