Director Sebastian Cordero has spent the the past decade carving out a diverse body of work and established himself as a director to watch in the years to come. His new film, EUROPA REPORT, quite literally, launches his career into a whole new world. A unique blend of documentary-style film-making, alternative history and science fiction thriller, EUROPA REPORT follows a contemporary mission to Jupiter’s moon Europa to investigate the possible existence of alien life within our solar system. When unmanned probes suggest that a hidden ocean could exist underneath Europa’s icy surface and may contain single-celled life, Europa Ventures, a privately funded space exploration company, sends six of the best astronauts from around the world to confirm the data and explore the revolutionary discoveries that may lie in the Europan ocean. After a near-catastrophic technical failure that leads to loss of communication with Earth and the tragic death of a crew member, the surviving astronauts must overcome the psychological and physical toll of deep space travel, and survive a discovery on Europa more profound than they had ever imagined. Jason Price of Icon Vs. Icon recently sat down with director Sebastian Cordero to discuss journey into the world of filmmaking, the challenges of bringing this ambitious new film to life and what he learned along the way.
Thanks for taking time out to speak with me today, Sebastian. I am really excited to help spread the word on this amazing film!
Thank you as well for your time!
What was it about filmmaking that intrigued early on in your life?
When I was a child, I was fascinated by the power of cinema. To watch a film in the theater and to become completely immersed in the story, seeing a world that was not familiar with your own from the perspective of pure entertainment as well as watching a story that grips you and tells you something about life was something that fascinated me and I wanted to be a part of it!
What was it that made you want to pursue filmmaking as a career?
There was a moment, as a child, where I realized how powerful filmmaking was and I wanted to be a part of it. I was watching ‘Raiders of The Lost Ark’ when I was nine years old. Very shortly after that, I saw a few more big Hollywood films, mostly from Spielberg and all of the ‘Star Wars’ films. I think those films had a huge influence on my whole generation, not just the filmmakers of the world. At the time, it was something that seemed impossible to pursue. As a nine year old kid, I thought it was amazing but I had no idea how to pursue it. Then I was lucky enough, after high school, to be able to come study film here in the United States in Los Angeles. At the time, I felt it was the place to do so.
Your latest film is “Europa Report.” How did you initially get involved with this project and what made you want to be a part of it?
I got the script from one of the producers on the film. He had seen a couple of my previous films and that there was something about the way I handled the tension in those films and the way I handled the actors in a limited, enclosed space. I think that really attracted him in terms of what I could bring to this project. I am really grateful he saw that because when I read the screenplay, I felt immediately drawn to the material. As a teenager, I had a phase where I read a lot of science fiction and this brought me back to that age and phase in my life. Having done a lot of films that are very different from what ‘Europa Report’ is, I felt it was a great opportunity to dive into something like this. I also love the way the script handles a mixture of a well-told, gripping story with great characters and ultimately, a lot of thrills. At the same time, I think it keeps it’s eye on the real science, the realism of space travel and what we know about Europa and the possible discoveries that could be found there. I thought it was really cool to be involved with a film that could maintain that equilibrium.
How did the script change from what originally intrigued you to what we ultimately see on screen?
There were a few things I felt I wanted to research more and figure out better ways to solve certain problems within the realistic elements we were dealing with. We were very lucky and at the same time smart in choosing to do a lot of research early on. I felt the story and script were working but I wanted to make sure everything happened for a reason that was fitting the story and made sense scientifically. There were scenes, like the space walk scene for instance, where the space walk goes wrong. It is something you have seen in a lot of science fiction films. The first version of it I read, there were a lot of things that felt a little gratuitous and didn’t make complete sense with the science and the care that is taken when astronauts are embarking on something like this. We went back and forth with a lot of scientists and actual astronauts who helped us figure out the best way to have things go wrong and incorporated that into the scenes. The ending of the film, without giving too much away, there is the final discovery that is made by the remaining members of the crew of astronauts. In the original script, that final discovery happens on the surface of Europa. The minute you start researching Europa or talking to scientists who are working on that research, you know the most interesting thing about Europa is what is under the ice. It is what is under the ocean of Europa, below the ice crust that is most fascinating. We incorporated into our ending the fact that major discovery has to happen under the ice. It was something that gave us quite a bit more tension because suddenly you have a spaceship that has landed in an area where the ice is getting thinner, the ice is cracking and there is a lot of movement in the ice. That brings a lot more danger to the people who are still alive inside the lander.
‘Europa Report’ the type of film that lives and dies by it’s cast and the cast you brought together is terrific! How did the casting come about and what did they bring to the table?
Thank you! I think they each brought something really interesting and really unique. It is funny because originally the script called for an international cast because one of the premises is that it is a private mission to space in the near future where they bring the best of the best from each space program around the world. It was really cool from the beginning to say “Ok! We can have someone from China, someone from Europe, Russia, Sweden, Eastern Europe or the United States.” We started looking for great actors from each of these countries and they didn’t have to be huge stars. We just needed them to be fantastic actors!
We had an amazing casting director, Avy Kaufman, who was extremely helpful in putting together this very diverse cast. She suggested a lot of names, I suggested a lot of names myself, as did the producers and it was a little bit like chemistry and how can you bring these elements together and see how they work. The minute you start to have a strong actor onboard, it helps bring other talented actors into the project because they are attracted to working with that actor. In our case, the first person to respond to the project and was absolutely passionate about it was Michael Nyqvist, who read the script, loved his character and thought there was a lot to do with the role of “Andrei”. Almost immediately, actors who were considering their roles, having him onboard reassured them and made the project even more interesting. Sharlto Copley, for instance, loved the script and the minute Nyqvist was onboard, he said “Great! We have a couple of great scenes together and this will be wonderful!” Anamaria Marrinca was one of my personal choices early on. I had seen her in “Four Months, Three Weeks, Two Days”. We wanted an Eastern European actress and I thought she would be great for the role. She didn’t seem like a typical choice for a science fiction film, where someone like Sharlto has become a bit of an icon in science fiction. Anamaria is much more of a dramatic, international actress, who is very well respected. I didn’t know if she would respond to the material. The minute she read the screenplay, she said “Are you kidding? This is fantastic and there is a lot I can do with it. No one ever asks me to do science fiction movies!” She was really into it!
Each one brought different thing, you know? On one hand, Anamaria is someone who always questions the internal processes of the character, the subtleties and hidden symbols within the story. I think she was great in pointing out and highlighting those. Sharlto has this thirst for making the story really work and making sure every decision his character makes is completely coherent with what is happening, while at the same time allowing for the big spectacle, the thrills of the movie and the emotional involvement of the audience with the movie to be present. He knew from the very beginning that his big scene had to be really one of the most emotional moments in the film. He did everything in his power to get there. I think he did an amazing job with his final moments in the film. Each one basically brought different ingredients to the movie.
As you mentioned, this is a very different type of film for you as a director. What did you learn from working on this film from a filmmaking standpoint?
I think “Europa Report” is one of the film’s where I have learned the most. It is a very strange film in the sense because it tells a story through receipts of a faux-documentary and seeing the story from the monitoring cameras in the ship. Very early on I discovered that it just wasn’t appropriate to feel the hand of the filmmaker. Instead of that, you had to feel the hand of this fictitious company, Europa Ventures, who have put this mission together and now is editing this documentary about what happened — the great discovery as well as what went wrong. For me, the minute I tapped into that, it was a big revelation to me in terms of how each decision was to be made. The aesthetic of the film had to do more with the logic and science behind how they were telling this story and where they were putting the cameras inside the ship, rather than me, as a director, saying “Oh, this would be the cool shot.” or “This is the best way to reveal something.” Everything had to have an internal logic, where the film had to emerge on it’s own terms, which is a weird thing! It hadn’t happened to me before, at least not in this way. I thought it was fascinating to allow myself to just be a catalyst for the film rather than imposing my own style in it because it really was a film I felt spoke for itself. For me, that was a huge lesson. It is something I am very curious to see how the things I learn here will be onto whatever project I take on next!
Absolutely! I can’t wait to see what the future holds for you as a director! Thank you very much for your time today and giving us a look at what it took to make this fantastic film!
Thank you very much! Take care!