Opening in theaters on August 18th is the new sci-fi comedy ‘Landscape with Invisible Hand,’ which is based on the novel of the same name by M. T. Anderson and was directed by Cory Finley (‘Bad Education’).
What is the plot of ‘Landscape with Invisible Hand’?
In a near-future in which an alien species known as the Vuvv has taken over Earth, an aspiring teenage artist (Asante Blackk) and his girlfriend (Kylie Rogers) hatch a scheme to make money by broadcasting their dating life to the fascinated aliens in wake of the Vuvv’s labor-saving technology. But the two teens slowly come to hate each other and can’t break up without bankrupting their families.
Who is in the cast of ‘Landscape with Invisible Hand’?
ECinema News recently had the pleasure of speaking with director Cory Finley about his work on ‘Landscape with Invisible Hand,’ adapting Anderson’s book, the themes he wanted to explore, commenting on social media and reality TV, the design of the aliens, and working with Asante Blackk and Tiffany Haddish.
You can read the full interview below or watch our interview by clicking on the video player above.
ECinema News: To begin with, can talk about adapting M. T. Anderson’s book and developing the screenplay?
Cory Finley: First, I’ll just talk about what I loved about the book, which is so many things. I’m a very restless filmmaker and I always like to do something very different from the project I spent the last two to three years of my life on. I came to this project right after finishing ‘Bad Education,’ which is a movie I’m super proud of, but is a very studiously subtle, realistic character, dark comedy drama. I really wanted to just go all out with something with a very strong genre element. I loved about this book that it had this kind of unabashed silliness and goofiness, but also this very real seriousness of purpose. It was this allegorical science fiction fable all about capitalism, colonialism, big weighty ideas, but handled in a very comedic and absurdist style. It’s kind of a tone I’d been wanting to play with for a long time, and so I jumped at the opportunity to adapt it.
MF: What were some of the themes that you wanted to explore with this movie?
CF: A lot of themes. I love just this idea that it was an alien invasion, but it wasn’t a scary, powerful military alien invasion like we’re used to seeing. I love this idea of a free market alien invasion or a purely economic alien invasion, where the aliens just made things better and more efficiently than humans could, and took de facto political power that way. I thought that was really interesting and strange, and that was the first thing that drew me to it. Then, I think the book also opens up these interesting subtle conversations about colonialism and cultural appropriation in a sense, and other kind of think piece ideas, but again, explored in a very interesting sideways subtle way.
MF: Can you talk about the way society and the world changes after the alien invasion?
CF: I mean, I think that it’s very much a human level story of an alien invasion. We want to pay off all the sci-fi expectations of showing you some wild environments and strange creatures, and all of that is very important to me. But really, I think what’s most interesting about the book to me was that it had this very almost kitchen sink element to it. A lot of it takes place just in this house. A lot of it is about paying the bills, and the aliens are there in the background and ultimately very much in the foreground, and they bring these odd little narrative twists to these very human scale problems. But again, I’m just always going to be a filmmaker that’s most interested in the comedy of manners aspect, and the human level aspects. That was what was really rich about this very out there premise to me.
MF: Can you talk about the film’s commentary on social media and reality TV?
CF: I think those are definitely themes. I am an unabashed Bravo fan. My girlfriend particularly is a huge ‘Real Housewives,’ and ‘Below Deck’ fan. I do enjoy those. I didn’t take on this project specifically to satirize reality TV, or to talk about TikTok and influencer culture. That’s something that I have very little firsthand experience with. But I think it’s inevitably something that the movie takes on with this idea that in this kind of crippled economy where human labor is redundant, humans have only their humanness to sell to the Vuvv. That’s what was so interesting to me. This idea of alien tourism being the only remaining industry. Certainly, the way that takes place where humans are letting aliens watch them falling in love and these other exotic, strange human emotions, that’s inevitably going to speak to people that are on either side of the reality TV, TikTok world. I’m happy that’s an element of the movie.
MF: Can you talk about designing the look of the aliens and the sound that they make when they communicate, and also the choice to use them sparingly?
CF: I wanted the audience to see the world that this invasion had wrought and get used to that before you actually saw the aliens themselves. It adds a little bit of a comic punchline when you then see that the aliens do indeed look and talk like they do. But the design process itself was the biggest unknown for me. I’d never done anything like that. My first movie had zero visual effects shots. My second movie had five visual effects shots, and this had over a hundred, which is still, for this type of movie is still small in comparison to other movies. We were still judicious in our use of visual effects and still tried to be practical wherever we could. But one of my really key collaborators was this guy Erik De Boer, who I brought on and met with after I saw ‘Okja,’ Bong Joon-ho‘s movie. Erik had worked closely with Bong Joon-ho to craft that super pig. What I thought was so amazing about that movie was it was one of the first times I’d seen a fully visual effects creature that, A, I was really able to suspend my disbelief and believe it was in the environment with these characters, and B, he’s so good at these human-creature interactions and building an emotional reaction to the character. We wanted a very different emotion with this creature than with that adorable giant pig, but Erik was such a key collaborator. We iterated endlessly, and we settled on this kind of deliberately annoying strategy where the aliens would talk essentially with their hands. In the book, it says with a gritty fin, and would do this weird, kind of unpleasant postmodern dance and these annoying pencil sharpener sounds, then a human voice would translate. We wanted the way it communicated to evoke the emotions that these strange little bureaucratic conquerors would evoke.
MF: In the movie, the aliens watch old American TV shows. Can you talk about choosing the clips from the shows that you wanted? Was there anything the you couldn’t use because of copyrights?
CF: We got all the shows we wanted, which is great, including a movie clip from ‘Rebel Without a Cause,’ which was pretty cool for me. There’s this idea in the book that I wanted to hold onto that is very subtly handled in the movie, but that the aliens started watching humans in the ’50s, and that because that’s when they first encountered humans, they assume that’s the human golden age. There’s lots of interesting writing about how AI, for instance, can take on human ills as it trains itself on human data. You can get a sexist or racist AI because it absorbs those ambient factors in the air. There was something subversive and interesting to me about these aliens not being inherently patriarchal jerks, but absorbing it from the human culture that they believe was this human golden age. Obviously, too many real humans believe that the ’50s was the golden age as well.
MF: The character of Adam is an artist, and we see his art throughout the movie. Can you talk about choosing the art pieces for the film?
CF: That was one of the real joys of the movie, finding a collaborator. It was clear to me early on that the artwork was going to be such a character in the movie, that I didn’t want to just throw something together as a prop. I really wanted to bring on a working artist with their own point of view and style, but also someone who could be collaborative, which I think is a pretty rare pair of skills. I was introduced to this amazing artist named William Downs, who’s based in Atlanta, where we shot, who does these incredible kind of hallucinatory, surreal, mostly black and white drawings. When I saw his work, it really spoke to the feeling of the movie, and we convinced him to work in color for the first time in a while. That was his version of a character accent or something. Moving out of his own style, but keeping certain elements that gave it its core.
MF: Finally, what was it like working with Asante Blackk and Tiffany Haddish?
CF: They were just awesome. Tiffany was so funny, even funnier when the camera stopped rolling than when it was, if possible. She was just cracking up the whole crew, and brought such a great energy to set. Asante is also extremely funny, and sort of an underrated comedian. But I just knew when I saw ‘When They See Us,’ Ava DuVernay‘s limited series, he was so fantastic in that and powerful and just hit all the emotions for me. I knew he was someone I wanted to work with.
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