Johannes Roberts discusses Sci-Fi and femininity
As Storage 24 prepares for its national release on June 29, The Fan Carpet‘s Stefan Pape caught up with the director Johannes Roberts.
Turning his head to science fiction following his gritty horror F – the John Carpenter fan is evidently delighted to doing what he does best and most enjoys, as Storage 24 depicts the tale of a small group trapped inside a storage warehouse under attack by an alien invasion.
Roberts discusses working alongside writer and starring role Noel Clarke, a potential sequel and discusses the, er, femininity of the terrifying alien attacking our innocent protagonists.
So let’s begin with how you first came to be involved in this, and your first meeting with Noel?
I was filming for a Sci-Fi channel in Ireland and my agent is Noel’s agent, and the script came to me and I read it and Noel had written it but didn’t want to direct and wanted a genre guy, and I had just done F and my agent had shown him that which he thought was amazing, probably. Maybe. And the chance to work with Noel and the chance to do a Universal pictures… I mean, I still get a big smile on my face when I see the Universal logo come up. And a chance to make an alien movie. Plus I’m a John Carpenter guy and it’s one location, it’s Assault on Precinct 13 all over, and all those kind of things together, it was just great, my kind of thing.
Where you at all surprised when you first received this script and saw it was by Noel ‘Kidulthood’ Clarke?
Yeah, I have to say it was. I had seen Kidulthood and liked it, but as the most un-urban guy in the world, this was really out of my normal zone, but this just really worked and it worked because Noel is all about reinventing himself and he really wanted to take the performance a different way and we really played it un-urban, and he is very, like, Carphone Warehouse management kind of thing.
When you were filming in these tight spaces did it present any problems you hadn’t dealt with before?
There wasn’t too much that phased me. Thing was, it was a set and I’d never done that before. I’ve always been on very tight budgets so suddenly to have built the whole thing was crazy, but that did bring its own issues, because if you’re on location there is a real texture and feel to it, like on F, and then with a set, no matter how much money you’ve got, it’s a set. You have to really work to get that texture in, and get that kind of maze, emptiness, sterile feel to it, so it was suddenly much easier but suddenly to get that atmosphere in became much trickier so I really had to work for that, but I think it does.
We don’t actually see the alien for half of the movie – what was the thinking behind that?
The movie kind of splits into two halves, where the first half is to hide the creature and do that kind of stuff, and I love that. I mean Laura Haddock goes to the toilet for 10 minutes and you can do anything you like there and it is so much fun to play around with, anything could happen. Then once we’ve revealed the creature what I love about the movie is then the rulebook says ‘Keep the creature in the dark all the time’, and that’s been the hand book. But I was like, f*** this, I wanna see this creature. If I keep it in the dark it’s an Alien rip-off, I want a creature that will stand toe-to-toe with Noel. So once we see the creature it’s like The Thing, not that I am comparing the movies, but in The Thing you see everything all the time, and they are the kind of movies I love. You know, I wanna see this alien.
Why does the alien kill some people, and not others?
The alien is female, Gertrude is her name. This was the thing that leapt off the page when I first read the script, that it was almost about commitment and fear of relationships and that kind of stuff, so to me the alien needed to represent that. The alien doesn’t harm any women all the way through the film, that never happens. It’s not something I am expecting people to come out of the movie and go “Oh, that’s why it didn’t do that”. Theoretically the alien never harms any women, and of course we took some licence here and there and I’m not trying to put a sub-text into a movie that doesn’t need one as it’s a popcorn movie, but also to be honest I come from the school of John Carpenter where plot logic is, well, as long as the story is good then you know, everything else is out of the window. If you’re enjoying the story that’s what matters.
There is a brilliant scene where the alien is fascinated by a toy dog, were there any ideas to delve into that side of the alien a bit more and gage more personality in how the alien views them, rather than how they view the alien?
Yeah that was the big thing for me, I really felt that you have to love this creature and it’s got to be a three dimensional character if this movie is going to work. So for instance, the first killing when the alien rips out the heart, to be honest it’s not angry, it doesn’t want to kill him. It’s just curious as to what is going on there so it takes the heart out to have a look. It’s only once they start fighting it that it gets aggressive. That little dog could be as dangerous as Noel, it doesn’t know, so when it comes it’s like ‘What the hell is that? And why doesn’t it back off from me?’
The alien looks brilliant – the CGI is excellent. How did that all come about?
Well animatronics are really tough to work with and break down and I really wanted a physical presence, but also you’ve got to be careful with a guy in a suit. I mean, I’m retro, but you’ve got to appeal to a new audience otherwise you’re dead in the water. So what we did was we had this guy who could slip the rubber suit on, and that’s the big thing, no hours of make up, it could just on or off pretty quickly. And he is about six foot six and he is a movement specialist, and then he was on stilts so came up to seven and a half feet, a big old thing, and sometimes with wires as well, and then what would happen is he would have the mask and everything, and all exactly as you see it, but it’s static. And then the CG guys would map him, photograph him 360, and then put the CG on top afterwards. It’s seamless to what is CG and what is a guy in a suit, and the actors are 100% there with this thing and terrified. The interaction is real and that’s important to me.
So Noel has mentioned he has already got a sequel planned if this takes off – have you signed yourself up for that?
I think he has about seven sequels planned. I have never known someone who is as fast at working as Noel. But yes, absolutely, I’d do all seven. I remember the first time Noel saw the finishes movie with the big ending, and he was beaming, like a little kid. He wouldn’t admit it, but he is a big geek, and we both just want silly fun, and this is great because we’re doing what we wanted to do. If this did well, fingers crossed, touch wood and all that kind of stuff, then yeah, it would be great to expand that world a bit. Noel has been kicking around some ideas, and I certainly feel there is a big world out there, like an apocalyptic London, but with aliens, sort of 28 Days Later but with aliens would be an awfully fun thing to do. So hopefully something happens at the box office which will enable us to do that.
STORAGE 24 IS OUT JUNE 29