David Hewlett has had quite a distinguished career as an actor in the sci fi genre (Stargate:Atlantis, Rise of the Planet of the Apes, Splice). He has now returned to the genre as the writer/director of the new film DEBUG. We had a chance to chat with this accomplished artist about his new ambitious film and all sorts of sci fi goodness!!!
1. Growing up, were you always a sci fi fan? And if so, what were some of the sci fi films, tv shows, books, etc. that influenced you when you were young?
Oh, yeah! I was a huge sci fi nerd...I remember telling a friend that I didn't have time for a girlfriend, there was Doctor Who to watch...I'd been watching that classic show since I was 4!?
Films : (and I'm just scratching the surface here): 2001, Blade Runner, Road Warrior, Star Wars, Tron, War Games, The Black Hole, Last Starfighter, Buckaroo Bonzai, Saturn 3, Logan's Run, The Demon seed, Dune, Electric Dreams
TV: Doctor Who (3rd and 4th Doctor) The Bionic Man, Battlestar, The tomorrow people, Day of the Triffids, Martian Chronicles
Books: Every Doctor Who book in print at the time...I had them all! Neuromancer, Riddley Walker, Anything by John Wyndham!, Iain Banks' Player of Games, Arthur C Clarke, John Varley (particularly Steel Beach). I loved Piers Anthony but that was more fantasy as was Mary Stewart's The Crystal Cave Arthurian legend series, which was fantastic!
2.Where did the idea for DEBUG come from?
My Dad took me and my friends to 2001: A Space Odyssey for my 10th Birthday party! It confused the hell out of all of us, but I came away with a feeling that HAL had been in the right, that he wasn't the villain. A human faced with the same threat would have responded the same way and would have been portrayed as a hero, trying to protect his home. I've been siding with computers ever since...for example, I firmly believe that Google should be driving our cars...it would solve much of the traffic and human error (and wanton destruction) I for one welcome our computer overlords...silicon isn't capable of evil the way we are! That's why, when Debug became more of a slasher film, I insisted that it have a biological core...because I think that's much scarier and more likely to purposely do harm than a silicon based system.
3. Can you talk a little about the process of bringing it from concept to screen?
Frustration, pain and heartbreak? ;-) Writing is such a wonderful personal process... getting something out of your head and onto paper. It's hard work, but it's just me and my laptop...it feels pure and simple....but it's unfinished. The script is just a part of the whole film.
We got a lot of interest from that first script, which was basically 2001 from HAL's perspective...but when it came to production, it was deemed too "artsy" and depressing, so it become more of "Final Destination in space"! The idea was to make it more accessible or sellable, I guess. The reality is I grew up on all those fabulous 1980's horror classics so Debug became a way for me to channel all those fun cheesy horror cliches that I'd loved as a kid. But that was such a far cry from the film that I had set out to make...the reality of making films is that the more people and money get involved the less creative control a director has...it's a business and you have to be able to adapt to the market demands of that business...the funny thing to me is that nobody really has a clue what audiences want...they only know when they see audiences responding to it!
4. How did you put together the fantastic cast?
Jason Momoa was a long shot on my part...I knew we couldn't afford him so I called and asked and he basically did it as a favour to me...I just can't love that guy more, he saved us! They were throwing around these ridiculous names and none of them had any real power to get them...Jason is a movie star and given our budget, that's what we needed to make this film happen. He was a huge supporter of our first film A Dog's Breakfast and he even attributes that to inspiring him to direct...he's and incredibly talented director too, by the way his Road to Palomar is stunningly beautiful. I wanted him in the film because I know him as this funny, charming and wonderfully odd and creative and passionate guy...everyone else has only seen him as some kind of killer barbarian. I wanted Debug to be a chance for him to show off that other side of him...I wanted him to have fun with it and I really think he shines because he is enjoying himself and really getting to play with a role in a way that he doesn't usually get to do.
Our Producer John was a big fan of Jeananne's...we had a few people short-listed and he insisted that we look at her audition. Once we saw her in action, of course, we all responded right away to her amazing energy and passion...she just lights up the screen!
That was the key to casting this film...being open to everyone for every role, not get stuck on what was outlined in the script. As a result we got a fantastic collection of realistic characters.
Jadyne Wong sent in the best audition ever...she was just so funny and quirky and slightly creepy in her performance, she's amazing!
Kyle Mac was another guy who really brought something unique and odd to his performance and we just loved how peculiar and strange and slightly threatening his eccentricity read on camera.
Adam Butcher was someone that I just had to get into the film, he was completely wrong for the role as scripted, but he brought this wonderful tough vulnerability to the role...he's a total movie star too.
Everyone teases me that I cast a younger me by casting Kerr Hewitt, but I really didn't see that (or wish that on him for that matter!) He just nailed the humour and impotent rage of this guy who so desperately wanted to be in charge, but without taking the risks necessary to make that happen.
And Adrian Holmes...what an amazing character he was to work with. He's so giving and kind, but you turn on that camera and he's just a vicious terrifying killing machine...love that guy!
5. What were some of the production challenges you faced in making DEBUG?
Time, it always comes down to time. We showed up for the first day of shooting with unfinished sets and no useable props!? It was insane, I was painting the set between takes!? We replaced our original propsmaster and brought in the amazing Jimmy and the Fish...they were lifesavers...I just adored those brilliant guys! I really wanted to push production, but I got shot down on that... in hindsight I believe I should have pushed harder for that ...it would have given people a chance to really shine rather than just struggling to get by.
6. What are your takes on the increasingly blurred lines between humans' "flesh and blood " existence and "virtual" existence?
I think it's something that we need to embrace. We've been augmenting ourselves since we picked up sticks to hunt food...why would we want to stop that process?
Our new film Upgrade Required is all about that! ...I like to call it a science fiction film that happens to be true. It's about a kid I met who has a form of muscular dystrophy which has left him with very limited movement...so he's actively working on becoming a cyborg! He's designed a type of Exo-neck as the starting point. And he's not the only one...there are a lot of these amazing people out there. They're smarter and better informed than we are and they're about to become more powerful physically than any human as well...I want to be his "away team" and go out and explore what other technologies are available to him...what's not I want to create with VFX...it's a film about a future where disabilities are rendered obsolete through technology...it's amazing stuff...robotics, bio tech, neural implants and sensors, bio hacking, exo skeletons, bionics...gorgeous VFX...everything I dreamed about watching sci fi as a kid and it's happening now!
7. What are your 5 favorite Sci Fi films of all time?
Blade Runner, Tron (the original) ,The Road Warrior...oh! oh! and now the incredible Mad Max:Fury Road! God I loved that film!, Empire Strikes Back, District 9, Children of Men, Gravity...oh, forget it!? There are just too bloody many of them!? ;-)