Interview: Jonathan Mostow (director, SURROGATES)

John Mulhern

by: John Mulhern
January 25th, 2010

Last Wednesday, I was part of a virtual roundtable with SURROGATES director Jonathan Mostow. It was a very interesting process and went on for about two hours. Since it was so long we got a lot of good questions about the film and the upcoming Blu-ray release.

We also got a first look at a special feature that will be included in the Blu-ray - an in-depth look at robotics and how they inspired the movie. It includes information about how real life robotics specifically inspired the special effects and make-up and  shows just how much working they're putting into the Blu-ray.

Since there were over 65 questions, I compiled some of my favorites. You can see them after the jump!

Q: In your opinion, what should we expect to see from robot technology in the next ten years?

Jonathan Mostow: I think ten years is too short a period to see anything that approaches what's in this film -- I think that's thirty years away. Ten years from now, I think you could expect to have a vacuum cleaner that can answer your door when you're out and bring you a beer when you get home.

Q: Is it ever daunting when making a "futuristic" film to avoid the traps of becoming dated too quickly? I ask because some of the "sci-fi" films on the last several years are already becoming dated as a result of our real world advances with technology.

Jonathan Mostow: A great question and one that hopefully we correctly anticipated before we started the movie. Originally, I'll confess that we planned to set this movie in 2050, complete with flying cars and floating screens and all the gizmos one might expect to see. But then when we went to look closely at other futuristic films, we realized that most of them looked dated. And there was a 'fakeness' factor to them that distracted from the story. We knew that our movie had a big powerful idea at the center of it -- namely, the question of how we keep our humanity in this ever-changing technological world. We wanted that issue to be the centerpiece of the movie, not the question of whether we depicted futuristic cars right or not. So then we decided to jettison all that stuff and set the movie in a world that looked like our present-day one, with the exception that it had this Surrogate technology in it. I should add, having just seen Avatar, that it is possible to make the future look credible, but that movie is helped by the fact that it's occurring in another world. Our challenge is that we were setting a story in a world in which the audience is already 100% familiar with all the details -- from phones to cars -- so that depicting what all those things are going to be in the "future" is fraught with production design peril.

Q: One of your film's themes is the fears of technology. What are some of your own fears about technology and the future?

Jonathan Mostow: Some people have labeled this film as anti-technology. But I don't see it that way. In fact, I love technology. I love using computers and gadgets. I love strolling through Best Buy and the Apple Store to see what's new. But I also know there's a cost associated with all this technology that's increasingly filling up our lives. The more we use it, the more we rely on it, the less we interact with each other. Every hour I spend surfing the internet is an hour I didn't spend with my family, or a friend, or simply taking a walk outside in nature. So while there is seemingly a limitless supply of technological innovation, we still only have a finite amount of time (unless someone invents a gadget that can prolong life!) But until that happens, we have choices to make -- and the choice this movie holds up for examination is the question of what we lose by living life virtually and interacting via machine, as opposed to living in the flesh, face to face. I hope that's a conversation that will arise for people who watch Surrogates.

Q: The film does a magnificent job of portraying the difficulty and anxiety of characters forced to reintroduce themselves to the outside world after their surrogates have experienced it for them, which is certainly relevant in an era where so many communicate so much online. Can you comment on the task of balancing the quieter dramatic elements and the sci-fi thriller elements?

Jonathan Mostow: When I was answering a question earlier about sound, I spoke about "dynamic range", which is the measure of the difference between the loudest and quietest moments. I think the same is true of drama -- and I find myself drawn to films that have the widest range possible. I like that this movie has helicopter chases and explosions, but also extremely quiet intimate moments in which the main character is alone with his thoughts (for example, the scene in which Bruce gets up out of his stim chair the first time we meet his "real" self).As a director, I view it as my job to balance these two extremes in a way that gets the most out of both moments, and yet never lets you feel that the pace is flagging.

Q: Is this the real Jonathan Mostow, or am I interviewing...a surrogate?

Jonathan Mostow: I'm the real me. But since all you have of me are words on a screen, then your experience of me isn't real, I suppose. Ah, the irony of it all...

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