With In the Shadow of the Moon streaming on Netflix September 27th, and world premiering at this year’s Fantastic Fest in Austin, I recently spoke with director Jim Mickle about his genre mashup. In the sci-fi thriller that starts in 1988 and takes place over multiple time periods, Boyd Holbrook stars as a Philadelphia police officer on the hunt for an elusive killer. As he struggles to figure out why a number of seemingly random people are being murdered for no clear reason, his investigation leads him down a dangerous path of obsession. This is one of those films where the less you know the better. In the Shadow of the Moon also stars Michael C. Hall, Bokeem Woodbine and Cleopatra Coleman.
During the interview, Jim Mickle talks about how he’s been describing the film to friends, how the project came together, his reaction reading the script the first time and how it combines genres, the casting process with Netflix, Easter eggs that people in Philadelphia should look out for, pulling off different time periods on a limited budget, what he learned about the film in the editing room, and a lot more. Check out what he had to say below.
Finally, before getting to the interview, here’s the first poster for the film. Throughout the interview are some exclusive images from the film and a few that were previously released. Click on any image for high-res.
Collider: Let’s start with the basics: how have you been describing the film to friends?
JIM MICKLE: I have been describing the film as a 1980’s Philadelphia murder mystery, that unravels into a genre mashup about obsession. And the less you know about it going in, the better
Some projects can take a decade to get made, others happen very fast. Describe the development process for In the Shadow of the Moon?
MICKLE: It took a couple years, mostly because I was working on a TV show called Hap and Leonard, for a number of seasons. I read this script probably after season 1 through (producer) Brian Kavanaugh-Jones at Automatik. It was an early draft but I really loved it and couldn’t get it out of my head. You know a lot of scripts come and go, but this one just stuck with me. We kept talking with the writers in developing it more and more, then it just became clear that this is gonna be the next movie I do. When Hap and Leonard ended, I was able to get the bandwidth needed to make it.
From when you signed on to the film, to what people will see on the screen, how much changed along the way? Anything major?
MICKLE: It evolved a bunch. The writers Greg (Gregory Weidman) and Geoff (Geoffrey Tock)are fantastic and come from a background of writing for television and so they have a writer’s room mentality, which I also had the time being in a writer’s room, so it’s a really good sense I think of collaboration, sort of “the best idea wins” and “how do we one up this great idea”. Right away we just clicked, people gave them suggestions that they then took and ran with and pushed it further.
Originally they set the film in Chicago over a long period of time, over decades. I know nothing about Chicago, I grew up in Philadelphia in the 80s and 90s, so it felt like a cool way to bring in all of those things that I remembered from my past, and have that really be the story. To bring in the city as a character.
This is a unique film in the way it combines genres. Talk about reading the script for the first time and what excited you about the material?
MICKLE: I read a lot, I see a ton of movies, as we all do. I get very bored and kind of jaded by going into something, knowing the genre or having what’s advertised already in mind. There’s sort of a boring inevitability to that. I made a movie called Cold in July based on a novel that just completely reinvented itself, as I read it I just had a feeling like I didn’t really know what I was reading. I didn’t know if it was a heist, a family drama, comedy, it just kept redefining what it was every 20 pages or so. It was never broadcasted to you, you had to decide as you read. It felt like growing up and falling in love with movies for the first time. I had that feeling again for this film and wanted to maintain it.
You’ve got a great cast. When you work with Netflix, how much of it is Netflix handing you a list of people that work well on the service and how much it is you saying, “I like these people, what do you think?”
MICKLE: Netflix definitely has their people that really work on the service, which is fascinating, but in this case we brought our list of favorites and it happened to also be Netflix’s favorites. That was a very smooth process, and everyone we were in love with also fell right in line with what was right for Netflix.
You’ve worked with Michael C. Hall before. When you realized you wanted to cast him, did you just sent a text message saying you “wanna work again together?”
MICKLE: Yeah, started as a text, turned into a phone call to talk through the part. What I love about Michael is he’s such a chameleon and there is so much of him that is still unpacked, like his humorous side. He can also sort of just put on some clothes and cut his hair different, and completely transform who he is. I wanted to have a character that really felt like Philadelphia, including the accent. We actually discussed Toni Collette’s accent in The Sixth Sense, that was just drop dead perfect, so good. It was really about finding a character that was a completely different side of him. Fortunately, he really responded to the script and character.
The film takes place in Philadelphia, which you grew up outside of. What easter eggs should people look out for if they are from the area?
MICKLE: A big one would be the Philadelphia 76ers NBA team. I grew up with them and obviously the film spans over different decades and different eras of the team, which was really fun. To see them through Charles Barkley, Allen Iverson. Tom McGuiness who is the voice of the 76ers, and has been since I was a teenager, even came in and did some broadcasting voice overs of lineups and different dates. I don’t think I’ve ever been so star struck. Also Ed Rendell, the former mayor of Philadelphia and governor of Pennsylvania, he has a cameo in the film. Lots of stuff like that. You can catch some Wawa in there, a convenient store. It will be fun to see what people catch.
The film takes place over different time periods and you didn’t have a Marvel sized budget. What were you most nervous about being able to pull off before filming began?
MICKLE: I think the biggest thing was the makeup. We have a bunch of actors that age decades in the film and there’s nothing worse than bad aged makeup, especially when you’re doing a drama and trying to sell the emotions of the characters. Fortunately, we had a makeup artist named Jordan Samuel and a hair stylist, Paula Fleet, who worked on The Shape of Water, that really took over the whole aging concept and did it in such a smart way. Also a really kind of subtle way with prosthetics that gave the actors room to run. Boyd actually even wore some weights and had weights in his shoes to progress his character through years of his life. Michael was the opposite, we had him start off a little heavier and they took the prosthetics away as he got older. It was all very cool to watch.
When you first got in the editing room, what made you nervous about the footage and what, if anything, surprised you?
MICKLE: I had 42 days to shoot it, the longest I’ve ever had on a film. I felt like we had time to do everything right between the cinematographer, the first AD scheduling and the actors. I didn’t have to come to the editing room and Frankenstein things together. The only sort of anxiety I felt was about getting that amount of time span into one movie. There’s a lot happening and a lot of stories, fortunately our editor Michael Berenbaum is phenomenal and was able to make it possible.
You are premiering the film at Fantastic Fest. What does it mean to you to premiere there?
MICKLE: It’s pretty great and exciting. I’ve done a bunch of independent horror films starting off and have been lucky enough to get to do the festival circuit, which is just so fun. You get to see people, movies and filmmakers that inspire you. I haven’t been out there for festivals in several years, distracted in the television world. It’s extremely exciting to be going back to Austin, it’s always an amazing experience going there to showcase something. I couldn’t be more excited to be there and see this film in front of an audience for the first time. And one of my favorite filmmakers, Bong Joon-ho, is going to be there with Parasite, so very excited to see that as well.