Duncan Jones is the director of Moon, one of the best low budget scifi films of… ever. His next movie is Source Code, which has Jake Gyllenhaal traveling mentally into the last few minutes of someone else’s life in an attempt to discover who bombed a train. The film will premiere at the opening night of SXSW in March.
Summit tried to get me into the editing room where Duncan Jones was cutting Source Code and show me a chunk of footage, but time didn’t allow it. Which, for me, is quite alright - I’m tired of seeing bits and pieces of movies in advance. Just show me the film! Complete! In context!
They were able to get me on the phone with Jones. I had seen the trailer for Source Code but nothing else, but that was okay - the stuff I’m curious about, and I imagine you might be as well, is about the mixture of Jones - indie scifi visionary - with a studio and a big star. What’s that like, and how did it come to be?
Badass: With your previous work it’s been very much your vision. With Source Code you’ve come into a project that was already in motion, with a script that you hadn’t written. That’s a very different situation for you. What’s it been like?
Jones: You nailed it with different. It’s been a very different way of operating. It was more than just a pre-existing script - when I got on board there was already a production plan for how to make the film. When I came in with my wacky ideas it threw a few curve balls at the people actually putting the production together. Fortunately they were very flexible and they understood that I was going to come in with my own ideas and my own thoughts on how to do things. We found ways to adapt and to do things within the time frame we had to actually make things work the way I thought we needed to proceed. I had a very skilled, very professional group of people around me, so we were able to make that adjustment.
I always hear that having limitations like that, that these are excellent learning opportunities for directors, that it challenges your skills. Do you feel that now you have new skills to rely on?
Definitely. There are so many new parts of feature filmmaking that I had the opportunity to experience on this film. That’s just a natural progression for any director, I imagine - you do a small independent film with the team you’re used to working with and then you start working with people you’ve never worked with before on a project that isn’t completely your own. I’m sharing the vision with people who have been working on it for a long time - you have to find a way to adapt. I’m fortunate because my commercials background gave me skills needed for this [situation]. I think we’ve created something that’s a real hybrid of ideas I had and also things that were pre-existing, which were appealing.
Why did you go with Source Code? You were juggling a lot of potential projects at the time, and you ended up choosing this one. What was it about Source Code that brought you in?
The main reason I did it is that I wanted the opportunity to work with Jake Gyllenhaal. Like Sam Rockwell I think he’s one of those actors who is incredibly talented at who at the time - since then he’s done Prince of Persia and that - but at the time I thought he was a leading man who was funny and smart and handsome and had the talent to pull off any part. I had a chance to meet with Jake and at that time I was, as I usually am, I was trying to convince him to do one of my crazy projects, and he said “You know what, I’d like you to come on this film that I’m working on right now,” which was Source Code. I read it and thought it was really good and it would give me a chance to work with Jake on his turf, and hopefully if I do a good job and he enjoyed the process I can grab him to come and work on one of my films today.
What is it that sets Source Code apart from the films in the subgenre of time loops, like 12 Monkeys, or manufactured realities, like The Matrix?
When I first read it I said to Jake, “There’s a lot of heavy, serious scifi out there - let’s try to find opportunities to bring lightness.” Having worked with Sam on Moon he taught me that you could get as heavy as you want as long as you intersperse it with lighter moments. They make the heavy, darker moments hit harder. That was my approach on Source Code: This is all very heavy and serious, so let’s find places to inject humor and a little bit of surrealness to the proceedings. Let’s make it feel different. One of the things I’m really happy about is that Jake’s performance really does have those Indiana Jones kind of moments, where you see that slyness of a leading man who is a little bit out of his depth but always finds ways to deal with the situation.
Is this a puzzle movie? Is this the kind of movie where, when we watch it a second time, we’ll be seeing stuff in a whole new light?
It’s a thriller. Obviously it’s got science fiction elements, but it’s kind of a traditional thriller in many ways. It’s certainly different from Inception. We definitely have much more of a lightness of touch, and that’s definitely by design. While there are things that you’ll pick up on a second viewing, but for me it’s much more straightforward than Inception. But it is certainly deeper than most Hollywood science fiction films, so we hit that middle ground.
Is there any movement on Mute? Is it still twitching around in the background?
It’s still twitching around. There’s another thing I’m writing right now. As Source Code is winding up there’s two things - I’m writing a project and I’m doing a commercial. That’s going to take a month of my time and still let me write.
Well, I can’t wait to see Source Code.
I think it’s going to be a real pleasant surprise. I think it’s a popcorn movie - that’s what I’m hoping for. Don’t worry, I’ll get back to the heavy action stuff on the third one!