The director and star of ‘Distrcit 9’ prepare to embrace the future

In District 9, aliens live in slum-like conditions for nearly three decades in an area called District 9. There is a private weapons manufacturer called MNU (Multi-National Unit), who are set to relocate the 2.5 million aliens to another area that is similar to a concentration camp. MNU promote a geeky and naïve office worker (Sharlto Copley) for coordinate the task. Unfortunately, he comes into contact with some alien DNA that makes an outlaw. Director Neill Blomkemp and star Sharlto Copley were on hand for interviews in Miami to promote District 9.
Before Blomkemp directed this film, he was being groomed by producer and Oscar-winning director Peter Jackson (The Lord of the Rings trilogy) to direct the big-screen adaptation of the bestselling video game Halo. Thanks to his short film that Blomkemp shot with some friends about aliens in Johannesburg, South Africa called Alive in Joberg, he was in New Zealand working on pre-production for Halo.
After spending five months working on the film, Halo failed to launch thanks to several disagreements between studios Universal Pictures and 20th Century Fox.
“When Halo fell over and because Peter Jackson had all of my work, he said ‘You do not have to stop working because we can get you another film to direct and green light something else’,” Blomkemp says.
Jackson’s frequent collaborator Fran Walsh suggested that Alive in Joburg could expand into a full-length motion picture, even though Blomkemp never thought about doing that.
“I don’t know why, but it was never meant to be a full-length film,” Blomkamp says. “For some reason, I thought of the short film as a small thing”.
When Blomkemp came up with the concept for District 9, he relied on science fiction influences he grew up with and his home country.
“When I left Johannesburg in 1997, I was just becoming interested in the city’s political and racial history,” Blomkemp says. “One day, I asked ’What if I could put science fiction in that setting and I just felt like it could be something I would be happy to work and succeed”.
For the concept and creation of the extraterrestrials in the movie, Blomkemp had 900 illustrations with the first 400 a different creature than the one in the film.
“The way they were written in the story was basically insect-like hive and that they are worker drones who have lost their queen,” Blomkamp says. “When I realized that, I threw out all the illustrations and started doing something based a hard surface crustaceous-like insect.”
As the designs started to go in that direction, Blomkemp said that he knew that had to be a derogatory name for the insect-like aliens.
“I was just trying to take in as much inspiration from South Africa as possible,” Blomkemp says. “This film is inspired by South Africa and I used elements in South Africa to turn into science fiction. Once they looked like insects, I thought it would be funny if South Africans could not get it right.
Blomkemp said that even though they are not insects, the aliens are given the name “Prawn”, which is a real shrimp-like creature and the name just stuck.
For the role of the MNU office worker with some funky alien DNA, Blomkemp casted fellow filmmaker and childhood friend who helped with Alive in Joburg, Sharlto Copley. 15 years ago, Copley hired a then-14 year-old Blomkemp as an intern in a South African television production studio.
“I was more like I abused him because I could not hire him and I got him to some work for nothing,” Copley says. “It is even worse for me now because he has changed my whole life.”
When it came to working with his best friend, Copley said that he was comfortable with Blomkemp and the work he was creating because they did made three short films together.
“There is an enormous amount of trust between,” Coplay says. “I trusted him in the film he was making and I kept throwing stuff at him. Normally, he would be glad with two to three takes and I would be glad to give hi, 20 to 30 takes if that is what it takes.”
With District 9 becoming Copley’s first big lead role in a film, he said he was comfortable and drew on many life experiences in order to bring his character to life.
“I really lived stuff and had interesting life experiences from South Africa from holding a gun on people and being in a shootout in a building to having my heart broken,” Copley says.
As for difficulties during production of the movie, Copley said that there were many difficult things on different ways. Some physically demanding scenes included a scene where Copley was wrestling with two big guys and being put in a body bag. As soon as they put him in the bag and zipped it all the way up, he took two breaths and realized there was no air.
“From an acting point-of-view, it would be the dramatic scenes because I never did anything remotely like that,” Copley said. “I am always doing voices and messing around with my friends growing up. I need to spend five minutes before I went into an emotional scene to kind of zone out from everybody and get my head into it.”
Copley said he would love to make another chapter in the District 9 universe if someone finds a way to put the setting back in the slums again.
“Whether it a sequel or a prequel, I will absolutely do it,” Copley says.
As for any interest in trying to re-launch the making of Halo, Blomkemp would turn it down because the Halo world has already been designed and does exist.
“What I learned from District 9 and Halo is that the best thing to do is to work from the ground up,” Blomkemp says.


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