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Exclusive Interview With Duncan Jones On Source Code And Mute

With Source Code hitting theatres in just a few short months, we thought we would take some time to talk to the director of the film, Duncan Jones. Known for his spectacular debut film Moon, Mr. Jones sat down with us for a while to talk not only about Source Code, but about Mute, another film he has planned. Born in London, England, Duncan Jones is the son of famous rock star David Bowie. After dropping out of Vanderbilt University in Tennessee, where he was pursuing a PhD, he enrolled in the London Film School, where he graduated as a director. After dabbling in commercials, he went onto make Moon, starring Sam Rockwell and Kevin Spacey. The film won acclaim from critics and moviegoers alike. It put Mr. Jones into the spotlight and eventually led him to the directing job on Source Code. Check out the interview below as we sit down with Duncan and chat with him about the upcoming movie.

With Source Code hitting theatres in just a few short months, we thought we would take some time to talk to the director of the film, Duncan Jones. Known for his spectacular debut film Moon, Mr. Jones sat down with us for a while to talk not only about Source Code, but about Mute, another film he has planned.

Born in London, England, Duncan Jones is the son of famous rock star David Bowie. After dropping out of Vanderbilt University in Tennessee, where he was pursuing a PhD, he enrolled in the London Film School, where he graduated as a director. After dabbling in commercials, he went onto make Moon, starring Sam Rockwell and Kevin Spacey. The film won acclaim from critics and moviegoers alike. It put Mr. Jones into the spotlight and eventually led him to the directing job on Source Code.

Check out the interview below as we sit down with Duncan and chat with him about the upcoming movie.

*Audio version included at the bottom of the page*

We Got This Covered: Firstly, we’d like to thank you very much for this opportunity, we really appreciate it.

Duncan Jones: Absolutely, no problem.

WGTC: We know you’re on a tight schedule so we’ll we’ll get things started here with our first question. How did you first come across Ben Ripley’s Source Code script and what drew you to it? What made you want to direct it?

DJ: In all honestly, I met up with Jake Gyllenhaal and it was to discuss another project, one of my own, that I’ve been trying to do for a long time, a film called Mute. So I met with Jake and he had seen Moon and he was a big fan and we just started talking about possibly working together. Jake was already attached to Source Code and would be doing it next and he was very keen on me directing it and he asked me if I’d be interested in collaborating with him and working with him on that. I think Jake’s a fantastic actor and I very much wanted to work with him. I read the script and I thought it was pretty good and wanted to get on board. I wanted to work with Jake.

In all honesty, I think they were already pretty far along with the project. Jake was already attached, they knew when they would be shooting the film. At one point I think there was another director attached but Jake was very complimentary about Moon and when I met with him he told me that he wanted me to direct. I came in there with my own take on things and I think I messed up a little bit of their planning since I obviously had my own spin on how things should be done. But it all worked out and I’m lucky that I had very talented people around me. But I came onto it fairly late in the day, in fact what is it now? It’s January now, I think mid-November of last year is when I first agreed to be on board with Source Code, so that’s pretty fast really.

WGTC: That is quite quick, you’re right. If you hadn’t done Moon though, do you think you would have been able to do Source Code, not only from a financial standpoint but as a filmmaker?

DJ: I don’t know. Probably not. Moon was terrific experience for me, not only because I had a chance to make a film of my own but making a feature film is so different from making commercials or music videos for instance, it’s a very different process, it’s like running a marathon as opposed to doing a sprint.

I don’t think I would have wanted to have jumped into Source Code, which was a much bigger film than Moon, without having done a feature before it. Also, Jake wouldn’t have been interested in me in the first place. His interest in working with me was very much based on his appreciation of Moon.

WGTC: How has it been different working on Source Code with a $25 million budget compared to working on Moon with a $5 million budget?

DJ: It’s funny because it’s one of those things where the budget always ends up not being enough for what you try to do. One of the big differences obviously is you’re working through the Hollywood system, things have to be done a certain way, there are a lot of unions involved, you have to pay people what they deserve [laughs].

When you’re doing a small British independent film, everyone, well a lot of people, want to be involved, they’re willing to do favours, they work very hard for not being paid enough and everyone understands your doing an independent film.

When you’re doing a film like Source Code, there are certain rates and rules as to how long people can work. There is much more of a system and a set of rules. All of the sudden things become more expensive, the money doesn’t stretch as far as you might think it would. It’s not like you can make 10 Moons [laughs], it doesn’t work like that.

WGTC: So do you prefer the big budget like on Source Code or the small budget like on Moon?

DJ: To be honest, that to me is less of an issue. My priority is having the ability to be creative and to come up with the right decisions and not be fettered. If there are a lot of people involved in decision making, it can become frustrating. At first I found that really to be dampening my enthusiasm when we first started on Source Code.

But you just have to get to know people and develop relationships with the people you’re going to have to work with. By the end of it, I think we really got things working and in a really good way. I’m really proud of the film. I think we’ve ended up with something that I didn’t expect and I’m really happy with it.

WGTC: Will you go the studio route with your next film?

DJ: For my next movie, I’m trying to do a film based on something I’ve written myself. If I play my cards right, hopefully I can get the budget I need to do it properly and still be in control of it. That has always been my long game. I did Moon on a very small budget to show what I could do. I did Source Code to show that I can work in the system. Hopefully on the next film, I get to do my thing, but on a Hollywood budget.

WGTC: Is this next project Mute? And will Sam Rockwell appear in it like we’ve heard?

DJ: It’s likely that Sam will appear in the film. Me and Sam talked and wrote a very amusing and fitting role for him to do a cameo in the film. But my next film probably won’t be Mute. Right now things are very exciting and are falling in place really well, but not for Mute, It’s for a different project that I’ve written and that no one knows anything about.

WGTC: On Source Code, you’ve been working with legendary editor Paul Hirsch, how has that been?

DJ: It’s been fantastic. Paul’s been [laughs], basically, I’ve just got this character who is known throughout Hollywood and is just a bastion of experience and credibility. He’s a wonderful and lovely man. Incredibly talented and insightful. It’s been a real joy and a huge education to work with him. I’ve loved it.

He also covers his office up in posters with the films he’s done before. So every time you sit down with him you’re surrounded by Mission Impossible, Ferris, Empire Strikes Back, all these amazing posters for the films he’s done. It’s quite intimidating.

WGTC:  We imagine it must be. With Source Code, is it safe to say that it’ll mess with our minds and mess with the appearance of reality? Is that the direction it’s going in?

DJ: I think so, a little bit. But at the same time, one of the first things that Jake and I talked about when we read the script was that it’s very dour and takes itself very seriously. I wanted to lighten it up a little bit. There are a lot of great films out there right now which delve into that realm of what is reality and they take themselves really seriously. And for some films it works really well. But for Source Code, what I think it needed was that little touch of the sort of Indiana Jones wink and fun, the fun of all the stuff that is going on. So that’s what I tried to bring to the film. I feel pretty good that we got the tone just right. It’s fun and exciting. It’s a really fast paced film.

WGTC: A lot of people have pointed out similarities between Source Code and films like Deja Vu and Vantage Point, what will make Source Code stand out?

DJ: You’re just gonna have to watch it. It’s not like those films. Ya there are similarities in plot devices but it’s so different to those films in my mind that I would just suggest the audience go see it because it’s not the same as those films.

WGTC: Is it safe to assume that there will be a nice plot twist in Source Code, like in Moon?

DJ: That’s the interesting thing about Moon. You can say that there is a plot twist but really, it’s something that occurs at the end of the first act, so it’s different from a normal plot twist. It’s more part of the set up for the story. With Source Code, there are things we do in the story which take it in different directions, but ya there’s a few twists. I think it’s all fitting though, within the story and very much within the tone of this kind of story. It’s all good fun.

WGTC: Moon was a much more intimate film than Source Code. How was it working on a big set with Source Code?

DJ: I have to say, one of the things that really drew me in and made me want to work with Jake is, well, I had an amazing meeting with Sam Rockwell for Moon. We really clicked, as people, besides the work, we just got on really well. I had a similar thing with Jake. He’s a really funny and smart guy. After I read the script we started talking about it and about putting the humor back in. He’s got a great sense of humor and he’s very creative. He’s willing to throw himself into things and try new things.

While shooting, having him and Michelle Monaghan, Vera, Jeffery, all working together and with Jake willing to try stuff and be goofy and do the unexpected, I think we had a really enjoyable set. All the actors were really enjoying themselves.

WGTC: Sounds like fun. What sort of technical challenges did you face while shooting?

DJ: A lot of this film takes place on a train and we had to build the interior of our train on a sound stage in Montreal. We had the whole thing up on a gimbal. Now, building a train is hard enough and while we had a bigger budget than Moon, this is still not a big budget by Hollywood standards, it’s still considered sort of an independent film. The way we built this train made it very difficult to take walls out and be able to actually shoot the angles we needed to without slowing things down essentially. We had a limited time to shoot it. In a funny way, there were as many if not more limitations on the ways that I could shoot it then there were on Moon.

WGTC: What were your influences for Source Code? Which films did you look at before you started?

DJ: That’s funny, I’m not sure that there was anything that relates directly. There were some Hitchcock films we looked at and some more unexpected things but nothing specifically. We may have visually referenced some things but it would be more subconsciously nothing overt.

WGTC: If you could work with any screenwriter, who would it be?

DJ: Aaron Sorkin, it’s gotta be [laughs], I’m sure everyone in town is saying that. I thought The Social Network was fantastic. And I thought that the dialogue throughout The West Wing was just phenomenal. I think that he’s a real proper genius.

WGTC: Completely agree, The Social Network was one of our favorite films also. What were your other favorite films of 2010?

DJ: [laughs], I would be remiss if I didn’t mention Tangled. My girlfriend and I have seen that and absolutely loved it. We had great fun in it. I also took my little sister to see it and she loved it. So Tangled is definitely some of the most fun I’ve had.

I also watched Exit Through The Gift Shop recently and I thought that was fantastic, really enjoyed it. I think the main character in that, without it being a spoiler, is the best villain I’ve seen in any film in 2010.

What else? [pauses], Four Lions. Thought that was great. I’m going all British here but I thought that was terrific. I love Chris Morris anyways, I think he’s incredibly smart. Anyone in America or Canada who hasn’t seen the show Brass Eye needs to find a way to get a copy.

What else have I seen that I’ve really liked lately? Oh, True Grit was good fun. It’s wonderful to see the Coens have such a successful hit. I just wish it had been for one of their even better films, but True Grit was fantastic.

Hold on, I’ll have a look at my screeners, I’ve got some screeners here. Oh, The King’s Speech. Another British one actually. Strong film, great performances. It’s amazing to see how two actors, without worrying about all the effects and crazy locations, can keep your attention and keep you utterly entertained for an hour and a half, and that’s what the film proves.

WGTC: It’s interesting you say that about The King’s Speech because that is very much like Moon. Essentially it’s mainly Sam Rockwell with himself and Spacey as a computer.

DJ: [laughs] Ya, I’m sure I’m missing some obvious ones but those are the ones I’ve watched fairly recently.

WGTC: What are some of your dream projects? Be it original works, adaptations etc.

DJ: It’s a tricky one that and I understand you have to ask but I’m in a really exciting position right now and there’s a good chance that I might get to do a few of those things so I can’t really talk about them. But I’ll talk to you in a couple of months as to if I can do them or not [laughs].

WGTC: Switching gears here a bit, but what about 3D? Where do you stand on it?

DJ: So tricky. Cameron was going on about how when you shoot 3D, you can’t actually shoot 3D the whole time. If you start whipping your camera back and forth, it’ll screw up your eyes and give you a headache. So you actually don’t use 3D all the time when you shoot a 3D film. Therefore, it just becomes part of the bag of tricks that a filmmaker has, a very expensive trick but one that you can use in moderation in film

So I don’t know, whether 3D films as a new way of seeing movies is going to be the de facto way of making a film, I can’t really tell. I don’t know how often it really is applicable to a film. It makes sense like in a Christopher Nolan film like in a Batman or something like that to have some of your set pieces where you want to establish the scale and sense of environment using 3D. And I guess there are horror films, like splatter films, where 3D is good fun.

It’s difficult to tell though, I don’t see it as a solution to all moviemaking. Also, I don’t know whether the industry can sustain 3D if it’s only used in moderation where needed. It’s kind of like you either have to go one way or the other to make it financially viable. I don’t think it’s necessary all the time. So there are still a lot of things that need to be sorted out. As far as home theatre, I have no interest in wearing a pair of glasses to watch TV.

WGTC: Agreed, neither do we. Did the topic of 3D ever come up for Source Code?

DJ: Too small a budget and we were moving too fast. We had a shooting window where we had to get in there, start building stuff and shoot the film. To do 3D well, you really have to plan. There are certain parts of the film where it makes sense to shoot in 3D. And then like Cameron said, there are parts where if the camera is swinging about, it has to be shot in 2D, or else you’ll give your audience a headache. So you really have to plan it out. On Source Code, we were moving too fast and it would have been too expensive to do it.

WGTC: Moon and Source Code are both sci-fi films. Do you every see yourself doing any other genre?

DJ: Definitely, I’d love to branch out. 3 sci-fi films is a good start, then I’ll go do some other genres.

WGTC: You had said Moon was part of a ‘loose’ trilogy that includes Mute, what would the third film be?

DJ: The idea was always to have a universe in which those three films took place in and to allow characters from each film to migrate into the story or the world of the other. It wasn’t going to be the continuation of an ongoing story. It was always going to be this is one story, this is another story and here’s a cameo from a character in that world and they’ll have an effect on the story. Then we’ll go to a third and independent story and we’ll see a visit from one or two characters from the other films. The idea was by creating this trilogy, you’d be able to watch the three and see how all three, including Moon, were effected by the other films.

WGTC: Speaking of Mute, how’s pre-production coming along on it?

DJ: Well it’s in a bit of a limbo actually. I’ve always loved the script and felt it was a film worth making, but it’s a tricky one. It’s a sci-fi film, and one of the drafts of the scripts got leaked a while back. The reaction was mixed. Most people didn’t get the fact that yes it is sci-fi but it’s a futurist film. It’s a thriller that happens to take place in the future, it’s not some amazing piece of technology that ya know the world is depending upon and the whole story revolves around some particular piece of technology or some sci-fi hook.

That was the whole idea, to tell a film that can be based in any period, but just HAPPENS to take place in the future. And it’s been very difficult to basically pitch that in a way where people understand why it needs to be done that way. People just say, why can’t it be in a contemporary setting? But no, it’s about mood and atmosphere as much as anything else. It’s also quite dark so it’s been a tough sell. Also, it’s not a big film, it has been designed to be sort of a smaller and more independent film. Budget wise, it’s in between Moon and Source Code.

I just need to get away from it for a while. I’ll come back to it one day and hopefully it’ll work the way I see it working. In the meantime, I have another project that I’m very excited about. It will address what people expect from sci-fi films but still does what I want it to do, and still has the heart and energy that I’d wanna see in a sci-fi film.

WGTC: So you said a script for Mute exists? Would that be a collaboration with your Moon writing partner Nathan Parker?

DJ: Nathan and I met just before we did Moon, and that’s the first and only thing we ever worked on together. Before Nathan, I worked with a man named Mike Johnson and he went off to do Sherlock Holmes for Guy Ritchie. Before he worked with Ritchie and before Moon, we had written a few scripts together, one of which was Mute.

It’s funny, with most directors, there are a couple of scripts they have in their back pocket that they long to do one day. Hopefully a time will come when you get a chance to make it. With Terry Gilliam, he has Don Quixote that he has been tyring to make for decades. Every director has a project like that and I have a sneaking suspicion that Mute is going to be mine.

WGTC: As long as your set doesn’t get washed away right?

DJ: [laughs] exactly.

WGTC: We saw one early piece of production art from Mute, it looks a lot like Blade Runner, is that the type of thing we can expect visually? Will the world look like Blade Runner?

DJ: That’s certainly the world for Mute and the one thing I can tell you about my next project is that I’m determined to do a future city film, I want it to be my homage to Blade Runner, even if it’s a bit bigger, it will be a city based future film.

WGTC:  Sounds very interesting. Well that just about does it. Thank you so much for taking the time to sit down with us. We really appreciate it. Good luck with Source Code!

DJ: Thanks, I hope you enjoy it.

Source Code hits theatres April 1, 2011. Be sure to check it out!!

About the author

Matt Joseph

Matt Joseph is the co-founder, owner and Editor in Chief of We Got This Covered. He currently attends the University of Western Ontario and is studying at the Richard Ivey School of Business. He works on We Got This Covered in his spare time and enjoys writing for the site.