Screen Relish was recently given the pleasure of an interview with Robert Mond, the director of the new indie sci-fi thriller THE SUBJECTS (check out Screen Relish’s review of the film here). Mond spoke with us about his motivations behind the film and his experiences in film-making.
Screen Relish: Where did you come up with the inspiration for THE SUBJECTS?
Robert Mond: I’ve always been a [bit] of a geek; especially a film geek. Some of my favourite films growing up were superhero films, and that love continued to grow over the years. I can honestly say I’ve seen them all. And while watching these films again and again, I always had this need to do one myself. When I went to San Diego Comic-Con four years ago, the superhero idea finally came to me. I was in the famous line for Hall H, it’s the really big convention space where all the major films show their exclusive footage. It’s a long line and ends up being a good time to think. I knew I was going to see a bunch of superhero films get talked about, and I found it funny how many people around me were wearing superhero costumes. Some people are fun cosplayers, but there are others [who] take it much more seriously. Almost walking around like they really have their [costume’s] abilities. So [I’m seeing] all these people dressed up, and I thought, If that guy standing next to me got Captain America’s abilities, I feel like he would do terrible things, or be really useless. I couldn’t stop laughing about it and thought, There’s something in that, the idea that if real people actually got powers, they’d probably do everything opposite to what we see in the superhero films I grew up with.
SR: In THE SUBJECTS, several strangers participating in a clinical drug trial develop different superpowers. Why did you choose to include the powers that you did?
RM: I was really keen to create new powers. Something I’d never seen before, or at least choose powers I had seen but have the outcomes of those powers dealt with in a realistic manner. One of the hardest things was coming up with interesting powers; something new. That took months. I also wanted a few powers that are just terrible. Superheroes always get something cool, but if getting a power is random which in many cases in the comics it is, it stands to reason people might end up with something useless. Spider-man gets bitten by a spider and takes all the good abilities of a spider. Lucky he doesn’t need to live on flies. So I wanted to make these new powers fun and original. Something the audience hadn’t seen before. As for the powers they had seen such as teleportation I really wanted to deal with it in a realistic and crazy way. And when people see that sequence they’ll know exactly what I mean.
SR: Superhero films have been quite abundant recently. THE SUBJECTS is obviously not the conventional superhero film, given its focus on the powers rather than the people. Other than this aspect, what sets your film apart from all of the others in the genre?
RM: I think superhero films are always quite grand. They [involve] buildings or even cities being destroyed by larger-than-life villains and heroes. I wanted to make it more intense and focused. I was always inspired by RESERVOIR DOGS, a heist film that isn’t really about a heist. Well I see THE SUBJECTS as a superhero films that’s not just about the big action sequences. It’s really about the powers and how one would react if they got them. I also think for the world audiences it’s nice to see a genre film that isn’t surrounding one major star. So far when people watch the film they often have no idea where it’s going. I think that’s because there is no one star. It’s an ensemble cast that all have as much chance of anyone to survive. It allows the twists and turns to have much more punch. And lastly we did the special effects hand drawn frame by frame. It took a year. We didn’t create 3D models like you see in most superhero films. We carefully drew every frame to make it look as connected to the characters as possible. That was a long and crazy process but it gives the film a cool unique look.
SR: According to your filmography on IMDb, You did not begin directing until 2011, when you directed the short RECEPTION. Why did you decide to get into directing? Having just directed your first full feature film, are you planning on furthering your directing career?
RM: I have been making films since I was 17 but I won’t be showing any of them until RECEPTION in 2011. When I left school my parents didn’t want me to pursue filmmaking even though it [had been] my dream since I was ten. So, I ended up having to teach myself while I [was doing] a boring Computer Science degree. My first few shorts were a real learning experience. I also started working as a TV producer when I was about twenty-three at Fremantle Media, and later Channel 9. TV was a really fun time and I produced some shows I’m really proud of, but the entire time I really desperately just wanted to make a feature film. After the success of RECEPTION and then LOVE’S END I believed I was finally ready. Teaching [myself] film [was] definitely a long road, but it was well worth it.
SR: What was the most challenging aspect of making this film (from your point of view)?
RM: I think it takes an immeasurable amount of dedication to make an indie film. You need to be so passionate every day to get it done. And you need to surround yourself with people just as passionate as you. Once I had [done] that, the really difficult think was ensuring that for a one-room film, I not only kept the audience’s interest, but that the film built and built. One-room films seemed like the easy option to me when I was younger, but I assure you they might be one of the hardest kinds of films to make. To really engage in such a small claustrophobic space definitely took a lot of careful writing and editing in post. But I couldn’t be happier. The movie moves at a quick fun pace and still leaves people wanting more, which was my dream when I started writing it.
SR: THE SUBJECTS seems to delve into an exploration of human nature, as the eight strangers have very diverse personalities. Could you talk to Screen Relish readers about this?
RM: One of the major elements of the film is that almost nobody should be powerful. And it could be argued that nobody has the responsibility to have superpowers. As Spider-man is always told, “with great power comes great responsibility”. Well, I think that the responsibility required is too great. And one of the ways I deal with this is [by having] several different kinds of characters in the film and [showing] how they might really react to powers. For instance, the Jenna character (who is a rich daddy’s girl) was based on some real people I used to know. And her experience with powers is exactly what I thought could happen if those people [were] given powers.
SR: Throughout THE SUBJECTS, tension grows in the locked room, and things start turning into a dog-eat-dog situation. Is there a social statement of any sort tied into this?
RM: Absolutely! In superhero films there are always powerful people working together like the Avengers, and the lone [worker] like a wolverine. For years working in different corporate environments and many different places I always found it interesting how people changed with power, and how isolating power can be. It often descends [into a] dog eat dog [scenario] the second there is a power struggle. In THE SUBJECTS, I really wanted some characters to feel working together is the best option (as it most often is), but ultimately show that if one person breaks [trouble is caused].
SR: Now that you’ve finished directing THE SUBJECTS are you working on any new projects? Our readers would love to know any details you’re able to share.
RM: Yes, I’m hard at work writing. I’m working on a new feature, which is extremely fun. I can’t say much about that but it’s not a superhero film. I’m also really passionate about the world created outside [the] room of The Subjects, so I have been putting together a series with that world in mind. We’ve noticed such an amazing response to the film so far and many people have questions as to what happens after the credits roll. I think it would be so fun to explore that.
Screen Relish would like to thank Robert Mond for his time. Readers can view more information about THE SUBJECTS at the film’s website.