Midnight Special: Press Conference Coverage

Midnight Special is a story where Roy (Michael Shannon) is on the run with his son, Alton (Jaeden Liberher), when he learns his son possess special powers.

We attended the Press Conference for Midnight Special at the 2016 Berlin Film Festival. Sitting at the table in the Grand Hyatt Hotel were Brian Kavanaugh-Jones (Producer), Joel Edgerton (Actor), Kirsten Dunst (Actress), Jeff Nichols (Writer and Director), Jaeden Lieberher (Actor), Michael Shannon (Actor) and Sarah Green (Producer). Written below are some of the best and most interesting questions and answers.

Midnight Special arrives in UK cinemas 8th April 2016.
You can read our ★★★☆☆ review of the film here

Jeff, what gave you the idea for this story?
When I write, I typically write on two tracks at once. I write with the idea of genre in mind, that’s where the plot comes from, in this case obviously it was a sci-fi chase film. To me the more interesting track is the personal one and I try and make these films resonate with me personally, emotionally, that’s how I feel connected to them and in this particular case, my son was a year old and I was really starting to figure out what it meant to be a Father. When he was a year old he actually had a febrile seizure, it’s a reaction that the body has to a spike in fever and it was a very scary moment for my Wife and I. We rushed him to the hospital and I was afraid he was dying, fortunately he wasn’t everything turned out to be fine but it made me realise in this moment that anything could happen to him and I would have no control over it, that I was forever going to be linked to this human being and if anything ever happened to him out in the world I would be devastated, I had no control on that. This fear kind of overtook me because I realised how delicate this situation was and this relationship was. Midnight Special began as a way for me to process that fear. I think the reason why we love our children so much is because of this fear and I made a film about it.

Brian and Sarah, you have been working with Jeff before, what attracted you to working with him on his projects?
Brian – I’ve known Jeff for a long time and I’m a relatively new Dad too and I think there’s a lot of thematics driven around Fathers and Sons. Jeff pitched this movie to me as a title and image five or six years ago of just a boy in the back of a car with all the lights out and he had these crazy swimming goggles on and big orange headphones and he said it was called “Midnight Special” and I said I’m in.
Sarah – I get excited working with Jeff because he tells so many different kinds of stories in so many different ways, but they’re always heart based and that’s really all I care about in a movie, I need to feel emotionally engaged and emotionally moved and this one really did it for me, in the idea, in the concept of the script stage and it was embodied by these amazing actors. It’s a beautiful family journey for me.

Jeff, we saw references to ET, Close Encounters of the Third Kind and The Little Prince, do you have other films that inspired you to make Midnight Special?
Those examples are all perfect, Starman by John Carpenter, Close Encounters, ET. Obviously there is an aesthetic connection that I have to those films, I grew up on those films, I love the way they look, I love the way they feel. The blue lens flares, the inky blacks, really the texture of those films is something that we really wanted to emulate. I think that’s the connection that is most obvious on the nose, but I think there’s something more important about these films, which is their sense of mystery. I remember being a young kid, watching these films and just being very curious about what was going on and not knowing all of the answers and having to pick it apart. What Spielberg does especially well is, he builds this sense of mystery and it leads to this sense of awe, this kind of wonderment, it’s a very positive feeling. That’s what I think I took away from those films it was, how you can have a mystery where the pieces somehow fit together to this sense of awe.

Midnight Special Press Conference

How did Jeff direct you? Throughout the movie we keep not knowing what you know.
Jaeden – He obviously had a vision of what this movie was going to be like. When he directed us, he was very specific, he saw the movie in his mind and he told us what he was thinking and what he thought this movie was going to be. He helped us understand what we had to put out and act. He helped me become better. The movie obviously would have been made without him and we couldn’t have acted nor done what we’ve done without him.
Kirsten – Jeff creates an atmosphere on the set and with the locations he picks, in an environment where you just think you’re there and I think that’s very hard. We shot in New Orleans and that’s a city that many films shoot in these days and every place, even this stretch of highway. We went two hours away just for this stretch of highway. Every little thing is considered with the upmost care with creative intuitive nature that really made you feel the film even though it hadn’t been put on the screen yet.
Michael – In terms of the mystery of the film, I think a lot of the characters in the film it’s self have as many questions about what’s happening as the audience does. I don’t think Roy necessarily knows what the hell is happening. All he knows is that he has a son and that he’d do anything to save him and protect him and it’s that simple. The details as ambiguous as they are to the audience, I think are also very ambiguous to the characters.
Joel – There’s some directors you work for who go and shoot miles and miles of footage and work out work out what their movie is in the edit room. That’s a very valid way to make a movie; some really great movies have been made that way. Then there’s the kind of director who has a very clear vision, is very specific about the pieces they’re collecting to suit the vision that they have and Jeff is one of those directors to me. Has a very considered, very precise vision of what he wants and goes about collecting those pieces in a very elegant way. As an actor in a way, that makes you feel very much part of that vision and very much a collaborator to his vision. I always wondered how Jeff’s movies are dreamt up and I even asked him if he paces around in his room speaking the dialogue. It just seemed like there isn’t a square inch of the world of the movie that he hasn’t walked around and looked at from every dimension so that, even a movie like this that has a particularly unusual science or world to it is something that he’s very detailed in his mind so that he can answer every question about it and I felt, as an actor, very safe walking into work with him.

In the final scene, it was the mother who was there, not the father. What was your thinking behind that decision?
Jeff - I’m a man and I’m going to have a point of view that is skewed towards a Father and son relationship because I am a Father. I was really important to me to set rules for this film, rules about characters and their ability to progress throughout this journey. As an example, Sam Shepard’s character was very important; most story tellers would find a way for him to show back up at the end of the film. That would be the sane thing to do. In this film if there is no reason for you to continue in this story, you get left behind. It’s a rule I stuck to throughout the narrative structure of the whole thing. The two men chasing them, they just disappear at some point and they never show back up, you never know what happened to them because we’re moving on; we have more things to do. What I thought was a beautiful idea was that we begin with his father, but there’s this hand off that happens where this mother comes in, she comes in thirty minutes into the film, and this is a massive part of this boy, she makes a path of him. There would be this hand off because I like the idea that there are some things some characters can’t do. I don’t know if Roy would have been able to do the things that Sarah’s character does at the end of the film. I thought it was very important that this hand off happens from one parent to the other because I think very much, there’s a reason why there’s two parents, because there’s things my wife can do that I can’t do. Sarah’s character is incredibly strong and she is the reason why Roy’s character begins to have a true understanding of what he’s been doing all this time. He’s been going and this purpose has been driving him even though he doesn’t understand the tangible qualities of it, but she starts to have that idea and she starts to understand what could be the reality, so it was important to have that hand off at the end of the film.

Kirsten, you have succeeded as a child actress and an adult actress. What challenges do you have now that you didn’t have before?
I think the reason why someone like Jaeden is so great is because he’s had his mother with him and is growing up in a good environment. It’s hard to be a child actress and make sure it’s balanced with school and friends and all that stuff and I always had that, so I got lucky with growing up in that way. There is a point with any job that you do, if you do it that long, where you question whether you want to continue doing that and I definitely had that and when I was around 27, I shifted the way I worked and it made me love it even more. In a way I have waited more for projects the older I get and I have been pickier because I have to be extremely passionate about something in order to do a role. For me I have been a lucky one in a way because I have been in movies that helped me transition throughout the different ages I was throughout my career.


Midnight Special arrives in UK cinemas 8th April 2016.
You can read our ★★★☆☆ review of the film here


Article Written On:
21st February 2016 23:00 PM

Interviewed On:
12th February 2016 13:15 PM

Words By:
George Armstrong
George Armstrong

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