Roundtable Interview With Duncan Jones On Source Code

SXSW is stock-full of creative types and film brilliance. They’ve flown in from all over the world to see the best of the best, and I had the opportunity to sit down with Source Code’s Duncan Jones and discuss his newest film offering. We talked to Duncan back in January about the film but this time, as the film is about to hit theatres, he had some new information to share. Read on to find out what he had to say.

Source Code hefted some great directorial skill and creativity in Jones. Jones’ last film, which was also his first, Moon, was a plodding introspective sci-fi with a great edge of touching humanity. Source Code is another hard sci-fi with heart, as the emotional journey of the main character Colter (Jake Gyllenhaal) is as important as the sci-fi elements of the story.

Make sure you check out our January interview with Duncan Jones, our Source Code review, our interview with star Michelle Monaghan and our interview with writer Ben Ripley and our interview with star Jake Gyllenhaal.

Q: How difficult and important is it to write a movie that deals with things outside of reality?

Duncan: Yeah, I think in this particular case I was looking at a script which really had been structured and worked on for such a long time. My job became about how do I maintain sort of an emotional connection for the audience with the stories of the characters? And I really kind of just allowed myself to just lean on Ben’s script as far as the technology goes and that was my approach on Source Code.

Q: Did you guys (Duncan Jones and screenwriter Ben Ripley) work together on the script?

Duncan: Yeah, I was brought onto it and there was already a real sort of plan of attack on when they wanted to shoot the film. Jake was already sort of attached and we knew that he had an availability. He had just finished Prince of Persia and had to go off and do press for that film so we had this window of opportunity to shoot it. So my job really just became about let’s find out how we can tell this story, put in the visuals I was hoping to put in the film and do it within the time frame and the budget we had.

Q: What was the thing that made you want to make it?

Duncan: Well there was two things. The strength of the script was apparent in the read. It was very pacey, it just kind of kept you constantly engaged. Obviously I’d just come off Moon which was a little bit more thoughtful in pace, a little cerebral and a little slower. And I wanted to be able to do something which was going to be go, go go the whole way through so that was what immediately drew me in and the chance to work with Jake obviously was a big deal to me, I’m a big fan of his, I think he’s very talented, so it was sort of that two hander.

Q: How did you decide what to reveal about the film for promotion?

Duncan: Well it’s been kind of a learning opportunity for me. Obviously with Moon it was an independent film, I had control over how things work, on this film it’s a much bigger budget, it’s a film that’s being released by a large entity that’s used to doing this. I make suggestions, sometimes they like them, sometimes they don’t but I always give them my opinion.

Q: Was that part of it, wanting to see how the studio system works?

Duncan: Absolutely. I think it’s important, even if you want to do your own films, if you want to do your own films on a budget, then you need to know how Hollywood ticks.

Q: In Moon the main character is a clone and in this Jake is an avatar, is that something that interests you? The idea of not being yourself?

Duncan: Maybe not the technology, which I understand and find interesting, but to me it’s more about the personal issues. The idea of identity, of not knowing who you are and discovering that and having that change your world view. That to me is the interesting part, it’s more the psychology then the technology.

Q: You described Source Code recently as a thinking man’s science fiction movie. Can you elaborate?

Duncan: I see it as a contemporary thriller. There’s definitely science fiction elements to it, it’s sort of built upon that foundation and needs those for the story to work. But it’s sort of a contemporary thriller. The heart of the film is about relationships between Colter Stevens and this woman that he finds himself across from on the train. And then this sort of more maternal relationship that he has with Captain Goodwin, the character that Vera Farmiga plays. Sorry I lost track of your question but I’m not really answering it, am I? The thinking man’s sci-fi? I think really that’s about the setup that Ben did as far as how the Source Code might work.

Q: What was the challenge in writing something with a non-traditional structure?

Duncan: I think establishing those limitations on a purely physical side, the locations that we had to work on, it became even more important that we had worked out a way to break free of those restrictions as far as repetition. They had to look different, they had to be, you know, I had amazing actors working on the film who were able to give me nuanced but different performances each time so there was a sense of progression and a narrative that was unfolding, even though we might be revisiting the same place. Hopefully, you’ll have to tell me, hopefully it doesn’t feel repetitive even though we’re going back to the same place.

Q: It seemed like there was a Hitchcock vibe in this, is that something that was conscious?

Duncan: Absolutely. There is the score and there is the train stations with the clock tower. I think it felt like a good place to work from and that was for all the departments actually. Whether it was music or wardrobe it was really how can we bring just an element of that to this, even down to the grade in some ways.

Q: Why did you cast a Canadian comedian?

Duncan: That was in the script, the character of the comedian that was in there, but I think the casting was something we all had fun with. There were different ways to play that, you could either play on the comedy that was in the script or what we did which was start off on that and then you get someone who is a skilled comedian to come in and let them run with it a little bit. The problem was Russell was so funny but so blue for a PG rating that it was very difficult to edit around his stuff that was usable.

Q: Was it something to diffuse the intensity?

Duncan: It was definitely a part of the aim I think. One of my interpretations of Ben’s script was that, that layer of humor I think really helps the audience engage with it, I think humor helps you connect with people, and I think if you can get your audience on side with your characters, using any tool but humor in particular, I think the audience will go along with it, they’ll empathize with your main protagonists. I think it’s a very powerful tool.

Q: You’ve done an Indie film, this sci-fi action thriller, what’s next for you?

Duncan: I think there’s a Scream sequel….no I’m writing my next, what I’m hoping is going to be next film. I’m very lucky actually. They’re kind of flying me around the country right now talking about Source Code and while I’m flying I’m in business class so I can plug in my laptop and get some writing done while I’m flying. So I’m hoping to work on that next, and then Mute which is obviously this perennial, this thing I’ve been trying to make for a long time. I think that’s going to kind of be my Don Quixote, it’s going to be around for years, maybe in my 70’s I’ll make it, but in the meantime I’m going to turn it into a graphic novel. It worked for Darren Aronofsky and maybe it will rub off on me, I’ll get a chance to make it if people option the graphic novel. I’m not telling you it will work but I’m very excited about it.

Q: Can you tell me about your storyboarding process?

Duncan: It’s tricky, I mean you know I came out of the commercials industry where you have to storyboard. Basically they don’t want you to come up with ideas, they want to see exactly what you’re going to do and then they want you to deliver exactly that. So I started off being more of a stickler for storyboards but I love working with actors and I love giving them the opportunity to break out of what my expectations are and working with people like Jake and Michelle and Vera and Jeffrey they’re all incredibly skilled and they’re also very brave so why limit them in a way?

So I use storyboards mainly on a technical level where you have to, you have over eight hundred special effect shots in this film so I needed to have the discipline to know what was necessary but I think I became more sketchy. I worked with Tony Scott when I was starting out and his storyboards are fantastic. They’re about that size and stick figures and that’s all he wants to know, am I shooting this or am I shooting the whole body? That’s all he uses were storyboards so mine have become increasingly sketchy. I’m sure on my next film I’ll get to the level where I’m ready for stick figures.

Q: Did you worry about the sophomore slump?

Duncan: I didn’t think about it while I was doing it, to be honest. But it’s a term I’m familiar with, I’ve heard of it and I didn’t really have time to worry about it until we started doing press and media and then you start thinking about it and you think, what’s the third film called?

Q: Do you have any desire to break out into a more epic scope?

Duncan: Absolutely I’ll branch out and break out into something more epic. The next film is sci-fi and we’ve broken out of confined environments, it’s going to be future city stuff, so it’s big sprawling fun.

That concludes the interview. We’d like to thank Duncan very much for talking with us and be sure to check out Source Code when it hits theatres on April 1st, 2011.

About the author