TORONTO All’s well that ends with a movie getting made in Hollywood. But Vancouver based South African director Neill Blomkamp found out the hard way the first time around that even sure things in Tinseltown aren’t guaranteed.
Almost three years ago, Lord of the Rings mastermind Peter Jackson hand picked 29 year old Blomkamp to re shape the video game Halo into a big budget special effects film.
When the project suddenly unravelled because of business disagreements and soaring costs, Jackson and Blomkamp were left with no Halo and a lingering desire to work together.
Instead of losing momentum, they decided to re fashion Blomkamp’s acclaimed 2005 sci fi short Alive in Joburg into a major motion picture with digital enhancements applied by Jackson’s New Zealand based Weta Digital and Vancouver effects houses Image Engine, The Embassy and Zoic Studios.
The result is District 9, a $30 million cautionary sci fi thriller which opens on Friday. In the movie, shot partially in a documentary style, we follow a South African bureaucrat (Sharlto Copley) who Air Jordan 6 Rings leads a mission to re locate stranded six foot Air Jordan Spizike “prawn like” aliens from a Johannesburg slum.
That’s where they’ve de evolved into scavengers and petty criminals as their crippled space ship hovers menacingly above them and the city’s ghetto.
When Copley’s government man goes from the hunter to the hunted due to an unfortunate event, he starts to relate to the extra terrestrials while inexplicably transforming physically in the process.
The references to an apartheid South Africa are obvious, underlined by the movie’s title which refers to the sector where the other worldly creatures Air Jordan 5s are secluded and borrowed from a notorious real life district 6 from Air Jordan 7s Cape Town’s segregated past.
Preaching wasn’t the director’s goal, however. Providing entertainment was, even if he had to re visit what he’d already sketched out in the short.
“I was eager to do it from the second it was mentioned,” says Blomkamp in town to promote the film with his lead actor and friend Copley. “I was inspired to do the short and I was game to work on the film forever if I had to.”
Not quite. But it might have felt like it for the director who began preparing the script and shooting test shots of District 9 more than two years ago.
He asked his friend Copley to play the lead and co produce the tests, and was so impressed with the results he persuaded Jackson to allow him use the first time actor as the headliner.
“I wasn’t that surprised Sharlto could do it,” maintains Blomkamp. “Just in his every day life he can do so many characters he was like the South African Sacha Baron Cohen.”
For his part, the 35 year old Copley insists that despite his lack of experience he never felt the pressure of starring in a movie which required him to improvise much of his dialogue.
“It did not feel completely unknown to me,” he says. “But it was a fascinating experience and it helped that I was very comfortable with Neill and I trusted him.”
After all, the South Africans do have history together. Blomkamp began his career as a 14 year old animator in South Africa, working for Copley as an intern at his TV production company.
Four years later, Blomkamp moved to Vancouver, and eventually graduated to shooting commercials and then video games, winning acclaim and awards for his work on Nike, Gatorade and Panasonic TV spots. He became renowned for his efforts co ordinating three short features set in the Halo game universe.
Six years ago he also helped illustrate a photo real future aircraft in Popular Science’s Next Century In Aviation and followed that up with break Air Jordan 20s through designs for The Future of the Automobile.
By the 2005, he used his burgeoning expertise in blending live action with computer generated imagery on the short Alive in Joburg with his buddy Copley, who also produced the six minute flick which caught Peter Jackson’s attention.
Their collaboration seemed like a natural progression. But Blomkamp suggests that Jackson has to be commended for taking a chance by giving a first time film director creative control and permitting him to cast the raw talent of Copley and other unknown South African actors “in a very cinema verite un Hollywood movie.”
“Peter (Jackson) helped with story editing and some of the effects but the biggest thing he did was allow my decisions to happen,” maintains Blomkamp. “I wouldn’t have been able to make this movie this way if it wasn’t for him”
That’s why they might be teaming up again for another sci fi action flick Blomkamp should start developing when he returns to Vancouver in a few weeks.