400 Days is a science fiction thriller written and directed by Matt Osterman. It stars Brandon Routh, Caity Lotz, Ben Feldman, and Dane Cook as astronauts who are locked into a space simulator for 400 days.
We had a chance to chat with Matt about the film:
What is it about the sci-fi genre that is of interest to you?
Personally, I’m inquisitive to a fault and the sci-fi genre gives me the perfect excuse to dig deep into themes and really fun research (others might call it procrastination). Overall, I think sci-fi, when done right, can act as a prism to universal themes and can offer a glimpse into a potential future. And spending time investigating the unknown is awfully fun.
Sci-fi fans can be a tough crowd. Because of so many sci-fi tropes that have been used time and time again, it can be tough to really make a film that stands on its own without drawing inevitable comparisons to a previous film. How do you get around that?
Obviously the more you’re aware of existing clichés and tropes, the more you can avoid them. To me, however, I just let the story take me where it needs to go. Hopefully the originality comes out of that.
What was the inspiration for 400 Days?
It was originally inspired by a real experiment from a few years ago called Mars500 where a handful of astronauts entered a fake ship for 500 days to test the psychological effects of deep space travel. Other simulations like this are happening around the globe as humans prepare to travel to Mars. I took the idea of this space travel simulation and thought it might be fun to add some extra complications for the crew. A bit more cinematic, per se.
The story really felt like something that would not feel out of place on the Outer Limits or the Twilight Zone. Is it that method of compressed writing that appeals to you?
I grew up watching reruns of The Twilight Zone and it’s probably the single biggest influence on my brand of storytelling. It’s just really brilliant, fearless writing and something I aspire to. Things never needed to be wrapped up or explained – it was just, “this is the Twilight Zone and shit happens, so deal with it!” I love that.
The film is really split into two main locations: the claustrophobic confines of the ‘ship’ and the wasteland exterior with the town. Did you ever consider shooting the entire film within the ship?
Not really. The interesting piece for me was the idea to pull the rug out from under the characters. They were perfectly suited to ride out any complications from the outside world and the decision to leave was a major one. Because of this I’ve been accused of not knowing what kind of movie I wanted to make, but I feel like trying to put a movie into a specific box is a really lazy way of thinking. What rule says sci-fi and apocalypse genres can’t co-exist? Conversely, a giant chunk of the audience is relieved to have them escape the ship, as it was getting awfully claustrophobic for some.
You managed to nab some of The CW’s top talent including Brandon Routh, Caity Lotz, Tom Cavanagh as well as Dane Cook and Ben Feldman from Mad Men/Silicon Valley. How did you pull that cast together and what do you think each actor brought to their role?
At the point we were casting, Caity was the only one with a starring role on any of those shows. I think Tom might have shot the pilot for The Flash, but Brandon was cast a few months after we wrapped. It’s really funny and completely coincidental how they all ended up being a huge part of that universe. Overall, we were so incredibly fortunate to pull together a cast of that caliber at our budget level. They were absolutely incredible to work with and came ready to play everyday. I can’t say enough great things about each of them.
Dane Cook tends to be a polarizing figure. How did you know he would be perfect for this role?
Honestly, it’s because he’s a great actor. The dude has legit talent. And I think he proves it in the film. He’s also incredibly self-aware (and one of the sharpest people I have ever met) and he understood exactly what he could bring to this character. I can’t wait to see what he does next.
It is no secret that the ending of this film has been somewhat controversial. I myself liked the ambiguity but I can see how it would also drive people nuts. Did you have an alternate ending or do you know yourself what the real answer is?
We didn’t intend for the ending to be “controversial,” but we fully understood that some viewers prefer all the answers delivered on a silver platter and this wouldn’t be that kind of film. We aren’t the first puzzle film to offer an open ending and I’m happy to come from a long line of filmmakers who aren’t afraid to make the audience think. There is not an alternate ending, but many of the viewers are picking up the clues (especially upon repeat viewings) and are putting together some amazing theories. I’m actually collecting some of the good thoughts and theories over at 400days.tumblr.com if folks wanted to commiserate there. 😉
What is your next project that we can look forward to?
I have a couple of fun things cooking, but I’m currently digging deep on an artificial intelligence piece. Our world is about to change in amazing and unforeseen ways in regard to A.I. and it’s been a blast to start investigating where it might be headed.
400 Days is available now on DVD/VOD