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?
I don’t think that living in a world where you could simulate a new universe at the drop of a hat would be all too bad. However, I do think that with the rise of the metaverse approaching there are some big questions that we should be asking about the ethics involved. Sharing simulated spaces with regular people, or with created sentient entities (if that ever happens), needs some real thought and regulation to keep it ethical and safe. Saying that, creating spaces for yourself to enjoy in your own time should, in my opinion, be no holds bared. These spaces have the potential to become an extension of the imagination and so, like the imagination, I think it should be an unlimited and deregulated space. As someone who likes to make up worlds, scenarios and people for fun, it's pretty much an ideal situation for me!
Name a Sci-Fi character you relate to on a spiritual level? Who is your Sci-Fi spirit animal/spirit alien?
I mean… I did see Imperator Furiosa’s (Charlize Theron’s character in Mad Mad) and subsequently shave all my hair off… Yes. Do I wish I was her? In many ways yes. Is she my spirit animal? Probably not. Who do I wish my spirit animal was? 100% Prince Vultan (Brian Blessed’s character in Flash Gordan), but sadly, I’m only that extra on special occasions. The truth is the sci-fi character’s I’d probably most relate to most are Bill and Ted - I am a history nerd at heart and I think everyone should be excellent to each over.
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?
You guys go in hard with the ethical questions eh? There is not a chance in hell I would ever take way anyones right to self expression and the ability to make art with their own voice. Free speech is, to me, the biggest privilege and I would never deny anyone it - even if they wanted to say something I wouldn’t like to hear.
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?
Haha, I’m British and I have never seen basketball apart from during this film so I have absolutely no idea what criteria I’d be looking for. However, I will play your game… So… Murray can stay, plus lets add Keanu for the ultimate chill-af-men-I’d-leave-my-partner-for combo. I want the key Crystal Gems (Garnet, Pearl and Amethist). Also, think I remember Mordecai and Rigby from the Regular Show playing a killer game against Carl Weathers, so they’re in. Nicholas Cage can be in, as long he’s always in character and after each point he changes which character he is playing (from his own rosta of course). Essentials - Uma Therman, Michelle Yeoh and Gwendoline Christie. Also I’m thinking Matilda from Matilda (1996) would be a real asset. Finally, Angelica Hudson, but she just stands on the sidelines looking like perfection and telling us, in her most matriarchal tone, what we need to do better (I need that energy).
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?
I’m not sure I actually believe in bad ideas, all ideas can work - it’s just making them work that is hard. One of my favourite films is Lars And The Real Girl (2007) - its about a man who falls in love with a sex doll… now that is a hard pitch to sell, but the way Nancy Oliver wrote the film made it one of the most emotive and heartwarming films I think I’ve seen. I think if you have an idea and you don’t know how to make it work, shelf it, go away and learn some new skills and then come back to it. I have a bit of a reputation with my friends and family for not finishing things, but even when I’m not actively sitting down with an idea and working on it I’m still looking out for tools and inspiration from other creators on how I can make that idea work. A good story is of its time but a great story resonates for years after its made. I think you should always strive to make something great and if you can’t do it justice now, just wait until you can have a better crack at it. The key is to keep having a go, when it starts to work give it everything you’ve got.
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?
Sorry I’m not sure how to answer this.
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 like the aesthetic of analog - in The Simulation I took visual inspiration from as many 80’s and 90’s horrors and sci-fi’s as I could. IMO they are the height of cinematic perfection. Though CGI is a great storytelling tool, I love the comedy of a practical effect. They seem nicely self aware. I hate when films take themselves too seriously and everything gets a bit too real. I think filmmakers forget they’re just playing make believe and more importantly they forget that play is supposed to be fun. As for film, its always been a dream of mine to shoot on technicolour - the colours on technicolour are just something else. I tried as much as I could to get those bold primaries using props and costume but its really hard to nail that look. At the end of the day budgets are king - I love to see a director get to be self indulgent and to play with all the toys to make something beautiful, but I’d rather see good writing shot on an old flip phone than bad writing shot on an Arri.
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 grew up watching Tim Burton and Michel Gondry movies. I love how basic their props were - it made film making feel really attainable to me. When I was a kid, my Mum would give me glue, paint, old boxes and milk cartons to play with rather than toys - I could make you anything from a cardboard box and a couple of egg crates. Those film makers - especially Gondry, were were the kings of putting props made of old bits of shit onto the big screen. Having props like that requires you to have a bit of imagination whist you watch their films. That makes you more of a participant whilst watching their work and makes it feel much more fun. When we were making props for the Simulation I wanted to mash up time periods and styles in hope that it would create a feeling of the uncanny. The computer that Peter Harris made for us was inspired by some tech I saw in a Stanley Kubrick film. The costumes that Gresham Blake made were inspired by 90’s kids tv, 80’s bankers and Marylin Monroe - so a real mix of time periods. The location we shot in is something I really didn’t want to feel too classic sci-fi. We spent so much time trying to find something that worked - and, as we shot in lockdown, that was no easy feat. We found a location called The Boat House in Poole, designed by Roger Zogolovitch. He is an incredible artist in own right and has designed the house to look like the interior of an inverted boat. I’m drawn to eccentric people - in fact Gresham and Peter both fit into this category, and combining his space with the props and costumes we had made seemed like the perfect fit!
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 - I love a cantina Burroughs - plus Cronenburg Practical - makes recycling more fun Utopia - A Brave New World is my favourite book! Pre Apocalypse - but I’m sure I’ll get to see both ;)