Jeffrey Morris, who owns the production company Future Dude Entertainment sat down with Electric Bento to discuss his feature film debut, Persephone which is slated to go into production in 2019. Persephone is on Electric Bento’s Hot List of Production films in 2019.
If you’ve been following me for any length of time, you’ll probably be aware that I’m a huge Sci-Fi geek. I grew up on Star Trek, Star Wars, Battlestar Galactica, and Blade Runner. I have an affinity for 2001: A Space Odyssey and for smaller and more recent films like Duncan Jones’s Moon, Paul W. S. Anderson’s Event Horizon, and especially, Danny Boyle’s Sunshine.
With that in mind, we’re excited to bring one of our final, major interviews of 2018 to you. We had the chance to sit down with writer-director and visual futurist Jeffery Morris whose Persephone will go before cameras in 2019. Persephone is one of Electric Bento’s top productions of 2019 to keep an eye out for.
EB: Thank you for your time. I’m very excited for the project and where you go with this. I think you’ve assembled a great production team and a great cast.
JM: Thank you. I’ve worked very hard over a number of years to pull together a vision that’s very different from what we’re used to seeing. It’s really interesting, I was just talking to some people about the script and the finance people and they try to pigeonhole everything and put it into a specific box. They’re like “what’s the box for this” and I’ve had to do some explaining when they read the script because this is not supposed to be like movies nowadays. In a lot of ways, it’s supposed to be from the 1960’s or 70’s where we’re actually forcing the audience to have to use their brains. Someone had a comment, “we don’t even find out about what happened to the earth until page 60.” I’m thinking “that’s intentional.” The whole point is to layout intellectual breadcrumbs and take the audience on a journey and adventure where they have to piece together.
EB: You’re describing Forbidden Planet with Leslie Nielsen, that type of thoughtful, thinking-man’s science fiction movie where we have the opportunity to explore and to imprint our own experiences while we’re watching your story unfold.
JM: That’s exactly right. There’s also the aspect of the film that I’m trying to give you a window in to the scientific and exploratory experience. If you know real scientists, they don’t know all the answers, you don’t know what’s going to happen when you go into a science based adventure. You say, I’m going to cross Antartica, I’m going to the South Pole and I’m going to explore this thing. You have a goal in mind, but you don’t know exactly what’s going to happen between McMurdo Station and cross the tundra to get to the south pole. This is about what does it take to put this mission together, to travel and what happens when things go wrong or a mystery along the way. That’s what this experience should be like. With a modern cinematic experience, you know everything going into it. It’s almost like trailers today, an encapsulated version of the film. I’ll watch the trailer and I’m like “why am I even going to go see the film?” This story will take you on the journey as the scientists figure out what’s happening. That said, it’s a rip-roaring adventure and it’s got something in terms of the same tempo as Raiders of the Lost Ark and movement. You gotta use your brain a little bit.
EB: I can only think of a few movies from 2018 that really made me think through the movie. It’s refreshing to hear someone with a vision who is putting themselves out there. You also have to go out and find your own financing, you’re planning to distribute this on your own, you’re doing all of the legwork whereas bigger studio films can snap their fingers, have a writer on staff and a director in five minutes who wants a project. You’re “poor man’s director” in the same era that you’re ascribing to but in a modern setting. Does that make sense?
JM: It does. I should be clear that we’re in talks with major distributors, they’re tracking the project. There’s a lot of excitement about Brianna Hildebrand (Deadpool 2) joining the project. We’ve got three great veteran actors, but there’s a lot of excitement about Brianna because she’s up and coming, she’s hot. It was a real score to get her involved and her buy-in because it was so neat hearing the story about her father had read the script for Persephone before she did and he is a bit of a sci-fi aficionado and he was like “you gotta read this.”
JM: I had the same thing happen with Emile Hirsch where others had read the script first and they told him about the script because it’s different. With Mary Louise Parker, she was first and it turns out she has quite an interest in science and space and no one had ever approached her about this kind of project before, so she was really excited about it. There’s something magical about pulling these people together. They get it. And my production partners like Pixomondo, they get it.
JM: We’re shooting this thing in Europe with production people who really get it. I’m hoping that I can find, through my studio relationships, get them to be open-minded and willing to distribute it, and that’s what I’m working on now towards a wide release once it’s completed.
When Jeffrey and I spoke, I had recently seen Melvin Van Peebles’s Sweet Sweetback’s Badasssssss Song and I commented on the level of effort that Jeffrey was putting into his own project, similar to Melvin Van Peeble’s efforts as a modern grassroots production effort.
EB: I find [your process] very inspiring. You are taking steps to get your story told and you have interests that you want to share and by being in Europe, I can think of a number of productions, Star Wars, Alien, Dune, a lot of stories that I grew up with where the European craftsmanship really made those movies. I think you’re in good hands.
JM: One of my producers and production advisors is a guy by the name of Brian Johnson who science fiction fans will be familiar with his work on the Eagle spacecraft on Space 1999. He also won Oscars for The Empire Strikes Back and Alien, He’s actually coming out of retirement to work on the project with me.
EB: That’s awesome!
JM: I have a lot of veteran guys that are joining me on. I also have a lot of scientific advisors, people like Alan Stern, the principal advisor to the New Horizons mission to Pluto and a great guy named Aldo Spadoni formally of Northrop Grumman who is our spacecraft technical advisor. I’m making sure that everything is done correctly here, but I think I’ve created some really fun characters with the screenplay. They act like real people, not like sci-fi stereotypes, and it is led by two women, which is different and the story is in their hands.
JM: I’m acting like there’s never been another space movie since 2001: A Space Odyssey. I’m literally saying to the cast and crew, “If there had been no “Star Wars” or “Star Trek” or “Alien,” what if this was the next space movie? We’re using today’s technology and capabilities and we’re making an action-oriented film, but how do we make a film that’s as powerful, meaningful and as memorable as what they did with “2001” and that’s what I’m trying to do with this. I am literally saying “dump those touchpoints everyone keeps repeating and let’s do something new and fresh.” Because I love 2001 so much and here we are talking about it fifty years later, how do we create a film that people will talk about for decades to come.” That’s the edict I’m giving myself and my cast and crew as we move forward.
EB: Speaking of the title, Persephone as I understand it is rooted in Greek mythology. What impact does that have on your casting choices, your location and the overall look and shape of the movie?
JM: The story is about a journey to the nearest star called Proxima Centauri, a three-star system part of the Alpha Centauri. There are two stars similar to our own and a third star called a red dwarf which orbits every twelve days. This star has really bad solar flares, severe radiation and the story is about a group of colonists from earth who are to set up the first waystation to have humanity expand out in to the galaxy. They travel for 50 years to get there and they have a shield system to protect them from the radiation and it was sent in advance. When they arrive, the shield is not working and so the story is going to follow three astronauts who have to go down and try to repair that shield to figure out what’s wrong with it. In the course of doing that, they learn about something they completely didn’t expect and how they deal with the situation. Once they start to solve the mystery, “what do we do next?” because it could seriously impact this colonization effort and the future of humanity. Persephone being the Goddess of the Underworld, that was an interesting name for it, because one of the characters names the Proxima B planet because the planet is tidally locked, meaning one half of the planet faces the star. The planet rotates at the same frequency as its orbit around the star like we can only see one side of the moon. Imagine we’ve got this line between day and night, a perpetual day and night, and if you’re on the day side, that star never moves, the sun is in the same position all the time. It’s always there. When you’re on the dark side, it is always dark. The idea is that this is a gateway to an underworld full of danger and mystery. The fact that the mission is led by two women really lends itself well to the name Persephone as well.
EB: It’s a nice dichotomy which I think audiences are going to relate to. I’m going to have to wear SPF 1000 on the dayside because I burn very easily.
JM: You’ll need more than that as you’ll see in the film. It’s rough out there. Climate change has forced us to look for other places to live. We’re not hitting you over the head with some environmental considerations, which is an aspect of the film, but “hey, if we keep going the way we are, this could happen.”
EB: I know you’re in pre-production now. When are you anticipating to start production?
JM: We are targeting mid-May, 2019 in Europe and we’re pinning down a couple of different possibilities that may be shifting. I can’t officially say when we’re shooting, but we are shooting in Europe in mid-May. It’ll be about six weeks’ shooting and then after that we’re gonna do miniatures. Brian and his team will have about three weeks for the miniatures with rovers driving around the planet, miniature landscapes that sort of thing.
EB: We’re excited to see where this progresses and we’d like to check in with you as your production schedule progresses.
JM: Thank you. It would be a lot of fun to have you connect with the special effects house, Pixomondo, who is a co-financier on this project. This is something new for them and they are working this from the ground up, so it would be exciting to have you talk with them about how they can make independent features look like the major blockbuster.
Electric Bento has listed Jeffrey Morris’s Persephone as a film to watch as it enters its production phase in 2019. Below is the sizzle reel his Future Dude Entertainment company has put together. Follow the links below to also catch his Oceanus. We’d like to thank Jeffrey for his time.