Annihilation’s Alex Garland to keep it in the family for his next project

To follow up on his latest feature, the critically acclaimed sci-fi mindbender Annihilation, writer-director Alex Garland is bringing his vision of a female-led future into the real world as well. As Variety reports, after an intense bidding war Garland has sold his newest script, a family fantasy called The

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To follow up on his latest feature, the critically acclaimed sci-fi mindbender Annihilation, writer-director Alex Garland is bringing his vision of a female-led future into the real world as well. As Variety reports, after an intense bidding war Garland has sold his newest script, a family fantasy called The

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Alex Garland Script ‘Toymaker’s Secret’ Lands at TriStar Pictures With Paloma Baeza to Direct (EXCLUSIVE)

TriStar Pictures has landed the rights to “The Toymaker’s Secret,” the highly coveted spec from “Annihilation” and “Ex Machina” scribe Alex Garland. Unlike “Annihilation” and “Ex Machina,” Garland is only writing this pic, while Paloma Baeza will direct. Garland, Andrew Macdonald, Allon Reich, and Cara Speller will produce. “The Toymaker’s Secret” tells the story of […]

TriStar Pictures has landed the rights to “The Toymaker’s Secret,” the highly coveted spec from “Annihilation” and “Ex Machina” scribe Alex Garland. Unlike “Annihilation” and “Ex Machina,” Garland is only writing this pic, while Paloma Baeza will direct. Garland, Andrew Macdonald, Allon Reich, and Cara Speller will produce. “The Toymaker’s Secret” tells the story of […]

‘Annihilation’ Director Alex Garland Speaks Out on Screwing With Genre and Studio Panic Attacks

When asked at SF FILM what “Annihilation” is: “I don’t give a shit,” Garland replied. “It’s itself as much as possible.”

The brainy 47-year-old son of a British political cartoonist, Alex Garland made his name with novels “The Beach” and “The Tesseract” before moving on to a tortuous relationship with Hollywood. After Leonardo DiCaprio starred in Danny Boyle’s movie version of “The  Beach” (Fox), Garland turned to screenwriting on two original grim visions of the future for Boyle and Fox Searchlight, zombiefest “28 Days Later” and sci-fi space trip “Sunshine,” both starring Cillian Murphy, followed by 2012 comic-book flop “Dredd” (Lionsgate).

Backed by Focus Features, Garland’s stunning directorial debut “Ex Machina,” a tense sci-fi three-hander starring Oscar Isaac as a genius robot designer, Alicia Vikander as his wily femme bot, and Domnhall Gleeson as the gullible man who falls for her, was inexplicably rejected for theatrical release and was taken on by A24. Focus president Peter Schlessel lost his job when the movie scored $25 million domestic and two Oscar nominations (including Garland’s screenplay and a win for VFX).

Ex Machina

“Ex Machina”

A24

Skydance Media and Paramount backed Garland’s next film, the $55-million “Annihilation,” which ran into a management change at the studio. Paramount dumped the movie in 2,012 theaters on February 22 without much fanfare and sold off most foreign distribution rights to Netflix. So far the well-reviewed sci-fi fantasy adventure starring Oscar Isaac as the only government operative to emerge from “The Shimmer,” a hostile encroaching alien environment, and Natalie Portman, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Tessa Thompson, Gina Rodriguez and Tuva Novotny as volunteers who go back in, has earned just $38 million in North America.

On Saturday, Garland, who is in San Francisco working on FX series pilot “Devs,” participated in a wide-ranging conversation with USC professor Tara McPherson at SF FILM’s Creativity Summit. Check the highlights, in alphabetical order, below.

Alex Garland and Tara McPherson at SF FILM.

Adaptation

“Annihilation” is “a loose adaptation” of “The Southern Reach” trilogy by Jeff VanderMeer, said Garland. His career also includes a faithful adaptation of Kazuo Ishiguro’s “Never Let Me Go,” while British comic book “Dredd” focused on the lead character played by Karl Urban.

“By the time I had done those, I understood that when you do an adaptation you have to make a decision about what is the thing you are adapting,” he said. “If the first one was a neurotic, slavish adaptation, the second one was zeroed in on a character. And the most defining thing about [the novel “Annihilation’] was its atmosphere; the specifics of plot were not as crucial. Tone was very important. I didn’t reread the book, which was a dreamlike, slightly hallucinatory novel. I did an adaptation of my memory of the novel, a slightly odd conceit.”

Karl Urban in “Dredd.”

The theme that fascinated Garland was “the nature of self destruction,” he said. “I have five people enter an existential space that’s getting bigger and closer. All of them have self-destructive tendencies. Is it that only self-destructive people enter, or are we are all self-destructive? Almost nobody commits suicide, but everybody is self-destructive. When I realized that everyone I knew had self-destructive impulses, that interested me. It has something to do with the relationship between construction and destruction. Anyway, as an atheist, my belief system as to how we happen to be here is: Evolution is a product of mutation. It all makes sense. There’s a changing and a breaking.”

Audiences

One way Garland distances himself from the difference between what he intended to write and public reaction is to see audiences as participants who bring their own perspectives.

“All narratives presented to audiences are doing a 50/50 deal,” he said. “Half of the narrative, in a way, is provided by an audience member and their subjective agenda and how they feel about the world … it is important to give audiences credit. There is something frustrating about the number of films so explicit in themselves … there is nothing to think about when you leave the cinema, nothing to discuss. I find that makes the films truly forgettable in a literal way. What are you remembering or continuing to turn over? Anyway, it’s not good to treat audiences with contempt in a continuous, reflexive way. How could that be a good thing?”

Auteurs

Garland began as a comic-book artist, and views filmmaking as a group effort “with the shared sensibilities of the people I’m working with. We have a shared intention, everybody is bringing their version of that intention. What you have is framed and shot as arranged by the DP and VFX, a group of people in concert asking themselves what is beautiful and what has been done before. I write the script and disseminate it to people, some of whom I’ve worked with for 20 years. I spread it out, see what people think.”

Garland doesn’t believe in the auteur theory “as something innately desirable or admirable. Is Wes Anderson an auteur? Yes, he is. His fingerprint is everywhere. Are there auteurs who think they are auteurs? There are very few authors.”

He especially decries the possessory credit. “A film from the name of a director is almost always untrue and always extremely offensive to the people involved in the filmmaking who are being ignored by the vanity of the director,” he said. “It is what it is. If a DP was not an important part of the creation of the aesthetic of the filming, why would production companies fight over DPs?”

He also objects to directors’ “spurious notions created about what is right and wrong,” such as whether to shoot digital or on film, or use practical effects vs. VFX. “They are used as badges of honor. It doesn’t make any sense. We are working in a medium where you use the options that are correct for that project. If ‘Ex Machina’ was shot on film, I don’t think it would make it any better.”

Data mining

Garland denies any particular prescience in “Ex Machina,” which some have suggested as a window into the Facebook data-mining future. “It’s never been a secret,” he said. “We know. [What] is more interesting is not the notification what data is harvested and used by tech companies, but amnesia. We drift through it and forget. You have a president who is now more able to survive an election campaign than in a previous era. Amnesia is part of it. Nothing has consequence. It’s always worth remembering what shit we can get up with.”

“Annihilation”

Paramount Pictures

Gender

“Annihilation” is focused on five women who, without much fuss or comment, don military gear and enter The Shimmer, knowing they may lose their lives. Garland refused to be engaged in a debate about gender. Like any group of people, some are more competent, flawed, or heroic than others. “‘Annihilation’ is deliberately about the absence of an argument,” he said.

Garland feels strongly that people are not born with an understanding of everything, whether it’s gender or any sort of social issue. “As you get older, you think about things more and learn more.” As for gender, “I can see an evolution in thought processes. I leave myself the right to make mistakes and get things wrong. I hope I will, like anyone else, think about those things. I’m a little bit worried about crystallizing arguments, and making it part of a thought process. What pisses me off about Twitter is the way it locates people to thoughts that may have been glancing.”

His own use of gender in his books and films is “part of a process and it isn’t fully defined at any point,” he said. “It’s a big issue at the moment because of #TimesUp and the pay gap, all of which are correct.”

He does admit to playing around in “Ex Machina” with gender and where physical objectification resides. “It poses a question to a young man character and the audience,” he said. “‘Does this female-appearing robot have an interior life?’ At a certain point, the robot makes herself look more and more like an attractive woman in her early 20s. The moment of objectification has happened. When the robot does indeed turn out to have an interior life, the audience and the young man are surprised.”

Gina Rodriguez, Tessa Thompson, Tuva Novotny, Natalie Portman and Jennifer Jason Leigh in Annihilation from Paramount Pictures and Skydance.

“Annihilation”

Paramount Pictures

Genre

For Garland, genre is a “complicated term. You could call something science fiction, which could range from ‘Star Wars’ to ‘2001.’ They are terribly different kinds of films, there’s something problematic embedded in that.”

What is “Annihilation”? “I don’t give a shit,” he said. “It’s sort of science fiction and horror. It’s itself as much as possible. Argh.”

Still, he acknowledges that genre can be useful in a short-form, fast-moving medium like film. “Genre is shorthand,” he said. “Things that might take a long time to explain, in genre you can do quickly. People understand the tropes of that genre. These are like free gifts, in terms of how quickly you can set something up or unfold something, also establishing terrain. When people then have expectations of gifts, you can subvert the beats. I’m 47; I grew up in the transition from hippies to punks. Something about subversion I’m attracted to. One of the things genre gives me is the ability to fuck with it.”

Studios

He may have burned his bridges at the Hollywood movie studios. “They are often enthusiastic about when they decide to make the film,” he said, “because they feel virtuous: ‘Yes, we are encouraging non-franchise cinema, and have a go.’ And then you deliver it and they have a panic attack.”

He cited his last three films, “Dredd,” “Ex Machina” and “Annihilation,” as all “rejected by the studio on their delivery, or sections within the studio. The reason the studios get anxious is because you then have a very limited audience.”

Television

Unsurprisingly, Garland is moving to television with an FX pilot order for one-season series “Devs,” a San Francisco tech story about what happens when you put big data and powerful processing power together, which he has compared to “Ex Machina.”

While acknowledging the occasional ‘Moonlight’ or ‘Get Out,” Garland said he views TV as a long-form medium. “TV is the home of adult drama,” he said. “TV is broadly much more welcoming. In the 1970s you had ‘Taxi Driver’ in the cinema, and now you have ‘Breaking Bad’ in the home. You deliver a narrative, and the people you’re delivering it to want you to do it.”

Famed Beach From Leonardo DiCaprio’s 2000 Movie Closes Due to Tourist Damage

The Thai beach made famous by Leonardo DiCaprio’s 2000 film “The Beach” will be closed temporarily due to tourist damage.

According to the Associated Press, Maya Bay on the island of Koh Phi Phi Leh will be closed to all visitors for four months every year, starting this June, so that the coral reefs and sea life can recover. Thailand’s national parks and wildlife department made the decision on Wednesday.

Over 200 boats and 4,000 people visit the beach every day, and recent surveys led by marine biologists revealed that parts of the reefs have disappeared and sea life is gone.

Also Read: Leonardo DiCaprio to Join Family of Tarantino’s Manson Movie

Thailand closes many its marine national parks from mid-May to mid-October but Maya Bay has remained open year round due to tourist demand since the film was released.

“Overworked and tired, all the beauty of the beach is gone. We need a timeout for the beach,” Thon Thamrongnawasawat, a member of Thailand’s national strategy committee on environment development, told the AP.

Also Read: Leonardo DiCaprio and Martin Scorsese Reteam on Teddy Roosevelt Biopic

When it reopens, there will be a daily limit of 2,000 tourists that will be able to access the beach. Boats will no longer be allowed to anchor there.

“The Beach” was directed by Danny Boyle and based on a novel of the same name by Alex Garland. It also starred Tilda Swinton and Virginie Ledoyen and followed Richard (DiCaprio), who travels to Thailand when he comes in possession of a strange map that depicts a solitary beach paradise.

Related stories from TheWrap:

Leonardo DiCaprio Developing Tom Wolfe’s ‘The Right Stuff’ for Nat Geo

11 Male Stars Who’ve Been Body Shamed, From Vin Diesel to Leonardo DiCaprio (Photos)

Leonardo DiCaprio Turns Over Picasso Painting, Brando Oscar to Justice Department

The Thai beach made famous by Leonardo DiCaprio’s 2000 film “The Beach” will be closed temporarily due to tourist damage.

According to the Associated Press, Maya Bay on the island of Koh Phi Phi Leh will be closed to all visitors for four months every year, starting this June, so that the coral reefs and sea life can recover. Thailand’s national parks and wildlife department made the decision on Wednesday.

Over 200 boats and 4,000 people visit the beach every day, and recent surveys led by marine biologists revealed that parts of the reefs have disappeared and sea life is gone.

Thailand closes many its marine national parks from mid-May to mid-October but Maya Bay has remained open year round due to tourist demand since the film was released.

“Overworked and tired, all the beauty of the beach is gone. We need a timeout for the beach,” Thon Thamrongnawasawat, a member of Thailand’s national strategy committee on environment development, told the AP.

When it reopens, there will be a daily limit of 2,000 tourists that will be able to access the beach. Boats will no longer be allowed to anchor there.

“The Beach” was directed by Danny Boyle and based on a novel of the same name by Alex Garland. It also starred Tilda Swinton and Virginie Ledoyen and followed Richard (DiCaprio), who travels to Thailand when he comes in possession of a strange map that depicts a solitary beach paradise.

Related stories from TheWrap:

Leonardo DiCaprio Developing Tom Wolfe's 'The Right Stuff' for Nat Geo

11 Male Stars Who've Been Body Shamed, From Vin Diesel to Leonardo DiCaprio (Photos)

Leonardo DiCaprio Turns Over Picasso Painting, Brando Oscar to Justice Department

‘2001,’ 50 Years Later: Kubrick’s Classic Showed How ‘Annihilation’ Could Have Been Profitable

It’s not the audience that’s changed, it’s Hollywood’s theatrical patience.

Alex Garland’s smart sci-fi film “Annihilation” inspired a great deal of consternation, but not a lot of box office. More than anything, however, the film’s release may speak more to the impatient state of studio moviemaking.

For some, it showed Hollywood still is unwilling to back genre films with female protagonists, especially the smart, diverse scientist kind. Paramount took heat for cold feet, having unloaded most of the film’s rights to Netflix — reportedly after unfavorable test screenings — and then assembling a half-hearted marketing campaign behind the film’s theatrical release. The Guardian critic Guy Lodge put it bluntly: “Was ‘Annihilation’ too brainy for the box office?”

It’s been 50 years since Stanley Kubrick practically invented the cerebral sci-fi film with “2001: A Space Odyssey,” but does “Annihilation” really prove that modern audiences only go to theaters for spectacle, not for smart? Like “Annihilation,” reviewers in April 1968 said Kubrick’s film was heady, bleak, and slow. However, there were key differences between their releases, all of which boil down to time and patience that today’s studios just don’t have.

Stanley Kubrick on the set of "2001: A Space Odyssey"

Stanley Kubrick on the set of “2001: A Space Odyssey”

Productio/Kobal/REX/Shutterstock

“Annihilation” was dumped on more than 2,000 screens opening weekend, but “2001” had a slow rollout even by 1968 standards. After mixed reviews and opening-week results in early April (it’s worth noting Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated that same week), Kubrick sliced 19 minutes from the film. Distributor MGM still stood behind the ambitious project by striking 100 70mm prints across the country, along with key international cities, for a roadshow that stretched into fall, when the film received a wider 35mm release in regular theaters.

Time even affected critical opinion. Although critics and cinephiles immediately praised “Annihilation,” initial response to “2001” was lukewarm at best. Pauline Kael called it “monumentally unimaginative,” the New York Times said it was “somewhere between hypnotic and immensely boring,” and the great Andrew Sarris said the terribly grim film failed because “it is much too abstract to make its abstract points.” Over time, Sarris and others changed their opinions of the film, which would go on to to consistently rank in the Top 10 films of all time.

Finally, “Annihilation” was labeled a box-office bomb after three days in release, making only $11 million in its opening weekend. “2001” slowly built an audience to become the highest-grossing film of 1968, bringing in $57 million — or $397.8 million adjusted, more than “Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2.”

Gina Rodriguez, Tessa Thompson, Tuva Novotny, Natalie Portman and Jennifer Jason Leigh in Annihilation from Paramount Pictures and Skydance.

“Annihilation”

Paramount Pictures

So while the response to brainy sci-fi may seem to have changed, it’s exactly the same: These films take time, which the multi-platform world has in short supply. “Annihilation” must compete for an audience with thousands of entertainment options literally at their fingertips, and Hollywood is unwilling to invest time in building an audience.

It wasn’t long ago that “smart” TV series faced a similar conundrum. A show’s fate tied directly to its premiere ratings, followed by the ability to maintain a high percentage of what often was diminishing returns. In the last 10 to 15 years, that patience paradigm shifted from the theaters to the home. When HBO’s “The Wire” (2002) or AMC’s “Mad Men” (2007) faced extremely low ratings and buzz in their first seasons, the networks didn’t blink. They believed the shows would find audiences worthy of them, and were justly rewarded with what became cornerstones to their libraries — not unlike what “2001” meant to MGM. It should surprise no one to learn that Garland’s next heady sci-fi narrative will be found on FX, not the big screen.

Annihilation

Natalie Portman and director Alex Garland on the set of “Annihilation” from Paramount Pictures and Skydance.

Peter Mountain

Content with the potential to be an enormous network hit, or a theatrical blockbuster, has always been finite. Only certain types of shows and movies have concepts that justify the tens of millions in P&A needed to create its largest audience as soon as it opens. As the digital entertainment landscape continues its radical shifts, they only underline something that’s been true since at least 1968: Just because a film doesn’t fit the tentpole model doesn’t mean it can’t be profitable. Can distributors take advantage of this, and build a theatrical model that dares to deviate from tentpole practices? That’s a question for Hollywood, not for the audience.

TV News Roundup: FX Orders Drama Pilot from ‘Ex Machina,’ ‘Annihilation’ Director Alex Garland

In today’s roundup, FX ordered a pilot from Alex Garland, while Starz announced an early season six pickup of “Power.” RENEWALS In advance of Power wrapping production on season five, Starz announced today that the sixth season of the drama picked up an early renewal. Curtis “50 Cent” Jackson will also be directing the season six premiere […]

In today’s roundup, FX ordered a pilot from Alex Garland, while Starz announced an early season six pickup of “Power.” RENEWALS In advance of Power wrapping production on season five, Starz announced today that the sixth season of the drama picked up an early renewal. Curtis “50 Cent” Jackson will also be directing the season six premiere […]

FX Orders Tech Thriller Pilot ‘Devs’ From ‘Ex Machina’s Alex Garland & Scott Rudin

FX has given a pilot order to Devs, a drama from Alex Garland, the award-winning writer-director of sci-fi thriller Ex Machina.
Garland wrote and will direct the pilot, which he will executive produce with Ex Machina and Annihilation collaborators DNA TV and Scott Rudin Productions.
In Devs, which will be produced by FX Productions, a young computer engineer, Lily, investigates the secretive development division of her employer, a cutting-edge tech company based in San…

FX has given a pilot order to Devs, a drama from Alex Garland, the award-winning writer-director of sci-fi thriller Ex Machina. Garland wrote and will direct the pilot, which he will executive produce with Ex Machina and Annihilation collaborators DNA TV and Scott Rudin Productions. In Devs, which will be produced by FX Productions, a young computer engineer, Lily, investigates the secretive development division of her employer, a cutting-edge tech company based in San…