When it comes to movie pitches, we imagine Steven Spielberg hasn't had the same trouble as Vincenzo Natali.
Natali has had to source funding for sci-fi movies based in one sole location (Cube), in a void of eternal nothingness (Nothing), and now for one involving a sexually charged mutant moth woman (Splice).
Splice tells the story of two misguided scientists (Adrien Brody and Sarah Polley) who go ahead and splice the DNA of a human with that of animals and plants to create a human-chimera - things, as you'd expect, don't exactly go to plan.
We sat down with the director to discuss the movie's evolution, how he managed to nail such a unique creature on a limited budget, and how he had to wrestle with the studio to make the movie he really wanted to bring to life.
Sky Movies: Splice was originally meant to be your next project after Cube (way back in 1997). Where did you get the inspiration from?
Vincenzo Natali: Strangely enough, a medical experiment focused on a mouse called the Vacanti mouse. It wasn’t actually a genetic experiment but it looked like one, and I felt like there was a movie in the mouse.
I’ve always been interested in creatures and creature movies. I’m actually shocked that nobody has done a genetic Frankenstein type story. I kept waiting to read about it – to have my dreams dashed by some big budget Hollywood production that would use a similar concept, but it never materialized. It just seemed so obvious.
SM: How do you feel you've managed to keep a film that was essentially 15 years in the making feel so current?
VN: Science caught up with my idea – that’s all it was. I think part of the reason the movie took so long is because some of the ideas we’re playing with weren’t in the public consciousness. But by the time the movie was made, the science really grew into my story in a way. To be honest, it’s really just about how slow I am as a writer <laughs>.
SM: How did the story change over the development time?
VN: In essence, it was always the same. In the case of Splice, all the major players were in place from the very beginning and the overall arc of the story is the same – it was more about making the pieces fit. It was challenging because it’s a very loaded topic, with many inherent issues and fears and I had a hard time wrestling them, and getting it to be a story about one or two things.
SM: I think you successfully managed to make an ethically charged movie without becoming preachy - is that what you were after? Or did you intend on making a message movie?
VN: No no no, I think I feel that the film deals with some very interesting things, but I like it when you leave something to the audience to allow them to draw their own conclusions. I felt it was such a charged issue that I didn’t want to get up on a soapbiox, because frankly I think it’s a very complex issue.
I have very ambiguous feelings about the topic and I basically support it, but clearly there are tremendous dangers, and on some level the movie isn’t even about the science. It’s kind of a family story – it’s about the relationship. It was the emotional component of the story that really excited me – far more than a creature feature about genetic engineering.
SM: I agree. While it's technically labelled a 'creature feature' I feel it has much more to it than that - did you find it hard to sell your vision to a studio who was expecting a monster movie?
VN: <laughs> Oh yeah. It was never going to be a Hollywood film. I mean, I tried, I did. But for some reason I couldn’t. I think it’s a strange movie. <SPOILER ALERT> I mean, let’s face it – at one point Adrien Brody has sex with a hybrid moth. <laughs>
SM: <laughs> How do you even begin to pitch that?!
VN: <laughs> Well, apparently not very well. I was at the height of my influence right after Cube – I was very aggressive about taking it around. I think that genre movies in Hollywood are treated with a very conservative approach. I think that they tend to be very formulaic and anything that deviates from the formula they’re not really interested in, because – let’s face it – the formula works. It’s what makes money and so with a movie like Splice it was going to involve somebody taking a risk. I was at a stage in my career where they were willing to do that.
SM: Is it quite gratifying artistically to get these glowing reviews back and to say I told you so?
VN: Yes, although we didn’t make a huge amount of money at the box office so I can’t really say I told you so! I’m very proud of the movie, but you just never know – with every movie I make, to be perfectly honest, is always an experiment. I’m a bit of a mad scientist myself – I never know the kind of movie I’m going to make.
A lot of people said ‘you can never make a movie set solely in one room’ and they may have been right, but I did Cube. I made a movie called Nothing with only two characters set in a void, but that’s what makes it exciting. The possibililty of catastrophe is what makes making those movies so thrilling.
SM: How did you find it working on such a special-effects heavy movie? I mean, they were so integral to selling Dren as a character.
VN: Yeah, it was scary just because it had a very limited budget. It’s only through the tremendous skill of the visual effects and make-up artists that we managed to pull it off. That’s what gave me the most stress on the whole project. If Dren doesn’t work, if you see any cracks in the façade then the movie fails.
SM: Did the design of Dren go through a – no pun intended – evolution?
VN: Yeah it did. I think I always considered her as a genetically engineered angel. Dren’s design is rooted in myth and this is a 21st century take on that. When I started drawing her it was without any kind of research. What I came up with was a very tacky version of what Dren could be. It took a number of far more talented artists to take what I’d imagined and really make her a creature you can believe in – a creature that’s biologically possible.
SM: It's the obvious question, but would you be interested in a sequel?
VN: I don’t think that there will be a sequel to be honest. I know the film’s quite open ended, but I felt that this was the correct ending for the story. Having said that, if we had broken box office records, then I would’ve thought about it. But I’m totally fine with that – I love ending films with a question. And as an audience I love walking away asking those questions.
With my first movie, Cube, I actually felt sorry for the people making the sequels because I just thought that was a story that didn’t lend itself to a first or second part. It was hard enough to do one story set in a Cube, let alone three!
Splice is released theatrically in the UK Friday 23rd July 2010.