What was the genesis of this project? And what inspired you to go with the 1970s sci-fi setting?
JACK PLOTNICK: I had wanted to find a way to explore and dramatize what it was like for me being a child in the suburbs in the ’70s. And setting it in on a lonely space station in the retro-future seemed to be a great metaphor for the unrealized dreams and isolation that many people experienced in the suburbs. I wish I could remember the exact moment I thought of the idea. Sometimes ideas come in a logical, consequential way, and sometimes they just appear, seemingly fully formed, out of the mixture of elements in your brain at the time.
Since childhood, I had always been obsessed with the look of that perfect future we envisioned at that time; and not just in films. During the ’70s, there was a lot of design and architecture being done which had a futuristic spin. If you look at some the buildings that were built then, they look like spaceships! And the insides were decorated like you were on Moonbase Alpha. I think the reason why is that we had just landed on the moon, and so I guess people got excited about living “in the future!” The funny thing is that, although we hadn’t perfected a lot of the technology we have today, we knew it was coming, and we wanted that technology to hurry up and arrive! We didn’t have flatscreen TVs, or digital clocks yet, so we made our TVs and clocks look more futuristic. Molded white or orange plastic, curved surfaces, Lucite and chrome all made us feel that we were far away from the dreary 50’s and 60’s and into a new tomorrow full of possibility.
The first time I recall really “getting” and loving this aesthetic was when my family went to Walt Disney World, and we visited the Contemporary Hotel. I wanted to live there, among the orange, pink and brown shag rugs, and have a monorail drive through my living room.
Can you talk about the process of work-shopping the script?
PLOTNICK: The movie began as a play that was created through improvisational exercises; similar to the way A Chorus Line was made. I put together a dream team of talented actor/writers, and would record them improvising scenes I would direct them through. Then I would type out the recordings, choose the best stuff, and hand it back to them, to continue finessing through more improvs. The whole process took three months. The most important aspect of that process was that everyone really understood the tone I was after, which was funny but restrained. I like to call what we were going for “subtly hilarious” or “heartbreakingly funny.” It’s comedy that comes from pain and very uncomfortable situations. We wanted to make sure that the jokes were coming from an honest place and revealing character, and not just punchlines.
The film is unlike anything else that’s out there, did it make harder to pitch to investors, studios, actors or easier?
PLOTNICK: Yes, I guess the film is pretty surprising to some people. Although it’s a comedy, it dramatizes the malaise and angst that typified life in ’70s suburbia. It’s a thoughtful, darkly comedic, and emotional character story wrapped in nods to your favorite science-fiction of the ’70s. It’s a mash-up up genres and tones. I mean, it’s about suburban ennui…in space, for goodness sake! Certainly not what you expect when you hear sci-fi comedy.
The kind of movies that inspired me to make it were family dramas I love, likeOrdinary People and The Ice Storm, and dark comedies like Happiness or Heathers. And of course classic sci-fi like 2001, Space: 1999 and Logan’s Run.
I never considered making it more “mainstream.” This was the story I wanted to tell, and this was the way I wanted to tell it. But I was very lucky because I found soul mates in my incredible producers Rachel Ward and Edward Parks at Rival Pictures. They immediately “got it” and wanted to be a part of it. And the film just became a “happy magnet” for the rest of the producers/investors. I was thrilled that actors seemed to really like the script. I think that we don’t often realize how many movies and TV shows are plot driven, where the characters inner lives come second to the action. But this is a sci-fi film where there are real, conversational scenes to dig your teeth into. Where the emotional life, needs and growth of the characters IS the action of the film.
I knew that not everyone would want to work on a film like this, but on the other hand, the people who would be attracted to it, would really get into it. Matt Bomer had my favorite thing to say about why he did the film. He said it fulfilled two of his childhood dreams: “To be in a ’70s sci-fi film, and to live in a John Cheever novel.”