Stretching His Filmmaking Muscles: Danny Boyle used different techniques on Sunshine than what he’s used with his previous films. “Yes, it’s very different. It’s much more classical. I tend to make high energy pictures that try and disrupt things with odd camera angles or things like that. Sci-fi tends to be much more classical. This kind of sci-fi is serious, classic 70’s sci-fi, which leads to philosophical ideas. It isn’t like a playground. It’s very serious so you tend to shoot quite classically.
The beginning of the film is much slower. This is the slowest film I’ve ever made in terms of the first half hour. It’s quite slow. You can’t speed it up. I tried. And it doesn’t work. It has to go at that pace. It’s something about the eternity of the distances that are involved. So that’s interesting. That was a big difference for me, particularly with that opening area of the film. It was how elegant it has to be in order to convince you that they are weightless in space and traveling.”
Three Films Provided Excellent Resources: Boyle said three movies in particular are pretty much the standards for sci-fi films. “Every time you think you’re being original, they’re there waiting for you. It’s obviously 2001, the first Alien film, and [Andrei] Tarkovsky’s Solaris for different reasons with each of them, but they’re all there. In the end, you either have to stop filming and give it up (laughing) or you have to go, ‘No, I acknowledge this is borrowed from Alien and this is …’
It’s actually a very limited corridor that you’re working in because basically all those films seem to break down into three ingredients which [are]: you have a ship, you have a crew, and you have a signal that changes everything. They do seem to all break down into that and it’s because I think until we start colonizing space, you’re always going to have this steel tube piloting out there like that.
The connection with the other films is that basically it’s a bunch of people, which has been done a number of times. You have a bunch of people who are isolated together either through choice or through circumstances and how they disintegrate or how they cope with them. That’s how it connects with the other films, I think, if anything. Not with all of them, but with some of them. You think about The Beach. That’s a group of people. You think about Shallow Grave, it’s three people living in this flat. You think about Trainspotting which is kind of like a sealed group of friends destroying each other. I obviously really like films that have that kind of group dynamic in them.”
The Visual Design and Production Design: Boyle always tries to work with the same group of people, including his designer, cameraman, and costumer. The filmmaker believes that not only does that lend a family environment to the production, it also helps him get his vision across onscreen. “Obviously we’re professional, but it’s not so much a professional occupation. I don’t want people to just deliver the goods. I want them to feel like they belong to the film and that we work the film out together, and I treat them all as little mini-directors. I don’t expect them just to contribute a bit. I want them to say what they think about how things are going and like that. That actually is a bit like the dynamic of the cast. I have these two things going, the cast and the crew, like that and I expect all elements of the film to evolve from those relationships, so that the design of the film comes out of that relationship.
It came out of a lot of the time that myself and the designer Mark Tildesley and the cinematographer Alwin Kuchler spent together working on what we wanted the film to feel like, the research that we did. We went to a nuclear submarine because that’s the closest thing there is to this kind of isolation in a modern industrial world. We couldn’t get on an oil rig, interestingly, because of terrorism. It’s easier to get on a nuclear submarine than it is on an oil rig unbelievably. Isn’t that amazing? We couldn’t get on an oil rig for love nor money but a nuclear sub we got on.
The working relationship of all the people grew out of a lot of experiences. We wanted to create a claustrophobic but realistic environment for them to travel in. We looked at Das Boot. You can make it super claustrophobic which has got attractions but it’s actually ridiculous because NASA – we talked to them – they would never send a three-year mission – and this is like 18 months to get there and 18 months to get back. They would never send them in such a confined space as a submarine anymore because they’d go mad. They know they would go insane so they would send them somewhere with some amount of space…not too much. So they have an oxygen garden, which is beautiful and a relief from the technology that they’re working with all the time. That’s how it evolved, but it’s still claustrophobic because they’re all trapped in the same space together. There’s no escape. That’s what claustrophobia is, isn’t it? It’s not so much what the space is because there are huge spaces involved, but the fact that there’s nowhere else to go. You can’t get away.”