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“It’s like a climbing a mountain in its own right, getting a film made” Director Gavin Rothery talks Archive (The FH Interview)

9 min read

, a twisty sci-fi thriller starring , hits our home screens this January. The story follows scientist George who works alone for a mysterious company deep in the Japanese woods. In his lonesome and in secret from his employers, George has been working to build an artificial body for his late wife's Jules consciousness, but George's life quickly starts to fall apart as Jules nears completion.

We got together with the film's director over Zoom to talk about casting Theo James, and low-budget filmmaking.


What inspired you to work in the film industry?

Originally, my two big choices were an architect or join the RAF and fly fast jets. It was comics, 2000 AD pulled me in and made me want to be a graphic artist and do sci-fi comics. When I look back at it, there was a line from me wanting to do comics, then led to me making computer games and to me wanting to up my skills beyond what was required of the early 2000s computer games, which led me into the higher end visual stuff, which led me to visual effects, which led me to film.

When you couple my early comic days with my old creative partner Steve Tag, who I now write with, that was me and him coming up with things, coming up with stories, making up worlds, making up characters and adventures and just creating them. The whole thing just came full circle and now we're doing that in the film industry. When I look at it, it joins up very neatly but it wasn't the plan.

The idea for Archive came from your two PCs dying, how did the idea develop from there?

I'm coming into this as a fan, I'm trying to make things that I would like to watch. I've got this really weird mission statement, I don't know if this is going to sound really pompous or not, but I feel like I've spent my whole life extracting things from the media, soaking it all up, watching things, enjoying other people's ideas, enjoying explorations of things in books, comics and film, possible futures, possible technology. I've been soaking all this stuff up and I feel like I've got a bit of a duty on me to put something back, for the next round of people coming up behind us. They need things to watch that hopefully they'll think about a little bit, maybe get inspired by a little bit. That's one of the jobs of entertainment, to plant those seeds in people's minds that grow into next generation's forests. I was trying to join in a little bit, contribute in my own way.


You're a big fan of the sci-fi genre. Were there any big influences? I picked up a bit of an Alien vibe.

Alien was a big one. One of the biggest cinematic influences was The Shining, I always loved the feel of The Overlook Hotel. If I had a bigger budget, I would have made the facility that George is in much, much bigger and had him as this little guy dwarfed by this enormous, empty complex. I was trying to make it as big as I could and I think I kind of got that vibe in there, lonely vibe of somebody in a space that's a bit too big for them and nobody else in there. It's tricky when you talk about your own work and then you're talking about someone like Stanley Kubrick. There are things that he's achieved that I was trying to get into that space.


You wrote the script as well, how much do you think of yourself is in the script?

Loads. I think George is basically me. It's just me being a borderline sociopath, working all the time and neglecting all my social obligations and friends and family and just focusing on my work, trying to get it done.

Theo James and are both great in this, how did they come aboard?

Theo was kind of the linchpin really, Theo was the anchor in the rock in order to get the film made. We met in 2016, mid- to late 2016, or was it end of 2015? It's all a blur. We were fortunate enough to have a conversation going with Theo's agent at WME and she put us in touch. She got the script, read it and said “You need to talk to Theo James, he's perfect for this.” We got in touch, myself and my producer Phillip Herd, got together and started a dialogue.

I first met Theo when he was rehearsing for a play called Sex With Strangers that he was putting on in Hampstead. I went and sort of ambushed him one lunchtime. He was rehearsing, and I basically got an hour and a half with him. He just grilled me, I was really impressed with it. I'm always really impressed when I meet people with a potential collaboration coming up and they just grill me, I really appreciate that when they just try to find the things that aren't going to work. I had written the script and I had a big art document which had all the concept art of the robots, the house and all this stuff. Theo was really sceptical about how we were going to pull that off with the budget, because we had a very, very small budget.

Those kind of questions, I love fielding that kind of stuff when I'm meeting people because I had figured all of that stuff out but I like the fact that they care enough to really dig into that stuff. He was going into everything, which was awesome because I'm happy to sit there and answer questions all day. That was the thing that ultimately got us working together. Initially he said, when he saw the document, he thought I was going to be all mouth and no trousers and the whole thing was a bit of a smokescreen. I was explaining to him that the robots were all going to be 3D printed and they'd look exactly like they do in the concept art, which was me working in 3D. I got to use all my skills. It actually loops back to why work in film.

It's a difficult one to do because its not like you tell yourself why you want to do it and then you go out and do it. It's actually achieving, it's like a climbing a mountain in its own right, getting a film made. But having done that and then looking at why I really value the process and what I see about it, is that when you're working as an artist… I do different types of art, I do concept art, graphic design, visual effects, I do a lot of different things. Each one of those is like its own discipline, I do all of those and other things too. The thing I love about working in film is you get to work with all of the art forms, the performance, writing, music and you get to bring them all to one point in service of a narrative and a story. And it's so satisfying. People I got to work with, I had doing the photography, doing the music, Theo and Stacy performing. Put all those things together and there's me in the middle, feeling huge imposter syndrome, working with all of these awesome, genius people. It was very humbling working with those people.


Stacy's got such a difficult character because she has to nail that balance between human and machine. What kind of conversations did you have with her about her character?

It's a funny one, working with Stacy Martin. It's easy to work with her, she brings it all, that's Stacy. We talked about all kinds of things, we talked about robots and post-death technology and all of this. It was a tricky one with Stacy because she joined the project very late. We were only about three weeks away from principal photography and I managed to get a conversation going with her. When you're putting a film like this together, a lot of components are plugged in at the last minute. You've got your anchor, your central component to which your film is kind of anchored around and Theo was one of those for us. You to have a window in your calendar when you can shoot and that means you can get the finance, it all starts to firm up.

Stacy came in quite late and it was a crazy time getting ready because straight away it was like full body scan, we'll get that data over to the guys in Budapest, we'll get a CNC machine making a polyfoam duplicate of your body and get that to the costume people so they can take out the designs and start fabricating your costume. Just getting a 3D scan of her head over to the makeup people so they could start with the prosthetics. Everything was last minute, but you always get that with these kinds of productions. With ambitious low-budget films, you're always butting up against the tolerances of what you're going to be able to get away with.

You already mentioned Laurie Rose and Steven Price, how did you go about creating that language of sound and visuals?

The visual stuff, that kind of feeds into the concept art because I can demonstrate a lot of that by a thing I'm thinking about to a degree. And I'm always careful when I'm working with people not to dictate too much. When you're working with people like Laurie, people like Steve, you don't just want to tell them what you want. They want to hear what you want, but you got to try and keep it as a discussion because they can bring a whole other level of stuff to things that you might not have even thought about. I always approach this stuff with, I've got a thing in mind that I'll go in with, put that on the table and see what they have to say about that and how that might grow into a larger conversation. That was definitely the case with Laurie because I had done some concept art that had some suggestions about how I was thinking of light projecting through distances in the interior spaces. The music side of things with Steven was much freer. It was really a case of me saying “What do you think this needs to be?” and just letting him get on with it.

When you're working with people like this, you can trust them. It's why it's so great working with people like that, with someone like Steven Price. You go out and have a few drinks, have a chat and talk about the film, just get on with it.


What do you want people to take away from the film?

I'm really hoping people will want to go back and watch it again and hopefully get something different out of a second viewing. I was really keen to try and make a film that had value in the second or third watch so a lot of the stuff I've layered in there, there's a lot of subtext, a lot of metaphors. It's all layered in there because you don't need to understand that stuff or pay attention to it, but if you do choose to pay attention to it, on a second or a third watch, there's all kinds of stuff in there. You're start looking at things like the metaphysical symbology of moving water and how that relates to the human experience, specifically things like death and moving on and getting into the more metaphysical stuff about moving between worlds and fore bearers of things, like walls.  If you're interested in that kind of stuff, if you choose to engage with the film on that level, then you'll find all kinds of stuff in there. Some quite obvious things, some really subtle things, but that's what I was going for really, something you could watch a second time and have a completely different experience of. I think films like that are few and far between and I personally really enjoy watching films like that so, again, this is me trying to put things out into the world that are like the things I enjoy and hope other people will share that.

FilmHounds would like to thank Gavin Rothery!


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