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Meet the 2011 Sundance Filmmakers | “Another Earth” Director Mike Cahill

Meet the 2011 Sundance Filmmakers | "Another Earth" Director Mike Cahill

Rhoda Williams, a bright young woman accepted into MIT’s astrophysics program, aspires to explore the cosmos. A brilliant composer, John Burroughs, has just reached the pinnacle of his profession and is about to have a second child with his loving wife. On the eve of the discovery of a duplicate Earth, tragedy strikes and the lives of these strangers become irrevocably intertwined. Estranged from the world and the selves they once knew, the two outsiders begin an unlikely love affair and reawaken to life. But when one is presented with the chance of a lifetime opportunity to travel to the other Earth and embrace an alternative reality, which new life will they choose?

In this auspicious debut, director/cowriter Mike Cahill offers a taut, superbly conceived science-fiction romance that marks the emergence of the multitalented actor/cowriter Brit Marling. Marrying character with high concept, “Another Earth” lures audiences to go where no one has gone before. [Synopsis courtesy of Sundance Film Festival]

“Another Earth”
U.S. Dramatic Competition
Director: Mike Cahill
Screenwriter: Mike Cahill, Brit Marling
Executive Producer: Tyler Brodie, Paul Mezey
Producer: Hunter Gray, Mike Cahill, Brit Marling, Nicholas Shumaker
Associate Producer: Phaedon Papadopoulos
Music: Fall on Your Sword
Casting: James Calleri, Paul Davis

Responses courtesy of “Another Earth” director Mike Cahill.

The power of montage…

I was attracted to filmmaking ever since I was a kid, playing with a Fisher Price camcorder. I remember discovering the power of montage as a 10 year old when I juxtaposed a shot of a toy car with a shot of my brother in a real car. The simple idea of combining images to create new meaning blew my mind. From that moment I wanted to tell stories through montage.

Our relationship with ourselves…

The film sprung from a basic idea: what would it be like to meet oneself? Our relationship with ourselves is an internal one. But what if it could be external? If we could confront ourselves, what would we feel? Would we love that person, despise him, judge him? And if we had done something terribly wrong, would we have the capacity to forgive that person? Take this concept, extrapolate it so that everyone in the entire world can experience this possibility and you have “Another Earth.”

A hands-on approach…

I have a very “do-er” mentality. I don’t like to wait until everything is set up to start making something. At first I started experimenting with compositing another planet in the sky in short video clips. When I saw that could work, I kept going. Brit, my brilliant collaborator in writing, and star of the film, and I wrote a basic treatment for the story and then just picked up a camera and started making the film. Once the ball started rolling, incredible talent joined on – the wicked smart producers, Paul Mezey (“Half Nelson,” “Maria Full of Grace”) Hunter Gray (“Momma’s Man”), Tyler Brodie (“Pi”) guided us into a full production. William Mapother (“Lost,” “In the Bedroom”) signed on, as well as other very talented actors, composers, and visual FX masters – and together took the small project to the level it is now.

A high concept and an independent story…

The biggest challenge was merging a high concept with an independent minded story. Interweaving the science fiction element of another planet with a complex drama about redemption required a sensitive balance to make it believable. We were aware of that challenge at every stage, writing, shooting, and editing.

Snow and diapers…

A peculiar detail worth mentioning is the snow. The film takes place over several different seasons. But for some strange reason, scheduling or something, I still can’t figure it out – we shot it backwards, winter stuff in the spring and spring stuff in the winter. So the majority of the snow in the film is fake – either stolen from the back of a hockey rink or the mashed up insides of diapers – who would’ve thought (other than our production designer) that diaper insides mixed with water makes very believable snow!

“Anorther Earth” director Mike Cahill. Image courtesy of the Sundance Institute.

Waiting for the final scene…

I’m super curious to see how audiences will react because the film is not like anything I’ve ever seen before. I have a feeling people will be coming in expecting one thing and yet experience something entirely different. And I hope the Sundance audience will experience the same transcendental emotion that I feel when the final scene plays out.

A double life…

I am a big fan of Krystof Kieslowski and his films that explore the metaphysical. Particularly influential on “Another Earth,” is the film “Double Life of Veronique” – a story about two young women who may or may not be dual souls or doppelgängers. How Kieslowski asks questions about fate and choice, free will, and how his work always touches upon the divine had such a profound affect on me. Every film I will ever make from now until I’m 99 will ponder something about the metaphysical and what our existence is all about. It is all I care about.

Up next…

I wrote two other scripts – one about reincarnation, the other about a fashion designer who lives at the bottom of the sea.

[indieWIRE invited directors with films in the Sundance U.S. Dramatic & Documentary Competitions as well as the World Dramatic & Documentary Competitions and NEXT section to submit responses in their own words about their films. These profiles are being published through the beginning of the 2011 Sundance Film Festival. To prompt the discussion, iW asked the filmmakers about what inspired their films, the challenges they faced and other general questions. They were also free to add additional comments related to their projects.]

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