I recently spoke with director of the upcoming Sci-Fi/Horror movie MUTANT CHRONICLES. The movie is now available on VOD and will have a limited theatrical run on April 24th.
Q: Looking at the clips and the trailer, how it looks, it really reminds me of World War One footage. It has a familiarity to it.
Simon: We did go for that extreme sort of steam-punk World War OneLook. It's a very extreme look all the way through. If you look on the internet It's kind of loved and hated. We went for a very soft, painterly look. It was an independent film, we couldn't have gone for big, photo real colorful stunning, cutting edge feel to the movie, it just wasn't that kind of movie. It's a much smaller movie, so I needed to go for a more extreme style.
Q: It's extreme but I like that it's familiar. Is one of the reasons you did that, to show that 700 years in the future people haven't change all that much?
Simon: That was the reason. We thought that all technology would have run out by then and the only thing left is coal, dirty and horrible. Effectively, that is what people would be using in the future and we imagined there being some nuclear holocaust along the way, which wiped out everything. It's a future where everything's been buried under the ground and we'd gone back to fossil fuels to power everything. Even our spaceships are powered by coal, we have loads of guys stoking the boilers in the spaceship, which I think is fun. Everyone on set was saying "Are you sure, I coal powered? Is anyone going to buy that?" and I said, "No one is going to buy that but let's do it anyways".
Q: MUTANT CHRONICLES is based on a board game?
Simon: Yes, it is. It's based on a role-playing game.
Q: Did you decide to make the movie because you're a fan of the game?
Simon: No, it was decided to make the movie before I came on board. It had been around Hollywood a while, with various directors and it was going to be a much more tent pole movie and I came aboard and we still couldn't find that fit. So three years ago I said to Ed Pressman, who is the producer, "Why don't we try to make it more independent and more hands-on and see what we can do. We can give it an interesting style and look and it would be cool". And then we made a mood-piece film which you can see on the internet, which sets the style of how we were going to do it.
Q: Most of the movie was shot on stage and green screen?
Simon: I think we were outside for one evening and the rest is all inside, green screen, some in London and some on the Isle of Man.
Q: Did you decide to do this because you did commercials in the paste that utilized special effects and you knew you could pull something like this off?
Simon: Yes, that was the technical reason I did it. And the second reason was that being an independent movie with a script that wasn't an independent movie script, it had a huge canvas to it, I didn't know how else we could do it if we didn't do that sort of approach. There were so many weird and strange locations I wouldn't have known where to find them. So I kind of used my knowledge in visual effects and said, "If we don't do cutting edge visual effects but do something quite simple, quite straightforward, matte paintings and set extensions, and give it a very nice style and feel and look, can we make a movie where we create our world by fairly simple post-production, but a lot of it. So it gives us that world creation. You have a designed world from start to finish.
Q: How long did it take to complete the movie?
Simon: Forever. We started the mood trailer in April of 2005 and we shot that for two or three days and did the post on that for four months. Then I came to Hollywood and showed that around in September/October of 2005. And then in the Spring of 2006 we started MUTANT CHRONICLES and shot it the Summer of 2006. Then we started post-production straight afterwards in September of 2006 and finished the movie at the end of 2008. Once we got a U.S. Distributor, they allowed me to do a director's cut because there were things slightly bothering me. They were cool with that.
Q: How was it working with actors Ron Perlman and Thomas Jane?
Simon: Fantastic. It was probably the most enjoyable part of the whole process, actually. They were so professional and I learned so much from them. They were enthusiastic from day one. Especially when you're doing an independent movie that doesn't have all the luxuries of a bigger budget thing and they never complained or moaned, they were just so into it, with great ideas. They led such by example and the rest of the cast was fabulous as well, partly because these two were giving a clear example of how to be professional. I must say, you're slightly daunted by working with people of such caliber but then two days in, it was kind of family and we had a great time. Thomas and I don't like shooting in the mornings, we like filming in the afternoons. We're not morning people.
Q: What do you hope peoples' reactions are to the movie?
Simon: Well, I hope people see it for what it is, which is sort of fun, "Saturday morning entertainment". And a fun hour and a half of zombie shoot 'em up. And a mission movie where we're going to the center of the Earth to destroy a machine that's making mutants. It's got fun moments. It's pretty hardcore. I've brought my horror background to it, there's plenty of nasty things going on, I didn't want to hold back on that. I hope people think it's a fun movie that's well made and a lot of love was put into the movie. It sounds a bit corny, but when spend three years on a movie that's an awful long time. They worked their fingers to the bone on the movie and it's a real labor of love for a lot of people.
Q: Reading on your website, you started making Super 8mm films when you were seven and your very first movie was a science-fiction movie called SPACEMAN. With MUTANT CHRONICLES do you feel like you've come full-circle?
Simon: I know. SPACEMAN is about this spaceship that comes down to Earth, and then this spaceman appears, kills off people, and then the spaceship flies back off. And that's MUTANT CHRONICLES! (LOL). I haven't changed, I haven't progressed in any way.
Absolutely. I have improved, I feel. I loved making films as a kid, I always kept skipping school and bossing my friends around, it was fun. I kind of like film sets to run like that still. I hate it when it gets too bogged down in waiting around. I like it to be like making films when I was a kid.
Q: What's happening now with the movie? I understand it's premiering on the Sci-Fi Channel?
Simon: Yes. And then you can see it theatrically on April 24th in New York and Los Angeles. So head to cinema, you want to see it on the big screen. It was a movie shot digitally from start to finish and it looks good in High Definition.
Q: So you're a big advocate of digital filmmaking...
Simon: Massive. Yes, I've shot the first commercials in HD in the UK and been banging on about it for years. It feels like the world has caught up with it. We shot all this on data drives, way before the Red Camera, on the Phantom HD Camera which was a prototype when we were using it and putting it through its paces. We tested out a lot of digital cameras on this film that haven't been used before, seeing how they work. I'm a massive advocate of digital filmmaking because it democratizes filmmaking. All this technology flows down. What is a professional camera one year, is in the Canon XL-1 the next year. It gives people who want to make films access to great kits, with great results. Then you can use off the shelf software, edit and home, and it's just unbelievable. You just have to learn it. It's incredibly easy now for people to make these films.
In the past you had to buy your 16mm stock, buy the camera, have a big crew. Now you can have a little camera and get stunning results. It's more like painting. To be a painter you just need an easel and paint, anyone can get that. But with filmmaking you also have to get that story right, that's important.