When OTB Met Splice Director Vincenzo Natali

Vincenzonatali210x300We caught up with Vincenzo Natali, director of new sci-fi drama Splice this week, and chatted to him about his creepy new film, his adaptation of Neuromancer and his feelings towards the burgeoning format of 3D. OTB can’t remember interviewing a nicer bloke…

Vincenzo, you wrote Splice with two other people, was that a good experience?

It was great, thank God for my partners or I’d still be writing. If I didn’t have Doug [Taylor] and Antoinette [Terry Bryant] I would never have finished the script!

You like to direct things you’ve written, how would you feel if someone else directed one of your scripts?

No, no, actually I actively want that. I have some scripts that I’ve written or co-written that I would like to get other directors to work on. So um, I think that would be exciting.

And you started out doing animation, specifically storyboards, why that particular aspect?

I had always wanted to make films and I’d made short films of my own since I was a kid but, seeing as I was the world’s worst waiter, I needed to find some kind of paid profession. When I was younger, I stumbled upon on storyboards and I did that for about five years and that actually ended up being, not only a good way to make money, but kind of a film school for me. I got to work with other directors and I learned a lot about classic narrative storytelling, so it was really great.

What then made you want to switch to live-action?

Well my intention had always been to do live-action but when I did boards, I primarily worked at an animation studio and what was so great about that was that they would give you the script as a storyboard artist. So you’d get the script and they would basically say ‘Draw.’ So I really learned how to take the words from the page and translate them into shots.

Did you storyboard for Cube or Splice?

Oh yeah, I draw for everything. What I’ve learned over the years is that I draw my boards so I can throw them away.

So you don’t keep your original artwork then?

Oh no, I do, I mean I don’t literally throw them away but so when I’m on the set, I am always prepared to change my ideas. Because making a film is such a chaotic process, especially a low-budget movie. And it moves the director to be very aware, to be in the moment because if you are too strict about following your plan, you can miss opportunities. On top of which, usually things never go as planned, then you don’t even have a choice. [laughs] I never get my shot list, it’s always more ambitious than the time we have.

Vincenzo talks to Delphine Chanéac on the set of Splice
Vincenzo talks to Delphine Chanéac on the set of Splice
Where there unexpected changes to Splice during production?

Well it’s kind of like that everyday. It’s a give and take thing everyday, on any movie, but particularly one that has a lot of visual effects. You encounter problems and things don’t come in the way you’d like them to. Or they do come in the way you wanted them but it doesn’t work when you actually see it physically in front of you. It’s a very zen like process you know, it’s good training for life, having to learn to adapt and to accept it.

But at the same time while I’m disappointed, very often I’m inspired and pleasantly surprised and to me, 9 times out of 10, when I’ve got great actors like Adrien Brody, Sarah Polley and Delphine Chanéac, they surprise me with great things. And I made a point in this movie to take a backseat to the actors. I felt that even though this is a creature film, it’s a creature film spliced with a relationship story.

The film follows the development of Dren (Delphine Chanéac) as she grows physically and mentally, were the effects for her mostly CGI or is it a mix of CGI and physical?

It’s a mixture of everything. There are very few moments in the film where Dren isn’t digitally enhanced but as much as I could I tried to have something physical on the set, even if it was completely going to be replaced. I always had a maquette of Dren, a perfect model of her for reference for the animators. I think that’s the key with digital effects because it’s easy to spin off into The Matrix, into cyberspace if you don’t have some kind of real world reference.

What inspired you when it came to designing Dren and her unique attributes?

Well, life, actually. I mean my imagination of course, to some extent, but life is the inspiration for the simple reason that life is strange and exotic. Once you really get to look at what’s out there, there’s nothing that you could imagine that is more bizarre than what real organisms look like. You know with Ginger and Fred, at the beginning of the movie, the way they greet each other is inspired by the way creatures have sex. They’re hermaphrodites and their sex organs come out of their head and they look like these beautiful transluscent flowers and I basically stole that from nature.

You’ve already had the US release, have you had a backlash from scientific or religious groups?

Not that I’m aware of really, I don’t know if that’s a good thing or a bad thing. But I think it’s because the movie takes a very clear stance on it, I think there’s also a lot of ambiguity in the film and you can read a lot into it. You can take it as a film that is condemning any kind of human genetic engineering or you can take it as one that in some ways is ambivalent or open minded about it.

Delphine Chanéac and Sarah Polley
Delphine Chanéac and Sarah Polley
I think what it has done is elicited a visceral reponse from the audience about the sex in the film and some people respond very positively and others have quite the opposite response, it’s repulsive to them and that to me is fascinating.

Your next project is an adaptation of the classic scifi novel Neuromancer, are you into pre-production yet?

Not yet because we don’t have any financing for it. But i have the book and I’m writing the script, it’s going very well, and I’m consulting with William Gibson who’s been incredibly supportive. It’s kind of a dream project and I can hardly believe I’ve been given the opportunity – it’s such a great book.

Were you apprehensive about taking on such an iconic novel?

No, I’m probably naive and i should be worried but I’m just too excited. I mean people call it unadaptable but honestly I don’t understand why, in fact I’m being very faithful to the book. I’m making small changes which are necessary but not as much as people have lead me to believe. It actually translates very well. For some reason those things don’t bother me, I know some people, no matter what I do, will respond negatively to any adaptation and that doesn’t bother me. I know William Gibson really wants to see the movie. If he were against it I would have second thoughts.

I know it’s really early days on Neuromancer but are you even considering 3D technology at this point?

The producers have been talking about that with me and I would definitely consider it. I’m a bit ambivalent about 3D to be honest. Clearly it has to be done the right way, we’ve seen a few examples recently where it hasn’t been done well.

So you’d rather a 3D shoot rather than a conversion in post?

Yeah, or a hybrid version or something but it has to be done right. To be perfectly honest, I don’t enjoy watching 3D movies. I think Avatar was probably the best example that I’ve seen of a live-action 3D film even though I guess a lot of it wasnt live-action. It just hurts my eyes! I think we’re headed in that direction but I’m waiting for the day when we don’t have to wear those glasses. I’m all for 3D but I don’t want to get a headache and I don’t want to wear glasses.

I know what you mean! I wear normal glasses anyway so I’m wearing two pairs!

I know, it’s ridiculous! I don’t wanna be precious or anything but it’s like asking people to put sunglasses on while they’re watching your movie, it’s horrifying. We work incredibly hard to make our movies look a certain way and look really, really good and then you’re automatically putting this polarizing filter between the audience and the image. No matter what, it just doesn’t look as good. The move to 3D is totally economically driven and I’m not sure that’s really what the audience want.

You can catch Vincenzo’s new movie Splice in cinemas this Friday.