Source Code - Duncan Jones interview
Interview by Rob Carnevale
DUNCAN Jones talks about making Source Code, his follow-up to Moon, and some of the challenges it involved.
He also talks about working with Jake Gyllenhaal and Scott Bakula, using that Chesney Hawkes song again and some of his plans for the future.
Q. Hi Duncan, good to talk to you again. It’s been a hectic period for you…
Duncan Jones: It’s been a mad month… actually, it’s been mad since the day before South by Southwest… [laughs] It’s not stopped.
Q. But you must be pleased with the reaction to Source Code?
Duncan Jones: It’s been terrific, especially at South by Southwest because I was really nervous. I hadn’t shown it to a proper audience before that, so it was a real relief to get past that moment of not knowing whether people were going to like it.
Q. Did you feel a greater sense of pressure anyway given that this is your second film?
Duncan Jones: I felt it particularly at that festival because it was literally the first time we had shown it in front of audience that wasn’t involved in the making of the film. It was really nerve wracking, especially as I saw people sitting in the audience dressed as Sam Bell from Moon [laughs]!
Q. So, what’s the trickiest question you’ve been asked about the science behind this movie by fans or critics?
Duncan Jones: Um… a lot of people do ask me how much is real and whether I think it’s possible that the source code could ever happen. I have to admit that when I initially read the script I treated it very much as being in that middle ground between hard and soft sci-fi. I thought [screenwriter] Ben Ripley did a valiant effort to incorporate enough science in it that felt plausible. But since making it, I’ve recently attended some DGA [Directors Guild of America] events where they bring scientists in to explain what the current state of art is in science and I have to admit that some of the stuff I thought was far-fetched turns out to be more on the nose than I thought!
Q. Such as?
Duncan Jones: There are a number of different technologies that are being developed, such as a retina implant that allows someone who is blind to see a 60 pixel image that’s enough to enable them to lean in closer and read letters on a page. I think the ability of science now to have a direct relationship between technology and the brain itself is really interesting and exciting and it’s in the same ball park as Source Code. It’s also weird that science fiction writers are traditionally known for always trying to hypothesise what will happen in the future, whereas a lot of the time now sci-fi is playing catch up.
Q. I gather it was Jake Gyllenhaal that brought Source Code to your attention while you were meeting him to pitch another film [Mute]?
Duncan Jones: Yes, I was doing doing international press for Moon and, coming to the end of the tour, I had the chance to set up some meetings in LA with people I admired and wanted to speak to – and Jake was at the top of that list. Fortunately, he’d seen Moon and was a big fan of it and we discussed projects we could potentially do together. He then said he had a script for Source Code, so I read it and got very excited. I felt immediately that creatively there were things I could do with it.
Q. I gather one of those was injecting more humour? It was apparently more serious before?
Duncan Jones: It was quite serious. Structurally, it was as it is in the film you see and the pace of it was always as rapid and exciting but tonally it was more serious. But I hope that in some ways by injecting more humour and lightening the tone, the audience gets more entertainment out of it.
Q. I would imagine that one of the greatest challenges was keeping each of those eight minute sequences fresh and exciting?
Duncan Jones: Absolutely, when you first read a script as a director you’re always looking for the problems and puzzles that need solving and the repetition of those eight minute sequences was one that immediately became apparent – how to keep it fresh and to find ways of visualising them without making it feel to the audience as if you were going over the same sequences again and again. But I was pretty organised about it. I left a lot of room for improv for the actors, but on a practical level, in terms of how I wanted to shoot the scenes and approach each scene, I had it nailed down beforehand. So, it became about how to fit my plan in with whatever Jake and Michelle [Monaghan] were veering towards on the day.
Q. But did you get a sense that allowing them to improvise was playing to their strengths anyway?
Duncan Jones: I think so… I’d heard and seen that Michele had a terrific time doing that with Robert Downey Jr on Kiss Kiss Bang Bang, so we knew ahead of time that she was willing to work in improv that way. But what we did do was a week of rehearsal before we started shooting where we got the heavy work out of the way – understanding the structure of each scene and where it began and ended. Then, once all that was done it really became much easier to be improvisational when shooting because they understood how it all fit together – where it was beginning from and where it needed to end up.
Q. One of the similarities between Source Code and Moon is the theme of identity and a person’s perception of reality and how than can change… Is that something you noticed?
Duncan Jones: It honestly wasn’t conscious… when I started looking at Source Code I honestly thought the script was completely different from Moon. But Jake picked up on the similarities between the two because he saw it and thought I was the right guy to direct this script. He noticed it. And then I began to notice it when editing – but I’d already said yes to it then [laughs].
Q. But is that issue of identity and reality something that interests you anyway?
Duncan Jones: I suppose so… I find the question of identity is very intriguing and how you see yourself as one person, and the people who know you see you as another person and the wider world beyond that sees you as another person again. And those perceptions are all valid and sometimes contradictory.
Q. So how do you think the wider world now sees you?
Duncan Jones: [Laughs] I’m not sure I’ve reached that level yet, where the wider world has an opinion of me! All I can do is try and work hard and remain accessible. I’m on Twitter a lot, so if people have questions, or want to tell me they like my films, or even don’t like them, I’m there to talk to. That’s something that maybe I’m doing that not a lot of filmmakers are.
Q. Talking about that, Jake has likened you to both Ang Lee and David Fincher as a director, yet someone who is also younger and…
Duncan Jones: Down with the kids? [Laughs] That’s interesting…
Q. It must also be flattering, as I gather you’re a fan of both of those filmmakers?
Duncan Jones: I’m certainly a huge fan of Fincher. I think he really is at the top of his game at the moment and the partnership between him and Aaron Sorkin is a match made in heaven. Fincher is visually incredibly savvy and Sorkin is just a genius writer.
Q. So, what does interacting with fans give you, do you think? Does it equip you better as a filmmaker?
Duncan Jones: I think so. I like to feel as though I’m understanding what it is that people that like my films like about them. It’s good to know if the things you’re putting in there are working in the way you intended… and if not, then why not? And what are people getting from them instead? But it’s all still a learning process for me and sometimes it’s the case that there’s a difference between what I think works and what other people think works.
Q. Talking of things you like, Chesney Hawkes is back!
Duncan Jones: [Laughs] He is indeed! It still makes me giggle. So, if it works in these first two films and I can make it work in my third, I may have developed a signature.
Q. Has Chesney been in touch?
Duncan Jones: I have met him now and he’s a lovely guy. But I don’t know if he knows what to make of it. I don’t even know if I have a good enough explanation. But that particular bit of music seemed so apt in Moon. And then, while doing the editing for Source Code, we needed a ringtone for Michelle’s phone and those lyrics – ‘I am the one and only’ – once again seemed so appropriate for a woman who has a boyfriend who is an egotist!
Q. And what about the guest appearance by Scott Bakula, who plays the voice of Jake Gyllenhaal’s character’s father?
Duncan Jones: Well, it was obvious when reading the script that the scene where Jake sees himself in the mirror for the first time was straight out of Quantum Leap, so rather than ignore it I wanted the opportunity to tip my hat to it. So, we talked about it and there was a bit of a concern that it might pull people out of the movie. But Scott has such a great voice and he performed that scene with so much authenticity that it was believable. The audience is in that moment, so he did a great job. And we hope that when it comes to that moment, the audience is so lost in the film that they won’t even realise necessarily. But it was great to be able to have the chance to work with Scott when he came in.
Q. So, what’s next for you? Will it be another Hollywood venture or something of your own?
Duncan Jones: I don’t know. I’m hoping it’ll be a beautiful blend of the two – working on one of my own scripts with Hollywood’s money [laughs]!
Q. And I gather Mute is still in the works and being adapted as a graphic novel now?
Duncan Jones: Yes, we’re going to try and do it that way. So, never say never with that one – maybe it’ll be next. I’m in the middle of writing what I’m hoping will be my third film, which will be sci-fi again. But there is an awful lot going on since Source Code was released because it’s doing so well in the States and here in the UK that it’s opened up new doors. As soon as I’ve done all the press for it, I shall go back to LA and meet with my producer and see what’s on offer.
Q. And what of the war movie you’re planning?
Duncan Jones: That’s probably a few films away. But I’m such a big fan of films like The Dirty Dozen and Where Eagles Dare that I’m still hoping to be able to do a film like that.
Q. So, what was the biggest lesson that you took away from his bigger budget experience?
Duncan Jones: Well, it reinforced one of my feelings, which is that you can never… you always have to go after the very best actors because they’re going to make the film work or not. If I hadn’t have got this cast, then I don’t think Source Code would have worked – not only would it not have been as good, but it just wouldn’t have worked.