|The Peter Chung Interview!!!!
||[Jan. 4th, 2006|12:45 pm]
The Origional Æon Flux Community
Q: How did you come up with a character as risque and mysterious as Aeon Flux?
This is the question I get asked the most and it's a very hard one to answer. What drives a lot of my creativity is an evolving set of theories about how the experience of art affects the viewer. There is the other side of me which is driven by aesthetic instinct, spontaneous expression and the subconscious. I wanted a character that would satisfy both needs at once.
Creating Aeon was very much a process of elimination. I set myself a rigorous set of restrictions-- of things I'd disallow: not an ideologue, a patriot or a crimefighter; no one giving her orders; no family; no assumptions. I tried to eliminate anything that would allow you to predict her actions.
Aeon has no family, or ties to anyone. Any dramatic points a screenwriter can score by holding family members hostage (or killing!) reveal nothing about her as a unique individual. Too easy. It's shorthand. We assume anyone is going to feel an emotional attachment to their sibling. That tells me nothing about her.
Her worth (to us) is her responsibility and hers alone. The point is, we all define our own worth. It's the main point of the series, actually.
The outcome in any work of fiction is arbitrary. It's at the whim of the author. What is not arbitrary is the form. You cannot cheat form. Form is not a vehicle for content. It is the content. The point is in the structure, the relationship of parts, the endowment of meaning to events through context. It is not the role of the author to moralize or to pronounce judgment.
That is the deliberate aversion to provide backstory. Because backstory is a trap.
Ambiguous? A character in a film is not someone whose background we need to know in order to consider proceeding in a relationship with him/her. The process of discovery IS the relationship. Explain nothing. What matters is not the names of families, how many years in the future or past. What matters is the structure, the relationship of events, the thread which allows us to accept an unlikely outcome through the carefully delineated (and orchestrated) sequence of causal progression driven by character. You can transpose a good story on any setting, any era. (Shakespeare)
What makes a story compelling is that it: 1.has coherence and 2. corresponds to personal experience. The more unlikely the conclusion, the more compelling the tale. We want to learn how an event that seems to make no sense actually does when you know the details. That's how headlines hook you and what keeps you reading till the end of the newspaper article.
Aeon, unlike the revolutionaries in so much science fiction, is not struggling to win her freedom. The typical rebel heroes (Luke, Logan, THX1138, Neo, John Conner, and Catherine Goodchild) are fighting to free themselves from oppression. When their struggle succeeds, their stories end. But what happens after they attain their long-sought freedom? That is where Aeon's story begins. She isn't striving to be free. She IS free. When rebellions win, they are likely to replace one form of control with another. Aeon doesn't take orders from anyone. Everything she does is self-motivated. That is why each episode must create a new motive for her. There is no ideological template to follow.
I've loved the medium of animation all my life, but was never able to understand why it was used almost exclusively to tell children's stories. My favorite writers are Borges, Nabokov, Robbe-Grillet and Kafka. I wanted to know if I could convey through animation a visual equivalent of that kind of psychological and formal complexity. The filmic equvalent of the structural rigor of Pale Fire or Jealousy is something I'd like to achieve some day.
The art of filmmaking has a precise meaning to me. I believe the challenge of the filmmaker is to achieve a kind of telepathy between the viewer and the character on screen. To enable the viewer to infer thoughts and feelings through observation of physical action. That is the power of film over other narrative techniques. The bone-chilling gentleness of Claudia's touch on Sandro's shoulder at the climax of L'Avventura (Antonioni); Marnie deciding to steal again after shooting her horse (Hitchcock). These are wordless actions (in films containing plenty of dialogue) where the viewer understands the import through carefully built context. These insights are truer because they are allowed to occur within the viewer's mind. A reward given is not as precious as one earned. My work will not appeal to viewers who try to find the meaning of a film through its dialogue. Dialogue is texture. It is an element that lends a film some realism. The meaning in a film must, just as all meanings in real life, remain elusive and left for the viewer to discover. My personal views on the proper use of film as a narrative medium are fairly narrow-- not because I think my own methods are the best, but because I need to set myself specific goals in order to be motivated enough to stick it through the laborious process of making a film.
Q: Trevor and Aeon possess antithetical believes about state policy and political identity. Are their views reconcilable? Could you say you identify with one stance more than the other?
No, they are not reconcilable. In fact, their existence depends on the eternal struggle between their respective views. They are aware of this "dependency" on the other, and that is why they can never bring themselves to destroy the other.
Till now, I've resisted stating outright how I've defined the relationship between Aeon and Trevor in my mind, as I preferred to let the viewer decide. However, with the movie's shot at a definitive explanation on view, and with 10 years for viewers to make up their minds, I suppose I might as well. In spite of what people have said, their relationship is consistent and makes sense. It is not only perfectly logical, but the only way it could be. Their respective personalities define the relationship and the relationship defines their personalities.
Once and for all-- Aeon is NOT out to kill Trevor. (Where do people get this idea?) Even in the Pilot, she refrains from shooting him in the elevator.
I'll discuss Utopia or Deuteranopia, since it is where we establish their mutual dependence. That was the purpose of that script. When she says "I'm here on a mission to assassinate Trevor Goodchild", she is obviously playing to the camera. Trevor says "I think they're having fun at our expense". Gildemere later says "But you wanted Trevor dead!", to which Aeon replies "Did I?". It couldn't be more clear. She had no intention to kill Trevor because she needs to keep Trevor exactly where he is. If she were to kill Trevor, Clavius would be far worse. On the other side, Trevor wanted to keep Clavius alive, making it appear he was a prisoner of anti-Breen terrorists. He needs that pretense to implement his "openness" policy, which is actually a universal surveillance policy. (Trevor says "total information awareness" for the rerelease- I just couldn't resist.
Aeon doesn't want the Breen populace to become as free as she is. They're not up to it. That was the point of Thanatophobia. She likes Trevor's hands to be tied, so to speak, by the burden of his office, by his addiction to power. She doesn't want the Demiurge to relieve him of that burden. (That was implicit in that episode- though not the main point.) Revolutionaries need an oppressive establishment to thrive, just as governments need hidden enemies to justify stricture. If he were to be deposed or give up his office, she might even have to face the possibility of a committed relationship. Better that he remain unattainable. Besides, it's his supreme power that makes him attractive. Not because she likes powerful men-- but because his sense of responsibility is something she identifies with so strongly. She bears her own responsibility in her own way, for sure, but only for herself. She's both repulsed and fascinated that Trevor would take on the burden of so many that depend on him. She'd never admit it, but in that way, she admires him. It's a balance that must be maintained in a state of tension. (The ONE time Aeon does act to kill Trevor is when she pulls the lever in the Purge. And that is done at the coaxing of Trevor himself. He taunts her into acting against her "conscience" as proof that she is not under his control. "Conscience" is an idea, therefore a word, therefore a tool.)
I never understood allowing one's nationality, or allegiance to a regime, to be a defining characteristic of one's personal identity. That is an accident of birth. Who I am, even within that historical framework, is a matter of my own invention. In that sense, I would apparently side with Aeon. Still, Trevor is primarily interested in inventing (or reinventing) what it is to be human-- not what it is to be a Breen. He uses the state as a laboratory. Nationalism is not his goal, but a tool towards possible transcendence. That is his saving grace.
Trevor and Aeon were not married in a previous life. That is the least interesting explanation I can imagine for their attraction to one another. It gets around the problem of making the characters interesting people in their own right. Also, it bears no relationship to what causes attraction between two people in real life; even if you believe in reincarnation. In fact-- I know a couple who vow they are destined to be together because they were once ancient Egyptian royalty. I know them well enough to question how that bond between them could survive millenia, yet the same can't be said of their Egyptianness (they are both as white/Anglo as they come). The point is, the compulsion of destiny does not make their relationship richer from the perspective of an observer. Only to themselves. (And yes-- fictional characters only exist to be observed.)
Aeon and Trevor should be attracted to each other because they are damned fascinating people. It's the author's job to come up with behavior to convince us that they could find qualities to love in each other in spite of everything. Not to tell us that they can't help it because they were born (or destined) that way.
Q: How is it to work on a character like Aeon Flux, how he balances the relationship between his own creativity and the outside presures and if it is something that bothers him, or that he sees as an integral part of the way he works on a character.....
To maintain one's original motivation throughout the difficult process of convincing a studio, then a production team in bringing something personal to the screen is the hardest part of working in the commercial film industry. "A character like Aeon Flux", means different things to different people involved in that process. That was deliberate. The character is visually provocative to get viewers to watch something they might not otherwise. I was very aware from the beginning that the stories I wanted to tell were unconventional, experimental, nonliteral. They are based on personal experience, observation, insight. They are not meant to make the viewer feel comfortable, reassured or familiar. The kinds of stories I tell are the only kind that seem right to me. They aren't linear because life isn't linear. Linearity is reductive.
For me, the point of any artistic expression lies in its capacity to shift the viewer's consciousness to a perspective outside of the usual patterns. Whether the viewer is willing to have his consciousness shifted will depend on whether he considers that a valuable experience. That is not to dismiss the way other filmmakers approach their work. I've just had to find the rationale that has the most effect in motivating me. My experience on Dark Fury taught me that I have little interest in directing if I feel no personal connection to the intent of the script.
Q: Were the character designs for Aeon and Trevor influenced by any historical or pop-culture figures? If so, whom?
No. Though Trevor's face was initially influenced by a drawing done by my friend Ashley Bickerton from CalArts who later went on to become a star in the New York avant-garde art scene.
Q: Oh, I'd also like to know why Aeon's character was so different in Reraizure.
The main point of that story was that Aeon needed to repeat her initial mission, retracing the same steps in a precise sequence to undo or erase the consequences of her actions. Her interest in Rorty is partly her sense of responsibility for having killed Muriel, and, like her trying to help Sybil in Thanatophobia, sympathy towards innocent victims of the Breen border containment system. Amputees in Bregna mark those who tried to cross the border: Sybil, the clapping boy, Scaphandra, Rorty, and the train cripple and balloon boy from the Purge. But equally, it is her curiosity to learn what Muriel was doing in Trevor's prison. She was getting close to Rorty partly to find out the connection between Muriel and Trevor. Aeon is not amoral nor only out for herself, in spite of what many viewers may think. Many of her actions are ultimately altruistic, though that motive usually coincides with her need to oppose Trevor, as she regards Trevor to be unscrupulous in his exercise of power. The handling of her attitude during her interaction with Rorty is due to choices made by Howard Baker, who directed the episode.
Q: Also on Trevor: does he feel that the movie version is somehow closer to his original conception of Trevor (who wasn't supposed to be a villain)?
No. Of course not. Trevor is not a villain in the series. By your question, you think otherwise. If that's your view, I won't try to change it.
For the DVD release, I revised Trevor's dialogue in End Sinister, an episode I'd neither written nor directed. I disagreed with Japhet Asher's portrayal of him in that episode. There are nine other episodes in which I did not revise Trevor's character because in those, he was correctly portrayed. Whether he seems a villain or not in each episode will depend on how much you agree with his motives and actions.
On the other hand, the movie Trevor is so emasculated that I can't see Aeon giving him two minutes. That's fine, since the character in the movie who can't kill Trevor because of having once been married to him in a past life is someone named Catherine Goodchild - who only thinks she is Aeon. Ms. Flux does not actually appear in the movie.
Q: I'd really like to know more about the new Aeon Flux project he's working on, especially if he's decided what relation it will have to his other two Aeon Flux series (will it be a continuation, plot/theme-wise, of the half-hour series or will he reinvent the series yet again). I'd also like to know if he's feeling any pressure to change the animated Aeon to look more like Charlize or to keep continuity with the movie for his new project.
Has MTV spoken to Chung about creating some new Aeon Flux episodes?
I'd love to hear about the new AF and non-AF projects you're currently working on. Could you tell us a little bit more about these, please?
I'd like to know more about his upcoming non-aeon project... he's been very mysterious about it!
When MTV Films was gearing up to start shooting the live action movie, they were casting about for ways to use tie-ins to promote the release. A comic book series and game were being discussed, but I had little interest in getting involved. I'd just finsihed Dark Fury (the animated episode of Vin Diesel's Riddick character), which itself had been inspired by Animatrix, which I'd done the year earlier. Since Aeon Flux the live action movie would be coming out, I proposed doing a new animated DVD of Aeon. It seemed even more sensible than the other two projects, since Aeon had begun as an animated character. With the studio's approval, I started writing the story. It's planned for a feature-length DVD release, meaning at least 66 minutes, possibly 80. (The general complaint about Dark Fury was that it was too short at 35 minutes.)
At the same time, the plan to release the original MTV series on DVD was taking shape. It became a very time consuming project, as I would need to personally supervise the process, including providing much of the source material. It became impossible to both remaster the original series and produce the new feature length episode in time for the movie's release, so I opted to focus on the DVD boxset.
The new feature is still in the writing stage. I wrote the treatment with some help from Japhet Asher.
I won't do another half-hour series of Aeon Flux for MTV. I'd like to do more with the character, but without the budget, time and content restrictions of a weekly series.
I can't say anything about my other projects at this time.
Q: Did you spend a lot of time with the screenwriter of the movie? Or were you basically excised out of the feature writing process?
I had about an hour long meeting with Phil and Matt after their script had been greenlit and Karyn was set to direct. Neither I nor anyone who'd worked on the series was ever considered to write for the movie.
Q: How do you REALLY feel about the movie Aeon Flux? Considering it couldn't really ever touch upon how effective the cartoon is.
With apologies to both Phil and Matt-- who have publicly been effusive in their praise for the show-- the movie is a travesty. I was unhappy when I read the script four years ago; seeing it projected larger than life in a crowded theatre made me feel helpless, humiliated and sad. I know it's bad form for me to voice my disapproval in a public forum, but it's silly for me, of all people, to continue playing dumb, considering most of the critics have voiced their disapproval using every mocking and condescending expression possible. I know that the studio made a lot of cuts against the wishes of the writers and director. Most of the cuts concerned further development of the secondary characters. Since my main problems are with the portrayal of Aeon and Trevor, I doubt that I'd have liked the longer version much better. I didn't when I read the script, and there are definitely some things I'm glad WERE cut-- like Catherine's pregnancy.
Maybe the makers didn't understand the source material and thought they were being true to it; or they understood it, but didn't think it would appeal to a wide enough audience and altered it to suit their presumed target. They claim to love the original version; yet they do not extend that faith to their audience. No, they will soften it for the public, which isn't hip enough to appreciate the raw, pure, unadulterated source like they do. The argument for the Catherine Goodchild movie is that an accurate live-action version of the Aeon Flux would have been too inaccessible for a mainstream audience. It would not have made money, ergo there's no impetus for the studio to make it. It's a circular argument which attempts to shift responsibility away from the individuals who make the film to the presumed audience. Presuming to know what an audience wants to see and tailoring the product to fit is a method that sucks all the drive I'd have to ever create anything. It's self-defeating disingenuous.
I'm not naive about the realities of making unconventional films in the arena of "mass entertainment". It's possible to make good unconventional films; it's also very hard. In any case, if you're going to risk failure, I say do it boldly, with conviction. The problem with the movie is its failure of nerve.
The fact that Catherine decided to disobey her orders and investigate the source of her feelings for Trevor is offered by viewers as a sign of her independence. Is that how little some fans are willing to settle for? Aeon never took orders from anyone, never went into a mission without understanding her motives.
The original impetus behind the Aeon Flux "Pilot" was a critique of the manipulation of sympathy in Hollywood movies. That method is most transparent in the action genre. Aeon Flux was never an action vehicle. The only two episodes in which Aeon does much physical fighting are the shorts Pilot and War -- in which her violent actions are portrayed as preposterous and futile. Not heroic. How can anyone watching those shorts NOT GET IT?
Q: Name three of your favorite writers/artists in animation today and tell us what it is about each creator's work that appeals to you most.
I return to his films repeatedly for their beauty, technical skill and inventiveness. He is an animator's animator, capable of drawing and animating absolutely anything. Getting to know him was one of the greater rewards of being involved in Animatrix.
HIs film "in" is the best animated film I've seen in many years.
To write a book report on "what was this about and why I liked it" would be both useless and spoiling the experience. The film cannot be enjoyed unless you discard all preconceptions based on having seen other films in your past. The animation, design, sound and direction are all perfectly realized. See it.
Forget that he co-directed the Rugrats movie. I first saw "Hen, His Wife" at the Ottawa Animation Festival in 1990 and couldn't believe what I was seeing. "Andrei Svislotsky" and "Milch" are equally astonishing. His films are oblique yet precise; poignant, yet humorous; steeped in tradition, yet utterly modern; culturally specific, yet universal; grotesque, yet beautiful. And he makes the best mouth noises of any animator I've ever worked with.
All three of these filmmakers are masters of every aspect of their productions. They write, design, animate and direct. They are all technical innovators. There are images in their films which have never been seen in any others. Most importantly, they have a deep understanding about the nature of the medium. They use animation in ways that have no analog to live-action, though their worlds are built on solid foundations of realism. I can watch their films repeatedly and never fail to find fresh inspiration.
Q: What do you want to say to all of your fans?
I'll use this space to talk further about the director's cut version of the episodes as they appear on the DVD boxset, since this has caused some confusion, controversy, and even animosity. First, what is with all the "he Lucased it" nonsense? It's sad. Geek culture (you know who you are) on the internet today has a strangely selective understanding of cultural history if they think that George Lucas originated the practice of revising a creative work he has authored when the time came to relaunch it. Shakespeare revised his plays when new productions were mounted. Stravinsky reworked The Rite of Spring over 30 years after its first performance. Harold Pinter, Sam Shepard and David Mamet changed scenes and structure in their plays over time, but people don't have those on videotape, so no one is complaining. Anthony Burgess added a whole new chapter to the second edition of A Clockwork Orange. Conversely, Orson Welles' Magnificent Ambersons was cut by the studio without his approval. I suppose there are a few people who prefer the studio cut of Blade Runner to the director's, but why cater to them? And frankly, I couldn't give a rat's ass if Greedo shot first.
T.V. shows are produced and delivered under tight deadlines. The director is usually revising them up until the last possible minute to get every element as close as possible to what he intends to communicate. The deadline comes up and he has to stop fixing. If the schedule was either one day shorter or longer for any Aeon Flux episode, it would have differences from the version viewers saw on the air. There is nothing sacred or complete about that version, it just represents the product as it stood at the moment when work was halted. This is true at every stage in a production, including the recording of dialogue. There is a limited number of hours and money allotted to each stage. If you've spent all your time and money for recording, but haven't got on tape what you really wanted, too bad, you have to work with what you've got. Apparently many fans thought that the episodes as they aired were perfect as they were and should not be touched. The people who worked on them think otherwise. Jack Fletcher, Drew Neumann, Japhet Asher, Mark Mars are some of those who'd done the work 10 years ago and who were happy to have the chance to help me fix the problems for the rerelease. Neither did Howard Baker object to my making corrections to episodes he'd directed. I'd always disagreed with some of the choices he'd made, but circumstances in 1995 didn't allow me to make the revisions I wanted. The final version of Utopia, was also delivered without the chance for me to make final revisions.
I've gone on in some detail about these differences because I've found that on the internet, memes spread fast and you have to answer criticisms before they take hold and get repeated by people who haven't even seen the object of controversy for themselves. If you've seen it and still don't like it, I'm sorry. It's funny how people who were trying to get their friends to be open minded and watch the show in the first place are now stuck in their own preconceptions. But I don't think including the old versions on an alternate track is a good idea, either. That would only serve to draw attention to the differences, whereas my goal is to give the new ones a chance to be seen fresh, without prejudice- especially to viewers seeing them for the first time.
I would like to thank Peter Chung on behalf of everyone here at Monican Spies for taking the time out to do this interview and for answering the questions with such depth and intelligence. We will never be able to repay you for your generosity and your time and we appreciate you doing this interview.
All our love,
The Monican Spies Community