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Unread 2019-03-14, 11:52 PM   #1
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Default Captive State

Why the alien-occupation drama Captive State isn’t a Trump film

Director Rupert Wyatt discusses the film’s origins and intentions

2011’s Rise of the Planet of the Apes was an intriguing surprise. At first blush, it looked like yet another tired franchise reboot, but it played out more like a personal drama than an ape-centric action movie, and it led up to a thrilling climax that set the scene for further enjoyable Apes films. It’s difficult not to see Captive State, the latest feature from Rise director Rupert Wyatt, as closely related. It’s also a surprisingly subdued insurrection movie, a science-fiction feature about revolution and resistance that defies genre expectations and focuses more on a personal story than on big action beats.

Ashton Sanders stars as Gabriel, a Chicago teenager living on an Earth occupied by a powerful race of aliens. His parents died years back attempting to escape Chicago, and his older brother Rafe became a martyr in a guerilla movement against them. His father was a cop whose former partner, William Mulligan (John Goodman) keeps an eye on Gabriel, but also suspects he might be involved with an ongoing rebellion. But while their relationship is in early focus for the film, it also shifts to take in the movements of the remaining resistance against the aliens. The film feels like it was made for the current cultural moment: as the aliens exploit Earth’s resources, a handful of human collaborators have become rich and powerful by selling out to their new masters, and a permanent underclass struggles to survive.

From the SXSW Interactive Festival, I spoke with Wyatt about why Captive State foregrounds its aliens in the opening moments, how Chicago’s racial divides play into the film, why it isn’t specifically a look at Trump-era America, and how it compares to Rise of the Planet of the Apes.

This interview has been edited for concision and clarity.

It’s so standard for movies featuring monsters to withhold the monster as long as possible, but you make a point of having characters confront your aliens up close in your opening sequence. Why did you want to structure the story that way?

It’s a really good question. I think the withholding of the monster is obviously tried and tested. It’s the Wizard of Oz effect, like you’re pulling back the curtain to reveal the face of the enemy. And it became clear to me and Erica that really, the enemy lies within. It’s about us. It’s about who we are as human beings, and the moral choices we make under duress. People’s expectations for a film like this is that the enemy will be the alien. So it was clear to me that I needed to remove this expectation, this notion that the alien would have some greater reveal when we finally saw it. Instead, we put it front and center early in the film, so we understand that yes, it’s the underlying threat, the engineer of everything, but ultimately, the problem is what it creates, this society under occupation. To me, that’s the interesting sandbox within which to tell the story. It’s clear from then on that our government is the real enemy in this story.

At the same time, your design for them evokes a strong fear response. What thinking went into the design process for your aliens?

There’s a great deal to be said for aesthetic value. We wanted to display the terror that an extraterrestrial could convey. But it had to be built on plausible foundations. The idea was that they come from a carbon-based planet, and they’re here to strip-mine us of fossil fuels and resources. Then it’s a question of, what are their species origins? In many ways, we followed this notion that they are wasps and we’re bees, protecting our hive, and we’re prepared to sacrifice ourselves for that hive. We built on the idea that they’re insectoid in origin. They live below ground, they don’t breathe our atmosphere, maybe they’re quite feeble and vulnerable.

So to protect themselves and hide that fact through technology, they have this incredibly strong, terrifying armature they can use to emote, hence the sort of porcupine aspects of them. And that was inspired by Antony Gormley, the sculptor. He does these amazing sculptures, some in particular, these humanoid sculptures made entirely out of spikes. That’s where I got the idea.
John Goodman in Captive State. Photo: Focus Features The film’s structure is also unusual. You focus a lot on a big, complicated conspiracy, but you don’t really introduce the participants as people. They’re more like functions. Did that come from the idea that the collective is important and the individual isn’t?

It does. It’s interesting you say that. There will always be an audience that expects something different, and wants the hero’s journey. In mainstream modern cinema in particular, that’s a classic structure, and there’s an idea that one must always follow that. But here, when we first introduce John Goodman’s character Mulligan in his apartment — it’s barely audible, because I wasn’t sure how much to lead with this, but there’s a radio documentary in the background about wasps attacking a hive of bees. And that was always part of the structure, and behind this idea that some of us are willing to sacrifice ourselves for the greater good.

I liked the idea of creating a spiderweb of these characters who, just by the nature of this being a finite feature film and not a TV series, we really did have to color in, through shorthand, placing these very disparate characters together into a melting pot to tell our story. So an ex-Catholic priest, teaming up with a person in the trans community, along with a female auto worker — all sorts of very different people, all hiding in plain sight, form the basis of our story.

It does feel like a compressed season of television, since the cast is so large. Was the plan always to do this as a feature film?

It was. This isn’t the first time I’ve heard this reaction to the film. Maybe everybody, you included, makes a really pertinent point, and this should be a TV series, a longer-form story. But the formative stories for me, the ones that really inspired this film on a cinematic level, are films. Two in particular: Army of Shadows, the Jean-Pierre Melville film about the French Resistance fighting the Nazi occupation, and then The Battle of Algiers, the Gillo Pontecorvo film of the late 1960s, about the French occupation of Algeria. They have huge casts, like a hundred speaking parts. You really go across the map, following these characters in and out of different situations, in this real-time, pretty emotionally dry cause-and-effect storytelling. So I was really excited to be able to try to emulate that in the context of modern America, where I’ve never seen this style of story before. For better or for worse, I don’t know. That’s for you guys to judge.
Ashton Sanders looks out at Lake Michigan in Captive State. Photo: Focus Features You’ve cited those two films a lot in talking about the film, and you’ve cited some of your historical inspirations, like studying Pinochet’s Chile. But what did you want to evoke about contemporary America, about current politics?

We started writing it before the current administration in America. The rise of populism was occurring, but it was never our intention to make a polemic. I’m neither right-wing nor overtly left-wing. As a storyteller, I’m always looking to find the human story. It just so happens in this case, the idea of an authoritarian government that has come into being because ultimately a government capitulated to this outside invading force, for their own gain, for their own near-term profit, I think is wholly relevant on any number of levels, both in America and beyond. But the most political aspect of this film, I would say, is in how we treat our environment, and how society and the government are not the custodians of this planet in the way we should be. That is very much down to big business, and capitalism, and short-term profit. And that definitely needs to be considered and addressed.

There’s a strong contemporary American resonance in putting a black family at the center of the story, and in focusing on the tension between a white cop and a young black man who’s trying to come to terms with his family legacy. What were your intentions in the film’s racial dynamic?

As somebody from Chicago, you know only too well — and I grew to see this very much — that the cultural and ethnic diversity of your city is extraordinary and wide-ranging, but policy breaks down by district, as many modern cities do. It was my intention to tell the story in as authentic a way as possible. So I chose to set the film in a working-class, lower-middle-class, tradesman community. I know Pilsen is changing in Chicago, it’s gentrifying, but it has an old-world foundation. And the people whose stories we’re telling, they’re teachers, they’re policemen and women, they’re dentists, doctors, medical students, priests, people from all walks of life and ethnic backgrounds. So it was wonderful to be able to tell a story where that racial divide, that racial question about what it means to live in a modern society, depending on what color you are, was not the forefront of this story.

I hope Captive State is a hopeful film, in that those tribalistic divides become moot, irrelevant, and totally redundant. Because ultimately, individuals from different walks of life are having to unite under the flag of fighting back against the common enemy. You only have to look at 20th-century history to see this play out. Or any period of history, frankly. Those with the most to lose invariably collaborate with an enemy, and those with the least to lose are the heroes, the ones who make the choice to fight back. It’s never as black and white as that, it’s never completely binary. But in this case, it’s the districts and areas of Chicago that are more on the margins of society, are less economically vibrant, that become the hotbeds of militancy. I think that’s looking to play to the truth.
Director Rupert Wyatt with actors on the set of Captive State Photo: Focus Features With Rise of the Planet of the Apes, you’re also telling a story about an underdog, an uprising and mass resistance, overthrowing the status quo. But in that case, the story is so focused around the hero’s journey, with a visionary leader with a strong personality. Did working on that film shape this one? How do you see them as different?

They’re definitely both concerned with the notion of pushing back against the walls that can surround us, and raging against the machine. Who we are as a species, and what pushes us forward. But they’re very different. Planet of the Apes was a fairy tale in many ways, a fable. I lit it as such, I approached the tone as such, and I like to think that’s the foundation for its success. I mean, there are any number of other reasons why the film ultimately became successful, with all the amazing people involved. But at its heart, I think the tone and approach to storytelling appealed to all age groups.

Captive State is a little different. It’s more grounded, it’s more about what we see outside our window today. It has more of a documentary-like approach to the lens we put on life. And therefore it’s grittier. The sun doesn’t always shine, it’s the colder, gray skies of Chicago. That doesn’t necessarily let an audience in as easily. It usually takes people time to invest in the film.

But at the same time, I set out to make something exciting and dramatically challenging, and emotional, and just as hopeful as Planet of the Apes. With the ending of this film, even though it may feel strange to say it, to me it’s a very hopeful ending. I think we should be asking our leaders today why we should believe in them, whether they’re willing to sacrifice themselves for the greater good. I think we make that demand quite explicit in the film. The film is sci-fi, but it’s definitely a relevant question to us. For people who have that level of responsibility: “What are you willing to sacrifice?” I think that question lies at the heart of all great leadership.

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Unread 2019-03-15, 03:11 PM   #2
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‘Captive State’ Co-Writer Erica Beeney Discusses the Influence of History [Interview]

Captive State is a sci-fi thriller that moves like clockwork. Director Rupert Wyatt‘s film always maintains its propulsion without any redundancies or large chunks of tedious exposition. Like the characters trying to start an uprising in a world dominated by aliens, Wyatt and co-writer Erica Beeney always keep their story moving. Compared to other bloated or gigantic alien invasion movies, Captive State is a refreshingly minimalist and stripped down sci-fi movie.
Similar to Wyatt’s Rise of the Planet of the Apes, there’s a sense of grounding and familiarity that doesn’t make it too hard to suspend one’s disbelief and buy into this world. It’s so grounded, in fact, Beeney and Wyatt often looked to history for inspiration. Beeney, who previously wrote the Project Greenlight movie The Battle of Shaker Heights, recently told us about some of Captive State‘s influences, whether it’s a political film, and writing a surprisingly empathetic antagonist.

When you have a story with this many characters and moving pieces and a world to build, where do you begin?
It’s interesting actually, because there was just a screening we had last night. It was the first time in a couple of months that I had seen the movie, and it was so great, and in a way, almost surprising to me how much every scene is threaded with so many details. Paying attention to how they come together that makes the whole, even that was kind of like, “My god, this is a lot of work,” but I did it! [Laughs]
Basically the process was – I don’t know how other people go about constructing intricate plots like this – but what we did was a little bit forward, a little bit backward. Meaning we knew certain global things that we definitely wanted to do starting out, and then we started layering in pieces in between, but then even after the first rough cut and then showing it to an audience, or a couple of friends and family and getting feedback where they said, “Oh yeah, we totally understood what this piece is saying, but what we didn’t understand was this.” And you sort of go, “Okay, I see,” so we know this piece needs clarifying. We need to bring that up in the mix, and we need to lay another breadcrumb to emphasize this part and take away the breadcrumbs that have already done too much work. It was really starting with an idea and then getting feedback to see how closely we are to where we want to get to with it.
What elements of the story maybe took extra refining and clarification?
Well, I would say that…I think we always approached it with this idea that we weren’t taking sides, if that makes sense. That we wanted to tell a story of people under occupation and the choices that you are forced to make in those situations and make choices as difficult for the characters as possible. And sort of show, hopefully, the humanity on all sides of those choices and trying to take the notion of good guys and bad guys…It was a real effort to try and maintain that neutrality with each of the main characters, if that makes sense. Yeah, to sort of try and show them all in their fullness, so that certain moments you really understand them, and at other moments you really don’t like the choices they are making.
Even though he’s making very unethical choices, I was surprised by how empathetic John Goodman’s character was throughout the movie, and him probably not wanting the whole world to get destroyed because of the group.
I’m so glad that that was what you felt, ’cause that was what we were going for. We were trying to understand – getting to the mind of someone who had collaborate and say, okay, how would a good person justify those choices that on the surface seem very not okay? And you’re right, he would say for the greater good of my neighborhood or there’s a line, “We shoot our own dogs,” and it’s the notion of that kind of honor, this farmer’s honor, like if my dog’s sick, no one but me is going take my dog out back and put my dog down.
It’s very impressive how Goodman makes an antagonist who’s very silent that empathetic and expressive. With [his character] Mulligan, did you and Wyatt want to rely on silence as much as possible?
Yeah. I think we were both really inspired by those certain ’70s, really minimalist kind of thrillers, and I always was impressed with how much you could do with as little as possible. I learned in writing you sort of write a scene and you put in all the dialogue that you think need to be there and then if you’ve done a good job with the mechanics of the storytelling, nine times out of ten, you don’t [need as] much of the dialogue. You sort of go into the process knowing that, if that makes sense.
It does. Captive State is not a political film, but like those ’70s movies, based on whatever a moviegoer brings to it, they could politicize it or draw parallels to today. How much did you want to reflect the modern world? Would you be happy if someone saw it as a political film?
I think that your parallel to those ’70s movies is exactly right, but when I think about The Parallax View or Manchurian Candidate or whatever, I think it’s the political in the sense that there suggestible about people’s motivation in politics and in power in general, and I sort of think of it more that way. I don’t think that there’s sort of that partisan political message the way more common today. I mean, I hope and I like to think that it is more that notion of bring truth to power, constantly scrutinize the social framework as it exists and be skeptical of it. And if this movie was a super pleasurable experience for people that also got that out of it and came out of it sort of seeming more critical of the information that was said every day, I think that would be a good thing.
I also wonder if some people tend to politicize movies because politics are weighing heavier on their minds now.
Yeah, totally. No, I mean I think it’s very interesting. We just [read] a couple of posts where somebody said, and it’s all questions all based on the trailer online or something, so of course it’s not the full good view, but one person says, “Oh, propaganda against everything that make America great,” and then some of the people saying, “Oh, this is a great take down of the libtards” or whatever.
YouTube comments?
Yeah, exactly. You don’t want to go too deep in those. You see it through whatever lens, whatever goggles you’ve got on, right? I wish we could all take the goggle off for a minute, but that seems hard in this day and age, doesn’t it?

Rupert mentioned Army of Shadows and Battle of Algiers as inspirations for himself. Along with those ’70s films, were those movies on your mind as well?
Yeah, I mean Army of Shadows definitely was so inspirational, but I think that that notion for me, I would say…what this brings to mind, and it’s a little sideways so forgive me, it’s less about certain movies. One thing I just kept on thinking about were things I read about, probably two main pieces on the Middle East, but certain pieces about Belfast and Northern Ireland. I remember reading something about Lebanon and how it was called the Terrace of the Middle East, and that it was the incredibly beautiful city. For myself, growing up with all the pictures and the images, all you got about Lebanon was essentially that it was kind of a pile of rubble and similar now to places in Syria or Palms, where you think of a smashed up place, and to imagine those places as the Paris or the thriving city that they were.
I really want to bring that contrast to life. This notion that we can actually do it together, placing that kind of situation in the near future here in America, so that you could really see like, Palms was Chicago and realize that it can happen in an instant. Life can really change and go from something that’s ordinary everyday to something where you really are put to the test. Again, the tagline is “Go to this movie and have fun,” you know what I mean? I pray that it is not medicine, right? But if you take away from it that, to feel a little bit more lucky for the small pleasures we have every day, that would be great.
The movie takes such a grounded approach that you don’t have to do so much explaining, but I was wondering, what rules did you and Rupert make for the aliens and the world?
As you can imagine that is very important for this movie and very important for science fiction in general, and hopefully, they make your job as a storyteller easier as opposed to harder. For example, we tried, as you rightly pointed out, in terms of the look and the feel of the movie, that everything was really grounded. So we didn’t want to make any choices starting out that would go against that. We wanted to always reference history or references from the animal kingdom or whatever makes sense of it, so it hopefully had an internal logic. For example, in a way wanting that ’70s thriller vibe in the middle of it, we wanted to strip out the modern technology but also have a real logic to that. It was looking at totalitarian regimes, for example Russia right now, trying to make their own internet, basically, so they can control content.
Okay, so if you were trying to control humanity, one of the first things you would do is outlaw the technology that connects people and at this point serves a extension of our own brains, right? You’re literally crippling a society if you do that. Well, it makes perfect sense that they would do that, that they would take that away and that they would want all that information for themselves, because as much as they are strip mining the planet of its resources, human history and knowledge is a resource as well. They are taking all that away. And also, again that extends the storyline because then you get the fun of people having to communicate in different ways, which as you know, plays a big part in the storytelling.
Without spoiling anything, with the ending this movie has, how did it dictate or influence your choices in the build up? Building towards this ending, how did it make writing this script different from past experiences?
I think that, for us again, it was important that the ending of the movie, hopefully if it went the way we wanted it to, it would have genuine emotional impact, and that is not easy thing to achieve in any kind of storytelling, but particularly in genre storytelling that can be hard. Working back from that, with a limited amount of dialogue and hopefully every scene furthering the plot and the action of the movie, how you get to know these characters well enough so that when you find out what happened to them, there is a real emotional impact to that. So it was always that. It was, hopefully one line or one look or one exchange bring these characters to life in a real human way so you would get that emotion at the end in edition to the story.
Rupert says he wants to tell more stories in this world, so are there any ideas in particular you’d want to continue exploring in sequels?
Oh yeah. We’ve talked about that. We talked about that. I mean, I grew to love so many of these characters so much and I think, I’m just always interested in particular people in fringes and the margins of society and how much everyday bravery can be found there, and obviously, how that can get elevated in a movie like this or whatever. I’m sure he talked to you about what the second movie would be and what the third movie would be, and how maybe…again without spoiling anything, depending on whether they succeed or fail in trying to light the match, what would be happening in other cities and places in the world, where people were trying to do the same thing or bringing the next level of conflict. Going from there, I think, that would be really fun.

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Unread 2019-03-17, 08:13 PM   #3
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Captive State's Backstory Was Fueled by More Great Sci-Fi Ideas Than the Film Could Contain

Captive State never explains exactly what these things are.

Just because your movie is about the aftermath of an alien invasion doesn’t mean you ignore the alien invasion. In fact, Captive State co-writer and director Rupert Wyatt has a very, very clear idea of how the off-screen alien invasion before the events of his film went down. It mirrors how he believes an invasion could happen in real life and is also a prime example of how his film is built with great ideas on-screen, as well as off.

Speaking with io9, Wyatt posed the question, “If an invasion happened today, would we be acutely aware of their impending arrival?” He then proceeded to answer.
“I don’t think so,” he said. “We’d probably be focused on other news feeds. Our own kind of popular culture or politics, and maybe at the very end of the news reports would be some kind of unidentified object that people are extrapolating over what it is.”

This kind of thing happens all the time. Events such as this and this and this are just some of the more famous global instances. Really though, when a UFO is casually mentioned in the news, does anyone actually think about the life or death implications, if it turned out to be actual aliens?

Captive State director Rupert Wyatt stands over one of the film’s more gruesome scenes.

“No one really pays attention to [those reports],” Wyatt continues. “So that to me was ‘Okay. They can certainly create a fleet, an invasion fleet, and we wouldn’t be much the wiser.’”
From there, Wyatt thinks humanity’s general fear and ignorance would be the primary weaknesses aliens would exploit to take over. And, to reiterate, this isn’t in Captive State. It’s just the level of detail he and his co-writer Erica Beeney put into thinking about what probably happened before events of the movie.
They would do something quite clever, potentially, [by] shutting down our power grids. They would create mass blackouts and those blackouts would start locally. They’d spread and they would become statewide, nationwide, global. And of course we would assume: terrorist attack, cyber attack, another country. And before we even pinpointed the enemy, we’d start turning on ourselves. We’d start looting, food shortages and traffic jams. Then, of course, they start making landings in rural areas, where we get the first sightings and before we knew it they’d be surrounding cities. There’s a whole movie!
If this hypothetical prequel to his movie sounds plausible, that’s exactly the point. Captive State is very much a cautionary tale about modern sociopolitical struggles. It then masks that a bit with impossible sci-fi ideas like organic tracking devices, intelligent alien drones, and off-world deportation. These gadgets and concepts are another area in which not everything Wyatt and his team created made it into the movie. And actually, one of Wyatt’s favorite creations was cut entirely.

In the scene, a human character invaded a closed off alien area and came out with bad radiation burns all over his body. He then went to a local fence for help. (We’re being vague because the specifics are a spoiler.) Then, once he got there...
“[The fence] pulls out of her fish tank a little vial of sort of unidentified...they look like fruit flies,” Wyatt said. “But they make this sort of magnetic sound when they hit the side of the glass vial. He swallows it and it eradicates all of his radiation burns. It’s a kind of like alien medicine. I always loved that little detail. We decided to cut it because there were too many stories going on.”

Yes, there are a lot of stories going on in Captive State. So many, in fact, that things like alien medicine and a clinical, realistic alien invasion are not in the movie. While a lot of interesting concepts weren’t able to make it into the movie, what is in there is pretty damn fascinating.
Captive State is now in select theaters.

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