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Christopher Webster [Celluloid 03.15.17] post apocalyptic scifi thriller

In the new sci-fi thriller Atomica, a young safety inspector is forced to fly out to a remote nuclear power plant isolated in the desert to bring it back online. Once inside the facility, mysterious clues and strange behaviors cause her to have doubts about the sanity, and perhaps identities, of the two employees onsite.

The film hits theaters March 17 then lands on VOD and Digital HD March 21, 2017. Atomica stars Dominic Monaghan (The Lord of the Rings, PET), Tom Sizemore (Heat) and Sarah Habel (Whip It).

Last week I had a quick chat about the film with director Daagen Merrill about the film.


First off, where did you shoot the film? The location is amazing.

We shot in an abandoned Type 2 missile silo in Washington State.

Very cool. Was it challenging to get access? I assume it's dangerous on some level, decommissioned.

It was decommissioned in the late 60s so, yeah, it was really hard. It was hard to FIND it first of all. And then to get access and then to make is safe and clean and make it look like this futuristic facility, so yes it was very challenging.

Well, it gives the film a great look. A lot of modest budgeted sci-fi productions would just shoot in some old warehouse. It's amazing what a practical location like this can do.

What were some of the challenges, just logistically, of shooting in there?

Most of the film was shot 60 feet underground and there's no elevators or anything, so we had to bring all our equipment in by crane down flights of stairs.

My DP, Tim Burton, told me we had more cable run than the previous Transformers movie. Now, I don't know if that's true but that's interesting. So just to power everything was huge. We had this one shot, there's a walk-and-talk that's about three or four minutes and there's lights all the way through.

Does anybody push back on wanting to shoot in a place like this? Does SyFy say, "Guys, can't we do this somewhere else? This seems expensive."?

Since SyFy came in later, and we shot the film independently, we could do it. I don't think a studio would have said "yes" to shooting in a location like that. First of all, there's costs, involved, but there's also hassle.

But that's the benefit of independent film. You get to go places audiences don't get to see otherwise. I think that's part of the fun of it. Ultimately we had a great team of producers and crew and financiers and I think everyone was down for the experience.

I want to talk about Dominic Monoghan. His career has been interesting lately in that he's been breaking away from his goofy, fun-loving Hobbit persona. If you're familiar with his great film, PET, where he plays a similar role to here, it's sort of similar to what he's doing here. Was he always in your mind, or did he come in and audition? How did he get involved?

No, he certainly didn't have to audition. We were thrilled to have him. He had a relationship with one of the producers and we knew that we could get the script to him. And then he just reacted really well to the script.

Dominic brought so much to the character, the physicality and the weird ticks and the voice modulation, he just really made the character come alive. I think he saw that early on. He was a huge win for us and has been a great partner on the film.

I'm curious if the development of Atomica. It feels like there's a version of the film that isn't sci-fi at all. It could just be a claustrophobic thriller. Was there ever a version that didn't take place in a sci-fi universe?

That's actually very observant. Originally the script wasn't. It was a more topical story that took place in Australia with some pretty current issues regarding water and nuclear power.

Why the decision to change that?

I loved the original script, and you're right, it had the original story and characters, and could stand on its own. You could make that movie and it would be great. But I think sci-fi, as a genre, can expand the scope of an idea and a story and bring it to a larger audience.

Sci-fi can take a current issue that might seem local, and make it more universal.

Right. It helps people to not get hung up on the reality, or politics of the details and have a larger conversation about it.

Exactly. And for me too, the characters don't get overshadowed. Sci-fi, perhaps ironically, allows you to dig deeper into an idea. Because if you get political some people very quickly take a fixed position on whatever the topic is.

SyFy is giving the film a small theatrical window, which I'm pretty sure is rare for them, or, at least, I don't recall them ever doing this before. Was that part of the deal you made with them? What's going on there?

I believe that Syfy is looking to branch out and put more energy behind certain films. The truth is I'm not entirely sure.

I think they did it with one other film. It feels to me like they are experimenting with expanding their brand into the theatrical space.

It must be rewarding to get a theatrical window. I know a lot of filmmakers these days are faced with streaming and the chances of a theatrical run seems to be narrowing for filmmakers.

I've been very lucky that my films have seen theatrical releases and I'm thrilled that SyFy are putting their confidence behind the film.

On any given day when I'm walking six stories underground and working in the damp, cold, abandoned complex, that's always the hope: that the film will be seen, that an audience will find it.

Is there anything specific you are proud of about the film?

I'm glad that it got done. It's so hard to get movies made. I just hope people take something away from the experience now.

Thanks Dagen!

Recommended Release: 400 Days

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