INTERVIEW: David Sander talks about "Man Conquers Space"

Republibot 3.0
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ORIGINALLY POSTED ON 10/19/09

With us today, we have David Sander, an Australian independent filmmaker who, for the last several years, has been working on making a film called "Man Conquers Space. David, thanks for agreeing to talk to us today, we really appreciate you taking the time out to speak to us today.

DAVID SANDER:
Thank you for the opportunity to be interviewed. It isn't often I am permitted an opportunity to let people know of my project, so much appreciation to you and your team.

REPUBLIBOT 3.0:
For the benefit of those who haven't heard of it, or seen the writeup on AICN or visited your site, can you please explain what the premise of your film is? I thought it was completely jaw-droppingly brilliant, but I've found it's sometimes kind of hard to explain to people.

SANDER:
Put as simply as possible, "Man Conquers Space" is a documentary of the rise of human activities in space over the 20th and 21st centuries, but from a parallel universe. In essence it is an alternative history, illustrating how things could have transpired had certain pivotal individuals in history made different choices. It shows the power of choice in all of us.

REPUBLIBOT 3.0:
I grew up at a time when there were still lots of books in print that were written in the years between the Colliers series in the early 50s, and the actual real manned space program in the 60s, during that window when great big George Pal spaceships were still considered the shape of things to come, so your concept instantly, instantly, instantly grabbed me with both hands, but I never in a million years would have thought to make the kind of film you're putting together. How did the idea strike you, and when?

SANDER:
About ten years ago, I was given original copies of the Collier's Magazine articles, and was struck with just how wonderful the articles were, how astonishing the illustrations were and how optimistic it all was. Being an artist and visual effects designer myself, I asked myself "I wonder what these scenes would have looked like had they come to pass?". From that blossomed the idea of seeing all that, and over quite some time I developed and wrote the Man Conquers Space "history". From that framework, I wrote the film's screenplay, which has slowly evolved over the years into the shape it is today.

3.0:
It's a faux-documentary, right? What led you to choose that format over something more traditional?

SANDER:
There has been tremendous pressure from some quarters to depict Man Conquers Space as a drama, as something other than how I have structured it, but given the origins in Collier's as a plea by the authors for the subject to be taken seriously rather than as yet another Flash Gordon Saturday serial, I felt a documentary format, inviting the audience to consider it as real, did far greater justice.

3.0:
That's a very cool concept. Anyone who's read the Colliers stuff or read the Bonnestell/Ley book "Conquest of Space" has a rough idea of the progression that your alternate history will be following, but is there any kind of narative through-line? Any recurring characters who tend to run through the story, or just tend to show up at pivotal moments?

SANDER:
Like any good documentary, we meet many engaging and fascinating characters, who each have their story to tell.

3.0:
I've been following your project for several years now, how long have you been working on it?

SANDER:
Almost ten years.

3.0:
Wow. And how has the response been? A lot of interest, I would hope. I have to tell you, I see a lot of these kinds of startup projects, and most of them are deadly dull, or hopelessly derivative knockoffs of existing franchises.

SANDER:
Every time I speak with someone who has seen something of it, there is sincere anticipation and appreciation. That many who expressed interest when the project was first publicised on its website still communicate in such a positive way is testament to their enduring appreciation and understanding. At is peak I was receiving over eighty emails a day and the site was experiencing tens of thousands of hits a week. That has subsided a bit more recently, but that is primarily due to the same galleries running all the time. I must confess, one part of me wants to regularly update the galleries, but the other part stops me doing that on the basis if I keep doing that, there will be little left of the film that will be unseen once it hits the cinemas.

3.0:
You went to Cannes recently, as I recall. How did that go over? Much interest in the film?

SANDER:
There was tremendous interest in the film. All who witnessed the glimpses I was prepared to share were impressed and eager to be involved. The chief message I got however was though there was great enthusiasm in the project, my feature directing inexperience meant I would be less likely to maintain a controlling interest should the big end of town take over. After my return to Sydney, I set the wheels in motion to get a smaller, more achievable project off the ground (which I am currently working on), in order to establish my directorial credentials, and thus better guarantee seeing Man Conquers Space through to its full conclusion.

3.0:
I hadn't even thought of that, but yeah, they'd almost undoubtedly take it away from you. You've shown some clips on your site, some of which are pretty eye-popping, though you've made it clear that some of them are just teasers and test projects, and not in the actual finished film. How much of the film is 'in the can' as they say? When can we hope to see copies of it?

SANDER:
There is currently about fifty minutes of finished material, ready to be edited (with perhaps minor tweaks). My trip to Cannes and the subsequent aftermath illustrated to me the extent to which I will need to go to in order to have the film completed. Once the film is done, it is my fervent hope it will be distributed to cinemas across the world. From there, numerous opportunities await for further distribution and diversification.

3.0:
Is there much of a fan-film community in Australia? Do you have much interaction with them? Is there any kind of cross-pollenization between people making Star Wars and Star Trek fan films in Australia, and people making vastly more ambitious, wholly-freestanding productions like yours?

SANDER:
I must confess I haven't seen a great deal of it, but then I have been pretty tied up with what I'm doing professionally to notice. Not quite ivory tower, more bunker, so to speak. Once upon a time I saw numerous fan films for Star Wars, and thought many of them were absolutely fantastic. Insofar as cross-pollination is concerned, I can only hope that those young folks who were spending the early 2000s polishing their skills in rotoscoping and motion tracking for light sabres and TIE fighters are now suitably skilled up to be called upon to assist when Man Conquers Space hits is production stride and will be in need of more hands on deck.

3.0:
I'd certainly hope so! So tell us a little bit about yourself: Who is "David Sander," what's your day job? What kind of music do you listen to?

SANDER:
My day job is as Director of Visual Effects at Klinik Design, a division of the Post Op Group, a post-production company based in Sydney. As part of that job, I am responsible for compositing, matte painting, graphic design, grading, supervising effects shoots, and assisting a small team of very capable and fine folk who are required to quickly and capably turn around projects ranging from television commercials and corporate videos to long-form television and feature films. When I am not at work, I usually work from home, often writing, rewriting or researching. My musical tastes are exceptionally eclectic, from Shostkovich to Coldplay, Vangelis to Split Enz, ELO to Mozart, CCR to Grappelli and the Beatles, movie soundtracks to ballets, opera and folk music, blues and soul, anything not manufactured, so long as it's sincere, melodic and beautiful.

3.0:
My wife loves Grapelli. What kind of equipment are you using?

SANDER:
Man Conquers Space has been made on a Mac. More accurately, a succession of Macs. As the years have passed, I've upgraded accordingly.

3.0:
Given the length and scope of a production of this sort, is keeping pace with current rendering technology a problem?

SANDER:
Not at all. Over the years of production I have been afforded the rare luxury of working with stable software, well engineered and blessed with longevity, which when upgraded as required, has only benefited this project and all others I have created on it. The CPUs I have worked with have likewise held their own, and I still work on machines that were otherwise superseded many years ago.

3.0:
How'd the showing of the fourth trailer go? I read you showed it in an actual theater, that had to be all kinds of exciting. I wish I could have been there, I would have loved to see the audience reaction.

SANDER:
The screening was the first time Man Conquers Space had seen the Big Screen, and it was so exciting seeing it where it belongs. I was thrilled to see every frame hold up its own. The audience was rapt, and if the ache in my hand and arm the next day was any indication, the amount of handshakes suggested it went over quite well indeed. The chief criticism was it wasn't long enough. I can be such a tease.

3.0:
Are there any advantages of filming in Australia rather than other locations? I mean, aside from the fact that you live there, of course. Are there any uniquely things in an independent film that one can do in Australia that they probably couldn't or wouldn't do elsewhere?

SANDER:
The technical skill-base here is simply astonishing. The facilities available here are world class, and the prices are highly competitive with anywhere else in the world. Also, within comparatively short distances, I can reach close analogues to almost anywhere in the world, so even for location shooting it is highly versatile. Since so many skilled crewmembers are freelancers, a whole crew can be assembled in short order with every bit of equipment and expertise any film maker could ask for.

3.0:
What's your favorite SF show of all time?

SANDER:
I don't have a single favourite, and given my television watching is so minimal these days, there's potentially stuff out there I would thoroughly enjoy but don't know about or don't get into because of the available time I have. Of the SF I have seen, I have enjoyed some Star Trek; Doctor Who; Space:1999 (first season); anime such as Gatchaman and Neon Genesis; anime-style projects like Aeon Flux; animated series like Futurama, programs such as Thunderbirds, and even live-action programs like Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy (1980s TV series). SF movies - too numerous to list here :-)

3.0:
One last question: Some of the assumptions of the Colliers articles were based on a relative lack of information. For instance, the Space Station ended up being set in the Van Allen belt, because the Van Allen Belt hadn't been discovered yet when they drew up the plans, the ammount of interplanetary radiation was vastly underestimated, and so on. Have you made allowances for these 'real world' concerns in the story, or are you playing it exactly like they laid it out?

SANDER:
Well, like it or not the Van Allen Belt exists, so must be taken into consideration. I have had lengthy discussions with my technical advisors, and the consensus is that while the depiction in Collier's is good, it's better to consider it a start rather than as final edict. Thus Man Conquers Space is not the story as told by Cornelius Ryan and Wernher von Braun and Chesley Bonestell, rather being an even bigger story that takes into account their vision, mixed in with my own, which has the blessing of hindsight and an understanding of not just the technical limitations and environmental factors but historical context seen from the vantage point of being beyond all their years.

3.0:
Phew. I was hesitant to ask you that one. I was kind of afraid that it'd be one of those crippling moments where someone says "You mean it won't work?" and then the project dies. I realize that's not reasonable, but you interview people on labor-of-love projects like this, and you begin to fear that kind of thing.

And that's about it, David, thank you very much again for being with us today, and please do keep us posted on your progress, we're all totally in your army on this one, and want to spread the word.

SANDER:
Thank you! It is my fervent wish to be able to do this film well and do it right for the sake of not just those who are alive to appreciate it today, but for all those who have journeyed to bring it this far. It clearly will not be a project to be completed within the next few months. I must give it the time it needs, and do the things needed to be done that bring the best benefit to it. If that means making another feature first, then so be it. This will be a tremendously difficult and time-consuming film to make, but it will be well worth it. I hope those out there who appreciate the film, will appreciate this as well.

3.0:
The film is "Man Conquers Space" by David Sander, and the website for the film is located here http://manconquersspace.com/ including lots of absolutely beautiful shots of glorious pre-space age spaceships. It's a must-visit for anyone interested in history, space exploration, or science fiction. Check it out. Right Now!

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