Syfy Films continues to expand into the theatrical arena with their new feature, Atomica, a character-driven science fiction drama about three people who are unsure if they can trust one another as they attempt to get a futuristic power station back online. With Atomica now out in select theaters and coming out on VOD and digital HD beginning March 21st, Daily Dead recently caught up with director Dagen Merrill for our latest Q&A feature to discuss realizing his vision on a budget, how to find hope within a bleak depiction of the future, and more.
Could you give a bit of background on how you came to be involved in the project? Was this something that came to you or were you part of developing it? What about Atomica made you want to tell this story?
Dagen Merrill: I had an investor approach me about making a low-budget film. From there, I connected with LifeBoat Entertainment, which is one of the most incredibly low-budget production houses in LA, and we started looking for scripts. Vahan [Paretchan] (of LifeBoat) found this award-winning script and from there, it was just about finding the right actors.
There have obviously been a number of movies about “the future,” whether they’re set in space or on post-apocalyptic Earth. How do you go about trying to create a version of the future that feels new and different from what we’ve seen on screen before?
Dagen Merrill: [Spoiler Warning] I think the error is thinking this movie is SET IN THE FUTURE. There is no future and no past—only the now. When you accept the fact that these characters aren’t living in an imagined future, but in their present, you become less concerned about how the “future” looks and more interested in the story and how the world of that story (be it past, present, or future) helps support the experience. [End of Spoiler Warning]
What are the challenges to making a movie with just a few actors and pretty much a single location?
Dagen Merrill: The challenge is that you want to keep the audience engaged, but again, that’s what really impressed me about the material. It kept you guessing throughout. The main opportunities are that you get to go deeper into each character. In a film, you only have so much time to focus on the development of just a few characters, which allows for more depth. We shot in an abandoned Titan II nuclear missile silo, a location I think really set the tone for the rest of the look and design of the film. I love Alien and Primer and other sci-fi that keep things very contained, so in that sense we were looking for something similar.
You get to work with some great actors in Atomica. How much are you conscious of being able to use the baggage the audience might bring to their performances to keep us off balance? We’re used to seeing Dominic Monaghan or Tom Sizemore play certain kinds of roles, so we think we know what to expect, but the movie doesn’t make it that easy.
Dagen Merrill: I didn’t give it much thought. Dom came to the table with SUCH a bold and courageous take on Robinson that I was never worried that people would confuse his performance with anything he’d ever done. And when it comes to Tom… well, he has a weight and presence on screen that eclipses anything he’s done previously… every time.
At its heart, the movie seems to be about disillusionment. Is this a theme you’re interested in or is any part of it in response to the current political climate both in the US and worldwide?
Dagen Merrill: I’m interested in disillusionment only as a first step into awakening to the truth, which is what this journey (hopefully) is about. I like that it ends the way it does because it relies on the audience to do something (since the characters can’t) if there’s ever to be change.
In case you missed it, check out Patrick's review of Atomica, and check out the official trailer below.