Interview: John V. Soto

Jacqueline McKenzie in The Gateway.

Director John V. Soto discusses his new Perth-shot Sci Fi thriller, The Gateway. John’s previous directing credits include The Reckoning starring Luke Hemsworth, Viva Bianca and Jonathan LaPaglia and Needle with Ben Mendelsohn. 

Interview by Matthew Eeles

Tell us a about ‘The many interacting worlds hypothesis’ and your research into it?
Early on in the development process for the story, both my co-writer (Michael White) and I knew we had to do a lot of research into parallel worlds theory, because we wanted to make the science elements of the film as grounded and realistic as possible. We did a lot of research and the one theory that stood out was Max Tegmark’s Multiverse theory of parallel worlds, which is a hypothetical group of multiple separate universes that comprise everything that exists; space, time, matter, energy. The different universes within the multiverse are called “parallel universes”.  What gave Tegmark’s theory plausibility to us is that Stephen Hawking and Neil deGrasse Tyson both support it. The many interacting worlds hypothesis is connected to Tegmarks theory and in simple terms states that the parallel worlds interact with each other.

Is this a theory you subscribe to personally?
Yes, I believe parallel worlds exist/co-exist with our world right now.

What are some of your favourite Sci Fi films?
I love Sci Fi. As a teenager I was a voracious reader (2-3 books per week) and my favorite genre was always Sci Fi. I’m a huge fan of authors like Isaac Asimov, Arthur C Clarke, HG Wells, Phillip K Dick, Douglas Adams, Margaret Weis and HP Lovecraft, although known as a horror writer, a lot of his stories are essentially Sci Fi. In fact my entire career has been aimed at making a Sci Fi movie, however budget limitations have held me back. It was only after watching Primer that I realised that a quality SF movie didn’t necessarily mean a huge budget. My favorite SF movies in no particular order are Blade Runner, Primer, Monsters, Aliens, Looper, District 9, Gattaca, Inception, Children of Men, Ex Machina, Sunshine and Mad Max. I was inspired by Primer and Monsters to make The Gateway.

Myles Pollard as Matt #2 in The Gateway.

The entire cast are great. There’s a little bit of Arnold Schwarzenegger’s Terminator to Myles Pollard’s performance. Tell us about yours and Myles’ approach to both versions of Matt Chandler.
Yes, well spotted, there are some deliberate similarities with Schwarzenegger’s Terminator and Matt #2. Myles was terrific in his role as Matt #1 (good guy) and Matt #2 (bad guy). Myles signed on after (a) reading the script and (b) attracted to the challenge of playing Matt and (c) finding that Jacqueline was in the movie! However I don’t think he, or I, realised how difficult it would actually be. The main issue is that when you’re making a low budget film, and remember we shot this in 20 days, you don’t have the luxury of shooting all of Matt #1 scenes and then Matt #2’s scenes on different days. What happens, is that you shoot out all the scenes for the characters for each location. This meant that quite often Myles would start a scene as Bad Matt, we would then reset and he would become Good Matt, then we would reset and he would go back to being Bad Matt and after a while it starts to do everyone’s head in! Luckily Myles was very switched on with his character and being a true professional, did not complain once, regardless of how hard I pushed him. In terms of approaches, it all comes down to the basic wants for each version of Matt. What do Matt and Matt #2 really want in each scene? How do they achieve that? What’s going on behind those eyes? What are their objectives, both short term and long term? Matt #2 is a very complex character actually and I’m very lucky that Myles agreed to the film.

Jacqueline McKenzie is at the top of her game at this stage of her career. What does an actress of her calibre bring to a production like this?
Jacqueline is the heart and soul of the movie. I’d like to point out that very few Sci Fi movies have a woman as the lead protagonist. In terms of Aussie Sci Fi, right now I can’t think of any films like that. Firstly, Jacqueline is highly intelligent and really digs deep into the script, beyond the words on the page. She wants to understand everything, including the science, and certainly helped develop the script even further than what we had written. She brings a quality, charisma and warmth to the role so that the audience falls for her and they want her to succeed. She is also a professional actress who pushes everyone to a higher level, be it acting or even directing. She also has a keen sense of humor and was an absolute delight to work with.

 

Perth and Western Australia are producing some incredible movies at the moment. What are some of the pros and cons of making a movie in Perth?
Well, the pros of working in WA are that we do have an excellent, highly skilled crew here, from cinematographers to production designers to gaffers to grips. We also have great locations, quite a lot of talented actors and a state film body, ScreenWest who do support the industry when they can. However while web generally make good films here that punch well above their weight, we simply don’t make enough movies. At the moment there are perhaps five to six films made a year in WA, a few with ScreenWest support, which is simply not enough for crew and actors to sustain themselves. So what happens is that we lose a lot of our talent to the Eastern States or even LA (particularly actors). Our film industry here is tiny compared to Sydney, Mebourne or the Gold Coast but it doesn’t have to be.

Ben Mortley and Jacqueline McKenzie in The Gateway.

Am I right that you made the film without the traditional funding assistance of either ScreenWest or ScreenAustralia? If so, can you tell us about your funding process for The Gateway.
Yes, unfortunately we were knocked back for a small grant by the powers that be at ScreenWest, but that’s another story. However I would like to point out that ScreenWest have been supportive in the past and without them a lot of WA films would not get made, so I think they do a pretty decent job. Funding wise for The Gateway, because we secured a theatrical release for the movie, we were able to secure the Australian Government’s Producer Offset film incentive, which equates to about 36% of the budget. The balance of the budget came from private sources, including a Chinese financier who loves Sci Fi. Our post house, Backlot Post, were very supportive and invested in the film, along with CameraQuip who supplied us with two state of the art Alexa cameras. Our distributor also kicked in some funds, but to close the film I had to invest my own monies in the movie too Fortunately the film is performing well in the US right now and we have some offers on various territories around the world. It would be nice if Aussies support our movie though, because ultimately it was made for Australian audiences!

What advice do you have for young filmmakers who may want to follow a similar process?
For young filmmakers, before you even consider making the film, make sure you have a good script, otherwise you are wasting everyone’s time.  If you want to know if your script is good or not, get it assessed in the US by a professional reader. After that, I’d suggest working with an experienced producer who can help guide you along the torturous path to getting a film made.

What’s next for you?
I have co-written a Sci Fi thriller titled Imprint with a US writer and already have interest in the project from overseas parties. Hopefully can get that up in the next couple of years!

The Gateway is in cinemas May 3.

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