Sofian Khan is a director and cinematographer, known for Dopplebanger (2020), Take Out (2022) and Swet Shop Boys: T5 (2016)
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 wouldn’t want to live in the reality of my film, but am afraid we’re increasingly moving in that direction. Most of the Sci-Fi I read is pretty dystopian and scary, so none of those worlds jump out at me as places I’d want a one-way ticket to. I’d actually opt for a fantasy world, specifically Michael Ende’s Neverending Story universe.
Name a Sci-Fi character you relate to on a spiritual level? Who is your Sci-Fi spirit animal/spirit alien?
Arthur Dent isn’t exactly spiritual, but I’ve always thought I would react to aliens pretty much the same way he does. And I really like wearing a bathrobe. My spirit alien on the other hand would have to be the Tyrenni from Up The Walls of the World by James Tiptree Jr. (Alice Bradley Sheldon’s pen name). They are basically giant telepathic manta rays that fly through the air of a gas giant planet and possess an advanced culture and intelligence.
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 think intelligent humanoid robots probably won’t be a monolith, so they may be friend or foe depending on which company is designing them and for what purpose. I wouldn’t want to be on the wrong side of a DARPA robot commando — but I’d love to have a brilliant teacher with enormous intellectual powers. When they start making their own Sci-Fi films, or any kind of art, I think it’ll be fascinating to see how they express themselves, and what they end up caring about. It will be a window into their souls, and would probably be the thing that makes us start seeing them as more human. I just hope they save some slots at Sundance for old-fashioned human filmmakers.
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?
Sigourney Weaver would be my Jordan. The squad would be Kaneda from Akira, Major from Ghost in the Shell, Spike Spiegel from Cowboy Bebop, Nathan “Rad” Spencer from Bionic Commando and Priscilla Asagiri from Bubblegum Crisis.
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?
Bad ideas are a dime a dozen, I’ve got pages full of them. Here’s one randomly plucked from an old marble notebook: “Alien invasion scenario in which the aliens manage to incapacitate the largest world power by selling them something through an infomercial that takes control of their minds.” For me, it’s just about throwing things against the wall. Something will eventually stick…
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?
As a teenager I sent at least a dozen stories to Asimov’s and other magazines (none of them were published), and desperately wanted to be a science fiction writer. My filmmaking career has taken me into nonfiction mostly at this point, but I’m excited about developing more Sci-Fi concepts. We’re currently working on a series based in the same world as Doppelbänger.
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’m old enough to have been an analog person at one point. Back in high school we were still using VCR to VCR editing to make our films, even though digital technology was available. It was still expensive, so we cut our teeth on older tech. Nowadays I am 100% digital, though I love to shoot super8 and 16mm as much as I can. Of course, it all gets scanned and ends up inside of my computer!
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?
For Doppelbänger, we built the set with inspiration from both near future science fiction and film noir of the 1950’s, to arrive at something of a retro-future look. So, a lot of the tech looks clunky and not particularly well-constructed. Terry Gilliam’s Brazil was a natural reference point for us. And Jesse Malings, our production designer, was very inventive about sourcing materials, since our construction budget was so small. A lot of the objects you see in George’s apartment are things we picked up from the curb on garbage day.
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?
Stars Wars. Phillip K. Dick. Practical whenever possible! Dystopia. Post Apocolypse.