DUNCAN JONES: Directing A Time-ly Thriller in SOURCE CODE


Duncan Jones received a lot of praise for his 2009 feature-length directorial debut, Moon — Roger Ebert called it a “superior example” of hard science fiction — and his follow-up, Source Code, is in theaters this Friday.

While Moon was made for $5 million and never had a wider release than 252 theaters, Source Code was made for seven times that budget and hits this weekend in 2,800 locations. Oh, and it also stars Jake Gyllenhaal, one of the biggest actors in Hollywood. But Jones (who, as you may have heard, is the son of rock legend David Bowie) knows a little bit about living up to expectations, and says he’s more excited than nervous about the film’s opening weekend — and with early reviews almost unanimously positive, it looks like he has good reason to be.

Like Moon, Source Code is another foray into the world of sci-fi, with Gyllenhaal's Colter Stevens repeatedly enterting the consciousness of a passenger on a doomed train — for eight minutes at a time — in an attempt to figure out who was responsible for the attack, in order to prevent a future, bigger one. Of course, there's plenty of complications along the way, including an attraction to a fellow passenger, played by Michelle Monaghan.

Newsarama talked with Jones about transitioning from Moon to Source Code, and also about his plans on crossing over into the world of comic books, with a graphic novel version of his screenplay Mute.

Duncan Jones.

Newsarama: Duncan, Source Code is different from Moon not only content-wise, but also must have been a hugely different experience for you — several times the budget, more than one main actor. Did you see that as sort of the natural next step for you?

Duncan Jones: It was an opportunity to take that step. We did Moon for a tiny budget, $5 million dollars, and it was an absolute labor of love. I wanted to get to the position where I could hopefully work on a bigger budget, hopefully on my own material. This was a unique opportunity to work with an actor I’m a huge fan of — I think Jake Gyllenhaal is a terrific actor, and also a very exciting and brave leading man. He was the one who passed me on the Source Code script, and said, “You should really read this, and see if it's right for you.” When I read it, I thought, “You know what, I could really get my teeth into this, and I would love to work with Jake, so this is really the perfect opportunity.”

Nrama: On the other side of that, though, Source Code does deal with a lot of the same issues as Moon — isolation, identity, human experimentation.

Jones: It’s really funny. I know that Jake was a fan of Moon, and I think Jake had read Source Code and thought, “Duncan will get this. Duncan will be into this.” He gave it to me, and when I was reading it, all I was seeing were the differences from Moon, and that’s what was getting me excited. Like you said — it’s more than one actor, I get to do all the crazy stuff, I love the fact that there’s a mystery, and romance, and action, and it’s a thriller. It kind of had all of this stuff that I just thought would be fun to do.

But I think you’re right. I think on a subconscious level, there were certainly themes there that I certainly appreciate and gravitate towards. So I think it was kind of working on both levels for me.

Jake Gyllenhaal and

Michelle Monaghan in  

Source Code.

Nrama: And Source Code is opening on 2,800 US screens, when I believe that you weren’t even sure at first if Moon was going to have an opening at all.

Jones: At Sundance, we didn’t even know if it was going to go straight to DVD or not, and then when we did open, Sony Classics did a release where they sort of “grow” the film, and we started off, I think, on about 10 or 12 screens.

Nrama: So with the movie out this Friday, are you feeling pressure at all at this point, or do you just feel like it’s basically out of your hands?

Jones: It’s difficult. Everyone around me keeps reminding me that it is kind of out of my hands now, but absolutely. There is an excitement. I wouldn’t say a pressure anymore, because the film has been well-received. We’re getting good reviews. I feel like we’ve done the best job we possibly could. Now we just see how the opening weekend goes, and hopefully people will enjoy it and they’ll tell their friends, and they’ll tell their friends, and people will go and see it.

Nrama: Moon was a script you co-wrote, and I imagine you probably had a great deal of creative flexibility. Seeing how it wasn’t your script and a bigger budget picture, did you have that same kind of freedom with Source Code?

Jones: It was good. I certainly had a responsibility to do things right. I really enjoyed the script, I thought it really worked. I think structurally, it was terrific — I loved the pace of it, I loved how fast it was, so I didn’t want to mess with that. My big idea that I brought to it was really the change in tone. I felt like the script that I read took itself quite seriously, and my take on it was, it would be great if we could lighten the tone of this film, inject some humor into it, and really bring the audience with us. Let them have a good time with it. Because I think taking it too seriously really doesn’t get the most out of what’s good about this concept.


Nrama: Probably the most striking aspect of Source Code is the repetition that's inherent in the plot. How big of a challenge is that for a director, returning to the same scene multiple times and keeping it interesting?

Jones: I enjoy solving puzzles when it comes to working on films. This really gave me a unique challenge, in that, “How can I go back to the same event multiple times, and not bore the audience, and not make them feel like they’ve seen the same thing twice?” That was something I was working on very hard early on, trying to work out how we could approach it in such a way that visually, every time we go back it’s distinctive, and it feels like you haven’t seen the same thing before. That was really the fun for me, coming up with a solution to that puzzle.

Nrama: And are you already tired of reporters and reviewers referencing Groundhog Day when talking about Moon?

Jones: [Laughs.] No, because the good thing is Groundhog Day has started coming up more than it used to. There’s always been this fairly wide pool of different films that they talk about, and the choices that they mention have been changing. So Groundhog Day, and I’ve been sort of suggesting Quantum Leap. I think [Source Code screenwriter] Ben [Ripley] did a great job with synthesizing ideas which have been seen before in science fiction, and putting it into a really fun, and fast, exciting package. I think with the humor we’ve got in there, and the bit of romance, and a little bit of the Hitchcock thriller, it’s a really good mix, and I think it really works well together.

Nrama: Both Moon and Source Code have a similar spirit and approach as a lot of sci-fi comic books. Are you a comic book fan?

Jones: I am a comic book fan. Because of where I grew up, I was much more into the UK stuff. There was a particular comic, sort of a compendium, called 2000 AD. I guess it’s a little bit like Heavy Metal over here.

I was also reading a lot of US comic books, but probably not to the same extent. I guess from the US guys, I was probably into, Rom, Swamp Thing, Ghost Rider. Not the ones you might immediately think of. I was and remain a huge Conan fan. 

Nrama: And it’s been reported recently that you have comic book ambitions of your own — specifically, turning your unproduced script for a movie called Mute into a graphic novel, sort of like what Darren Aronofsky did with The Fountain.

Jones: That’s the plan. Other than the press I’ve been doing for Source Code, we’re having meetings, and trying to work out what's the best way to approach turning this feature script I wrote, Mute, into a graphic novel. I’m getting very excited about that, and hoping that we’ll be able to sort of nail that down quite soon.

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