David Jung is a visionary writer | director | producer and veteran of the entertainment industry. Born in Gloversville New York and a graduate of Ithaca College, Jung has been passionate about filmmaking since he was a boy. He began his entertainment career working for Roger Corman and completed six films for the legendary producer. Jung moved to Walt Disney Studios where he served as an executive at Mandeville Films, Vice President of the feature film division of Film Roman Studios, and ran Lynda Obst’s Paramount Pictures based production company.
David’s written feature films and television for just about every studio in Hollywood, including a video game based on the Dirty Harry franchise for Clint Eastwood and Warner Brothers Interactive, as well as writing and directing the indie horror hit, The Possession of Michael King.
Q & A
If the world you created in your film became a reality, is that a world you would want to live in? Is there a Sci-Fi world you’d buy a one-way ticket to?
If ROAM became a reality, or does become a reality one day… I definitely would not want to see it. At least in the form of the world we present in the movie. I do think that people will one day, and maybe not that far into the future, have the ability to download their conscious into another body – whether that body is organic, or exists purely inside an AI environment remains to be seen. But we are already very close to mapping consciousness right now. Computers are on the verge of quantum calculations, and everyone is recording every aspect of their lives on their phones and storing all of this data in cloud storage facilities. A large part of what makes up a person is their memories, and who’s to say that if you collected all of those memories and placed them inside a program, you couldn’t essentially recreate that person? There is definitely a temptation to live forever, and to be young again… but the real question is… at what cost? We already face an overpopulation problem on the planet, and the one thing that still makes us all equals in the end, is that everyone dies. If you take that away, then the wealthy become more powerful than they already are, since they will never die! Most sci-fi worlds are exciting to visit (from the comfort of your own couch), but I’m not sure there are many I would wish to buy a one-way ticket to. Most of the great sci-fi that I’ve read and seen depict the problems that might exist in future worlds, how hard life is for those at the bottom, or the great wars and rebellions that are fought against tyrannical empires. The only place I might want to be left on, would be Genesis, the planet that Spock’s coffin is dropped on, and the one he is reborn on. That’s the closest to a garden of Eden. The only problem with Genesis, was that the planet itself was aging so rapidly that it self-destructed in a short amount of time. They would have to perfect the genesis device before I would want to be “beamed-down.”
Name a Sci-Fi character you relate to on a spiritual level? Who is your Sci-Fi spirit animal/spirit alien?
I’m not a terribly spiritual person, and definitely lean more towards science, scientific reasoning, and logic, so with that in mind, I would probably say Mr. Spock. But… if you’re telling me that I get to live in a world where I get a real sci-fi spirit alien… then I would have to say Yoda! Because let’s be real… what would be cooler than being convinced that the force is real, then getting to run around and train on Dagobah with Yoda strapped to your back!
Friend or Foe: humanoid robots with advanced artificial intelligence? What if robots start making their own Sci-Fi films? Will you support them in their endeavors?
I heard recently that robots are going to start making music. That there is an algorithm to making a hit song (kind of like Netflix’s algorithm for determining what movies and TV shows will be successful – and look how terribly that’s worked out – sorry Netflix, but you make a lot of junk). These robots analyze the key ingredients to all of the hit songs in the last handful of decades, then put those same ingredients into new songs that the robots manufacture. Sound like they’re going to be hit songs? The results remain to be seen, but.. I don’t think so. The same is true for robots making movies. I already feel like robots are making movies now, with a lot of the sci-fi stuff that gets financed and sees the light of day. They all feel like the same regurgitated movie that we’ve all seen dozens of times… hey, it’s an android cop! Nobody takes chances on anything new and interesting. That’s one of the many things that I love about DUST. I was so excited when DUST first started out, because it was a platform for different and exciting science fiction. There is a hunger to go where no one has gone before and explore strange new worlds (to steal a line from Star Trek), and I think that the success of DUST has shown that. I really hope that DUST and places like it will continue to foster homes for science fiction fans and creators, as well as their sister sites like Alter. Maybe one day DUST and Alter will be financing big budget films and shows on their own platforms and we will finally have knowledgeable science fiction fans making choices about science fiction movies instead of lame studio exec’s and robot algorithm’s!!! Take a page from Marvel, and what’s made their films so successful. They remained in charge of the scripts, not the studio, and they stuck to their characters origins and the stories straight from the pages in the comics.
In 1996, Bugs Bunny recruited Michael Jordan and Bill Murray to form the greatest basketball squad of all-time, the Tune Squad; you’re Bugs, who’s on your Sci-Fi Tune Squad?
Hmm… let’s see… definitely Mr. Spock. I think the Vulcan pinch could come in handy on the court. Yoda, though small, remember… size matters not. I think he could surprise someone with his jump shot. Chewbacca, of course. Nobody is scoring with him as a defender. Smack down, Chewie style. The Terminator, since that already sounds like a basketball players nickname. And maybe Neo – since I would want to see him move down the court with the ball in “bullet-time.”
You’ve gotta go through some bad ideas to get to the good ones. Tell us one of your bad ideas. How do you get past the bad ones to find your spark?
There a funny kind of saying in film development among writers, especially when you are in a room with other people and you’re trying to spitball ideas. To protect yourself from someone bagging on your precious idea, instead of saying, “hey- here’s a really great idea” – you say, “here’s a bad idea.” You lower people’s expectations, then you throw it out there. If someone decides it’s not that terrible… then you slowly roll forward with it. I don’t think there are bad ideas. Just bad execution. Also, I think it’s interesting how ideas change and develop over time. ROAM actually started as a dystopian future where the wealthy live on floating cities in the sky and only come down to hunt for new bodies in this broken post-apocalyptic landscape below. Then Elysium came out, and the structure of that world felt a little too similar, so I changed it. Then we were on the verge of going into production on ROAM when the TV series Altered Carbon came out. There were conversations about shutting down production because of that series, and the similarities of a world where swapping consciousness was possible. We didn’t shut down production, and I’m glad that we rolled forward because I think that ROAM is so completely different from Altered Carbon – a show that I didn’t really like anyhow and didn’t really focus at all on the body swapping aspects of the world. Sometimes you as a storyteller or filmmaker need to decide that an idea is good, and just make others believe, and find a way to make it happen. You think it was easy for George Lucas to convince people to make a space opera? Or for the Wachowski’s to make studio exec’s understand what was happening in the Matrix? It definitely was not. Those were considered to be terrible ideas by a lot of people, a LOT of people. Lucky for us, they found a way to make those stories happen.
Do you consider yourself part of a sci-fi community? Or when your brain is in the future and your body’s in the present, is that isolating?
I think part of my answer to this question is in the response to the last question above. It is definitely isolating when you are a storyteller, specifically with science fiction, and a lot of the people in your everyday life don’t quite understand the world, the technology, the devices that you are cooking up in your story, and sometimes you begin to wonder… man, have I gone crazy here? Is this just too wild of an idea? Should I just write an “android cop” story and make it easily digestible for people that don’t really get sci-fi. The truly great sci-fi masters, at least in film, that have tended to really make a mark, are the ones that have transcended this “problem” and stuck with their guns to somehow get past all of these friends, family, co-workers, decision makers, financiers… to make their crazy visions a reality. It’s really hard to do. But I think the reward is tremendous when you are able to accomplish that. And not just a monetary reward. It’s really rewarding when you find those fans that really understand and appreciate the world you are attempting to show them. The ones that write in encouragement, or how much they liked something, that make comments and get involved. Again, not wanting to toot DUSTs horn too much here… I think that DUST has provided a much-needed platform for this science fiction community to rally around. When DUST fans give you a compliment… you feel like you’ve hit a home run.
Do you consider yourself more of an analog or digital person? What kind of balance do strike between the two? Is there a disconnect between the technology you make films about and the technology that you make films with?
I am definitely more of an analog person. At least in some regards. I play the guitar, I used to write for Vintage Guitar Magazine, and I love old guitars, amplifiers, and effects pedals! I have tried many times to go down the digital route, in music, but every time, at the end of the day, I go back to the basics – vintage guitar plugged into a vintage tube amp. Nothing that I have heard yet recreates that sound, or the playing experience. On the other hand, with filmmaking, I think that digital technology has opened up so many new doors and avenues, specifically for science fiction, that we never had before. I think that it’s potentially going to become easier, and more cost effective to tell stories that take place on distant planets in galaxies far, far away… because we can now digitally make those places, and make them look almost as good, or close enough… that as sci-fi fans, we are going to be more excited that we can finally actually have some of these big landscape stories come to life, and see them on the big screen (or small screen), that we won’t care that they are not multimillion dollar practical sets, but that they are CG sets. We’re in this new phase of production, that’s kind of like it was when you made a western back in the 50’s, and they used these giant painted backdrops of the landscape, only now, we have light panel technology (that is quickly becoming standard on every production stage), and you can project whatever landscape or environment that you want in real time behind your actors. It’s what they’re using on The Mandalorian and look how great that show looks! In a few years from now, the technology is going to become even more affordable, so hopefully we will have the ability to start exploring some new landscapes outside of the big tentpole franchises like Star Wars, or things that have already been done, or that are “safe” for studios, since they are based on books, or whatnot, like Dune – and we will get some fresh new voices in film that are able to tell new stories, and make them look good, even if they don’t have 100 million dollars to do it. I think digital advances in tech are going to allow us to do that.
When you’re creating the props and sets that make a new world, where do you look for inspiration? How do you create objects that are relatable but unfamiliar?
I’ve always loved stories where the technology looks like it was hacked and cobbled together from household items to make some new gadget or device. I feel like there is a touch of that in the original Bladerunner, and also Star Wars. I also like that Star Wars stuck to that original tech, and the look of the tech from the very first film, to the ones they are making now. Lucas was way ahead of his time in his filmmaking, yet he was hampered by what he had available to him at the time. The computer screens in the Millennium Falcon, the holographic chess board, or the hologram of Obi Wan Kenobi, the glow around the light sabers, the practical effects, the creature masks… but all of those things contributed to the world of Star Wars. That’s how these things look and work in the world, and it makes the world richer for it. I tend to come up with devices, props, and sets that service the story I am telling, then try and figure out how they might work and look in the setting of the world of that story. Of course, you can’t always make the things you imagine, due to a number of factors. When we were making ROAM, we didn’t have the money to develop expensive props and gadgets, and really had to get creative to figure out how to make some of these things. For example, I took apart a lot of old electronics I had around the house, and ripped out their guts, to make the internal wiring for the ROAM masks. I took the screen from my daughters baby monitor to make the Body Hack watch device that Fiar wears on his arm! In some regards, I think being forced to find and use stuff like that made the gear and world a little cooler, grittier, and more real than it would have been if we had unlimited funds.
Lightning round: Star Wars or Star Trek? Philip K. Dick or William S. Burroughs? Practical or CGI? Dystopia or Utopia? Post Apocalypse or Pre Apocalypse?
Star Wars, Philip K. Dick, Practical, Dystopia, Post Apocalypse!!!!!!!