Rian Johnson, 'Looper' director, seeks to combine indie cred with blockbuster

Rian Johnson : "I hope 'Looper' is a fun sci-fi movie . . . "
Rian Johnson : "I hope 'Looper' is a fun sci-fi movie . . . " (ASSOCIATED PRESS)
Posted: September 28, 2012

WRITER/DIRECTOR Rian Johnson is trying to bring some indie cred to the studio blockbuster.

After "Brick" and "The Brothers Bloom," his new film "Looper" is a bigger-budget sci-fi suspenser that's filled with ideas and quirky touches and doesn't go - like most studio films - exactly where you expect it to.

When we spoke with Johnson at the Ritz-Carlton Hotel during the Toronto International Film Festival earlier this month, he said the indie/studio divide had been on his mind recently.

"That's something that I've been thinking about lately, just as a moviegoer," he said. "But I think it's a very false divide that we have in our minds right now in movies, where you have interesting on one hand and big on the other.

"I think there's a mainstream hunger for that 'indieness' right now," he added. "Maybe I'm a cockeyed optimist, but I think that mainstream audiences going to the big summer movies want to be surprised by what a movie does. That's something that everybody has this deep thirst for now.

"That's why 'Inception' was so exciting to me. To see something that had so distinct a voice on that level, that was really inspiring. 'Pulp Fiction' is as untraditional as you can get but is so entertaining moment to moment. I remember being in the Mann's Chinese Theater in Hollywood, a huge mainstream theater, on opening night, with a full crowd just roaring at that movie. But you could look at 'Pulp Fiction' through one lens and term it an art house film."

Johnson said the biggest change for him in terms of making "art house" vs. "mainstream" films has more to do with the length of the shoot.

"Not that I've worked with huge budgets, but I'd be surprised if no matter what your budget was you always felt like you were 10 percent shy of what you needed," Johnson said. "But you do get bigger toys and more time. Time is really the thing. That's the biggest luxury - having time to actually shoot. 'Brick' we had to shoot in 19 days and for 'Looper' we had 50 days.

Time is essential in "Looper." The movie is all about time travel and the inherent plot intricacies time travel entails.

"I made a decision very early on not to use timeline logic," Johnson said. "That would be a god's view - sitting back and looking at a circular line drawn on a chalkboard and saying if you break the line that mathematically this doesn't make sense. This sounds like a cheat, but the only thing that made sense to me was to take an experiential approach to how time travel works. In other words, to take a worm's-eye view as to how a person would experience this loop. How the person living his life would experience it moment to moment - and that would be in a very linear fashion.

"I came up with this very complicated system - I really have thought through all the logic of it - and I used that as a foundation. But I didn't lift the cover of the foundation."

Even though some of this sounds like a physics class, Johnson's goal with "Looper" is really quite simple.

"I hope 'Looper' is a fun sci-fi movie, but I hope it explores real deep human stuff. I hope it engages in the way that the best sci-fi that I love does. I hope it uses the sci-fi concepts to get at some very human things."


Contact Howard Gensler at gensleh@phillynews.com or 215-854-5678.

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