IFH 500: Big Budget Indie Films and Creative Freedom with Neill Blomkamp

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Ever since I saw District 9 and learned of all the mythical stories behind the short film becoming a feature, I have been a massive fan of today’s guest, Neill Blomkamp. Though Neill is here today to talk about his new sci-fi horror fiction film, Demonic, we also chatted up about his other films that have been successful over the years.
Released in August 2021, Demonic follows a young woman who unleashes terrifying demons when supernatural forces at the root of a decades-old rift between mother and daughter are ruthlessly revealed.
Neill is a South African Canadian film director, producer, screenwriter, and animator, best known for writing and directing multiple-award-winning films such as Chappie, Elysium, and the iconic District 9, along with a plethora of short films, commercials, and special effect credits.
If you have seen a few of Neill’s works already, you would already know and admire his dystopian, action, and sci-fi style of writing and filmmaking. He depicts the short film in documentary style, with xenophobic social segregation themes.
In 2009 Neill and his wife, Canadian screenwriter Terri Tatchell, co-wrote a short film titled, Alive in Joburg, which later became his feature film debut, District 9. Neill received an Academy Award nomination for Best Adapted Screenplay and Best Picture for this $210.8 million-grossing film from a $30 million budget.
District 9 was a critically acclaimed splash, earning multiple awards, including the Bafta, the Academy, Golden Globes, etc., for its visual effects, editing, screenplay, and picture. And a 90% on rotten tomato. But the success of this film is truly in the story it tells and the inspiration that drove it.
In 1982, a massive star ship bearing a bedraggled alien population, nicknamed "The Prawns," appeared over Johannesburg, South Africa. Twenty-eight years later, the initial welcome by the human population has faded. The refugee camp where the aliens were located has deteriorated into a militarized ghetto called District 9, where they are confined and exploited in squalor.
In 2010, the munitions corporation, Multi-National United, was contracted to forcibly evict the population with operative Wikus van der Merwe in charge. In this operation, Wikus is exposed to a strange alien chemical and must rely on the help of his only two new 'Prawn' friends.
As you will hear in our conversation, this project was inspired by parts of Johannesburg in South Africa's history Neill was learning. His journey involved gaining awareness of xenophobia from relatively poor South Africans against immigrants from Mozambique, Nigeria, and Malawi --- a sentiment is still prevalent with some South Africans to this day.
The initial short film, Alive In Joburg that preceded District 9, had a socio-political theme shot in realism-based style paired with sci-fi but of performers sharing real-life experiences of illegal aliens/immigrants in South Africa.
By the time he had to adapt the script for the feature, District 9, Neill had moved into an interest of South Africa’s history, including apartheid, and precisely its border war period in the 1980s.
As mentioned earlier, Neill started his career in this industry through visual effects and animation in commercials. When he moved to Canada at 18 years old, the pathway opened up for him to finally pursue his childhood dream of working in the film industry.
He did Ads animation for some years while closely following the works of film directors who had gone the commercials to film directing route. One of his most prominent commercials to date, which was shelved by the clients based on creative differences, was a short film Superbowl ad for Nike.
Even though he spent a short time doing commercials, Neill has held on to all the transferable lessons and tips to his filmmaking and screenwriting.
IN 2015, Neill released his third feature film, dystopian sci-fi action fiction, Chappie, co-written with his wife, Tatchell --- starring Sharlto Copley, Dev Patel, and Hugh Jackman. Chappie became a massive success at the box office with a gross of from a $49 million budget.
Chappie, an artificial general intelligence law enforcement robot, is captured during a patrol and reprogrammed by gangsters after being stolen. He becomes the first robot with the ability to think and feel for himself.
Not to give too much away, let's dig into my interview with our incredible guest, Neill Blomkamp.

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