GORE IN THE STORE
IN CONVERSATION WITH GAVIN ROTHERY
“I had a shot at it, I pushed it, and I managed to pull it off” replies Gavin Rothery when asked about the motivation for directing. After working on the graphics and concept design for Duncan Jones’ 2009 sci-fi drama MOON, he explains offers to direct lead him to think, “Why not push that boat out and go for a sail?”
Set in the year 2038, ARCHIVE tells the story of George Almore (Theo James), who is stationed at a secluded and secret mountain facility codenamed, ‘The Garden’ He’s two and a half years into his three-year research contract and is close to a breakthrough in developing a true human-equivalent android. Nearing the completion of his prototype, and guarding an ulterior motive that he has kept secret, he enters the riskiest phase of the project.
Speaking with him, it’s possible to sense the challenge of finding one’s bearings, amidst a wealth of wisdom on how one should attack the scriptwriting and filmmaking processes. He begins by telling us, “This is the first thing I’ve written solo”, and goes on to explain, “I went all around the block looking at everything, and the big thing I took away from it was, if anybody’s got anything to tell you, any experience, it’s usually a line or two, and that’s usually the thing you should be listening to.” He recalls going into a Waterstone’s bookstore and looking at a shelf full of books about how to write a movie by someone he’d never heard of. “I’m looking at these books and I’m thinking, ‘Well, I’m never going to be able to read or buy all of these books, so do I really need to read anything that’s here before I start?’”
Rothery doesn’t dispute that there are mechanics to storytelling, but he believes that it cannot be reduced to a textbook step-by-step explanation. “It’s good to be aware of the writing formulas, and it’s not that they don’t have any value because structure is probably the most important part of any filmmaking or writing job. If you don’t have structure then it’s just going to be a mess.” He adds,“The funny thing about it is, with good structure you can take a mediocre idea and it can become great. It’s a strange thing because it’s good to be aware of formulas, but you can’t enter a creative field looking at a mathematical formula - you’d be doing yourself a disservice.”
There is inevitably a narrowing of choices as the world building progresses, which the director says he finds thrilling.“The process of narrowing is about choosing the best option from all of the options. I see it as a hugely positive thing because that’s getting the work done, working out what the story is and developing it.” He also acknowledges a collaborative dialogue between the film and its filmmaker. “The funny thing is, when you’re coming up with a story, once you’ve got your original set up, and you’ve got your characters and you’ve got your theme, the film itself tends to speak to you. It tells you what it wants to be, and I think it’s because in the process of setting the whole thing up, you’ve done all this thinking, and you know what it is. Then when you get into this process of narrowing things down, that bundle of ideas speaks to you.”
Working on ARCHIVE, he came to realise a common mistake in storytelling, or a crisis point in developing the narrative. “Sometimes when you’re writing a story, you need a thing to happen and you’ll try to create a situation where it can, and I found that be is where a lot of stories fall apart.” He explains, “Once you get half way into your film, you don’t want to be introducing any new stuff. So when you have a situation where you need something to happen, there’s always something in the first half of the film you can bring back, that will tie everything up.”
Regardless of the budget and scale of the production, what commonly connects sci-fi films is a shared humanity - themes of family, life and love. It’s an aspect of the genre that was not lost on Rothery even as a young boy. “I’m a lifelong sci-fi fan. As a kid I loved STAR WARS as a fun adventure, but the thing that really got me into it was SILENT RUNNING. My dad showed it to me when I was six, and it just blew my mind.” He continues, “What I’ve come to understand is sci-fi is my big genre love. I love horror, I love comedy, I love film and I love TV, but there’s something about the genre where you can use technology to put some kind of spin on the human condition, and that’s the stuff that interests me – it’s people stories.”
At the heart of these stories are problems, and the challenge he seems to suggest for the storyteller is honing in on the character’s dilemma. “When me and Duncan were coming up with the story for MOON, it was about a guy who was stuck, but how’s he stuck? And when we came up with the whole clone thing, it was like there we go! He’s a clone slave, and he doesn’t even realise it. How does that mess with your head? What if you found that out? So that’s the thing I love about sci-fi. You look at a problem a person might have and come up with a crazy sci-fi problem, and whenever you do that, you’re going to find a compelling story.”
ARCHIVE Releases on Digital Download 18TH January.