Saturday, Warner Bros. Studios and director Alfonso Cuarón along with actress Sandra Bullock held a press conference at the Hilton San Diego to promote the upcoming space film “Gravity.” Members of the press, including Nuke the Fridge’s own Namtar, were given an opportunity to participate in a Q&A session with the duo and they did not disappoint. Here is what they had to say.
Q: Are the challenges of hard sci-fi easier, than say something more fantastical?
Cuarón: We did not want to create a new world… The goal was for the film to feel like one of those IMAX documentaries or Discovery Channel documentary that went absolutely wrong. We used current technology. We didn’t invent anything. If anything, we went ahead of time and we have the Chinese station, the Chinese space station, the way it is, is just one module. The way it will be in 2016. That’s the only thing we changed. Not only that, we went a bit retro. We have the space shuttle and we decided to keep the astronauts’ suits, the current one. Because there is now a new generation coming out soon… We went through pains to try to honor reality as much as we could. Definitely with the concept of Zero G and no resistance that was something we went through pains to try to make it accurate… Obviously it is a film, and a work of fiction. We don’t pretend to say everything is perfect. It is a work of fiction and in the frame of that fiction, we tried to make it as accurate as possible to reality.
Bullock: Very well said, and I agree. Because I wasn’t at all in control or had no idea the extent of technology that was involved. To me it was all fantastical and futuristic, which made it exciting and magical and frightening all in the same breath. I had to be very true to what someone was dealing with who would be in my position or the character’s position, which is factual today. And I wanted to be really accurate so we had a lot of incredible specialists who did just that. There’s always people on call. There was several times I was able to call up to space and ask some questions and they answer.
Cuarón: She would be on the phone with the space station. It was very weird.
Bullock: They were very helpful… I had to be very human in this technologically advanced space that felt very futuristic to me because it had never been done on film. I had the benefit of both.
Q: You have a great history of making science fiction as very realistic, very gritty, and it looks like you’re going to do the same thing with “Gravity.” You also shot with 3D cameras I believe?
Cuarón: No we didn’t. It didn’t make any sense. Because of the technology that we use, it was practically impossible. We wanted to shoot native as we call it. You know, we wanted to shoot 3D with the camera. We did the tests. First of all, it was impossible because of the technology. We use these robots and the weight of the cameras was not possible. Secondly, in one instance, Sandra was inside the rig, on a rig, inside a cube that is nine by nine that the camera had just a limited view of Sandra, enough to photograph Sandra. I had to go through holes in that cube. If it’s a wide shot and then go very close in. It was impossible. As you know with 3D cameras, you need two cameras so you need more space. And then, the other set we had was the Soyuz. The Soyuz is the Russian escape pod. It’s pretty much the size of three of these chairs together. So, it was impossible. But beyond that, it was not only impossible, because the constraint of space. It didn’t make any sense, because it was such a combination of real action and CG that the amount of real footage was so minimal that what we ended up doing was a conversion. Pretty much we started the conversion to 3D three and a half years ago. We’ve gone to pains to make sure that it was, to me, the closest thing to a native 3D.
Q: And you consulted with James Cameron on that?
Cuarón: I did. Actually, I was with Jim last week and he was saying this is a perfect example of a film that can be converted. Now he is talking about the way technology goes it’s not about taking your choice about going native or I am going to convert, but it’s like any other tool. You choose your moments.
Q: What was George Clooney like for you professionally as a volley partner?
Bullock: I’ve known George before the world knew, you know, handsome George. The person he was then is the exact same person he is now. A man who loves film. A man who loves being part of a group and working and supporting. He’s the ultimate team worker. You’d never know you’re dealing with someone who has had the level of success that he has, because all he cares about is being at the table, at the beginning of a film, reading the script. What lines are great? How can I help? He is the same person I knew all those years ago when our hair was dark and curly. It’s just more of the same.
Cuarón: Shhhhh! Check the Internet and see those photos.
Bullock: He just is that same guy that I’ve known, you know. You’re always grateful when you’re working with George, because he wants everyone else to look better. He always wants everyone else to have their moment. It’s never the narcissistic actor/director/writer/producer who is like, I need to make myself to look as good as possible. He’s always looking out for everyone. (to Cuarón) Is that the same guy?
Cuarón: That is so true. There was a point in which there were so many scenes with Sandra alone. He was so concerned… he could have just done his job and leave. George noticed that Sandy and I were struggling with a couple of scenes, because we were all the time discussing the scenes and doing little rewrites in terms of the dialogue and how to best convey the emotions that we wanted to convey. Suddenly, out of the blue, he offered to help. Actually one of the scenes, one of my favorite scenes, he rewrote, and it was just out of the blue great! (Clooney said,) “I heard you were into to that look for whatever it’s worth, delete it or use it!” And it was great!
Nuke the Fridge (Namtar): How close to your dream of becoming an astronaut did the film bring you Alfonso?
Cuarón: Well, the closest. It’s so weird, because even though until recently. That whole thing, because for some reason, it is on the Internet that I wanted to be an astronaut. Because as a kid I wanted to be an astronaut. (Gesturing to Namtar) Well, you’re old enough like me. I remember my other passion was I want to be a film director, and I remember when I realized that being an astronaut was not going to be an option. Well, I am going to be a director and do films of space. I thought about films in space. But that, I completely forgot about that until very recently. And I’m talking recently like a couple of weeks ago. Then, I met with (director) Danny Boyle in the airport once and he said, “Hey you’re doing Gravity. Yes, yes a space film. Yes, I did my space film, and once you go to space you don’t go back. You don’t want to go back.” And my dream is, I really want to go to space. I really, really want to go to space. So, if over there, one of those guys that are sponsoring the new kind of expedition to space and stuff want to sponsor me, I would be happy to take the trip. I will never do another film in space.
Q: (to Sandra) Your role is rare because it is a lead role for a female in a sci-fi drama, did you think of the role in those terms at all? Or, was it just a really good acting role?
Bullock: Yes to both questions. The elephant in the room is that roles for women haven’t been as vast and many as the men have had. But I do feel a shift has happened. I never thought of myself as a woman in the business until about six years ago when I was involved in a project and I went “Oh my God,” the walls I’m running into are because I’m female and I wasn’t raised that way. I was appalled and I was depressed, because I never thought I wasn’t given the opportunities, because I would find them. But for lead roles in films, the roles haven’t been as many as we like, but making this character female, I think, was hugely brave, but also it gives you so many different levels of angst and worry and situations you can build around it that I don’t think an audience has experienced just yet. But it’s not like she’s a woman in space, it’s just a person. But the situations, I think, will feel fresh and in a way that you haven’t experienced them before. I do think the times are changing, big time, because in the end it’s just about making money, and if a studio sees that a female can bring in audiences, they’re going to make movies with that person. I’m just glad I got to be a part of it. It’s nice. Hopefully that will not be a trend, but the norm. And we won’t be wondering when we will get the same meaty roles anymore.
Cuarón: I agree that times are changing, but I have to say there were voices, when I’d finished the script that were saying, ‘You should change it to a male lead.’ Obviously they weren’t powerful enough voices, because we got away with it. The sad thing is there is still a tendency that has to do with the walls you were talking about that you faced.
Bullock: Also, I can be incredibly masculine. (audience laughs) Often people forget I play female So, I can play both sides. (audience laughs)
Here is the storyline for the sci-fi/thriller “Gravity.”
Dr. Ryan Stone (Sandra Bullock) is a brilliant medical engineer on her first shuttle mission, with veteran astronaut Matt Kowalsky (George Clooney.) But on a seemingly routine spacewalk, disaster strikes. The shuttle is destroyed, leaving Stone and Kowalsky completely alone — tethered to nothing but each other and spiraling out into the blackness. The deafening silence tells them they have lost any link to Earth… and any chance for rescue. As fear turns to panic, every gulp of air eats away at what little oxygen is left. But the only way home may be to go further out into the terrifying expanse of space.
“Gravity” will open theatrically on October 4th. The film stars Sandra Bullock, George Clooney, Eric Michels and Basher Savage. Alfonso Cuarón and Jonás Cuarón wrote the screenplay, while Alfonso Cuarón directs.