The atmospheric, synthy indie rock duo Broken Bells (comprised of Dangermouse’s Brian Burton and The Shins’ James Mercer) have released Part Two of their short film After the Disco, which also happens to be the title of their second album. The short stars Anton Yelchin as an earthling in pursuit of space babe Kate Mara at an outer space nightclub, and is as visually stunning as Part One. Director Jacob Gentry, who also directed Broken Bells’ first sci-fi short, The Ghost Inside, sat down to answer some questions about his shorts. Instead, what happened was a multiple-hour phone conversation wherein we both geeked out about our favorite sci-fi, which I boiled down to five questions.
NERDIST: How did you come into contact with Broken Bells?
JACOB GENTRY: I’ve know Brian Burton since college, and we’ve always just been fans of each other’s work. We hadn’t worked together until the first Broken Bells video.
N: Do you feel like there’s more freedom in directing a short than a feature, or is it the same?
JG: Shorts are a really good way to explore ideas that maybe might not sustain for a whole feature. Ultimately, it’s the same process for me, creating a world and working with actors and then editing that world- but for shorts, you don’t have to go into as many narrative ups and downs – you can get a little simpler and use narrative concepts that have only one note. It’s actually taught me a good lesson for writing features, about simplifying moments and to pull back on constantly being afraid that I might bore people.
N: Why is sci-fi a favorite genre for you?
JG: You can talk about themes and ideas about your life and the world, and add how people interact with technology and a future set in a world that’s similar to ours but that introduces new ideas so you can do more with the story. You can make a movie about war, and if it’s not actually set in a real war, the viewers aren’t constantly trying to find out what the factual truths or bias are, you can just look at the humanity of it.
Also, I just really like space ships a lot – I like robots, I like all of the possibilities of what you can explore, and I’m a big space geek!
[Gentry also mentioned Philip K. Dick’s notion of conceptual dislocation. In his collected works, Dick notes that in “good science fiction, the conceptual dislocation — the new idea, in other words — must …be intellectually stimulating to the reader… [so] it sets off a chain-reaction of ramification – ideas in the mind of the reader; it so-to-speak unlocks the reader’s mind so that that mind, like the author’s, begins to create.” (Philip K. Dick, Letter, 1981, Reader, 41-42, xiii-xiv)”]
N: What science fiction work are you a fan of?
JG: Battlestar Galactica from the early 2000s was a big inspiration for the first Broken Bells video. I’m also a huge fan of Philip K. Dick’s writing, and the movies that are made from his books – Blade Runner is one of my favorite movies of all time.
N: Science Fiction seems to revolve around two main aesthetics – the sleek, all chrome setting and the grungy, exposed wires. You sort of use both of them in your videos – how do you decide and what’s your favorite?
JG: The Ghost Inside was definitely more of the grungy, cyberpunk sort of sci fi aesthetic of the late 70’s-early 80’s like in Blade Runner, Alien, and Outland. And I think, aesthetically, it just worked better with the story, juxtaposed against the sort of Hollywood Golden Age ideal of what the future would be like.
For After the Disco, the setting was very much inspired by the album art and the music, so we got more of a sleek, ’70s sci fi fantasy look. Broken Bells combines a lot of different types of music from all eras, and that’s really what I try to demonstrate with the shorts – all the different ideas from different decades of what the future would be like.
What are some of your favorite sci-fi tropes? What director or band do you want to see featured on Nerdist? Let me know by leaving a quemment below or shouting out on Twitter!