“Well, it is shaped like a crescent.”
We were on foot and hopelessly lost in the London suburbs on our way to meet Gavin Rothery, the enormously talented visual effects supervisor and concept designer of the extraordinarily powerful sci-fi film Moon.
A middle-aged man in a moss-green cardigan and a dialect from Liverpool, pushing a stroller with his little girl in it, was trying to be helpful.
“There’s a road just over there that’s shaped like a crescent…don’t know if it’s the Crescent Road or not. But it’s definitely shaped like a crescent.”
He was right, the road was shaped like a crescent; but it wasn’t the street we were looking for.
After enlisting the help of several more kindly English strangers, we found the place just in time and Gavin answered the door with a cheerful smile and welcoming handshakes.
We came to London for the East End Film Festival to see the world premiere of 2-Star , the dark, romantic, comedy short film starring, co-written and produced by Morgan Lariah. On the schedule of events at the festival was a panel with Gavin and the Executive Producer Trevor Beattie, where they would talk a bit about their experiences working on Moon and how that film fits into the larger cannon of British cinema.
As part of our grand journey towards making our first feature film, a sci-fi thriller, 5th Passenger, we want to meet the creators of films that inspire and amaze us. Gavin was kind enough to invite us to his house for a personal talk about making Moon, independent films in general, his love of science fiction, and his future.
What first struck us is his intense passion for the sci-fi genre. His office is filled with all sorts of paraphernalia from science fiction films, including to our delight, the actual miniature rover that he designed for Moon. His bookcases overflow with books, graphic novels, DVD’s and Blu-rays mostly of the genre. He told us about how his love of sci-fi started early in his childhood, seeing Star Wars at 4, reading his grandfather’s Asimov and Bradbury books, and watching Silent Running with his dad.
Gavin went to school for graphic design and illustration, started working in comic book illustration, and then moved into the games industry where he met Duncan Jones, the director of Moon. Together they worked on pop videos and TV commercials. Eventually, they moved in together and started collaborating.
Moon was, as Gavin put it, “a bunch of guys living in a house trying to make a film.” Gavin, Duncan and Barrett Heathcote, all roommates, were inspired to make a feature together, one that was based on their collective passions. Gavin often references the great camaraderie they shared and how important it is in making films to have your own “gang.” Especially as indie filmmakers, it’s vital to have others you can count on who also bring extras skills to the table.
He had so many great stories about his experiences working on Moon that are insightful for any indie filmmaker. One of the first things we talked about were his expectations going into the project. Looking at the film now and all of the success and acclaim that it has, Gavin holds that while making the film he only thought of how it was going get finished. “You can’t say, ‘Everyone’s going to love this’…you just get caught up in making the thing…” They ran out of money during production, time was always an enemy and there were constant challenges for pulling off the visual effects. Their focus and drive to get the project done, to do what was necessary to make the film live up to the script, was paramount.
Likewise, he kept a disciplined attention to the details that contributed enormously to convincing the audience that the world that Sam lived in was real. One of the many hats he wore was as Concept Designer. And being such a small crew that meant him not just designing the sets but dressing them too. He talks about how he rubbed coffee on the walls and the robot Gerty to make them look weathered and worn. The other crewmembers questioned what he was doing and thought he was wasting his time. He carried on and was right to do so. It’s subtle, but when you watch the film you really get the feeling that Sam has been there for years. Even the set and Gerty have a back-story. It’s that believability that is so important to any film. Whether it’s the set or the acting, to really enjoy a movie you have to believe the world in which it takes place.
Gavin understood the importance of believability for sci-fi in particular and that starts by creating a world that has defined rules. He went to great lengths to tell us some fundamentals that make a sci-fi film great, not breaking your own rules being the most important. But he stressed that sci-fi or not, what is really key is that your script is good. He said “the material puts a glass ceiling on things…” and made the point to say that “many people say that…but you can’t just say it, you have to actually do it.”
So now you’ve made sure that your script is good, you’ve paid attention to the little details of the set and you start shooting; how do you know what you’re doing is any good? Gavin talks about just that experience he had on set with the Duncan. He pulls Gavin aside and asks if it’s any good. Gavin says, “I honestly don’t know…but we’re trying as hard as we can…whether it’s any good or not we literally don’t know. And that can be very stressful if you dwell on that”. But there was so much work to do and they just pushed forward, fueled by their passion.
And the result was an inspiring film that was an Official Selection at Sundance, won BAFTA’s Award for Outstanding Debut Director and Outstanding British Film and many other accolades, then was picked up and distributed by Sony Pictures Classics. Not only do we think this is a phenomenal film, but the story of its making has provided us with so many lessons as we move forward on our own project. Not least of all, to have a real passion for the story you want to tell and the drive to see it through, down to the smallest detail.
After the success of Moon, Gavin has had lots of offers to work on big budget projects but opted to hold out and write his own script, which he is also slated to direct. Although Gavin couldn’t divulge too much information on the project, it is a science fiction piece called Archive. We are so grateful to Gavin for the time he spent with us, the lessons he shared and are really excited to see what he does next. You too can keep up on the latest with Gavin’s blog and on Twitter @GavRov.
Scott Baker is a writer/director of over a dozen short films, most in the horror/sci-fi/fantasy genre. He’s currently putting together his first feature, a sci-fi thriller, 5th Passenger with Morgan Lariah. You can see some of his work and the full interview with Gavin at VeganCannibals.com and follow him on Twitter @MrScottyBaker.
Morgan Lariah is an actress/writer/producer whose short film, 2-Star, is currently making the festival circuit all around the world. She has acted in numerous independent films and is currently collaborating on the sci-fi thriller, 5th Passenger, with Scott Baker. For more information visit MorganLariah.com and follow her on Twitter @MorganLariah.