When I walk into the offices of Dutch production company, PostPanic, the enormous portraits of Johan Cruyff and Stanley Kubrick loom side-by-side before me, two personal heroes, I'm told by executive producer Ania Markham, of director Mischa Rozema. I’m here to interview the director on his upcoming sci-fi project Sundays, the teaser of which premiered two weeks ago at a film festival in Barcelona. The ambitious, years-long film project— that turned to Kickstarter to finance the original short film— is about to get picked up by one of the major Hollywood studios in the race to turn Rozema’s script into a full-length feature film.
The film itself is a return to highly-intellectual science fiction in the vein of Arthur C. Clarke, Philip K. Dick, and Aldous Huxley. The film is divided into two parts: the first takes place in the present and twelve years afterwards, and the second part is set 50,000 years into the future after a sun flare hits the Earth and the disaster gives society the opportunity the chance to rebuild the world. But things get weirder. Without any further adieu, my interview with Sundays' director, Mischa Rozema.
The Creators Project: How far are you in the production process?
Mischa Rozema: The short film will take another two- to three- months to complete, at which point I will have finished the script for the feature film that I’m going to present to the big Hollywood studios— Warner Bros, Paramount, Universal, etc. Those studios were enthusiastic about the project earlier on, but we’ve decided we wanted to make the short film and the script first. That way, the storyline is pretty much lined out already, and you don’t run into the danger that it can change overnight, or that we must have a happy ending, for instance. If everything goes as planned, I hope to have the feature film ready somewhere in 2015.
How is the short film different than the feature film?
The short film is meant to warm up viewers to the world of Sundays. It works as a sort of introduction to the elements of the movie and the world we’ve created, although the story of the short is completely different to the storyline in the eventual script.
Can you tell me a bit more about the story of Sundays?
The film is divided into two parts: the first takes place in the present and twelve years afterwards, [and] the second part is set 50,000 years into the future.
The first half of the movie is about how we as a species have become too dependent on technology and networks— systems over which mankind seems to have lost control completely. Think of the financial crisis for instance: not much is needed before everything starts coming down. That dependency on technology has enabled the rise of a new kind of world order. Companies like Google, Facebook and Apple seem to have acquired a position above central government. I use those twelve years in the story to have those companies merge into a single, almighty company called Lennox, which has access to all of the world’s information, knowledge and data.
Then something happens that no one can control: a powerful sun flare hits earth and the world descends into apocalyptic chaos. Satellites stop functioning, electrical grids switch off, planes no longer know where to navigate. In the midst of all that chaos, only Lennox is a strong enough to survive. The disaster gives them with the opportunity to rebuild the world according to the ‘goodness’ of their views, unhindered by any laws or ethics. They create a 'Brave New World' of sorts.
That’s the moment we cut to the second part of the film. We fast-forward 50,000 years into the future, and as a viewer you expect that by this time evolution or technology must have done its thing and changed the world. But the opposite turns out to be true: everything has stayed exactly the same. We see the same people in the same city doing precisely the same jobs. The texture of the world, its smells, its people, its language – everything has stayed the same. Until something goes wrong in the head our protagonist, a glitch that makes him open his eyes and realize that everything he thought he knew is a lie. He starts searching for answers and gradually wanders more and more off of the normal path. And that’s something you do not want to do in this new world.
Is Sundays meant as a critique of our tech-laden society?
It is not so much that I want to point my own finger and say that’s good or that’s bad. What I find interesting is that we’re now at a point where we need reconsider what it means to be human. Evolution has always gone hand in hand with technology, and I feel we’re currently in this crazy exponential acceleration. As we’re getting closer to technological singularity, we will have to redefine our ‘being human’ as well. I find that a fascinating thought. What does it mean, for example, when you can clone an individual? What are your memories and emotions and personality worth when they can be replicated with ones and zeros? Does that make them any less real? Those are the sort of issues and questions that this movie plays with.
Aren’t you putting yourself in a really tough spot by making a movie that takes place 50,000 years into the future?
It sure seems like that [laughs]. What was important for me, though, is that I wanted to have such an enormous time span because it means we can’t really picture anything like it. You never really see that in science fiction anymore. The movies that are made today always take place in, say, the ‘year 2051’ or the ‘22nd century’. They never dare to take it further than that. I didn’t want to make that type of sciencefiction full of flying cars and countless explosions. I wanted to move beyond that and really cut through human evolution. As a director that allows me to do really interesting things visually – tiny cracks or errors grow bigger over time, buildings look grotesque with enormous ‘wounds’ as a result of falling space debris that never got fully repaired. It all boils down to me having a hell of a lot to explain as a director, and that explanation is what makes the film so interesting.
Why have you decided to pick Mexico City as the setting for the film?
I think, in a way, Mexico City represents the future of mankind when you look at it from a dark, dystopian viewpoint. It is a sort of ultimate urban nightmare in a way; a multimillion metropolis that is extremely polarized and heavily overpopulated. That said, I have come to love the city all the same.
What was important for the film as well is that it has some of the most fascination architecture I’ve ever seen. I literally spent days just walking through Mexico City in Google Streetview searching for film locations. On the one hand, you can find beautiful Brutalism-architecture over there – magnificent closed concrete theaters where anything might happen – and on the other hand you have the ghettos – thousands of small homes that are built without any rules and still form a coherent picture. In the movie we merge those two architectural forms together and use special effects to build on top of the existing structures. It becomes a sort of giant termite hill where everyone is silently, almost secretly, living out his life.
Who would you like to see as the lead actor? Do you have any names in mind?
I can’t really mention any names at the moment, because it’s all kind of political. There are a few names making the rounds though. You have to realize that when you get someone like, say, Brad Pitt to join you, you also get another executive producer onboard who is going to interfere creatively. That can be good, but it can also go terribly wrong. We want to remain cautious of that. I am myself part of UTA, an agency with some really big names like Johnny Depp, Edward Norton, Benedict Cumberbatch, and little old Mischa tucked away in a drawer somewhere. But yeah, I don’t really know if we are going to have a big star in this film. We’ll see.
How was it to go from a Kickstarter-project to a Hollywood-production
It was kind of funny, actually. I wasn’t actively searching for a career in Hollywood, yet one day they just called me up. After reading a couple of their scripts, I basically just told them “Have a look at this script and tell me what you think.” That same evening I got a call back saying “This is gonna be your feature.” The only problem was that we couldn’t get the funding for the short movie. The idea to put it on Kickstarter came from our management in America. It turned out to be an ideal solution: it enabled us to finance the shoot in Mexico City and raise awareness about the film. The latter really was priceless for us: that network of people who voluntarily help with the project, saying, “Here’s ten bucks, or five thousand, I believe in you, go do it.”
Final question: no happy ending right?
Not if I’m concerned. Well, not yet. You can also have an open ending. The thing is that even if everything goes terrible wrong, you still have to be able to find hope somewhere. Where’s the hope, right? You should still be able to give your own personal meaning to an end. Inception has an ending like that, where you see that spinning top… What matters to me is that I want to tell an intelligent story in combination with science fiction. Today, that’s a rare thing in Hollywood. I hope to change that.
We hope so, too. Thanks
To learn more about Sundays, visit PostPanic's official website.