We had an amazing chat with Writer/Director Caradog James and talked AI, technology, and of course, filmmaking.
LEGLESS CORPSE: “The Machine” combines a lot of elements from different sci-fi films; what were your inspirations for the story?
CARADOG JAMES: I didn’t go to film school, so I really learned to make films by watching other filmmakers, like watching the films of John Carpenter, Martin Scorsese, Ridley Scott, Stanley Kubrick, and Francis Ford Coppola. It was these movies that really kind of inspired me to learn to tell stories visually. But when I came to make The Machine I was really kind of determined not to just regurgitate other people’s stories. The genesis of the project was this idea of trying to make a hard science fiction movie, a movie based on fact rather than fiction. So I read pretty much every book I could on robotics and artificial intelligence and futurists like Ray Kurzweil and even books on quantum computing. All of that led to an interview with a guy at the Ministry Of Defense, which is kind of like the U.K. Version of the C.I.A. I guess, and he was building weaponized AI for the British government and he agreed to give me a meeting. He explained how they had actually mapped a mouse brain, a virtual copy of a mouse brain in the computer and they were working on an exact virtual copy of a chimp brain in the computer. It just seemed to me, after I left the room, that they are definitely going to do a copy of a human brain. If they have an exact copy of a human brain that thinks and feels and hopes and desires, like the organic, original does, what would be the difference in the two? Where’s the humanity? What is humanity? That piece of research really was the fundamental cornerstone of the story. Another part, the emotional kind of core of the movie, came from a piece of research that I read that said that AI is being taught and tracked in the world just like severely disabled children are being taught and tracked in the world. So I met families of severely autistic children and spoke to them and spent time with them and it was about their love for their kids and those kids themselves that were so inspiring, that’s where Vincent’s story came from. So the story in the movie and the science in the movie is all stuff that’s based on actual real-world research, where this technologies going to take us in the next 50 years. That’s what excited me about writing the script rather than do another Blade Runner, which is a massive visual influence on me and I’m sure there’s shots in the movie that are heavily indebted to Blade Runner, but in terms of the story that’s all real-world stuff. That was very important to me. That’s why I wanted to make the film.
LC: You assembled an excellent cast; were the principals your first choices for the roles? How much of your input was used in casting?
CJ: Well casting is a massive part of my job as a director. It’s a huge part of whether the film is going to be successful or not. We must of seen over fifty actresses for the lead role of the machine. Caity’s (Lotz) audition really blew us away because she sent a tape from the states. We were mainly meeting actresses in the U.K., but as soon as we saw Caity’s tape I just thought that she nailed the fact that… where the other actresses had gone wrong, they were playing kind of the robot and really what I was interested in was the human elements in the machine and the emotional elements in the machine, and I think Caity instinctively got that straight away. So that made me very excited about working with her. Once we got to set I realized of course she’s a fantastic physical actress as well; martial artist, gymnast, dancer. Our budget was less than a million pounds so we only had like four and a half weeks to shoot and we’d never have gotten through it without Caity’s physical prowess. She would rehearse the fight scenes once and then we’d shoot it and she’d remember all the moves. With someone who didn’t have her physical abilities we would have never been able to do that. We would have never gotten through our schedule. So we were really really lucky to get Caity. Toby (Stephens) was an actor I just felt was under-valued in the U.K. and not given a chance to show his range. I don’t think the roles that he played up to The Machine had really done his talent justice, so I was very excited when he said he liked the script. We had a meeting and he was clearly someone who wasn’t afraid of playing the dark element of the character, but who also understood the humanity hidden beneath the surface of the cold exterior (of the character) so it was great. He’s a very confident actor. A lot of actors would have been intimidated by the fact that, you know, ” is the machine going to steal all my scenes?” But he’s so confident and accomplished that it wasn’t an issue for him.
LC: The graphics and devices featured in the film were amazing, yet shown to be the norm in the setting; how did you come up with those effects?
CJ: The internet is a wonderful resource, so I just kind of looked at… I trolled through all the websites of the big companies from Apple to Samsung, to all these people who are making technologies that we are using today and looked at their prototypes, the directions they are hoping to take their products and then we kind of extrapolated from there. Again, I was very determined to try and ground it all in as much real-world stuff as possible. So there’s tablets in the film that are extrapolated from where the Ipad is potentially going. Touch screen stuff that was a post-type Microsoft monitor that was very intriguing and was a spring-board for that stuff (in the film). When I could, I tried to ground it all in stuff that’s being designed or in talks about being designed today by the big manufacturers. The UI (User Interface) for example, that was a long process, because I think where a lot of scifi movies go wrong is that they try and make things to slick. For example, the interview I did with the guy at the Ministry Of Defense, I asked him what his research facility looks like and he said, “well the things that James Bond movies do very badly really is they put chrome and glass and they make it all fantastic. When the fact of the matter is, when I go to work I walk down a corridor that’s got wallpaper from the 1970’s, then I go into my office and it’s got furniture from the 1940’s and 1980’s and a rubbish old coffee maker, then in the corner there’s a one-of-kind super computer and it’s that clash of new and old technology back in the world that I work in.” I thought that was fascinating and that felt very real to me. I approached the Production Designer with that, but I took it to the UI as well. I wanted it to feel kind of glitchy and clunky and not to polished, because governments don’t use that kind of tact, they use slightly more functional rather than glossy technology.
LC: The story had some powerful emotional moments and a deep philosophical undertones; I found the questions of what constitutes a living being and the juxtaposition of man as a creator of life to be intriguing. I myself am curious as to your view on the questions you posed as the writer of the story.
CJ:It seems to me if you look at the history of our behavior towards new races that we encounter, the first thing we try to do is subjugate and slave them. I see nothing really to make me think that we’d do anything different when we start creating intelligent machines. I supposed that was part of what the film is exploring as well as I am very pro-technology. I don’t understand some of the reviews that describe the film as anti-technology, because that’s certainly not my view and not my intent at all. I see the machine as almost the most human and sympathetic character in the entire movie. What I am is kind of anti-war and anti-military. I wanted to explore in the film this idea of all this wonderful technology is being developed but instead of it being developed to help humanity, it’s being developed to either enslave or kill people. You know the GPS is a great example, it’s a fantastic tool for finding people, to not getting lost, there’s great applications for it but they use it in smart bombs and that’s why it was initially developed. It’s that idea of all these billions of pounds being pumped into AI as in the case with the guy I interviewed at the M. O. D. and what are they going to use it for. They are bound to use it for in ways that I don’t agree with. If it does think and feel I’m sure they won’t respect it’s rights, so that was very interesting to me.
LC: What projects are you working on now?
CJ: Well I’m really excited about a very frightening horror movie; I’d like to try one of those next…something that really scares the bejesus out of people. Something in the vein of The Shining, The Exorcist, or The Conjuring more recently. Something that’s not about gore but about psychological terror. I’m interested in that, and I’ve got a much bigger budget sci-fi movie that I’m working on a spec-script for. I’d love to do something with a more epic scale.
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