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Sudden success must feel like living in a parallel universe for “Another Earth” director

With its virtually non-existent budget, “Another Earth” is a science-fiction flick that doesn’t fit the Hollywood blockbuster mold. When was the last time you saw a fantasy that stuck to its own set of rules and contained only two special effects? For once the Sundance Film Festival got it right by awarding the film this year’s Special Jury Prize. While the rest of the world is eyeball- deep in “Transformers,” wouldn’t it be nice to spend some time with a movie that’s transforming? What would happen if scien- tists discovered earth’s dop- pelganger in our solar system? More important (for the sake of our story), what happens to a privileged college student who, while driving home drunk after a party, first spots Earth 2 through her moon roof and crashes into another car? “Another Earth” is as much about parallel universes as it is a romantic melodrama about a man who mistakenly falls in love with the killer of his family. Fox Searchlight was kind enough to make San Diego one of producer, director, editor, and, co- writer Mike Cahill’s destinations on his PR tour. “Another Earth” marks Cahill’s second feature and first narrative drama. We sat poolside in a cabana at the Hard Rock Hotel smoking cigarettes and talking about the young director’s great fortune at having his big concept, small film crack the mainstream.

Scott Marks: How much did the film cost to make?

Mike Cahill: Less than $100,000. SM: You couldn’t buy a tripod?

MC: (Laughing uproariously): I didn’t want a tripod. SM: Why?

MC: Are you familiar with (Lars Von Trier’s) Dogme cinema? SM: Of course.

MC: There is something about the realism they are trying to portray. I know I annoyed a lot of people with that even myself a bit when I watch it), but there is something about it, syntactically, that makes it feel real.

SM: How many years were mov- ies able to convey realism and intimacy before this cockamamie shaky-cam came along and lev- eled the playing field? Admittedly, your film is light years ahead the mumblecore (garbage) that’s out there, but all this hand-held stuff is getting to be oppressive.

MC: (Laughing): This is so refreshing!

SM: Last gripe. What’s with all the zip zoom shots? It’s as if you’re us- ing your characters as a dart board.

Mike Cahill

MC:I was trying to use the syntax of hand-held cinéma vérité. It can be a bit abrasive, but there is something about that aspect (of filmmaking) that makes people walk out afterwards thinking there is another earth in the sky. There are none of those pictur- esque traveling shots where it’s cinematic in a way that’s distanc- ing. It almost reminds you that what you are watching is being filmed by a camera-person.

SM: I feel as though I have lev- eled a lot of criticisms about your movie, which I genuinely like, so here’s some praise. If you don’t have the budget needed to pull off elaborate sci-fi special effects,

just have all the exposition deliv- ered through television and radio broadcasts. That was brilliant.

MC: Thanks.

SM: And you never violate your rule. My biggest complaint with contemporary fantasy films is that they fail to establish a set of logical ground rules in which to operate. You know better. How different would the film have been if Rhoda (Brit Marling) and John (William Mapother) didn’t fall in love?

MC: It would lose its tension.

SM: How? She is still responsible for the death of John’s family. That’s pretty tense, if you ask me.

MC: It would lose a bit of au- thenticity. These characters can’t really relate to other people in the world. When you experience something like that you end up sort of isolated in your grief or guilt. What’s beautiful about it is I feel that their love is actually authentic. It makes you question what the hell love is in the first place. They are able to find a cer- tain peace in one another and it only works in the bubble without the past. Their present relation- ship ends up being quite beautiful as you see them come out of the ashes and into the lightness. The cold colors become warmer; he

begins to starts dressing nicer and feeling more positive about life. This can only exist in the bubble not knowing the past and because they go so deep in their love the bubble keeps floating higher and higher. It ups the stakes and the tension, because once it bursts, the fall is even greater.

SM: At what point during the writing of the screenplay did you and Brit come up with the last shot in the film?

MC: Midway through. Before that, we didn’t know how we were going to end it. We wrote it very organically from start to finish. In a sense, we came up with the big concept and then came up with the drama, the smaller story, after that. We went along, just as a viewer does, in the timeline, step-by-step, choice-by-choice. But how were we going to end this? Where are we leading to? The “Ah-ha!” moment came mid- way through the writing process. When we clued into it, and had that moment, it was exhilarating and we held onto it.

SM: Hey, if nothing else, if the film makes money you left it wide-open for a sequel.

MC (Laughing): If enough people show up, we’ll develop it into a TV series.u

San Diego Uptown News | July 22–August 4, 2011


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