Alex Garland: "Annihilation" | Talks at Google
You. Swapping. The giggle thanks. Very much yeah so, saw. It this phenomenal, comes, out on February 23rd. Globally. And so we're, super excited so. This, is based on a novel and. So by, jeff of and Aamir's of, trilogy, southern reach, so. I want to talk about a little bit about when was your first time when you discovered the book i read the book and what attracted it to it uh it, was sent to me by a. Producer. I just worked with him on this movie, ex machina and I. Was. In post-production, so. Editing, and so on of ex machina he, sent me a book and he said you. Should take a look at this and I. Read. It and. And. Sort. Of decided, as I, was, reading it that I'd like to give it a try. Adapting. It. It. Had two particular, things it's, it's, genuinely, original, as, a book and that. Is unusual. In itself, because. Most. Stories, that we encounter, in literature. And in cinema, and in television are. Actually, repeats. Of stories that we tell ourselves again, and again and again for whatever reason, it's, like a form of reassurance. Or a. Ritual. That we need, or enjoy or something and this wasn't like that it just stepped outside it completely, so first. Off it was original, and, it also had a very very powerful strange. Atmosphere, the. The, reading, of the book is a little bit like. Having, a dream and. That. Was also very unusual. It, presented, a lot of issues in terms of how you adapt, it I've worked on adaptations. Before, where. You have a, certain kind of narrative, that you're almost cutting, and pasting the. Narrative, and. This. I couldn't see how a function like that but the thing that it attracted. Me to it was true. Originality, and, this crazy. Trippy, atmosphere, right, and you. Know you wrote, your novel the beach back in the 1990s. And then long, time ago and, it was adapted into a, film so. What, was your experience like now kind of on the river so you had your book adapt it into a film and now you're adapting a book, well. I, mean. That. Was 20-something. Years a long, time ago and I've. Been working in film I basically stopped writing books and I started writing films, and working in film. Over. That period of time I'd, done I, think. Three adaptations. As. Films, that got made of anyway, one, was never let me go which.
Was A adaptation. Of a book one, was Dredd which is an adaptation of, a British, comic. Strip character called Judge Dredd from a sort of anthology, series called, 2000ad, and, then. There was this anihilation, that was the third one and in, each case it was different never. Let me go very or. Almost slavish, adaptation. Of the book. Dredd. Is. Like a set, in a big sci-fi world I work in a low-budget arena I can't really do that stuff so, I was faithful to, the character, it. Was an adaptation of, the character, and in this instance it was like an adaptation, of, the atmosphere, I would say broadly, that's. That's very broad what, was it like it was really, really hard I mean it was seriously, difficult, but. That's. Okay that's. That's. The job what about Jeff Vandermeer so the you know the original author, of the book did you work with him did you get any advice from him did you clear, out the clear anything with him or did he kind of say yeah do, what you definitely because, he's, having having. Written novels years ago and had them adapted. And. Really, what I am is a writer but that when, I think of what my job is I'd say I'm a writer and so. I I feel an affinity with, the writer of the book and a kind of duty to. Them and, what. I said to Jeff was I'm not gonna I was up front I said, I'm not going to be able to do a beat, by beat adaptation. This because I don't know how to do it somebody, else might be able to do it but it's not me and so. In a sense partly, what I needed from Jeff was his blessing, his permission and then. I wrote a screenplay and I showed it to him was. It yeah. Yep and it's, it's, crazy because it have how many of you guys read the book people yeah, I'm cool the book is I just, read it and I was, spread because the characters don't have names I just go, by kind of rocky that's right and biologists. Of a psychologist. Right and so and, do that in the film Wow it's so great yeah yeah you need character name especially you. Don't need them but what. I figured, was, if. You didn't have names. Because. We use names when we're talking to each other and. If you completely, avoided, that in a film it might feel arch you. Know it. Might feel like an affectation and, in a book it I, think. Because it's such a sort of internal, first-person, book it it, doesn't, matter and it's actually kind of cool but, in a film I didn't I didn't want it to feel mannered, in that way so, I just gave them names in.
So, Ex. Machina which. You worked on before this it was your first directorial debut. What. Did you take away or learn from that fellows director that you brought over to this film what was easier for everything or nothing. Basically. Anyway. The job never changes, I. Find. Myself repeating this again and again but it's because of I think it's the way we perceive film. Which. Is as a pyramid, structure and at the top of the pyramid is a director, and it's. It's, just not my personal, experience, of filmmaking. I. Don't. Really like pyramid, structures, anyway I have to say they're not they're not my scene but. I. I. Would see it more like a mountain, range a mountain. Range with, a kind of parallax, effect happening, so, sometimes. One mountain, feels more prevalent, than another, then you shift your perspective and everything's different, and. That. Has always been, the case at. Different times in the process in, development. Shooting. Post-production. The. Parallax, is shifting, that. Didn't change before, ex machina after. And. And. The, truest, way I can, say it is that it's a collective, I work, in a collective, and it's. A group of people some of them I've worked with for 20 years. Some, people come in new and then they have to learn the vibe of how, the collective. Works together. I'm, not saying this as lip service it's literally, true. It's. It's something, like a version, of anarchy. It's, but it's not Anarchy as chaos it's Anarchy, where you have a, collective. Of autonomous. Bodies who are all working towards, the same goal, and. That. That's the sort of methodology. So. I never, sort, of quote-unquote coax a performance, out of an actor the actor is responsible, for their performance, after. We do a lineup, rehearsal. And all the crew comes in to see what the blocking looks like I, then, turn to the DOP, and I don't say put a camera here but that lens on it and move it like this I say how do you want to shoot it and that. Is the whole process, the whole way through Wow, and so. You talk about you know working with a lot of same people and and and kind of building up your crew your without Oscar Isaac on ex machina yeah and you, brought him back for this so what was oh, well, I came back it gets bored what. Was when, did you guys meet and what kind of wanted you to recast. Him again this just a good partner we met in, ex machina, trying. To find the right cast and, Oscar. Is. A. Bunch, of things you. Know, part of what I'm saying part of what I just said before relies. On like-minded. People mm-hmm. Okay so if if you're not going to fit in to that vibe it's not going to work, and. Oscar. Fits, into that very naturally, because, he's a very self possessed actor. He, he, thinks about it on his own he comes to a conclusion he, arrives between. Takes, he varies, the takes, he. Says I want to try it like this and then he tries it like that so. It's partly that he's just a flat-out. Brilliant. Actor he's, very self possessed he's also a good guy to have around he's, very witty it's got a fantastic sense, of humor he's kind of relaxed. Like. What's not to like ya. Know he's. Phenomenal nice when I'm on this he's phenomenal. On ex machina you, have an incredible cast with Natalie Portman and who plays lead Gina Rodriguez Tessa Thompson, Jennifer. Jason Leigh and so what's also. Brilliant. Ya know and it's it's. A phenomenal, phenomenal cast so when you're casting your lead. And you're kind of looking at the characters in the book and then you're trying to adapt that to to what your vision is where'd you land on especially with Natalie being the lead how would you find her and and what. Qualities did she bring to that where you're like this is this is my Lena what. What natalie has. As, an actor is. She's. Got these two concurrent, things going, on at the same time one. Of them is an enormous amount of poise. She's. She's. Kind of a she is a powerful. Presence. In. Her. Behavior. In the way she looks in this sort of aura around her, and all that kind of stuff I'm, talking about. Primarily. Talked about in terms of performance, because. Obviously that's the thing that is on the screen and that's what you're looking for but, she also has something else, which. Is she has the ability to, demonstrate. Damage. Between. The cracks and, so. As well, as having all of these actually, rather intimidating features. There's. Something, she can tap into which, is broken and. Explosive. And. And, kind of wild, and. So. There's a sort of subversion. Inside. Her and that. Made her exactly.
Right For this particular character. Yeah. And she's, absolutely for the entire cast is just so well well Caston. And and so well chosen and phenomenal, and the movie is just it's crazy, we're we talked about this little confident where it's just it's really weird it's a mind-numbing. Thing and it's phenomenal. Like it's so so, so freakin good cool but. We're. Actually. Was. There any kind of no but was there any kind of like no, it's, it's no but like was. There any inspiration in terms of the story cuz a dick change from the novel where did you kind of pull from in terms of it was a story you're arresting on for a while or, to just kind of evolve, as you're right now there, was two things I think always when. I'm working there's something that's obsessing, me for some reason or another, and. In. This case it was about self destruction I, I. Had this kind of thing. That I'd become. Aware. Of, or. I believe I'd, become aware of which. Was that. Everyone. I know. And. I would speculate, everybody, in the room at, the moment is. Self-destructive. And. You. Meet some people and, their self-destruction is very apparent they almost offer it up to you. They're, an alcoholic, there are heroin addicts they keep. Committing. Crimes they recidivist, or whatever it is and and. You can see it's it's sort of demonstrated. And then you also meet people who, are. Very. Confident, comfortable. In their own skin they've. Got a great job they a lot of money they, have, a fantastic family and, you feel always. Slightly. On the backfoot because, those people are intimidating, and you also feel, that they have cracked life in some kind of way they've cracked it and then, if you become very close to one of those people you discover, odd fissures. Here, and there and you discover, very. Strange. Bits, of meaningless. Self-destructive. Behavior, and, it was the meaninglessness, of the self-destructive, behavior that I found interesting and. People. Are. The. You, know even, this sort of supernaturally. Prepossessed. Person is is, sort of dismantling their job or their dismantling, of or, they're dismantling their marriage and. And. And, so that, became, the kind of fixation, that, was overlaid, onto this film it is basically, a film about self-destruction, and it has a kind of thesis within, it about why we do that and. And. Before the various, forms, in which it takes, us opposed and. Then. In terms of overlaying, that onto Jeff's really beautiful. Novel, which. Is about another kind of destruction, more eco, the planet. I thought. Reading, this book is like a dream, so. So. What I'm gonna do is I'm going to adapt it like a dream, I'm. I'm, not going to reread the book I'm, gonna adapt, it from my memory of the book and. And. In, a way that was what Jeff gave me permission to do so in some places it will correlate, very closely in another, places it won't do, tap in that feeling that you got from the book versus just how, it's. A dream response, to a dream book very kind of and. And. It's an interesting thing as well because then it becomes about the nature of memory I think to an extent as well I and. Years ago I was, watching some TV show and there was a cop talking, about eyewitnesses. And he said eyewitness is a useless I forget, about everyone, thinks an eyewitness is the best thing you can have in solving a crime but it's like the worst and and, what you need is empirical, evidence, fingerprints, and DNA and, stuff like that and, he was saying someone, runs into, a, restaurant, and, there's. A violent, crime and someone's killed and one eyewitness will, say he had a gun shot, five times another. One will say shot once another won't say there wasn't a gun it was a knife and you. You, can't really rely on memory, and actually, in my life I've, often, observed, that's true and. So. It was sort of making, that application. Of that that, thing, about, subjectivity. Are supposed to to, this story and, so it's, it's a beautiful, film beautifully shot and the set design stuff so I want to talk a little bit about that in terms of where was it shot how, did you expand, upon using.
Practical Effects and practical set design first, CGT. Where, it was shot so so. One of the things about this movie was to make everything off, you. Know kind. Of it starts, in a suburban setting, and it ends in a psychedelic I'm setting this is suburbia, to psychedelia, story. And. So. The awfulness, how you get the quality of awfulness was was an important, part of it and. So. What we did was, we. Rather. Than shoot, it it's notionally. Set somewhere, on a coastal, part of north america Florida. Fish, right. And, we could have shot it in northern Florida we could have shot it in Louisiana, it's got a good tax break and all that kind of thing. But. We ended up shooting it in England just outside London and we, dressed, an English. Forest, to. Look, kind. Of like, a distorted. Version, of, a, North American bit, of southern southern. North American, coastline and. In. The hope it would give us some of the other. Night. Miss and a wrongness and I think it you know I kind of think it did yeah, no it's it's great when. You are, working. With scenes, like that and stuff because it's a very complicated film there's a lot going on there, are monsters. So I guess I could call animals, yeah, evoke my animals, and so. When you're working with that was there any what was the most I guess difficult, scene that you had to work with or get right. Birthing, the, film. Got progressively more, difficult because. There's a kind of contract, that is in, a way made with the audience at the beginning of the film which is that this is going to end in a strange place and creating. Strangeness, in a film is complicated. Partly. Because like Jeff's normal it has to be original and. So. We had to find out where we source that strangeness, and that that was part of the question and also, strangeness. Itself, has a kind of diminishing, return so. If you start a story strange and end it strange by the time you get to the end you, acclimatized, to the strangeness and it's, actually lost the quality, that you specifically, wanted at the end so. Hence. Suburbia, I'm, starting, in a suburban setting and and. Progressively. Giving, a film a nudge, forward, into. A more and more hopefully. Earned. Her. Loose men, hallucinogenic. Kind of state, okay. And, we're going to go into we're just a few minutes if you guys want to there's, a mic there if you want to stand there and just make sure you flip it on but. When, you are. When. You're obviously crap in the film and you're shooting it and again editorial, was there anything that you had it cut for timer for pacing that you wish that you could have kept in it or not, was everything was in there you wanted him the.
Part. Of the job is making sure that the end cut, the. End thing, is the thing that the collective, was working, towards, and being respectful, of that and. That. Can involve. Conflict. Sometimes but. But. You've got to stay true to the thing that you intended, to do and. So. Nothing is on the cutting room floor that should have been in there and nothing's in there that shouldn't be in there as a collective, we we. Are judged on the final product so, you, better respect the final product right and do it the way you meant to right in were, there any directors, or films kind, of when, you were growing up that helped, kind of inspired you to become the director that you are when. The writer that you are as well loads. Yeah. I mean. The. First film that ever made a really strong impact, on me was probably Apocalypse, Now. I, also. Loved the first alien, movie I think, it's just an incredibly, beautifully. Constructed, intelligent. Bit of filmmaking and, and. Subversive, as, well I think I like films that are subversive, yeah, you know I like, things that work within genre, and then. Yeah, in, some way yeah. You, mentioned, kind of the. Anarchic. Environment. That you work in when you make your films does, that, bleed. Into when you write or is writing, totally, solo and then, my second, question is, now. That you've done writing. Directing. And both. Do. You have a preference. No. Preference, I think it's the same job, basically. And in. Terms of the solo aspect, yeah, you start writing on your own you do. One. Of the first surprises. I had with writing actually I've been doing it about 25, years and, one. Of the first surprises. Is, the sound like a stupid thing to say but I realized you never get promoted like. Then, there's, no ladder you. Move up because it always begins, with a blank page and. That. Was sort of a shock bizarrely. You know I thought something would happen but. It doesn't so. You. You. Start on your own but. Then. It, then stops and it becomes part of the collective for various reasons one is that the, script is, effectively. Parceled. Out to different departments, production, design and wardrobe. And VFX. And special effects and all that kind of stuff and, all of those people are bringing their interpretation. To it. Also. What happens is actors. Get involved, and you. Are not the possessor, of the character, anymore, when, the actor becomes involved it's actually their character, and what. I found with good actors, and this, is true across the board, hence the collective, right, is that, they they make it better they, elevate, it they, they do things, you just didn't think of and the, first, movie. I ever worked, on before now the first one I ever wrote was a zombie movie 28, days later and there, was an actor in it Brendan Gleeson, and when. He, was doing, the lines I, kept. Hearing, things, that I had not intended or. Thought of, and I realized, right from the get-go what. What. A good actor can do you, know and so. So. Yes it begins on your own but it then really, becomes. Like everything, else in the film which is part of a big conversation, amongst. The autonomous, units. Did. You go. Into writing wanting, to be a director or did you just do. That just comment, like, happen, like. Yeah. I I didn't, I didn't start writing, wanting to be a writer like. None of it was intentional. I was. A backpacker, I started, writing about packing. That turned into a book the book got made into a film I thought, hang on a minute you don't have to sit in a room on your own the whole time you can be with a bunch of other people then. I was working on films and then, gradually. In. A funny way I actually became a director, to sort of get rid of the director, truth. Just. For the absence, of the director. I've. Noticed personally, that I tend to enjoy films. And TV. Shows where the writer and director are one in the same and some, curious your perspective, when you fill both roles what. What advantage does that give you or maybe inversely, if you're only doing one of the two what handicaps, and why, is it that a powerful combination in your mind I.
Think. I, mean. Immediately. My brain starts filling with directors, who are terrific you don't write but what. Your. Point then. I. Think. What it is is, that in. The end probably. The most useful thing, that. You. Can do on set is to, be able to answer a question so. Somebody, is puzzled, over why. This, bit of motivation is happening or why this thing should look like that or whatever happens to be which, happens to all of us right you, are confused, about why you're doing the thing doing and if. You are in the position of writing and directing you're, in a very good position to, offer your opinion an informed. Opinion now, that, doesn't have to get observed. But. It does mean you can say something from a position of some, personal. Knowledge and. And. I think the in in. And amongst the talents it's useful, to have someone, as a sounding, board and and. I think that often what my job is, on a day-to-day level is. Being someone you can have a conversation with, it it. May be that but, but then I'll, tell you another one just, there's. No cookie cutter right and one, thing I've learned is that you never know how a film is made whatever the credit say at the end you never know how a film is made unless you worked on that film and and. The, process is with one group and not the processes, with another and so you. Know different. Ball game with other people, that's. Just me. Hi. I'm. Gonna bring it back to annihilation for a second because I was introduced, to annihilation. And the southern reach trilogy, via, the. Trailer the teaser when I saw it and I just was blown away and it was like what is this thing and. So. I read all the books very sequentially. And there's a little bit of unresolved, Ness, not, only about the first one but about all of them in general and I love that you said the dream state and then your dream of that is what I was drawn into and. I'm curious to know, how. The other two either, play into this or don't at all it's, kind of they, don't touch it in any way that they really don't i mean it's partly because jeff was writing, the trilogy, he, was still actually, writing it while I was writing the screenplay, for the first but. It's not it's not just that I mean that's, just sort, of factually, the state of affairs but. It's also because, I, I. Don't, want to work on. Franchises. I. I. Have, no judgment for, people who do it it's a completely, personal. Position. And it. Doesn't stem from anything. About the nature of franchises. Or sequels, or any thing like that it's, because at the end of a three year process I, know of, myself, already I will not want to work on it again. That's. It thank you. You. Touched on this a little bit about the idea of having this thesis in. Your in your films. Especially, in this one you touched, on how. Early does that come out in your writing process do you start with a thesis or you sometimes discover it during, the process and if you could just maybe, take us through the beginnings, of a story, for yours how. You start with it starts. With a thesis. It'll. Be some particular, thing, that, I have started to get obsessed, with and, I'm thinking, about it, in a repetitive compulsive. Way it's. It's not really an intellectual, process it's a compulsive, process, and. In. In. The. Case of annihilation, it was. Self. Destruction and. This. The odd qualities, of self destruction and, the odd places in which you find it and, in. The thing I'm working on at the moment it. Was a principle called. Determinism. A sort, of product, of living. In a physical, universe of, cause and effect and. Some. Of the implications of that to do with free will and. And. What potentially, one could predict of actions, and, that. Kind of thing and so. I get interested, in that I started to read about it I start, to I. Start. To obsess and then. At, some point not intentionally. A narrative arrives, that. Inevitably. Is, dovetailed. To, the. Thing I'm obsessed, about at that moment and, it's another reason why I don't work on sequels, because, because. I want to be interested, in something else and I. Will be interested in something else because I've got a limited, capacity to be to. Know, much, about anything right, at a certain point so I feel okay I've learned this up to my ability or I've explored it up to my ability what's, next, kind, of it's, not quite as prosaic as that but it more. Or less. In. The last question. Nowadays. I know that original, content is so hard to come by and so. For. You being a writer and coming up with original ideas. And, stuff like that are you constantly. Thinking. About you. Know what the next original idea is gonna be or, is. It just one day something pops into your head and you just you know go for it well.
In. All honesty I'm not sure I think, this is one of the reasons I was interested in Jeff's book is I'm not sure I do come, up with original ideas I'm not sure that's what I do i I, think I often, work within existing, ideas, and, sometimes. Then. Use, the ability to subvert. Them or play, around with them. So. No I'm not thinking about what, is the next original idea I I wouldn't. Be able to think like that even if I wanted to if. I think back up the things I've written as spec scripts so. Say. A film like 28, days later or a film like X Mac you know I can point you towards a lot of zombie movies and I can point you towards a lot of movies that are concerned with artificial intelligence or, the nature of sentence, or objectification. Or, whatever, the, concern. Is within the thing in. A way that's partly why I found the book anihilation, so, interesting, is because maybe. I lack the capacity to do that and jeff has done that and that that's a that's. A that's like a honey, to, be nectar. They make honey. Sent. Some sort of appropriate, analogy. And. To. Wrap up as, a. Screenwriter. And novelist and. Director. What, piece, of advice have you received that, has been that's kind of stuck with you over the years. The. Only the. First bit of advice that came into my head was, my dad when I was a kid saying if you think someone's gonna hit you hit them first. It. Was more just a general life yes I got fair, enough. It. Doesn't apply. Okay. I. Cannot. Top that so thank you so much for. Go. Watch it phenomenal, thanks, so much. You.