Thursday, September 10, 2015

Q & A: Director Neil Johnson

Brit filmmaker Neil Johnson, director of Starship : Rising and To Become One, is back with another fun science-fiction film, Doomsday.
Do you have to be a sci-fi film fan to make one?
Hmmm, that is really a tough question.  It depends on the type of Sci-fi we are discussing.  I think if someone went to make Guardians of the Galaxy 2 and had no interest in aliens and spaceships, then this would clearly show, whereas something like Ex-Machina could have been done by a Woody Allen-type director.  True Science Fiction should have a real foundation in science, and then be extrapolating from that position.  I think you would have to be into the truth of science to make a Sci-fi film.   As far as I am concerned, I nearly was a scientist at one point, but I decided it would be more fun to make films about science than focus on a single stream of science.  I am a true Sci-Fi junkie, and for me, the science aspects of films like Interstellar and Contact really get me excited.
Ever written or made anything that hasn’t been considered science-fiction?
My second film, To Become One was more of a horror thriller about a Siamese twin trying to reunite with his sister and sew himself back together.  Yes, I know that there have never been male and female Siamese twins, but we acknowledged this and kind of gave it a miracle-birth-type aspect to the story.  There was some science in the film, but not much.  I am too much in love with spaceships and time travel to ever tolerate doing something like a cop film, or a drama about relationship break-ups.  Movies are about escape.
Do you feel that your films all have a similar thread or tone?
They are all certainly a little dark.  I have a dark soul, that is for certain.  Though lately I have been craving doing a film that is all white and bright.  I know I am obsessed with characters who become corrupt in some way.  I try, though, to have a different tone with each film.  If you look at Starship: Rising, it is like a dark, angry Star Trek, but then the sequel, Starship: Apocalypse is much more humorous and colourful, and toned towards characters a bit.  I like Starship: Apocalyspe a lot (released December 2015 in the U.S.) and it is a beautifully painted film, thanks to the likes of my amazing DP, Kyle Wright who bought out some amazing images.  If you couple that with some of the most talented actors that I have ever worked with, then you can understand the emotion of the image.  I had one scene with Darren Jacobs and E.J. De la Pena where they were standing at a grave at sunset.  The mood these 2 amazing actors created was amazing.  Almost no words spoken, yet the emotion of the scene wrote volumes onto the image.  I feel blessed.
This latest movie, Doomsday also comes with a message – is that fair to say?
Yeah… there are actually two… Firstly, if you travel back in time, don’t expect that you can ever rewrite the past.  It is locked into place.  Causality will be your curse.  That being said, if you want to kill someone, and your future history says that person A dies at a certain moment, and then you are the one killing that person, are you now a murderer, or are you fulfilling destiny.  And if you don’t kill them, then perhaps they will be smashed by a meteorite.  A serial killer who travels through time would be an interest thing.  The hybrid human, Erebus-7, played by the amazing-looking Richard O’Bryan really showcased this situation.  If someone was bothering him, all he would do is access his database and if that person died on the present day, then he would torch them.  Future humans have no conscience.
The second message is: Don’t believe in destiny.  I remember as a young boy sitting in church listening to a young female preacher discussing the nature of destiny.  Are we God’s hand-puppet or do we really have a choice.  I hear Christians and new-agers say: “Well it was meant to be”, or “One day I’ll find my soul-mate” like there is some mystical force guiding them.  I believe that we are always free to choose, that nothing is destiny… unless there is a time machine in the room.
You have relative newcomers in the movie. Did they audition?
Actually no.  Darren Jacobs was kind enough to recommend some great actors to me. It was useful because they were all friends to start with.  It was amusing to be shooting a sexy-time scene with Darren and Amy Pemberton (a drop-dead talented actor) while her boyfriend was watching on.  Was a little awkward for me, but in reality, these 2 professionals did exactly what was asked.  And again when using Alain Terzoli as the lead, you can’t help but feel for him when he is thrust back in time.  And back to the painting motif, there is a scene at the end of the film in a burnt out church which Amy Pemberton and Helen Soraya.  No words are spoken, but the pain of the moment is written all over their faces.  And then there was Ben Trebilcook, who is primarily a screen-writer, but I could smell his acting chops a mile away.  He gave an amazing Dr Who-type performance.  I think we as humans would much rather watch people interact with people, instead of ogling over the visual effects.  When choosing actors, I always go on my gut instinct and RARELY audition.  It is all about whether the person is truly honest with themselves.  Always very interesting too, is when actors aren’t the best actors, they are also the ones who create the biggest problems on set.  When they think the world owes them something and they start complaining about things not being up the their standards, you KNOW they are going to be problem actors.    A good example of the opposite is Rajia Baroudi who plays Czarina in Starship: Rising and Starship: Apocalypse.  She was dealing with some serious stuff in her life at the time of shooting, yet she chose to ignore it and gave 120% everyday, despite everything.  And there were others on set who were giving about 20%.  I was delighted to remove some of these people from my set.  I have no tolerance to laziness, indifference or bitchiness.  My films are small but people should be honoured to be on my set.
Why did you shoot this one in the UK as opposed to America?
My best friend died, and I was forced to be in the UK for an extended period.  Probably the hardest time of my life.  And when times are tough, I make movies!  I was so happy to shoot a place that WASN’T California.  That being said, I edited the film in California.  
There is a little video showing the making of here that I am happy to share with your readers.
What were the differences shooting it in the UK? Notice any?

Quite a lot.  Thankfully everyone speaks English, so that is helpful.  I didn’t have to bother with permits as much.  We were shooting in an old burnt out church and the police arrived, asking us what we were doing.  We said we were shooting a movie.  They said no problem, as long as you are not doing drugs or being a vandal.  It was easy to stage a scene in a town centre.  No one seemed to care too much.  I shot in a wonderful town called Morley, where my father is from.  It was handy being able to get help from family members, like my Uncle Tommy, My Uncle Ian, and my Aunty Alison, and even my cousin Angela.  Was quite a warming experience to have so many good people around me.  Plus the scenery was incredible.  The light in the UK is so different from the light in California.
Are you considering a sequel?

Not at the moment, unless the audience demand this.  I have already shot another time travel film, Time War: At the Edge of time which take the notion of causality a step further and delves into multiple time lines.  This film is a BIG budget film, and I cannot wait to see how people will react to it.  It is something I have been writing on and off since 1995.

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