By Ali Moosavi.
Very much noir and very little sci-fi.”
A detective let loose in a world full of androids. No, we’re not talking about Blade Runner. On the surface, Irish director Andrew Baird’s feature film debut, ZONE 414, bears some similarities to the Ridley Scott classic. They are, however, quite different in theme, structure and genre of film. While Blade Runner is a science fiction film, adapted from a short story by the renowned SF write, Philip K. Dick, but with noir elements (especially in the original version with the voiceover), ZONE 414’s script (by Bryan Edward Hill) is firmly set in the film noir genre, embellished with SF elements. ZONE 414 has a classic noir opening, reminiscent of Chandler’s The Big Sleep. A detective is hired by a wealthy man to find his missing daughter and bring her back home. The client is the super-rich Marlon Veidt (Travis Fimmel), the owner of ZONE 414, a place where very human like female androids perform whatever their ultra-affluent human male clients desire. For those inclined that way, a few male androids are also available. Maroln’s daughter has apparently fled to ZONE 414, disguising herself as an android. The detective hired is David Carmaichael (Guy Pearce). While in ZONE 414, David becomes intimately involved with Jane (Matilda Lutz), a female android who longs to be human, which complicates his mission.
I talked to ZONE 414’s director, Andrew Baird.
This was quite an ambitious project to take on for your feature film debut. Did you have any concerns or nerves before going into it?
None whatsoever. It was such a long process to put it all together that once everything was in place, the rest was just enjoyable. The one thing I hadn’t done before was working with actors of the caliber of Guy Pearce and Travis Fimmel and Matilda Lutz. We had a whole bunch of great actors in this movie. But obviously Guy playing the lead was so seasoned that it made it just a great experience. I had never made a movie before and Guy is a master of what he does. Fortunately, my DP and I had worked together before so he gave me a couple of tips. I just really loved these actors. I think that’s the trick when it comes to making movies and drama, particularly movies; if you don’t vie with these name actors, you’re not going to be making any movies. That was new to me and I kind of slipped into it and really enjoyed it.
What was your first impression when you read the script?
Very tight. Really intelligent. Lean. Totally engaging.
Did it help that you filmed in Northern Ireland?
No, actually we were very close to going to Belgrade in Serbia because I wanted all that brutalist architecture. But the financing didn’t work out there and I was a bit nervous going to Belfast as I’d never even been there. In the end it worked out incredibly well. We used the Game of Thrones studio and Mark Huffam our Executive Producer on the movie is a legend in Northern Ireland. He brought Game of Thrones there and has produced all these Ridley Scott movies, so it worked out extremely well. Yes, it was highly ambitious and people really delivered.
Since you mentioned Ridley Scott, of course there’s going to be comparisons with one of his famous films. To me Blade Runner was a sci-fi film with noir elements, while ZONE 414 is first and foremost film a film noir which happens to have sci-fi elements in it.
Yes, I think you’re right, I always saw it as noir. I specifically chose the seasoned British editor Tony Cranstoun who’s based in Dublin because he used to cut episodes of the Robbie Coltrane crime series Cracker. I said to him as a story ZONE 414 needs to be as engaging as an episode of Cracker but it’s wrapped up in this very noir mysterious visual world. The science fiction does not interest me because sci-fi will date immediately. That’s why I just stripped all the technology and made it analog, and just stayed away from that. I wanted the androids to be as human as possible and we just picked a couple of specific moments where we showed that they look human but underneath it all they’re not. I used an example from the 80’s TV show V where they’re all lizards. I used to watch it as a kid and I thought I can relate to these people who underneath the skin are like lizards, not human. So I used that as a way in because I wanted to stay away from all the Ex Machina and technical stuff. I wanted to find the humanity in the machines in the story. The lead character David, played by Guy Pearce, has lost his soul and lost his reason to live and kind of finds it again. So that’s what it’s about, it’s trying to find meaning through this robot that wants to be human and has probably more human instincts than the average human and manages to trigger this other guy, who’s kind of dead inside, back to life. I agree with you that the movie is very much noir and very little sci-fi.
I was impressed by how well you have used the production design and especially sound to build the atmosphere. You must have worked very closely with those crew members.
Absolutely and again very lucky that I was able to do all post-production on the movie in Dublin. Fionan Higgins was the sound supervisor on the movie and he’s one of the best, if not the best, in the country. So we really were blessed to have such a great facility give our film so much attention because we only had the catering budget of Blade Runner!
I did a music video for (the band) The Weekend that got me this script and that’s pretty wild and I feel that I’ve restrained myself quite a bit on this film.”
I think the film registers a high degree of sexual charge without being overtly sexual.
Interesting you say that. Like any creative thing movies change and morph. A funny thing is when people get stuck in a script, they say we have to make it perfect. What are you talking about? this is only the foundation, it’s the blueprint for the house. You know that is going to change. It just depends on who you cast and where you shoot and what you do. But it’s funny you say that it’s sexually charged because I did a music video for (the band) The Weekend that got me this script and that’s pretty wild and I feel that I’ve restrained myself quite a bit on this film. But in the end it might have benefited. It might have freaked people out if I had gone as far as I intended to go originally. I’m interested to know in which scenes you see that sexual charge.
I saw it in the scenes between Matilda Lutz and Guy Pearce. One could feel the sexual tension and the sexual charge between them without resorting to graphic sex scenes, which I think is much harder to achieve.
Yes, someone asked me what were my influences on the movie. I remember bringing up the William Friedkin movie Cruising (1980). Just that kind of seedy dark world. That’s what the film is about; you go into this little zone and you can do whatever you like for the right price. I feel that I quite restrained myself. As you said, we could have had several more graphic sex scenes but we didn’t and I’m glad that the charge is still bubbling under because that’s driving that world, that’s what they’re selling. I think it’s still a pretty classy execution of the idea. It could have been a lot darker and more twisted.
You mentioned dark and seedy and in fact Matilda Lutz, whose character is called Jane, reminded me of a young Jane Fonda and especially the film Klute (1971), which is a darkly lit thriller.
Good, because that was one of the references for the movie. Matilda really delivered and she’s a very intelligent, strong individual. I had a really good experience with her. She is super beautiful, very petite human being, but she’s also tough and strong. She shaped the movie. It’s a collaboration. I’m sure if Jane Fonda had to play the role of Jane, there would be a twist. Everyone brings their own piece to the puzzle and I think Guy and Matilda had really good chemistry and it worked out very well.
You worked with the legendary Roger Corman at the beginning of your career. How was that experience?
One of my first jobs out of film school was being an art director for Roger Corman and we got close to making a movie in Budapest with Christopher Lee, but in the end it didn’t work out. Roger was a great influence on me. Like he has done with so many others, he allowed me to do things that I would never have done so young and inexperienced in ordinary circumstances. He is everything people say about him. I only dealt with the man a few times but he just takes chances on people. He was a big practical influence in my career for sure and I was very lucky to get to work with him.
Ali Moosavi has worked in documentary television and has written for Film Magazine (Iran), Cine-Eye (London), and Film International (Sweden). He contributed to the second volume of The Directory of World Cinema: Iran (Intellect, 2015).