**Update: Entire Press Conference Added Below**
Producer Peter Jackson, Director Neill Blomkamp, and star Sharlto Copley, all sat down at a press conference for a good solid 35 minutes at Comic-Con to talk about their upcoming film District 9. Everything we’ve seen from this film looks absolutely amazing and everyone involved is proof that you either have the film-gene or you don’t. These three men were made to make films, and with a push from Jackson, they’e all been able to create an amazing film.
Check out the interview below….
***Note: We already posted the video of Peter Jackson talking about The Hobbit, a video of our one on one with Neill Blomkamp, and a video of Jackson and James Cameron being “attacked” during their panel.
Can you talk about why this was an important film to make?
Peter Jackson: Well as some of you probably know, we originally were making an adaptation of the Halo video game and I was developing that with Mary Parent at Universal, she was the executive who with worked with on King Kong and King Kong was in post production and we talked about moving on into doing Halo. I was directing Lovely Bones as my next project, so I was a big Halo fan and I talked about idea of producing Halo, but finding a new director, somebody who hadn’t necessarily directed a feature before, but would bring a whole new exciting vision to a Halo feature film and Mary called up one day and said that she heard an interesting filmmaker that we should take a look at and she sent a DVD down to us with Neill’s short movies — two or three short films and some commercials — we really loved them and Mary got Neill on a plane and the two of them came down to New Zealand pretty quickly, and we had just finished Kong.
We met Neill, really liked him and basically got on the way with Halo, which was intended for Neill to direct, worked on that for several months, and that film fell over suddenly, it sort of happened quickly, we hadn’t finished the script yet, we hadn’t done a budget and it didn’t fall over for any reasons that had to deal with Neill or anybody else it was just studio politics — Universal and Fox were co-producing it and Microsoft and there was some kind of internal political argument going on and suddenly the project had died, which was a bit of a shock, but Neill had been working with a design team on Halo for a long time and we were really thrilled with the results and so we thought, well let’s make a film with Neill, there’s no reason why Halo falling over has to mean that we don’t get to make a film with Neill, let’s just do an original movie, something low-budget that we can finance independently so we don’t have to go through the studio experience that we just had and that’s how District 9 was born. Neill had made a short movie called Alive in Joburg, which he had done a couple of years earlier and that one was very much the genesis of the idea behind District 9.
Were there any other concepts or ideas?
Neill Blomkamp: I don’t think so; I think everything we came up with was pretty much designed to work within the sort of perimeter that we had said. But that doesn’t mean that we weren’t thinking about big ideas, it just — everything felt attainable, I think because the film, even though the scope and the ideas are big they’re kind of presented in not an epic way, it’s kind of a smaller contained story with an epic background so I think, if you deal with it that way then most ideas actually become achievable. I guess a whole story on the mother ship probably wouldn’t be achievable with our budget. Everything was on the table, everything — it was just whatever the best story is.
Neill, I’m curious how much input you’ve had in the marketing campaign?
Neill: Well the marketing campaign, it’s definitely Sony whose come up with a campaign —— with a whole presentation of the whole presentation of the show, Pete and I, which was most of the stuff that you were talking about was just about the segregated signs and the ‘No Humans Allowed’ kind of vibe, and I think we both just liked that and it really touched on the essence of the film which is about segregation and it felt like something, like for me that I would respond to well if I saw that on a bus stop it would really interest me, I’d want to know what that was about so yeah, I think it’s their creative mind and us signing off on ideas that are cool and us giving input in certain places, but it’s mostly them, right Pete?
Peter: Yes, I agree whole-heartedly with everything you just said.
Was there any give or take from the studio or you guys on the trailer of the film?
Peter: No, well I think of the things that ultimately we had gone for, which was not planned it was just one of those fortuitous things is that we had largely shot the movie and made the movie under the radar. There was a lot of presentation and there is still presentation given the fact that we were making Halo and then suddenly Halo didn’t happen anymore, but people weren’t really aware that we had carried on working with Neill on another movie, I mean they thought Halo died and that was the story unto itself, but we were busy developing District 9 and it was a two-year process and I was doing The Lovely Bones at the time, but you know, while I was making that movie, Neill went to South Africa, he shot his film, came back to New Zealand, did some more shooting in New Zealand, some of the spaceship interiors we shot there, Sharlto came down, he obviously shot in South Africa came to New Zealand, did all the post production and no one really, we didn’t make any effort to promote the film, we just did it quietly and so when the movie first starting coming out in the and the viral campaign began and the first teaser came out, I think there was a really nice sense of surprise, which is fun, I think it’s always neat when it happens when it was a film that wasn’t really in anybody’s mind and suddenly you’ve got a trailer and everyone is going, “What the hell is this thing?” And there was a lovely sense of surprise about it, which doesn’t happen very much in the film industry because everyone seems to be so aware of what’s happening, somehow we’d fallen through the cracks a little bit, which I think it’s made it a fun process.
Can you tell us what you like about the story?
Peter: Things that I like about it personally, I like Neill’s approach to the story very much, which is certainly different to how I would have done it and Neill’s certainly the author of the very documentary-kind of realism, and I think it’s also interesting the South African setting because, Neill should talk about this really, but it was really important to Neill that it has a vibe of South Africa about it and that the decisions that the characters make, that Sharlto’s character makes is based on that particular country and that town.
Neill: And also just placing the science-fiction story in a slightly unusual environment so, I mean aliens arriving on earth isn’t particularly unique, but the idea of science-fiction in a slightly unique setting where they arrive here it was really appealing to me so that’s true. In terms of what I like about the story is I like the simplicity of a character that goes from — he really has one of the most serious arks of a character that I’ve seen in a while like a very serious, like starting here and ending 180 degrees from where he began and so Sharlto’s character is my favorite part about the actual narrative story.
Peter: He’s also a complex character, he’s an interesting character, I find, I mean he’s not based on the usual recipe that you create a partake in this sort of movie, I think Wikus is a flawed individual and even when the movie — we don’t have the incredible redeeming moment when he becomes a hero –
Neill: He doesn’t wrestle a helicopter to the ground, I wanted to, just for the record.
Peter: He doesn’t see the error of his ways and open an orphanage for orphan alien children, he’s complicated and conflicted and I think that’s interesting and the film for me it was an unusual experience because Neill wanted the film to be based on improvisational a lot, I’m use to, coming from a world where everything is scripted and everything is written and we figure it all out and the actors deliver the dialogue and we obviously do variations on that, but we basically plan it all, but Neill wanted very much a spontaneous documentary feel and we structured the story, we knew what the scenes had to achieve, but of course, it’s difficult, improvisation is a rare skill, there’s very few actors that can do it, often people just get tongue tied and they don’t know how to improvise and Neill kept saying to us at the beginning of the process that he had this friend of his in South Africa Sharlto, who he thought would be very terrific in the lead role and ultimately Neill went to South African and shot a test, which he showed us and that really sold us on the idea of Sharlto playing that character.
Sharlto what was it like for you to step into this project?
Sharlto Copely: It was a very natural process, I mean I’m not an actor, but I’ve done a lot of characterization stuff in my life, like when I was a kid, I use to make stuff and do characters and voices and so improvisation and caricatures and character and that sort of thing was always something that I felt very comfortable with so making the film and working with Neill as we did in the process of shots, by the time I was actually there with the full form, it was all — you know the cool team of people I’ve sort of worked with before on previous stuff so I was very relaxed and awesome –
Neill: Dude, you thought the shoots were relaxed?
Sharlto: You see as an actor, there were times — that’s what’s so cool about it like normally I would be behind-the-scenes and it’s just so stress free, relatively speaking as an actor you just — cause you know it’s improvise, you go there, you show up, it’s like, dude you got to go there, find the weapons, this happens, go, and you are either the character or you’re not. You don’t have the stress of is it working, isn’t it working, that was Neill and Peter’s problem, I just got to play around in the dirt which wasn’t as fun, but you know.
Are you left-handed?
Sharlto: I’m right-handed.
You had to shoot with your left hand?
Sharlto: That was Neill only telling me to hold the gun the wrong way and I knew it was going to look really uncool because I was trying to make it a little cooler, Neill’s like, “No, no it has to be that you twig your fingers in the right hand,” so I got better I would have to say, you know.
Neill: Pete had an idea that we didn’t implement, which was that as his transformation gets worst he ends up — we were going to put a stone in your shoe, under the back of your heel just to throw your walk off a little bit, but we forgot about it though, but yeah.
Sharlto: There was a lot about the film that felt like Neill was coming up with ways to see if I would do it because I was always determined if I was going to act it out, I was going to be an actor who just did everything, so it was like constant testing, that’s how I felt, like, put the sandwich in the real garbage, there’s human feces around, he’s got to scourge through the garbage, get the real trash in his hands and he’s got to eat the sandwich, and it just kept going, but it was fun, it was cool.
Did you know right away what you wanted the insects to look like?
Neill: I knew that I wanted them to be insect-like, but that was only after a lot of experimentation. There’s one thing about the film which is that their society and the way that the aliens operate on earth is dictated by this kind of pyramid-high obstructer that they have so if they are more like a termite-hive and you remove the top of their society their different to us by a logic that they have no sense of guidance, they’re actually a different biological society and I really like that idea because it’s just a cool science-fiction kind of idea. So the idea is that they arrive earth — by nature it’s very insect like or ant-like, once I started picking up on that then I wanted to stick to the idea of them being insect-like, but also obviously, because of the nature of the film, you have to sort of empathize with the alien characters through a whole other — because now all of a sudden they have to alien, but then you have to empathize with them, they need that human psychology of a face that we can recognize so that at least we can extract the motions from. They probably have to be anthropomorphic, they can’t be like a dog shape or a cow or something, so that’s how the design came about, but it wasn’t easy, it was a long process. I also was trying to be aware of what I though would work well with the visual effects realm with a kind of limited budget.
What’s it like to walk into a huge stadium of screaming people?
Sharlto: Did you have to raise that now, man? I felt so calm.
Peter: We’ve never done it before. This is the first time I’ve been to Comic Con. Everyone talks about this big hall but I’ve never seen it. I think you’re all kidding. I don’t think it exists.
Neil: It does? The cold reality will be upon you soon.
Peter: Oh, dear. Make sure we go to the bathroom first.
Sharlto: You know the cool thing is that it’s people that love films. Like that’s the one thing. I’ve had to speak in front of people before but it’s normally trying to pitch an idea or you’re debating stuff. It’s the feeling, not having done this, but just even the screening last night. It’s people that are really passionate about filmmaking and that probably know a little bit more about filmmaking than your average person does. Last night, they come up to you and they tell you what they liked, what they didn’t like.
Neil: There’s a rabid interest.
Sharlto: It makes sense. You’re talking to people that are in the film world. They’re film literates.
Peter: It’s actually interesting because I agree totally with Sharlto because people are putting a lot of emphasis on the technology and talking about Jim Cameron coming and Zemeckis. I see really that the future of film sits amongst the fans in these rooms and at a convention like this. The technology, film is becoming less elitist now. In the old days, 35mm cameras were really expensive and difficult. You couldn’t really just get one and make a movie, no matter how passionate you were. You had to have rich parents to send you to film school. There was an elitism which doesn’t really exist anymore. It just now comes down to the passion and the – -
Neil: Self drive.
Peter: Yeah, the drive to want to be a filmmaker. A lot of these young kids, that’s what they want to do. They want to make movies and today it’s so much easier than it’s ever been in the past. They can get cameras, really high quality digital cameras. You’ve got a whole post production suite in your laptop. You can do reasonably decent visual effects or get friends of yours, join together with a group of people. I kind of look at these big groups of fans and to me that’s the future of mass culture, of popular culture, is in those groups of people, the 100s and the 1000s of people. That’s where the future filmmakers, screenwriters, the game developers. That’s where they all are. They’re coming to these conventions and they’re going to form a lot of the future of our industry and I think that’s really exciting. It’s exciting that it’s got to the point that if you really have a passion and a drive and an imagination and are committed to telling stories, you can do it. You can get your film seen on YouTube. You can draw attention to yourself. It’s available to just about everybody now, which is terrific. It’s a great place for the culture to be.
Sharlto: That was the awesome thing just from my perspective of coming from the southern tip of the African continent. It’s like you can be involved in stuff now. Neil did the first Alive in Joburg. We had a team of like five people. He did the post production. He did the effects himself. So it’s more competitive but you do get this feeling that it’s more attainable than it was before was the blessing of having then someone like Peter see it and go, “Hey, I get you. I see what you have.” Ultimately, you can’t do it without that. You can’t do it without the next layer of support but you can get to that first part, just say, “Let me just show you what I can do.” I always had that feeling of wanting to show people what I could do. As Peter said, the technology makes it more and more possible.
Peter: I mean, so many kids come up and ask how they get into the film industry. It’s not difficult as a concept. You really have to make something that people like me or other filmmakers can look at. If you have talent and you were born to make movies like Neil was born to make movies, if you have that talent, that will show. It’ll be recognized. It’ll be there in the piece of work that you do. People that want to break into the industry but haven’t made a film, I think well, just get a camera and go and make the movie first. Just go shoot because you’ve got to do that first hurdle yourself. You can’t be given it all on a plate. You’ve got to go do the hard work at the beginning yourself.
What are you saying with the racial subtext in the film?
Neil: Well, first of all, when I started making the film, when we started conceiving the very idea of how District 9 would grow out of Joburg, I think for the first few months I was thinking of a film that probably was too serious and took itself too seriously. It had some of my thinking with those topics. There was too much of me in it. I pretty quickly started realizing that the smartest thing to do, especially with my first film and the fact that I have to grow a lot as a filmmaker before I do anything serious is just make something that’s accessible and more of a ride, that’s more fun. I actually wrote “satire” on different, like four pieces of paper and stuck them up on my wall to remind me that satire is the way to go with this film. When that happened, everything about it just kind of loosened up and became more enjoyable because from a satirical standpoint, it becomes sort of a not as serious, more creative environment to be in, especially as a first time director. So having said that, I think I grew up in South Africa during Apartheid and I very actively wanted to make a film that had science fiction placed in that African setting, specifically that South African setting. There’s no question that there’s many, many, many elements of Apartheid and segregation and now xenophobia in South Africa that have made their way into the film but they provide the sort of foundation that the film rests on top of. It’s like a framework that’s there and it provides a very strange alternate reality because there’s aliens involved, but it doesn’t beat you over the head. So if you see the film, it’s like I’m not trying to force those kind of soapbox beliefs of mine onto you. I’m simply saying this is all stuff that affected me when I was a kid and I put science fiction into it. Now you can take from it what you want within a sort of satirical, dark humor kind of backdrop.
You wrote Spoon. Will you write again?
Sharlto: Yeah, yeah. I’ll continue to write. I’ve been writing stuff constantly. I always do.
Could there be a sequel?
Neil: [to Peter] Can I do a sequel?
Peter: District 10 or District 9 ½.
Neil: District 8.
Sharlto: Can we set it in Santa Monica this time, man? On the beach? Can it be the beach?
Neil: I don’t know. I would love to do it. I would love to do a sequel for District 9. I just hope the economics of – - I hope that it works as a film because that’s going to be the basis for any decisions like that I suppose but the creative environment and the sort of multi-faceted universe of District 9, the sort of alternate reality is something I would totally love to go back to, no question.
Can you give us an update on The Hobbit pre-production? (See video of Jackson talking about the Hobbit)
Peter: Yeah, we’re about three or four weeks away from delivering our first draft of the first Hobbit script to Warner Brothers. I mean, people assume that we have a green light and we’re making the movie which we don’t. I mean, we have to deliver the script. The studio obviously has to approve the script and then we have to budget that script because we have no budget yet. So they’re not going to make the film with an open checkbook so we have to figure out how much it’s going to cost and if that’s going to be okay. So we have a process to go through that really, once we get the script delivered, we can break it down, we can do the budgeting, we can figure out schedules and we can move onto the second script that we have to obviously start writing immediately the first one’s done. Then we can start casting the movie once we have a budget and once the studio greenlight the movie. At that point we can start casting. Everybody assumes that we have been casting and they’re waiting for announcements which isn’t the case at all.
How about Lovely Bones? How does Heaven look?
Peter: I was going to say we’ll all find out how heaven looks one day, but you can find out in December how The Lovely Bones heaven looks. Post production is done. We’re finished. We’re just in the finishing touches of delivering materials and getting the final materials together for the studio and we’ve just finished a trailer. The Lovely Bones trailer gets released on August the 7th in the cinemas and August the 6th, the day before on apple.com. So I’m looking forward to that film. The release was delayed from March through to December so we’ve had this kind of long wait. Now we’re going to start the promotion of that movie so I’m looking forward to that. I’m really proud of the movie. I won’t try to sell the movie. You should see it and make up your own minds but I’m very, very proud of the film.
How important has Peter been as a mentor?
Neil: Well, I guess there’s two aspects to that. There’s the helping get District 9 made, just in its entirety which is aspect one. Then the second one is just kind of learning from him or soaking up how he does things. I think in both regards, I’ve been very lucky. Ultimately now I’ve ended up at a place where because I was introduced to him because of Halo, I now have a film which is very much me thanks to Pete creatively, and also that it exists. So that’s a pretty amazing place for me to be. Then in terms of process and creativity, I’ve soaked up a lot from him, whether he knows it or not. Then the third thing is even having Shalto in the film, without Shalto having a sense of acting career, that just also would never have happened. So there’s millions of components that came together because of him being involved in the project. Now finally, having attention, like attention like this, is the final icing on the cake, so I’m a very fortunate first time director and I’m aware of that.
Is there any hope for Halo?
Neil: Well, I think Halo is something that originally I was extremely fortunate to be involved with obviously. To get a first film like that is a pretty astounding thing. Not only that, but also the creative world of Halo, the universe of Halo is so appealing to me from multiple different science fiction aspects. So I think I was so invested in it for those months that we worked on it, it’s a very difficult thing to work on something and get into it like that, like that amount of creative intensity and then just have the rug pulled out from underneath you.
Peter: It’s a horrible experience. It’s horrible.
Neil: So I need some sort of time to sort of sit and look at whether Halo would be something that I’d want to go back to personally.
Peter: What’s happening with Halo as far as I’m aware is that the rights for a moment in time, the rights were with Universal and Fox and they had the ability to make a film which didn’t happen for various reasons at that time. Subsequently, the film rights have expired and Microsoft have got the film rights back so they don’t sit with any studio at the moment. I think quite honestly, I think Microsoft are assessing what they want to do with Halo. It’s their baby. They have a whole plan for future games obviously and I’m sure they’d like to do a movie one day. As much as we had a terrible experience ultimately with the way that Halo fell over, I think Microsoft also shared that. They were very frustrated. It wasn’t their fault and they were disillusioned I think to some degree by their experience. I think if any company could possibly make a film themselves and not have to deal with a studio, it’s possibly Microsoft. So I think they’re assessing how they want to handle their relationship with the film industry. I think that’s something they’re figuring out so we’re not involved at the moment, but obviously I think we just have to let them figure out what they want to do with the property they own.
You mentioned satire. What can you say about segregation and racism dealing with aliens that you couldn’t say dealing with people?
Neil: Hmm, interesting question. Well, I don’t know. I think dealing with satire probably just allows you to kind of – - I mean, if you made this exact same film and you just switched out the aliens with humans, you’d have to tread much more lightly and you’d end up with something that again would go back to what I was saying earlier about just being a much more serious browbeaten experience that unless it’s something like Schindler’s List, it’s not going to work. I think that science fiction and satire and these kind of allegories allow you to get away with touching on topics that interest me but it allows you to do it in a way that you’re not being heavy handed and you’re not forcing anything down people’s throats. Satire also allows you to get into all of the little – - it allows you to make fun of every different aspect. It allows you to make fun of both sides. It allows you to make fun of everything really so you can do it in a harmless way. We’re making fun of big corporations I suppose, one of the aspects of things we make fun of besides anything to do with race.
What are your feelings for getting it out there?
Neil: Well, I’m excited. I’m nervous as hell though because I just hope it does well. Obviously, I guess every director just wants their film to be received well but I’m anxious and I want it to get out there and I just want to see how people respond to it, but the good news is I’m really proud of it which is as much as you can ask for.
Peter: I mean, we were really thrilled with the reaction last night. Last night, the screening that happened was the first time I’d ever seen it with an audience. It’s the first time it actually has screened with an audience. You lose objectivity when you’re a filmmaker. It comes a very horrible time when you realize that you no longer really know what you made. You don’t know whether it’s good or bad.
Neil: It’s true. He told me that when we started. He said that’ll happen. It’s so true.
Peter: And it’s a little bit scary because you’re operating on some kind of gut instinct but not on anything that you can really rely on and you obviously get insecure about it and nervous, so it was a great experience last night to see it and feel it play to a room full of people and feel them enjoying it. It’s a great sense of relief, really terrific.
After the press conference we heard a bit more from Jackson on his way out…
Is Lovely Bones the best of both worlds, human emotional story and a fantastical world?
Peter: Well, hopefully. I hope you enjoy it. I’m pretty pleased with how it turned out.
With Tintin, will you do after Secret of the Unicorn and Red Rackham’s Treasure?
Peter: Well, I’ve got several favorite stories. I like The Seven Crystal Balls, Prisoners of the Sun. I like The Black Island. I like The Calculus of Fear. There’s a few of them that I like. I haven’t made a final decision yet. I’ll be working on that script after we finish with The Hobbit so I’ve got a little bit of time.
Peter: No Moon for the second one. I think the Moon one would be great to do as maybe a third or fourth one but I think we should stay on Earth for the second one.
How do you think you’ll feel after you have the fully realized Hobbit movie and the whole Tolkein series as films?
Peter: Well, hopefully I’ll feel proud of five movies instead of three. I feel very proud of the three movies at the moment but I’m looking forward to doing the Hobbit for sure.
Is the second one the real fun, inventing a new one?
Peter: Yeah, no, it’ll be cool.