Interview: WAR OF THE WORLDS: GOLIATH Director Joe Pearson
On Friday, March 7, Joe Pearson's animated steampunk sci-fi animated film War of the Worlds: Goliath will be available on iTunes, Dish TV, Direct TV and cable VOD. It will also screen in select theaters in LA and NYC. I was able to forward five questions to the writer/director this week leading up to his film's run.
ScreenAnarchy: Can you bring our readers up to speed on the history of this project? It certainly seems like it was a long time coming. We first reported about the project in the Summer of 2009. Take us through the history of this project.
Joe Pearson: First off, thanks for the continuing interest in War of the Worlds: Goliath and the unique and informed questions. You guys clearly know your genre and history.
Yes, the making of War of the Worlds: Goliath was about as long as a World War. There were a number of reasons for this. Our initial plan and budget were to do a smaller scale 70 minute direct-to-video feature using a strong animation studio in Kuala Lumpur as our anchor team and house. We went this route as our funding for the film was from Malaysia from groups like MAVCAP who were charged with investing in companies to develop the Malaysian industry.
Unfortunately the anchor studio dropped out 4 months into production so we lost that time and had to re-configure our production model. We still kept a heavy Malaysian presence with our design team at Studio Climb, much of the voice work, voice directing, CG model design and building, some ink and paint, and all of the audio and picture post and 3D conversion, but we used Sun Min Image Pictures in Seoul to do the actual animation, compositing, EFX and camera.
When the anchor team in KL dropped out, I lost my co-director, line producer and management team which meant that essentially I ended up wearing all of these hats solo for the term of the production. This inevitably slowed things down.
In 2010 when the DVD market continued to retract, we took a look at some of the gorgeous and BIG scale of the footage coming from Sun Min and decided to role the dice to go for a full theatrical 85 minute version of the film. That added a lot more time to the production.
Finally, our decision in 2011 to ride the 3D dragon on the film, added another year to the production to make that addition. The good news is that we now have a top 3D team/studio in Kuala Lumpur at our partner, Basecamp Films.
So it all added up to a looong war to get this small epic done. It's been a long time, but I hope you and the fans find it worthwhile. Thanks again for your continued patience and support.
Your story takes place 15 years after the first invasion, which is also roughly 15 years after Wells first published his story in serial form in Pearson's Magazine. First, any relation to C. Arthur Pearson (the magazine's publisher)? And Two, why make the decision to place your story in this era when so many other contemporary adaptations do just that, contemporize it?
Actually, I AM C. Arthur (you may call me "C.") I borrowed Mr. Wells time machine and traveled forward to the 21st century in a madcap attempt to capture Jack the Ripper! I got the bloody bastard and then decided to become an animator.
Seriously, I may well be related to C. Arthur Pearson, through a very distant ancestor, but I don't know. My father's side of the family came over to the New World pretty early on so we've lost all connection to our English roots. But it's a very cool coincidence isn't it.
We placed the story in this area for a number of reasons. First, every other adaptation of the original story was set in a contemporary period with the audience and I felt that much of the original novels power and ruthless charm lie in its Victorian era setting. And when I read the novel (first time was when I was 9 years old) I am always struck by the way it ended. Earth has been saved, but only for the time being. You KNOW the bastards will return someday. They have to. Their planet is dying. So what would Mankind do? We'd get up on our feet, bury our wounded (dead), rebuild and arm up.
Setting it in 1914 seemed like a logical place to maximize the drama of the impending invasion with the impending mass slaughter that was World War 1. I was one semester away from my B.A. in History at University when I switched over to an Art major so I studied this period heavily. Once you set our story in this time frame, it almost wrote itself. And we can bring in these bigger then life historical figures, like Teddy Roosevelt, Tesla and Richthoffen.
Your movie mixes old and new technology. Steampunk and lasers. Humanity learns to adopt alien technology to aid in their defense yet their vehicles are still driven by conventional means. Your choice of time period obviously lends itself to keep this level of technology. What is it about steampunk that you appreciate?
What's not to love with Steampunk? The baroque mix of technology, the metal and brass hand crafted detail and exposed, moving parts, the sexy noir quality of working with steam engines. All of these are a visual feast and somehow more "emotional" in their visceral connection to the human mind then slicker, more contemporary industrial design. I mean, 1200 foot long, lead zeppelin aircraft carriers. Visually, it doesn't get any better then that for me.
And it IS a logical extrapolation for the unique retro-history of War of the Worlds: Goliath.
I've always loved the steampunk aesthetic, beginning with Disney's seminal 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea movie and their absolutely perfect design for the Nautilus. Then there was the beautiful First Men in the Moon feature and Master of the World. And there was an amazing 1950's black and white steampunk movie from the Czech's called The Fabulous World of Jules Verne. They used a unique technique of live action actors and props and backgrounds that looked like Victorian era etchings. All of this was grist for the mill for the fevered brain of Young Joe.
Some in the steampunk community have been very vocal in their charges that in someways War of the Worlds: Goliath is technically more "dieselpunk" in it's usage of early 30's building and tech. That's pretty fair and I would say accurate. What I wanted to do was blend the two periods which again, would be logical in a world affected by the alien tech left behind by the Martians. So you have Richthoffen flying a souped up tri-plane that is really a fusion of 1914 aircraft tech and the classic Fokker tri-plane, but with a big radial engine and airframe more akin to the big, powerful racing planes of the 30's.
That's not an accidental design decision. When I started working out the tech with the design team at Studio Climb in Kuala Lumpur (the best team I've ever worked with BTW), I told that what I wanted across the board for our design aesthetic was a "1914 meets 1930 meet Star Wars" blend. And I think that's pretty much what we put on the screen.
You end your film in an optimistic note yet it still feels open to more story, that it continues beyond that final battle in London. Is that a correct assumption? Do you have more of the Goliath story that you wish to tell?
Oh yes, we definitely wanted an open-ended conclusion to our movie. The Martian's landed all over the planet so the War has really just begun. I've got a rough draft of a sequel written out and it would be a great follow-up and continuation to the current movie. We'd take the war over to Europe and the campaign to liberate France (kind of like a steam/diesel punk version of D-Day. Along the way we'd spend a lot of time getting to know our core team better--Eric and Jennifer meeting her industrial magnate father. Telsa making new "toys" for killing Martians. Paris becoming a Martian "hive". Shah and Patrick having dinner up in Harlem with Abe and his family. Interrogating captured Martians. Meeting up with Patrick's brother who's led an Irish Rebellion from England, etc.
Lot's of good stuff to show and tell and we will IF the fans support and this first film. That's a promise.
Kevin Eastman, co-creator of TMNT and owner of Heavy Metal, is an executive producer on your film. Were you able to glean anything from his experiences?
Kevin was a great Executive Producer. Without his support and name, the project may never have got off the ground.
Kevin and I have been friends since the mid-90's and partners from 2000 to 2006 in Heavy Metal Entertainment. We tried for 6 years to raise the funds for a slate of Heavy Metal branded direct-to-video movies that we'd create and produce and distribute through the Heavy Metal brand. We could write book about our "adventures" with various investment entities. 'Classic, indeed. We go very close, but in the end, we just couldn't close for the final funds.
But when the chance came to make a single movie with funds from Malaysia, Kevin came on board to Executive Produce.
Aside from his trust and confidence in me as the director of the movie and his unstinting support for our film via Heavy Metal magazine--we've run many War of the Worlds: Goliath comics stories in Heavy Metal and promoted for four years at the Heavy Metal booth at the SDCC--was his own grace and composure while dealing with some really unpleasant characters and outcomes in our fund raising times. Throughout the whole process he kept calm and kept the faith between us. He was a great partner and friend. A real stand-up guy.
(My thanks to Katrina Wan for arranging this interview and trading e-mails between myself and Joe)