Interview: Director Andrew Baird Discusses the Astonishing World of Zone 414

Andrew Baird’s Zone 414, starring Guy Pearce and Matilda Anna Ingrid Lutz, is now available to purchase on digital platforms. Sporting a strong script by Bryan Edward Hill and packed with wondrous visuals and intriguing themes regarding artificial intelligence and the very nature of humanity, the film offers a unique look at an alternate future where technology has become the bane of existence; and mankind has all but relinquished emotion.

Lucky for us, director Andrew Baird was on hand to discuss his directorial debut in greater detail.

Jeff Ames: What drew you to the world of cinema?

Andrew Baird: Oh wow. Well, my dad, I suppose. I grew up watching a bunch of movies with my dad and then I found out that my dad’s brother — my uncle — produced movies for Ken Russell back in the day in England. My brother was a big movie editor in Hollywood for a long time — he still is, Stuart Baird.

But I was never involved, you know? Other than I knew they were in the movies. About 15 or 16 I decided, this is what I want to do. The movies grew and grew on me and I decided I wanted to go to film school.

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You worked on a number of short films as a visual consultant and/or writer. What made you decide to take the leap with Zone 414?

Well, I don’t know if I even had to take the leap. I always knew I wanted to be a director. The two big influences for me back in the day were Terry Gilliam and Ridley Scott; and to a lesser extent James Cameron. They were all art directors who became directors. When I went to film school, they told me there was a couple of different courses I could do. One was design and the other was animation. So, I figured I’d do design and get into art direction and from there I’ll go on to direct, and that’s what I did.

I did that in Europe and then came to LA in 2006 and was immediately an art director for a long time — well, five or six years as an art director and then I started directing again in LA. I did videos and commercials in that order and mixed and matched — I also worked for Roger Corman before he even got the United States.

American cinema, without question or doubt, was a tremendous influence on me. And the business in Hollywood was instrumental. It gave me a lot of work. As soon as I went to LA I immediately got work. I’m very fortunate and appreciative of that.

Then, funny enough, I end up coming back to Northern Ireland to make Zone 414. It’s certainly been an adventure!

Speaking of Zone 414, there are a lot of really interesting elements in Brian Hill’s script. What was your initial takeaway when you read it the first time?

I’m a little dyslexic and it took me a while to figure that out. So, it takes time for me to read things. What I’ve noticed is if a script is bloody good, I read them really easy. If they’re crap, or they’re boring, it takes me forever.

With Zone 414, I read that script so fast. It totally hooked me. I understood it. I found it to be quite lean. I think our film is a lot more lavish than what was initially written, but it just worked out that way. We got really lucky with our resources and we shot it in the Game of Thrones studio in Belfast.

I thought the script was like a very intelligent, adult graphic novel; and I wanted to do something like that. I felt that would be the perfect launchpad for me as a movie director to go from being an art director to a director in the short form — you know, very visual work. Even when I was in film school, the first movie I did, you know, the graduate film that you make, took a lot of influence from William Gibson. I brought a little Cyberpunk into it — and I read that in Bryan’s script as well.

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I loved the story between these two characters. They find each other in this dark, precarious world and help each other navigate through it. It’s as simple as that. And to try and break it down to that humankind of story and not get lost in all the gadgets and nonsense. It’s very old school storytelling; and as another journalist observed, it’s very much noir and very little sci-fi and that’s what I intended. The technology is very nondescript and analog. I tried to immediately hook the audience into the fact that Jane, although she’s a machine, you really identify with her.

Matilda did a great job with Jane. I think she was very smart and beautiful.

It really is a very visual film that takes cues from films like Blade Runner, but the crux of the story seems to be how humanity has grown tired of technology – it just gets in the way more than it helps.

One hundred percent! The technology always hits LA first and the lifestyle is so affected by social media and technology. It’s funny as you go east you almost go back in time. Even if you go to New York! Though, I suppose Zone 414 is the location where the technology is created.

Someone asked me when the film takes place, it’s kind of an alternate timeline or an alternate future in which this technology is available. What would people do with it? They have done these kinds of robots and androids before and of course, the sex business is going to be the thing that drives this.

Another journalist said to me that there was quite a sexual undercurrent, which was by design. It was an edgy script that Bryan wrote and then as the elements came together on the movie, it definitely veered more towards the classier execution of the film which is not a bad thing at all because I can get very dark and very depraved. We didn’t want that with this film. To be quite honest, I think Matilda was a big part of that. She always had a clear understanding of what to do with Jane. She’s a very classy lady who just added a lot, and her interpretation of Jane really affected how the film was done. With subject matter like this, it’s really easy to go too dark and too depraved and get a little too nasty.

We do hint at what can happen as we explore the lower levels of the zone, but again it’s a graphic novel. That’s the world it’s in. It has a firm foot in fantasy as well as in reality, but the thing that has to be real is the human connection, and it’s really about two lost souls who find each other and go through this dark journey and get out the other side together.

Any of these other great films are just based on these classic stories, you know? Bryan had a lot of stuff in his script that touched on a lot of stuff and we had to find a way to shoot that effectively. Often what works on the page doesn’t work on the day of filming. It’s interesting how movies start in written form and end up in a theater. Movies are very visual. It’s kind of like building a house. You don’t live in the blueprint; you live in the actual house.

So, everything is a collaboration. We had a great collection of actors. As a first-time movie director, I’m proud of the cast we assembled for this movie. It was wonderful. We didn’t just create a fantastic world, we populated it with really great characters played by amazing actors.

It’s great how you allow the performers to do what they do, often via wordless scenes where we’re just observing them walk through a room or listen to music.

I appreciate everything you’re saying. Everyone is going to interpret the film differently and I think that’s beautiful. Another journalist was going on and on and was thrilled with it, but she had her own experience. It’s like looking at a painting and taking your own interpretation of it.

I think the film is very genuine. The film is exquisitely made and executed in many ways and a lot of care was taken with it. It’s inevitable that some people will compare it to Blade Runner and some of John Carpenter’s work. Of course, they don’t realize we had the catering budget of Blade Runner. I don’t like to highlight that either. If it fits in with them, great! But what you’re saying is that there are a lot of things going on … if you kind of roll with it. I tried to be experimental with it. This has been quite a classical exercise in filmmaking, but the bottom line is when you have such great actors inhabiting these great characters you just have to roll with it. I’m glad people are picking things up that are specific to them. I think on the surface you could just call it a Blade Runner knockoff, but I think there’s a lot more going on in the movie. Bottom line is that it has to engage and entertain and we tried to get the plot down to a core, engaging simplicity which is: he’s on a mission to find a missing girl, he finds this other girl and together they find each other and go through a cathartic experience. I think Guy and Matilda has great chemistry. It’s a good tale and a good story.

I don’t even know if this is a question, but my favorite line of the film was when a character remarked, “When God makes something, he makes it fragile. When we make something, we want to keep it alive forever.” I thought that was such an interesting take on humanity and technology in general.

Thanks so much! It’s great you drew so much from the movie. Please get the word out. It’s a small independent movie. We are very fortunate to have some great machinery behind it, but I think some people are looking at it like a major studio release, which it’s not. We had to make this movie with a lot of prudency. It’s great that it’s getting out there.

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