Caradog W. James discusses Artificial Intelligence and Spotify
Directed by Caradog James, Produced by John Giwa-Amu and starring Toby Stephens (Die Another Day), Caity Lotz (Arrow), Denis Lawson, Sam Hazeldine and Pooneh Hajimohammadi, THE MACHINE is a sci-fi thriller set in the near future with a global war looming. As top MOD scientist Vincent (Stephens) is briefed with developing the ultimate killing machine, he creates the first fully conscious robot, but against orders he makes it in the image of his lost love, plunging him into a battle for his survival.
The Machine had its World Premiere earlier this year at Tribeca Film Festival and has since won the Raindance Award at the recent BIFAs, Best UK Feature at Raindance Film Festival, Best Sci-Fi film atToronto After Dark Film Festival and three BAFTA Cymru Awards for Special Achievement in Film, Best Costume Design for Chrissie Pegg and Best Original Music for Tom Raybould.
Ahead of its home entertainment release, The Fan Carpet‘s Marc Jason Ali had the pleasure of speaking with fantastic filmmaker Caradog W. James about his new film, why he chose Caity Lotz and his love of Spotify…
Congratulations with The Machine, you must be thrilled with the reception it’s been getting?
It’s wonderful that people seem to like the movie, especially after so much hard work, coming towards the end of a three year journey, it took almost two years to write the script and a year to make the movie so a lot of work has gone into it by a lot of people so I’m really pleased it’s getting such a good reception.
When I watched The Machine, it struck me as having shades of The Terminator and a definite air of Blade Runner to it, were these films a starting point for you when creating such memorable and remarkable characters?
Well, obviously films like Blade Runner and The Thing, and a lot of Ridley Scott’s work and Kubrick have heavily influenced me as a filmmaker, but I really try not to be influenced by other filmmaker’s stories.
So there’s a lot of shots, there’s lots of lighting, there’s lots of use of sound and the craft of other movies that I’m sure have influenced me and have found their way into The Machine but in terms of the story, I really wanted to take as much from real life as possible; so when I was writing the script I read everything I could on the ethics of Artificial Intelligence and futurists like Ray Kursweil, I even read a few books on Quantum Physics and Quantum Computers; which I must admit were complicated – I didn’t get through all of them, but I read enough to get a real grounding of the subject matter and John Giwi-Amu, the producer managed to get me a meeting for me with a guy at the Ministry of Defence who is building intelligent machines for the Government and he explained to me that their machines, they started by mapping a slug brain, and then a mouse brain and while I was talking with him, he mentioned that they’d mapped a chimp brain, and that was the first part of the story it sparked because I thought that if they can map a chimp brain, they can map a human brain too, and what would happen if there was an exact copy of a human brain, so that was a huge piece of the story.
And then the other thing he said, helped me get Vincent’s character, he told me their machines had been taught to interact with the world the same way as severely Autistic or brain damaged children are being taught to interact with the world, so I put an ad on Facebook, met the families and little girls with Rett Syndrome, and it was those families you know, they were so inspiring and their love for their kids was so clear, and that helped me understand Vincent’s story.
So that’s where the character’s came from; real life and not other movies, but the camera movements and the lighting are clearly influenced by other films that I love.
I’m a huge fan of Caity, what was she like to work with, what made her right for the roles? and how was it working in London and Wales?
Well, we auditioned maybe a hundred actresses for that role, and it was Caity’s audition that first brought her to our attention, this was before The Pact was in cinemas, so she really didn’t have a profile at all when we brought her onto this film, but her audition was just fantastic.
She really understood that the film was about the humanity of The Machine rather than anything else, I wanted The Machine to be one of the most human characters of the film and I could see from her audition that she clearly understood that about the script, and it was her audition that really captivated us.
When I started working with her, what was wonderful about Caity and all the cast members is that a) she was really serious about her work, she put a lot of prep in, she went to an Auto body shop because she felt that The Machine should be perfect physically, she lifted her own weight and came back sort of ripped for the role, which was great because we could then have her wear padding for the scenes where she plays Ava, and then she took the padding off when she played The Machine, so there was a clear physical difference between them, but also she gave me a lot of time for rehearsal, all the actors did ten days before the shoot, which was great because we could really go through the script and really implement a lot of those things that I had planned, like when I was writing the script I really wanted there to be a progression in her age, so in the early scenes she’d be like a toddler, next scene she’d be like she was six, the next scene she was a young teenager and then a young adult and then more cynical and that progression, that rapid progression through mental ageing of her character was really something I wanted to chart with her and she really responded to that and it was fun working on those scenes with that in mind.
Was that the same with Toby and Denis?
Yeah, it was fantastic with them, they had agreed to rehearsals so we had time to really build a unit between us, a team moving forward and a team between themselves; Toby and Caity really hit it off, and that helped their friendship in the movie.
I’d never worked with Toby or Denis before, and Toby I had only really seen him play villains on screen, I hadn’t seen any of his theatre work, so you have a sort of preconception of what people are going to be like, but he’s just the nicest guy, so down to earth, very, very hard working, funny and clever, it was a wonderful experience working with him because he’s so experienced and understands his craft so well, so it was wonderful having someone of that level of experience on such a short shoot because we were able to do more I think with someone like him at the centre of the story.
Denis is actually one of my favourite actors, although when I told him that I think he was worried that I was going to say because of Star Wars, so when I said ‘you’re one of my favourite actors, you’re in one of my favourite films’ he kind of looked at me wearily and then I said ‘Local Hero was something that was a huge influence on me’, and I think from that moment he kind of relaxed and he’s a really great guy.
What was your most memorable moment or moments whilst making The Machine?
There were so many memorable moments, and we were really lucky to have a great cast all round, but I guess one of my memorable moments was, the leader of the implant soldiers is played by an Iranian actress called Pooneh Hajimohammadi and the scene where she sets fire to one of the traitors in her group that was a really memorable day, very tense, cause we only had two goes at setting the guy on fire, and it took almost half a day to shoot, we were only shooting for four and a half weeks, so it was a big chunk out of our schedule.
She was really brilliant in that scene, and there’s quite an interesting story about her and all the soldiers have a digital language, but I didn’t want them to speak gobbledegook, I wanted there to be a structure to the digital language that the actors would say their lines with, so I thought perhaps have them say it in a foreign language like French or German but I then I thought it would be too easy to lip read, so Pooneh taugt them their lines in Farsi, which I then heavily distorted in post, but it meant that they had the confidence in what they were saying. That was really cool, but I’d say setting the guy on fire was a great day and in general the fight sequences and the creation of The Machine, it was great to do things that you’d think you’d only get to do on a huge budget, but our film was made for less than a million quid, so it was wonderful to be able to pull that stuff off.
The story of The Machine is beautiful and moving and is left wide open, I’m keen to see the journey continue, do you have plans to revisit the material as a sequel?
Yes, definitely, I’m already working on number two on the script, but I’d love to have a bi more money to take it outside of the lab, because this is the thing with a small budget; you have to make compromises and focus your story on one location really, so with number two I’d really like to expand it and see what happens to The Machine when she’s escaped into the world, and how her army of Augmented soldiers cope with the world, I think there’s a really interesting story there.
I’m watching your career with the utmost interest, I cannot wait to see what you do next, what is next for you?
Well through our company, there’s a horror movie called Don’t Knock Twice, it looks like that’s ready to go later this year, so that’s very exciting. A lot of people in Hollywood we just got back from – myself and John Giwi-Amu my producing partner just got back from L.A.the week before last and there seems to be a strong response to the film, so there are some interesting projects that have been talked about, so fingers crossed, I’ve always wanted to make a Hollywood movie, so we’ll see if any of that comes to pass.
Are there any genre that you haven’t done that you’d like to?
Well definitely horror, but also I like the idea of doing a bigger budget sci-fi, so I want to take another stab at sic-fi with a slightly more epic canvas, I’d like to try that as well, so I’m not quite done with sci-fi yet, and horror are the genres that really excite me at the moment.
I’m interviewing you for The Fan Carpet, and we want to know what you are a fan of?
My god, I’m a fan of so many things, but I’ll tell you about something recently that I discovered that I’m a fan of, which I literally only found a couple of months is Spotify, I had no idea! I’ve been spending a bloody fortune on iTunes!
If someone had told me about Spotify before, I’d have heard a lot more music, I love this system of being able to discover new tracks and I’m really looking forward to the time when that system is applied to independent movies, because that’s still the biggest problem with something like The Machine to get out there and reach a wider audience and for the audience to kind of know that we exist, with a small budget it also means you have difficulty promoting it after it’s finished and getting it out there, so that’s why it’s wonderful that people like yourself have taken an interest in the film, we really appreciate that because spreading the word is so crucial to British movies getting made.
THE MACHINE IS OUT NOW IN CINEMAS AND HITS BLU-RAY AND DVD ON MARCH 31