Exclusive Interview: "Air" Director Christian Cantamessa

This weekend, Christian Cantamessa's directorial debut releases in select theaters.

Cantamessa, previously known for his video game writing and designing on project like Red Dead Redemption, wrote and directed Air. Air stars The Walking Dead's Norman Reedus and Guardians of the Galaxy's Djimon Hounsou, which is an absolute treat for a directorial debut - being able to work with such talented, experienced actors.

We had the chance to talk with Cantamessa exclusively about his upcoming movie.

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CB: You must be pretty excited with August 14 getting closer and closer.

CC: Yes! Yes, very excited. A little nervous. It is my first film so like every first thing, there's a little bit of last minute jitters, so to speak but it's exciting to have it out there and hopefully people will enjoy.

Can you explain what the world is your trying to create and what's going on in Air?

In terms of what is going on, I don't want to spoiler the movie. It's fundamentally, a science fiction thriller film. It's a post-apocalyptic story. The background setting is that the planet's surface has been rendered uninhabitable by an unspecified world catastrophe which we heavily suggest is man-made. It's the result of some kind of war and some of it is left to the audience to explore the nooks and crannies of the film and find the various bits of evidence that have been left there for them to find the information if they want to. Clearly, everything that is in the past is not horribly important for the predicament of our characters who are the two custodians of this bunker.

It's an underground Noah's Ark, if you will, and they're in charge of a large number of people that have been stored away. The best and the brightest of man-kind, so that in the future, when the planet can be inhabited again, there will be a society to build but also there will be the knowledge and the expertise that, as a race, we have managed to accumulate over the span that we've been alive. So, that's fundamentally their job and that's the premise of the movie. Clearly, with a story like this something is bound to happen that kind of throws a banner in the works, so to speak and that's the event of the movie.

Cool. It looks like it has a very claustrophobic feel to it. I'm very excited to see it.

Oh, you haven't seen it yet?

No! I haven't. I'm going to be first in line, though.

That's cool! Then it's going to be a surprise for you. I don't want to spoiler it for you, either! Bauer and Cartwright, played by Norman Reedus and Djimon Hounsou, have only two hours of air for every maintenance cycle. They wake up every six months. They have these two hours to maintain the facility and then they have to go back into their own cryogenic pods to return to sleep because it takes so long for the filters of the facility to clean out a little bit of air for them to breathe again. And then clearly, something bad happens, and it results in the problem that they're gonna run out of air.

So, it has an element of very immediate and incumbent danger in the wake of the responsibility that they carry. Really, that is the crux of the movie. It's a science fiction movie in it's premise and the imagery. My inspiration was the movies from the mid 70s to late 80s, that I grew up watching and loving. Everything from Alien to Blade Runner to The Thing. That sort of grittier science fiction. Beyond that, beyond the surface, it's really a character story about these two custodians and they face the question of what limits they're willing to corrupt to survive and what really makes us human in the face of the apocalypse where the rules have gone out the way.

Cool!

It's a very cool movie!

Character driven films are the best kind, so I'm looking forward to it.

You shouldn't expect any space ships or any of that. It's a very slow movie. It's a labor of love. We made it so that we can tell this story.

How was working with such talented actors in Norman Reedus and Djimon Hounsou? What was the set like with them?

It was literally a dream come true. I was unbelievably fortunate and privileged to see them bring their talent and expertise and their passion, most importantly their passion, because sometimes the smaller movies, people forget - they rely on producers and the talent to be willing to put up with certain things that normally, on a big production, wouldn't happen. For example, the fact that we shot on location, for real, in an abandoned mine in an abandoned power station, so the conditions took them very close to the subject matter but for them, as human beings, they must be feeling very claustrophobic and at times very unpleasant. Their performances, there's a moment during the film, where as a filmmaker you have in your head who could play the characters...

I don't like to write with an actor in mind. I co-wrote this piece and credit is shared with Chris Pasetto. I know, similarly, we didn't have anyone particularly cast in mind. We just built these people on friends and people that we knew form our lives. So, when Norman Reedus and Djimon Hounsou accepted the roles, it was almost like - surprising - that we managed to attract somebody who has been Academy Award nominated, twice, in Djimon, and one of the best actors on TV today, Norman. Right now, I can't imagine anyone else in those roles. Even if I re-read the script. They have dominated their parts so well that I can no longer separate their face and their creative additions to the character from what was originally on the page. They absolutely own this movie.

Are you a fan of The Walking Dead with Norman?

I'm a big fan of The Walking Dead. Norman, for me, from the first season was a revelation in terms of character and character work. He brings a something different to this character. Clearly, Bauer is not Daryl. His background and his attitude on life is completely different. I feel like he brings another aspect of himself as a person and also a sense of humor. Like a delightfully dark sense of humor that people might not encounter in The Walking Dead but I feel like it's very natural and very generous. For fans of Norman, I think it'll be a chance to see another aspect of his personality that explodes in his work.

You have Robert Kirkman on board, who is responsible for The Walking Dead, and he's all over the place now with TV, movies, and comics. Do you hope to follow suit and get involved with different platforms or specific projects you want to work on going forward?

That's a very difficult question to answer right now. With a movie coming I'm excited that I managed to make it and I was given the opportunity. In this day and age, to make a movie is a challenge. To get a movie released is a challenge. I was fortunate for people like Robert Kirkman, David Alpert, Brian Kavanaugh-Jones, Chris Ferguson, these are all the producers of the film. Obviously, Sony and their division, Stage 6, acquired the movie and allowed us to fundamentally make it. Great people and it's been absolutely amazing to direct. I was worried that I would have a dragon breathing down my neck because I'm spending their money every day but instead I just found great, great collaborative learners.

I love science fiction. I love genre in general. I'm not maybe a splatter house, grind house horror kind of person, but I really like the elevated horror genre. Especially, if you think of some of my inspirations I mentioned like The Thing and Alien, they are from a certain angle, really scary horror movies. So, I would like to explore that realm more. Whether it's staying in science fiction or going on to elevated horror, as long as it's character driven, I feel like I would enjoy telling another genre story. I don't expect to be making any Marvel or Transformers movie any time soon.

I do have to ask, as a fan of the Red Dead Redemption game you wrote, is there any talk of a sequel? Has anyone reached out to you for that?

No. I co-wrote Red Dead Redemption and I was also the lead designer of the game, so that's a game that's very close to my heart. The way games work, especially the way Rockstar works, I should qualify that because not all companies work that way, but the way Rockstar works is that they're so passionate and so intense about the material that they create, like their children to them. Everyone working on those games is an employee of the company and it's a big family. Everybody's very creatively and artistically looked after.

I'm now external to the company. I write independently for video games. I direct movies. I'm working on a couple of other projects I hope will see the light of day. I just wouldn't be able to collaborate with them any longer in a way that would make them happy and me happy. I don't know what's happening with a sequel for Red Dead. I think that the success of the game probably, at some point, put the people in the financial realm interested in a sequel but I wouldn't know if that's ever gonna happen or, if it does happen, when it will happen. Rockstar is like people who love wine. They don't serve it until it's red.

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Air is now playing in select theaters.