Interview: Duncan Jones from “Source Code”
Interview: Duncan Jones from “Source Code”

The Massie Twins recently had an opportunity to sit down with Duncan Jones, the director of “Moon” and now “Source Code,” to discuss his works and his upcoming projects. “Source Code” stars Jake Gyllenhaal and Michelle Monaghan, and opens wide March 18th, 2011.


The Massie Twins: You’ve picked a good time to visit Arizona. It’s not blazing hot yet.

Duncan Jones: It is! (laughs)

MT: With very few films under your belt, you’ve clearly got a knack for science-fiction. What drew you to that genre?

DJ: I am and have been a fan of sci-fi for a very long time. I think what I particularly like about it is, in a way, people put their defenses down. They don’t take anything you say too personally and they open themselves up to it – you get them at an angle and if you can make that initial connection between your audience and your main protagonist, and get them to develop a sense of empathy for them, you can affect them in more ways than other genres, which give stricter guidance. Plus, I love sci-fi. That’s the highbrow excuse and the lowball reality. (laughs).

MT: We really enjoyed the cast in Source Code. How much control did you have?

DJ: The first piece in the puzzle was Jake Gyllenhaal, who was already attached before I was. He’d seen Moon and loved it, and we met up to find something to work on in the future. And he said, “Come and work on Source Code.” He showed me the script and I got very excited about it. I could see the similarities and I could see why he thought I’d be the right person to direct it. For me, I could also see the differences and the fun things I could do that I didn’t get to do on Moon… other than working with more than one actor. (laughs) It starts with a bang and it’s fast paced, and in that respect it’s so different from Moon. I got to work through the Hollywood system, which I wanted to do. Moon was a small independent British production and Source Code was a much bigger, Hollywood entity. It was fun for me to go through that learning experience.

MT: Was it much more stressful? What were the advantages and disadvantages of working on a studio film?

DJ: I think the levels of bureaucracy from the start were big – I had to convince so many people. I wanted to do it this way, they wanted to do it a different way. They didn’t have money for certain things and why did I want to do it that way in the first place? It was frustrating, but it gave me a new tool of justifying everything and thinking everything through to the point that I could make a very coherent argument as to why I wanted to do things in a certain way. That’s a tool that is very useful in any kind of filmmaking.

MT: Being a writer yourself, did you find yourself changing the script a lot?

DJ: Not a lot. I think Ben Ripley’s script had been worked on a bit before I came on board. By the time I got involved, they’d taken what they thought was the best from all the various edits and incorporated them into it and then Ben came back to finish it off. It’s a strange way these films get changed. They get really excited about a “Black List” script and then they change it. What we ended up with was a tight, well-paced story.

My job really became finding a tone for it. The one thing I wasn’t sure about when I read it was the tone. I thought it took itself very seriously and I’ve joked before that it’s kind of like an episode of “24” with some sci-fi ideas in it. My feeling was that with this technology, which is particularly abstract and difficult for people to wrap their heads around, let’s set up the rules and make them as clear as we can, but keep the tone light and inject some humor so the audience feels okay about jumping on board. Then they can just enjoy the ride. It’s a fun script and Jake liked the idea that we were going to make him out to be a contemporary Indiana Jones-like figure. An everyman who is rough around the edges and kinda frustrated with everyone around him.

MT: How close did you stick to the eight minutes per re-entry into the source code? Was there real time involved in any of the sequences?

DJ: In the edit, you take poetic license. One of the repetitions is close to eight minutes, but the rest of them, depending on the subject matter and what’s going on, are truncated in some cases down to five, while others are almost 12 minutes long. By stretching and compressing it, it makes it feel right on an emotional level.

MT: This is the kind of movie that is likely to be studied and picked apart when it comes out on DVD and Blu-ray, because it deals with time travel, so to speak. Was continuity a nightmare?

DJ: It would have been and it could have been, but one of my concerns with the script is that I didn’t want audiences to fall into a sense of repetition or monotony, having to see the same things over and over again. So I started mapping out right from the start, broke down the script into those repetitions, and thought about how, visually, I could make every one different, with different characters and events so that although you know it’s the same event being repeated, you never feel like it’s repetitive. It was really important to get that right.

MT: We read it on the internet, so it must be true…

DJ: Yes, it must be!

MT: … you’re David Bowie’s son?

DJ: I am!

MT: Did that have any impact on becoming a filmmaker?

DJ: Absolutely. In some ways it will of course have had an affect. I think there are as many ways to become a director as there are directors out there. In my case, it was really important for me to have found my own path. I’m going to be 40 years old in a couple of months. I’ve only made two films and I took a very long time to even choose to go to film school. I went to college in Ohio, then graduate school in Nashville, Tennessee and did two-and-a-half years Ph.D. track in philosophy before I said, “I don’t want to be a teacher.” Then I went off to film school. I was in London for fourteen years, went to film school, worked in low-budget commercials and music videos and worked my way up through the commercials industry. I did that for years and years all for the goal of making feature films. The long-term goal was always to make features. I finally felt like I had the right contacts and I had enough experience, and that’s when I went and made Moon.

MT: What was the process in taking Source Code to the South By Southwest Film Festival?

DJ: That was interesting. Obviously I had a fantastic experience with South By Southwest with Moon. The great thing was that there were no expectations, nobody knew what we were bringing, and it was just a little independent film. We got a great response and Summit was looking to decide how to release Source Code. The release date was already in place, so when South By Southwest asked me, I said I’d love to return. It was a pretty natural decision.

MT: What is Mute, and is that going to be next on your plate?

DJ: Mute was supposed to be my first feature film, and what happened was I went to Sam Rockwell and pitched it to him and he read the script and loved it. That’s why he took the meeting. He really liked the idea, but he said he didn’t want to play this character – he wanted to play this other character. In my naïve state – I should have been jumping for joy – I said, “but I want you to be this guy!” He said, “no, I want to be the lead and this is the guy you would obviously put me as, and I don’t want to do that kind of role.” We had a great discussion about it and agreed that that wouldn’t be the film we’d make.

I was heartbroken because I love Sam Rockwell as an actor, and having had the chance to meet with him one on one, I really liked him just as a guy and really wanted to work with him. When you’re getting ready to make your first feature film, you’re going to be stuck working with this person for a couple of months, and you want to know they’re someone you enjoy and not going to be an egomaniac or make your job a nightmare. I wanted to work with Sam Rockwell and that was why I wrote Moon – I actually wrote it after that meeting, knowing he wasn’t going to do Mute.

That’s the long way to get to your question. (laughs) Mute is a science-fiction film very much Blade Runner inspired that takes place in a future environment. It’s something I still hope to make. In fact, when I met Jake, that’s what I was pitching. It’s been so difficult to get made that we’re going to turn it into a graphic novel. It worked for Darren Aronofsky – he used that method to get The Fountain made – so we’ll see how that turns out. I want to use it as a pitching tool when I try to make films in the future, and also I have a lovely, dedicated fanbase from Moon that wants to see Mute, and because I can’t seem to find a way to deliver it at this point, at least I want to give them the graphic novel.

MT: Will Source Code be a stepping-stone to get Mute made?

DJ: It might be. I’ve been living with Mute for about 12 years. When you work on something like that, you keep going back to it and making changes, and in the meantime I’ve written other things, and now I have other projects. I’m working on something right now that feels just right, something that would be really fun to make. I’m hoping to do that next.

MT: Is it a romantic comedy?

DJ: (laughs) It’s not. Maybe one day. It’s a science-fiction film. But probably my last science-fiction film for awhile. I want to take a genre sabbatical and try and do some other kinds of movies.