Comic-Con Interview: Andrew Niccol on Social Commentary, Ruining Film for Roger Deakins and ‘In Time’
Andrew Niccol loves thought-provoking ideas. Gattaca, his script for The Truman Show, and Lord of War are works of varying genres that all posed interesting questions. His latest film, In Time, looks to be his most commercial endeavor yet. Although there apparently will be a few action beats, Niccol set out to craft a human story with social commentary.
This appears to be, more than anything else, a love story set within a chase thriller.
And that chase happens to look fantastic, courtesy of cinematographer Roger Deakins. This is the first film which Deakins shot digitally, and after the experience, the legendary cinematographer expressed the possibility that he may leave film behind for good. As Niccol describes below, it makes sense why he would.
Here’s what Andrew Niccol had to say about the world of In Time, the Gattaca connection, Deakins going digital, and what to expect in the action department:
Were you nervous showing off footage for the first time?
You know, you can only see about 10 rows deep. For all I know, there’s nobody else back there [Laughs].
[Laughs] That’s a good way of looking at it. You mentioned how the film is like a child of Gattaca. Could you elaborate on the connections?
When I was doing Gattaca, I knew the holy grail of genetic engineering was to discover the aging gene, and switch it off. You’ll see, even in Gattaca, the symbol of the genetically superior in this world is the infinity symbol. Obviously, their goal was to live forever.
Are they intentionally tied together?
They’re not intentionally tied together, but the implications are so great. If everyone could live forever, then there would be massive overpopulation, so that’s why I came up with the idea of trading time. I just knew that would be the focus of the story. I thought it was a different movie [than Gattaca], and it turned out to be a different movie.
Could you say they take place in the same movie universe?
I have some moments that are homages to Gattaca [Laughs].
[Laughs] Will they be hard to find?
They’ll be buried deep. I have to let you find it. It’s my own private joke to keep me amused.
Stylistically, I’d say it looks pretty similar to Gattaca. Is that just an aesthetic you like?
It’s my aesthetic, but it’s also organic to the story. You know the body clock you saw? That’s the invention I’d like to say is the death of all other invention, because the poor have no time to create anything, and the rich have no incentive. There’s nothing new.
How does it feel knowing you’re going to be known as the man responsible for taking Roger Deakins away from film?
[Laughs] I didn’t take him away; he took himself away. The facility he often uses is EFILM. Well, they’re going to have to call themselves EDIGITAL now [Laughs]. I was shocked, though. I’m kind of old school and I thought we’d do this on film, but he discovered this great camera, the ALEXA. You really can’t tell the difference.
What convinced you to shoot digitally?
I just didn’t like the noise of previous digital technology ‐ this one has almost no noise. I was shooting a lot at nights, and it’s perfect for that. I can do blow-ups of shots that are sometimes 50%, and you can’t tell. I think Roger feels a bit of a responsibility, because people are saying, “Well, if Roger Deakins has gone digital, what’s your excuse?” [Laughs] It’s like he’s switched religions or something.
Is it also great knowing exactly what you’re getting while on the set?
It’s amazing. You rarely watch dailies anymore, because I’m watching dailies on the set. What you see is what you get on these monitors.
There was a slightly heightened look to the film, but it was mostly rooted in today’s reality. How did you plan to go about shooting this world?
I always wanted everything to come out of the story. To finish with the cinematography, in the poor zones everyone is always running, so the camera is in constant motion. When we were in the rich world, where everyone has all the time in the world, we slowed down the camera and often locked off because we wanted time to slow down. All those decisions came out of the story, and the same was true for the production design. There’s no graffiti in the ghetto, and although you’d think there would be, no one has time to stand there defacing something.
And speaking of that type of world building, how meticulous were you in crafting the mechanics of how this future works?
I wanted it to feel like it’s a global phenomenon, but you don’t necessarily have to show it. I’m just showing one city. We shot it in Los Angeles, but we don’t deliberately say it’s Los Angeles. It is the capital of staying young forever, so we felt it’d be a perfect place to do it.
Was writing exposition, in terms of world building, tricky?
It’s hard to weave it in sometimes. Sometimes just don’t say it. I’ll tell you, sometimes I think it’s better for the audience to fill in the blanks.
Does the sense of urgency to the pace with all the running help make some of exposition not feel like roadblocks?
Another thing that also helps you is that the people don’t have a lot of time and they speak quickly. I had the mother intentionally rattle off her intention of the day. Sometimes there are tricks you can use if you look deeply into your story.
When it comes to the action, how did you approach the set pieces, both visually and structurally?
In the action terms, I wanted to do as much in-camera as I could. All the action scenes are organic to this clock. People are literally running out of time, so that’s why they’re constructed that way.
In Time opens in theaters on October 28th.