A prolific advertising and music video director (with a side career as the musician Vincent) whose credits have seen him create pieces for Sam Smith, Coldplay, and Paul Weller alongside Nike, Land Rover, and Puma, Joe Connor is no stranger to turning around a project at a clip. However, when it came to his silent musing on the mechanisation of the human experience as told through the story of a newly redundant astronaut’s struggles to adapt to life back on Earth, the London-based filmmaker opted to work at a much more measured pace. Joining us today for the online premiere of Astronaut, Connor reveals how the short’s multi-year production led to a “stronger but also surprisingly lighter” film.

How did this melancholic musing on a landlocked astronaut come into being?

This film was created as a response to two quotes:

  • “The regret on my side is, they used to say they’re reading about us in science class – Now they say they’re reading about us in history class.” – Neil Armstrong 1999
  • “Space flight is an escape, a fleeing away from oneself because it’s far easier to go to mars or the moon than it is to penetrate one’s own being.” – Carl Gustav Jung 1966

I wanted to look at isolation, loneliness and also the impacts of mechanisation in the workforce, the feeling of redundancy that is beginning to permeate the human experience.

I shot over 7 years to create this film, finding small portraits and locations to shoot as I built up this story. The suit was created by master props maker Keely Shepard and it’s beauty and intricacy helps to give the faceless character a soul and a charm.

How do you feel the extended production period affected the final film, especially as compared to the rapid turnaround for the music video/commercial projects you deliver?

I actually really enjoyed the long percolation on this project. As I mostly make music videos or commercials it was lovely to create something that was more akin to the theatre work I used to make. There’s a stillness and a solidity in the idea which can only come from time spent chewing over the themes. The film became both stronger but also surprisingly lighter for having the extended time. The charmingly abrupt ending was something that came to me, the original ending was elaborate and a bit over the top so having the time to muse on it helped.

I love images that contain sweet and sour, darkness and light, beauty and pain so it’s something I strived for in each moment.

Could you tell us what your set up was for the shoots?

I tried to achieve a high level of cinematic value in each shot. This meant that locations, costumes, lighting and camera had to maintain a level of excellence; which is in part the reason for the long production schedule. I shot on both the Red Epic and the Alexa mini. I think we shot on vintage Russian anamorphic but I can’t be sure as I know that over the years it took to make there was some chopping and changing. I wanted to have movement on most shots so everything was shot off track and dolly, which isn’t easy on a run and gun shoot but we managed to do it with the great production help from the guys at Chief.

Were there any conceived scenarios which you were unable to include for any reason?

I did actually write this whole scene where he’s trying to replicate zero-G by tying himself by a rope to the roof and hanging from the waist. I enjoyed the duality of the inferred darkness in this image and the sweetness in its true sentiment however upon seeing it in an edit it was far far far too close to the line so I took it out. I love images that contain sweet and sour, darkness and light, beauty and pain so it’s something I strived for in each moment.

What new projects do you have in the works?

Aside from music videos and commercials, I have a new short in production in the summer staring Maxine Peak and a feature film at its very first stages which is nice. I’m also writing two new albums simultaneously, with different themes and styles for each.

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