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SXSW: Capone talks to director Duncan Jones, the man behind the SOURCE CODE!!!

Hey everyone. Capone in Chicago here.

There isn't much to say about Duncan Jones that his two excellent films--MOON and the new SOURCE CODE--don't say already. But I will add that it excites me to no end that there is a college philosophy major making intelligent, thought-provoking science fiction films. And although I didn't know that going into this interview, finding it out made me smile.

While it's true that both MOON and SOURCE CODE deal with confined spaces and feature lead characters who deal with questions about what their roles in the world are as well as questions of humanity, these are two very different movies. SOURCE CODE has a more conventional approach to thriller-oriented sci-fi (which is not to say it's slick or overly polished), while MOON was a largely quiet, almost meditative affair. Both also require more of their leading men than either Sam Rockwell or Jake Gyllenhaal have accomplished prior to making these movies. In both cases, the actors are giving the best performances of their respective careers and putting their faith in a relatively untested Jones to stunning results.

I'm crazy about movies that make your brain work during and after viewing them, and SOURCE CODE certainly does that. I can't wait to see what he's got next The relatively short time Jones and I got to talk recently at the SXSW Film Festival wasn't nearly enough time to really dig deep into the depths of his great film, but we cover a fair amount of ground. One topic we do touch on (but not nearly to the degree I would have liked) was the adaptation of his screenplay MUTE into a graphic novel. For a time, it looked like MUTE was going to be his MOON follow-up, but the budget could never be worked out, so perhaps seeing the story's stunning visuals on paper might make MUTE the movie a possibility down the line. Fingers crossed. Please enjoy my talk with Duncan Jones…

Capone: Hello.

Duncan Jones: How are you doing?

Capone: Good. It’s good to finally meet you. So how did the panel go with Quint this morning?

DJ: It was great. We had a really good time. Were you there last night for the screening?

Capone: No, I had seen the film already.

DJ: Okay. We had a really, really good screening last night and a terrific Q&A. I felt almost like I had paid off everyone in the audience to be there, they were all so friendly, but then the panel today was great as well. Eric did a great job and we had good fun.

Capone: They let me do a screening of MOON in Chicago a couple of yea,rs ago, because I saw it here and utterly floored by it. Did you come to Chicago for that? I forget.

DJ: Yeah, I did. I was in Chicago.

Capone: I think I didn’t get to talk to you, because Eric had talked to you here probably.

DJ: Right, well Eric came on set as well.

Capone: That’s right. With both of these films, one of the many things that this film deals with, as well as MOON, is “What is it to be human?” and “What is it to be alive?” and sort of loosely play with the definitions.

DJ: That’s true, I guess. That’s a new one actually, because people have talked to me about the idea of identity and knowing who you are and sort of having your own idea of who you are changed, but that’s a good point. “What it is to be human” is also something that the two films share, and I am interested in that. I literally studied that when I was at graduate school I was in philosophy, so I do find that fascinating.

Capone: I didn’t know that, but that does not surprise me in the slightest, because these are clearly films that evoke thought and discussion and need to be re-watched. I talked to Jake yesterday, and he said that he was actually the one who showed you the script.

DJ: He introduced me to it. We met up in Los Angeles. I was running around the world doing press for MOON and I really wanted the opportunity to meet with certain people, hoping to get my next film off of the ground and I really wanted to work with Jake, and we met up and clicked. We got on well, kind of in the same way I did with Sam Rockwell when I first met him, and Jake said “Look, I think I may have something that’s right for the two of us, let me see if you like it,” and he passed on the SOURCE CODE script to me and that’s where it all began.

Capone: Did you have another story in mind for the two of you?

DJ: MUTE. I was trying to get MUTE made and I thought Jake would be great for it, so I [Laughs] was trying to get him for MUTE. It’s the same way I met up with Sam. I gave MUTE to Sam when I met him for the first time. MUTE seems to be wonderful for introductions, but not so good to get made.

Capone: I just read that you had decide to go the…well, I don’t know if it’s only the graphic novel approach or are you hoping for bigger things still?

DJ: Well, the graphic novel is going to be our last stand. We are going to say, “Look, this is the film. These are the storyboards for the film. Do you like that? Is that visual enough for you?” [Laughs] Hopefully, we will see something. It obviously worked for Darren Aronofsky. He did the one for THE FOUNTAIN, and a number of other people have gone that route. For whatever reason--I think we all kind of know why--executives feel more comfortable buying into a graphic novel, because I guess they can literally see the movie better than they do looking at a script.

Capone: That is true, yeah. Jake also mentioned that in addition to the storyboarding that you always do that you also--and I think he said this was sort of a last-minute thing--mapped out every passenger on the train and what their trajectory was going to be with each new reality?

DJ: It kind of reminded me of when I was a kid, and we used to play D&D and stuff and I used to draw out maps on grid work, and it’s like, “Oh wow and this is there.” It actually looked more like football plays, because we had these little circles with arrows like “He goes there and he will block there…” But we had to do that really more for our background actors, so that there was a consistency on that side of things and we knew what the timing would be.

The crazy thing about the timing is although it’s an eight minutes repeated, in film language, sometimes it’s less than eight, sometimes it’s more than eight, because you work to dramatic effect, not because you are being run by a clock, which meant that the action of the background actors couldn’t be done on a stopwatch. It had to be done on an action level as to what was going on on the train at any given moment, and you would have to break up that eight minutes into fractions and say, “Right, so at two-thirds of the way through this eight-minute sequence, this has to occur” and that’s how we had to do it. Then, you would work out “What is 2/3 of this five-minute scene? This 12-minute scene?” And you would find the same place.

Capone: Right. I met Michelle [Monaghan] about a year ago. Roger Ebert had a film festival, and he played her movie TRUCKER, and I was one of only two journalists to interview her for that movie. And she had just come from shooting in Chicago shooting the scenes in Millennium Park. She went to college in Chicago for a little while.

DJ: That’s right.

Capone: All of that stuff wasn’t there when she went to college.

DJ: Oh, you mean the Anish Kapoor sculpture?

Capone: That too, but the whole park wasn’t there.

DJ: Oh wow, really?

Capone: Yeah. She wouldn’t tell me anything about the movie, but that was the first time I think I even realized she was in the movie.

DJ: So you can tell me… This is great; because you're the first Chicagoan I’ve had the chance to talk to about this. Is that sculpture now something that people in Chicago think of as a Chicago landmark?

Capone: Oh, absolutely.

DJ: I would have thought so because it’s beautiful. It’s a wonderful piece of sculpture.

Capone: The whole park is like brand new. But yeah, any touristy shots of Chicago on film will include a shot of The Bean.

DJ: I love it. I’m actually a big fan of that sculptor. He is also building something incredible for the London Olympics. It looks like a rollercoaster, and he has squished it together and extruded it upward. It’s an incredible thing. It’s almost the height of the Eiffel Tower or something. It’s going to be this amazing thing in London.

Capone: Very cool. One of the things I kept thinking about in this film was about the psychological toll that Colter would go through to die repeatedly and did he feel that pain before he’s snapped out of it? Seriously, psychological and physical pain that he would endure every time he would wrap one of these source codes. That’s the toll he would pay.

DJ: Absolutely. That’s the torture really. That is forcing someone to not only experience death, but they experience it repeatedly and in different ways. There’s a little FINAL DESTINATION in there. [Laughs] The tricky thing, though, is there is a real potential pitfall to that in that the audience knows he is going to come back. So how do you get the audience to care that he is going to die knowing that he is going to come back and have another shot at it? My job was to try and invest the audience enough in Colter as a character and also in his frustration at what he’s having to go through. The audience knows that death is not going to end things for him, but they hopefully will think, “This could go on forever to this poor character,” and that alone is a reason to really feel bad for him. Even if dying is not the reason to feel bad for him, the fact that it will go on forever is what the audience feels bad about. So, that’s the trick.

Capone: This idea that you are making these cerebral science fiction works--and I understand that every artist feels the need to branch out and do different things--I want to make a plea to say, “You know what? Stick with this for a little while,” because you are the best one out there making these sorts of things. I think it’s almost braver if you do keep doing the thing that you are so good at.

DJ: That's very, very kind of you. I’m working with a good generation of people right now I think in sci-fi. There is a little bit of a Renaissance, a little miniature golden age I think going on with sci-fi. I’m going to do one more sci-fi film next, and it’s going to be hopefully my biggest and best I hope, and then I’m probably going to take a little sabbatical from sci-fi. But I am very excited about the next one. As you know, I’m a big BLADE RUNNER fan, and MUTE was going to be my homage, but I understand what the problems were of not being able to make it. Hopefully, the graphic novel will at least fulfill me in one way, but I still have the bug to do something city based, sci-fi, and that’s what my next film will be, and I’m very excited about that.

Capone: Okay. A lot of people have talked about the other thing it has in common with MOON is the claustrophobic sets, and I would argue that Vera Farmiga has the most claustrophobic moments, because she had the least amount of room to move.

DJ: Those three actors, Jake, Michelle, and Vera all had really difficult challenges for their performance, whether it was Jake having to sort of go through the gamut of emotions that he sort of tries to make sense of this world that he’s existing in. I mean, emotionally he has to go all over the place, and we are trying to bring the lightness of tone to it, so he’s doing comedy as well; it’s a real juggling act. Then there’s Michelle who has this arc of a character that normally would take place over the narrative of film, but she’s having to break it up over eight-minute segments, so she’s reliving this eight minutes, but still having to develop a character arc; so there’s a real challenge there. Then there’s obviously Vera who has to perform in this very confined way, but to be honest I even felt that was too limiting, so we tried to find ways to move her around and break her out of that environment in the few opportunities that we had.

Capone: I liked that Colter seems like a guy who has spent a great deal of his life losing connections, and when he realizes that something is not quite right with his world anymore, he tries to rebuild as many connections with his father and with Vera and Michelle as he can. There’s such an urgency to it.

DJ: I think so and I think even though it is compressed timeframes, I think you really do get a sense of him connecting. The chemistry with him between Jake and Michelle is great. Did you pick up on the father?

Capone: On the Bakula thing? Yes, I did.

DJ: Okay. [Both laugh] Good. Thank you. I knew Ain’t It Cool would get it right. You know we even got him to say… Do you hear the “Oh, boy”? He actually says "Oh, boy" in his speech.

Capone: I don’t remember that, but that’s funny.

DJ: That was my little "Quantum Leap" homage.

Capone: He was on some episodes of "Chuck," so I’ve heard his voice more recently. Duncan, it was great to finally meet you.

DJ: Really nice talking to you.

Capone: Take care. Good to meet you.

DJ: Thank you so much.

-- Capone
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Readers Talkback
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  • March 29, 2011, 3:02 p.m. CST

    It was a "Ok" movie...

    by Dhaemon

    Kinda figured it out 20 mins in though

  • March 29, 2011, 3:28 p.m. CST

    sounds like the x-files episode

    by akkosa

    where there is a bank robber with a bomb and mulder and scully keep dying over and over until they figure out how to stop it.

  • March 29, 2011, 3:55 p.m. CST


    by BringingSexyBack

    The trailer portends epic shittiness.

  • March 29, 2011, 7:56 p.m. CST

    Huge hard on for this movie

    by 2soon2eat

    Hollywood versus the tea party movement, whats not to love? Can't wait to skip the free download and watch something else, instead. I guess Hollywood hates profit? Cause like pissing off 49% of the movie going public is going to totally rock their margins.

  • March 29, 2011, 9:06 p.m. CST

    He should have been directing Superman

    by vadakinX

    I know Jones was in the running and he said that it might be too big for him at this stage in his career but dammit the man knows what he's doing. He could have brought real heart to Superman and made the audience care about what was happening in the action sequences rather than Snyder's "oh look isn't this pretty and awesome?" approach. He works with characters and not just plot and I think that he is as prepared as Snyder to handle large scale action sequences given that Snyder has done the majority of his action work on green screen stages and doesn't have the on-location experience of shooting action sequences that is required so in that regard Jones is as good a choice for presenting the spectacle, perhaps more so because he actually gets you involved with the character. It's such a shame that Jones isn't doing Superman. But Source Code looks like it could be really good and I'm sure Jones will get the opportunity to do something on a larger scale in the future and blow everyone away.

  • The same guy who loved JJ Abrams' Star Trek and complayed about houses who were not churches.

  • March 30, 2011, 3:05 a.m. CST

    Duncan Jones is the real deal.

    by AsimovLives

    MOON alone proves he's a gifted filmmaker. I can't wait for his next work. directors like duncan is the ones we should be excited and enthusiastic and supportive about, not fakes like Zack Snyder and his ilk.

  • March 30, 2011, 3:14 a.m. CST


    by AsimovLives

    Many people figured out what MOON was about 20 minutes into the film as well. Even the movie itself clues us into the supposed reveal. But MOON was not about twists, but the drama of the situation. So, perhaps, was SOURCE CODE as well? Maybe with that knowledge you might enjoy the movie more? Not all movies hang on their supposed twists.

  • March 30, 2011, 3:15 a.m. CST


    by AsimovLives

    MASTER AND COMMANDER had a terrible trailer and the movie kicks ungodly amounts of ass. ALIEN VS PREDATOR REQUIEM had a damn good trailer and the movie... well, we all know how that turned out.

  • March 30, 2011, 4:10 a.m. CST

    He should take a break from skiffy, and do...

    by Dennis_Moore

    fantasy! Heh heh. Seriously, though. The Fall, Mirrormask, and Solomon Kane have been the only good fantasy in a long time, and the first two were of the "existing only in the imagination/dreams" variety. Jones and Michael Bassett should be the Lucas/Spielberg of the present day and collaborate on something. Perhaps Zelazny's Amber?

  • March 30, 2011, 4:44 a.m. CST

    vadakinx, i concur

    by AsimovLives

    My onyl worry for duncan jones making such a big movie as Superman is his inexperience with large budget productions. Still, it's not unheard of filmmakers who started with off-beat low budget movies to sucessfulyl jump to big productions. Filmmakers like Tim Burton and Christopher Nolan started small and off-beat and easly became adept at making big blockbusters films. I think the same thing could happen with Duncan Jones. I fully agree with the reasons you posted above. I wish a guy like Duncan Jones was directing the new Superman movie. Instead we have this Snyder guy who's more like a spoiled brat child obsessed with his CGI toys and little else. As such, the new Superman movie to be can elicit, at best, just a "meh" from me. At best.

  • March 30, 2011, 9:24 a.m. CST

    Leave Snyder alone

    by lecter1914

    I dont think his movies are AMAZING or anything, but I think Snyder is for some reason getting a lot more flack than he deserves. How many people do we kno of getting high budget genre fare off the ground and legitimately TRYING to do it right? Say what you will, but Dawn Of The Dead was fucking awesome. Can't compare it to the original because they are drastically different but it was amazing in it's own right. 300 I wasnt crazy about but it was what it was. Watchmen was about as good as it could have been regardless of who made it. I didn't see the Owl movie...sorry. I havent seen Sucker Punch but it seems more like a stress release exercise than a serious attempt at film making.