Reviews & Previews - Interview with Duncan Jones (director of "Moon")

Posted on Tuesday, June 16, 2009 at 06:00 PM

Interview with Duncan Jones (director of "Moon")

By: S. Tran

Recently I sat down with Duncan Jones, the director of the new feature film, "Moon" starring Sam Rockwell. After a career spanning 10 years directing commercials and short films, Duncan began working on "Moon" with the intention of using it as a sort of calling card in hopes of attracting enough attention to garner opportunities to direct more feature films. However, when the film was completed it was good enough to get the attention of Sony Pictures who purchased the rights to the movie. Part science fiction, part psychological thriller and part locked room mystery, "Moon" is an impressive debut film by a down to earth and genuinely pleasant new talent.

We met at the Angelika theater in downtown Houston and discussed the genesis for the movie and his experiences working on it.

First congratulations on the film.

Thank you so much.

I saw that you actually wrote the story, can you tell us a little bit about how you came up with the idea?

Absolutely. I had another script I sent to Sam Rockwell who I love as an actor. I wanted him to play one part in the film and he loved the script but wanted to play a different character. So we met in New York to basically discuss it and to try to convince each other but it didn't work out, but we got on really well and we were talking about the films we loved and how it'd be really good to work together. I was telling him that, "I really want you to be in my first film. So the only thing I could think of to do was to write something new for you". That was basically the start of it. "Moon" was written for Sam Rockwell. That's why the main character's called Sam.

Now when I was watching the film, it kinda reminded me some of the old Outer Limits T.V. shows. What were some of your influences when you were writing the script?

Well, definitely some of the science fictions films... films from the late 70s and 80s like "Outland" and "Silent Running" and other films like the original Ridley Scott, "Aliens". Those kind of films were really up in front of my mind and I wanted to pay homage to those films in different ways.

Now given the science fiction aspect of the film, was there a lot of research you had to put into it to make it realistic?

Yeah, a little bit. I read a book by Robert Zubrin called "Entering Space" a few years ago. I found it incredibly fascinating. It was really his manifesto on how we should start to colonize our solar system from a scientific perspective and one of the parts on it was setting up a lunar colony and how we could make that financially viable. I tried to borrow as much science as I could obviously within the limitations of an independent science fiction film. That was the scientific background of it.

Because the film isn't typical Hollywood or even typical science fiction fare was it a tough sell when you went around to get the money to make it?

To be honest, it wasn't a tough sell. What was a tough sell was that we could achieve it on the budget. That was the tough sell. I've done commercials before and in commercials land you basically get what you need when you need to make the commercial. I think to convince people that we would be able to do it for that money was very difficult but we had some fantastic concepts and the fact that Sam Rockwell was attached. It all just sort of made things much easier to get the financing that we needed.

How did you and Sam Rockwell actually meet the first time? You mentioned you were a fan of his.

We went through his agent and she knew about us. The very first thing I saw him in was "Charlie's Angels" ages and ages ago. You know, it's big popcorn movie but again, he's one of those guys where whenever you see him on the screen, he just kind of explodes out of the frame. He's just a fantastic actor.

Now with only one actor on the set, I'm going to assume in some respect it made for an easier shoot, but were there difficulties you encountered having just one actor all the time?

Well, fortunately, Sam and I got on and do get on very well. So that was a good starting place. You'd be surprised actually. It was very tense in some ways. Sam's very social, you know, very funny and lovely guy and not having any other actors around, he felt very isolated, I think, because he was on his own as an actor.

He's trained in an acting technique called the Meisner technique, so whatever an actor throws at you, you kind of use that to improv and throw back at another actor. Not having another actor to work with, it was a real challenge for the way he normally works. So for him, I think it was very difficult. It took a few days of adjusting and working out a system where he could realize his potential for the way that he works. For me, technically, it was incredibly complicated because the effects we were trying to pull off on this small budget ... honestly, $5M is a small budget. And trying to pull that off and within the time frame. We had 33 days to shoot it and with Sam playing multiple roles, it was like trying to shoot 2 films.

Were there other concessions during the filming that you had to make due to your budget constraints?

Yeah, there was quite a few. Some of the choices worked out to improve the film, I think. We had kind of an epilogue to the film where Sam actually gets back to Earth. We shot it but we had to shoot it in a cost-conscious way. When we were in the editing suite and we put it on the film, it just felt wrong. It felt wrong from a story point of view as much as anything else, but also sort of visually it kind of ruined the aesthetic that we set up for the rest of the film. Just the feeling of being on the moon and the base itself. Then all of a sudden, you had this kind of a soap opera looking thing at the end of the film and it felt totally wrong, so we got rid of it. If we had more money, we'd have probably spent more money doing it and we probably still wouldn't have used it. So I'm kind of glad that we ended up where we were. And especially putting it at the end, it just all of a sudden feels like a different movie. It just didn't feel right.

I read that your exterior shots of the moon base and rovers were actually miniatures and not computer generated.

Yes, we went for paying homage to all these science fiction films that we loved. A lot of the work they used to do was model miniatures. It worked out, it was a cost/benefit thing. You could just go the CG route but to be honest, from my commercials background, I knew that it would create a really deep textured look and I wanted to use that in the film. We had a big room of lunar landscape with rovers that we'd actually built. We built them at 2 different scales. So we had kind of smaller ones about a foot across and then larger ones about 3 ft across, depending on how close the camera was to them. Then we were pulling those across with fishing lines. Lots of work that goes on top of it afterwards. But yeah, those were model miniatures.

Did the film come out as you envisioned it, or did the direction of it change as you were shooting?

I have no regrets. It definitely changed over the course of making it. Even from the point where I gave the script to Sam. Sam read the script and loved it. He was very very nervous because of the responsibility of all the screen time he had and all of the different things he had to do as an actor. So he asked me if I'd come to New York and we did a week of rehearsals with a friend of his. Over the course of that week of rehearsals, we were doing a lot of improv and a lot changing to the scenes. So even at that point we were changing things and manipulating it and hopefully improving it.

Throughout the shoot, there'd be technical things or budgetary issues with the actual construction of the interior of the moon base where we would have to make calls where maybe the original design of the base had more equipment in it and we'd have to scale that back and make things a lot more simple. So there were changes. At the time, every one of them seemed like the end of the world but I think we made the right calls on pretty much all of them. So I think we ended with something we're all pretty much proud of.

What kinds of films do you want to make in the future?

Somebody was reminding me the other day that the short film I did before "Moon" was also science fiction and it looks like the next film I'm going to do is science fiction as well. That's not the plan, I don't want to do science fiction forever. I think this first batch of films just happens to all be science fiction. What I do love about science fiction is what you can tell quite deep, often, emotional stories but because it's science fiction, you kind of have that distance. At least the audience feels a kind of distance so that they don't feel that they're being preached to. I find that really useful. There's all kinds of films I'd like to do in the future, but the next one's going to be more Blade Runner-y. A future city story.

Finally, some of our readers may not know that David Bowie is your father. Being his son and growing up with him being so famous, any effect on your career at all - negatively or positively?

I think probably both. There's kind of a nice analogy to it. You can imagine that a lot of doors get opened for you easier but what you have to do once you get through the door, you have to prove yourself a lot more to people because the expectations are a lot higher.

Duncan, thank you for your time and good luck with the movie.

Thank you as well.


"Moon" opens in theaters June 26 of this year.


NOTE: The showtimes listed on come directly from the theatres' announced schedules, which are distributed to us on a weekly basis. All showtimes are subject to change without notice or recourse to