Over the first twenty years of the 21st century, filmmakers have explored the notion of sentient artificial intelligence, where computer/robotic-based creations can engage in autonomous thought. Notably, Steven Spielberg did so with A.I. Artificial Intelligence, in which a mechanical boy was central to the film. Later, Caradog James made The Machine, where a beautiful woman was the embodiment of a new order of positronic intellectual deliberation. More recently, Alex Garland’s Ex Machina also presented a robotic female character as the highest form of evolution, considering man-made devices imagined in the 1940s by computer pioneer Alan Turing. Now, with his directorial debut Archive, British writer-director Gavin Rothery has entered similar territory.
In 2009, Rothery was heavily involved in the creation of fellow Briton Duncan Jones’ Moon, where Rothery served as Conceptual Designer, Graphic Designer, and Visual Effects Supervisor, among other critical tasks. In point, Independent, the production company behind Moon, was determined to make another new and innovative science-fiction film. “Phil Herd, the producer, got in touch with me,” said Rothery. “I had the idea and worked out the story back in 2011. I needed to come up with a writer, trying to collaborate with people. In the end, I just wrote Archive myself.”
Indeed, given his background on Moon and other relevant projects, Rothery wore many hats on the Archive crew. “I was doing concept art, production design, photography, motion graphics, graphic design,” he stated. “I’m going to imprint myself on it. I can bring a lot of extra value—I worked on the visual effects. Give me that shot—I’ll take it home and do it. I can be very handy to have these skills.”
Given the modest budget range of Archive, the production team made the decision to film entirely in Hungary, shooting at the end of 2018. “It’s all about money, where you shoot,” Rothery revealed. “Production was telling me where we were going to shoot. We went through five countries—at one point, it might have been Australia. We were in Budapest; Hungary was wonderful.”
Making a futuristic film as with Archive, Independent aimed for a three-and-a-half-month schedule—eight weeks to build sets, and six weeks to shoot the film, making use of Hungary’s warehouses. “It was really dusty and quite gloomy,” explained Rothery of his fully contiguous set, housing an intricately-configured interior research facility. “We only had enough money to light the area where we are in. Down the corridor was pitch black and gloomy—it brought a tone.”
Returning to his London base, Rothery headed into a relatively brisk post-production period. “You start off with a budget [at the outset of production], and everything you do costs money,” he reflected. “When you end up in post, you have the end in sight. You have to have a clear vision what your film is. Me being able to take shots home and do things with them: ‘I want a hologram in that shot—I’m going to put it in myself.’ My powers to do extra work in there. We came in on schedule and under budget.”
Though he contended with numerous visual effects in addition to assembling over 30 days of footage, Rothery confessed that his biggest challenge on Archive was capturing and positing the most natural possible performances from his actors, also starring Stacy Martin. “I had to trust that they had that in them,” he detailed. “It’s another thing being on set and seeing it. I expect a lot from people I’m working with—I’ve got ambition, and I expect a lot. It was the thing I’m least in control of directly. There aren’t many people who can do all of the jobs I can do. I’m just happy that I have a film coming out.”
Archive is now available to buy and rent digitally at Amazon and through other digital platforms.