Europa Report is a new found-footage sci-fi flick that follows a group of astronauts who travel to the Jupiter moon of Europa in search for signs of life. They find nothing unusual and return to Earth without incident. Just kidding; of course they don’t. We spoke to director Sebastian Cordero about the science behind the art.
How did Europa Report come about?
The script was already written and the producers were looking for a director. I was lucky. They approached me, which is odd because I had never done any sci-fi before. The films I did in Ecuador were mostly gritty realism. I feel that the producers saw in me potential, in terms of dealing with tensions in an enclosed space. One of my films had a character that hid in the cellar of a mansion, which I think has a lot in common with the tension we wanted in Europa Report. I’m very much an actor’s director. I’m very concerned about performances, about making sure the actors get where they need to for the role. It was a huge responsibility, to do something I hadn’t done before.
As a teenager, I was a huge sci-fi fan. I was really into Isaac Asimov and Arthur C. Clark and Philip K. Dick. When I read the script [for Europa Report] I thought it was really unusual for me, and I thought I could do something very interesting with it. When I pitched them my take, they were really into it.
Was it scripted to be a “found footage” film?
It was already scripted like that; however, there were a lot of things that we reworked. When I came on board and started working with [writer] Phil Gelatt , but the concept was all in there. There was a lot that changed along the way while we were editing. I just made sure we really respected it. I know when I am watching a found footage film, I get upset when halfway through it, it breaks from the rules that were set up in the film. I wanted to make sure that didn’t happen.
You mentioned that you are an “actor’s director.” I think this really comes through in this film, because Europa Report is the kind of film that lives or dies by its cast and they all worked very well together. How did you go about casting?
When I first read the script, I thought this could really be a dream cast, from the perspective of getting amazing actors. Found footage films usually deal with people who were unknowns, and we thought about that, but very quickly we realized it wasn’t necessary. People go to the movie theater and they know they are watching fiction. But I think it was a very good call not to have any huge stars to break the spell. We went with great actors - and great actors from all over the world.
How scientifically accurate were you in shooting the science stuff - or how accurate were you trying to be?
We were trying to be as accurate as possible. We were all on the same page very early on that what could make this movie unique was if we stuck to the hard science behind it. It’s a challenge, because it is very tempting along the way to say that the story is more important than the accuracy. When I was prepping the film, my biggest inspiration wasn’t any of the big sci-fi masterpieces; it was actually the documentary For All Mankind, about the Apollo missions. What was inspiring about that was that it has this reach and scope that is up there with any of the big science fiction films - but it’s all real. It is so thrilling and the sense of wonder and discovery is there. It is the one film I gave to every cast member and crew member to watch before we started. We were very lucky to also have some great advisors on board, people from JPL. We were able to visit the Space X facilities, and I was feeding on that all the time. Overall, what we depict in the film is pretty accurate to what we know. Once the JPL guys saw the film, they were thrilled and excited about it. For me, that was one of the biggest achievements we could have had.