Earlier this year I was invited to the set of Andrew Niccol’s (Gattaca, The Truman Show) new Sci-Fi thriller, In Time. The film, which details the lives of a pair of Bonnie and Clyde style bandits in a world where time literally is money, stars Justin Timberlake (The Social Network) and Amanda Seyfried (Mean Girls) and hits theaters October 28.
While visiting the set I got to chat with Niccol and producer Eric Newman about how the film began life as part of Gattaca, how the technology of the future world works, the look of the film, casting Justin Timberlake, the philosophy of the film, and much more. Read on for the full interview.
Niccol: Through the electricity in your pulse. So it’s the natural electricity in your body and it’s in every cell of your body. So that it’s not as if you can cut your clock off. And it’s like a device, because you would not know the time anymore. It would be hell for you. You’d just constantly have to replenish your time like I have to fill up my car because I have a car with a bad gas gauge.
Creatively what excites you most about this film?
Niccol: I think it’s the most sort of literal demonstration of living in the moment. I kind of like that I can tell that story.
This seems like a companion piece to Gattaca, can you tell us about when you hatched the story?
Niccol: I think of it as the bastard child of Gattaca because at the time I thought the holy grail of genetic engineering, of course, is to find the aging gene and switch it off. But then the implications are so huge that I thought that’s another movie. And it turns out, its’ become another movie.
Does the film gain anything by being made in the middle of a recession, or it is a more, pardon the pun, timeless tale.
Niccol: You know, the fact that at the moment the title is Now and it’s a futuristic film is kind of a beautiful contradiction. So yeah, I think we should always, when are you not going to be able to advise people to live in the moment? It should be timeless.
Niccol: Of course, we are filming in Los Angeles. I wouldn’t say it’s Los Angeles [in the movie] but I won’t say it’s not. For me, the interesting thing is, that this is the capital of staying young forever. So it seems very appropriate to be in Los Angeles.
So it does play a role in it?
Niccol: Yeah, it does. Absolutely.
Can you talk about Justin’s casting? It’s a big part for him.
Niccol: When I was going to Justin, some people were saying, ‘Oh maybe there is too much celebrity baggage.’ But when you take someone like Justin Timberlake into the future; a lot of the baggage stays behind. You know what I mean? It sort of gives him permission to go into another world. So you don’t sort of think, ‘Oh here he is in a contemporary movie.’ So I think that that helps. And of course he’s just a great talent.
Most of your films, The Truman Show, Gattaca, SimOne deal with very specific versions of the near future. Do you feel like sci-fi is the best vehicle to talk about the present or to express ideas about the present?
Niccol: Yeah. I think if you go away from the present then it’s easier to say something because people think, ‘Oh, it’s not really about me now.’ But of course it is.
But you’re in disguise?
Niccol: You’re in disguise, exactly. I’ve got to go, but enjoy this day. We’re going to smash something.
Question: How did you develop the look of the film?
Newman: [Niccol] approached it from the beginning as, ‘This is what I want it to look like.’ I kind of liken it to what Baz Luhrman did with Romeo + Juliet, where it felt like, clearly, he was inspired by Havana. And he created this world in LA. Andrew’s inspired by whatever planet he comes from. He created this world. It’s kind of a futuristic, retro. There’s a tradition of that. That’s what Terry Gilliam always does, this kind of high tech low-tech world of Brazil or Time Bandits or whatever it is.
On Niccol’s dress code:
Newman: Andrew has ten versions of the same outfit. He dresses like a fascist policeman. He’s not at all, but it’s his outfit and its funny when you watch all of [the actors], when we’re doing a big scene involving the Time Keepers, Andrew is among them. For a second you sort of think, ‘that’s the boss.’
Will the look of the film be altered in post to add more pronounced effects?
Newman: It’s Largely practical. It will be digital in the areas you expect it to be digital, set extension that kind of stuff but not a giant, in anyway, component of the movie compared to a real effects show.
So are you going to change the look of LA in post?
Newman: We’ll alter the skyline; it will not feel like LA. But at the same time Andrew’s not going to take lengths to convince you that it’s not LA. I think it’ll be a very similar relationship to LA that Gattaca had to LA or even Seven to a certain degree, in that it’s LA, but it never really acknowledges that.
Newman: This is Roger [Deakins] first digital experience, which says a lot about the camera system that we’re using, the ALEXA. It’s truly remarkable. It’s beautiful […] Roger Deakins is truly a genius.
Describing the scene being shot today:
“This particular bit is a good two-thirds [into the movie]. [Timberlake and Seyfried] have hit their stride as a bank robbing duo, they’re in their prime.
Is there a reason they’re not wearing masks if Timberlake is a wanted man?
Newman: At this point they don’t care [about being identified]. At this point it’s actually about sending a message. They’re Bonnie and Clyde, they don’t care who sees them. In fact, because they’re robbing her father, she wants him to know it’s them. So that’s a part of it. Again, it’s that sort of personal motive that becomes a more noble cause. ‘I want to get back at my dad’ and then it becomes ‘I’m going to redistribute the wealth.’
How does the money work, how do they justify the scarcity?
Newman: We’ve had philosophical debates about [where the time actually comes from]. I think there’s a finite amount like money. It can be created but it’s a zero-sum game. There is enough time for everyone but it would limit everyone to the life span that we have.
Can people still get hurt and die?
Newman: They can die. From heart attacks, violence and it’s sort of the more you have the more careful your existence is. So yes, you can die. Which is why they’re so careful. And there’s this great line in the movie that, “The poor die and the rich don’t really live.” It’s sort of this consistent thing. And when you’re in the ghetto it’s vibrant and it’s alive and the people are using their time to the fullest. It’s also desperate and tragic but the way the environment is designed, the way that it’s shot, the music we’re gonna use. And you get to the more rarified air of New Greenwich and the pace is different, the look of things, the sort of loneliness of it. It’s cold. It’s very safe and that has always been Andrew’s design.
For more on In Time: