Interviews: Jeffrey Morris - Director of Oceanus and Founder of FutureDude Entertainment

Filmmaker Jeffrey Morris talks his Oceanus project and the state of film with The Movie Sleuth.

TMS: What inspired you to make Oceanus and to start FutureDude Entertainment?

JM: Oceanus is the culmination of a lifelong interest in underwater adventure. It started with watching the cartoon Sealab 2020 as a kindergartner. I thought living underwater in the future was a real possibility and was just as cool as what I was witnessing in the future depicted in Star Trek. Later Jacques Cousteau and National Geographic specials sealed the deal. I was hooked on the concept of exploring and living beneath the sea. I really don’t think anyone has done the concept justice. Shows like Voyage to the Bottom of the SeaMan from Atlantis, and seaQuest DSV quickly devolved into campy monster of the week fare. Only 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea and James Cameron's The Abyss took the subject seriously from a futuristic standpoint. I wanted to make an undersea adventure that was plausible and dynamic that could stand on its own. 

As for founding FutureDude, I was planning on launching my own media company for many years. I wanted to build a media company that focused on reasonably plausible visions of the future. I wanted high-quality imagery and to tell diversion visionary stories. I also was looking to unify my interests and experiences in working with organizations like NASA/JPL and Lockheed Martin in addition to my work in science education. It seemed like the right time and the right thing to do to unify all of it under one roof. 

TMS: When making this short film, what science fiction films influenced you and if there were one movie that fueled your creative focus, what would it be?

JM: I would have to say that The Abyss and Hunt for Red October are obvious choices. Surprisingly, Star Trek: The Motion Picture was my greatest influence. It seriously impacted me with its elegant tour of the future. Unlike many people, I really liked the slower pace of the film. I loved being able to see the vehicles and visual effects. Many of today’s movies sacrifice art for frenetic editing. It starts to feel like gibberish. This article really details why I love the film: I also loved the rich world building and design in the pre-Abrams Star Trek Universe. I wanted to build an underwater world that was just as textured and detailed.

TMS: Let’s talk directors for a minute. Are there any current directors or modern visionaries that give you hope for cinema? And who would you say is your favorite of all time?

JM: Visually, I don’t think anyone today can compete with Joseph Kosinski. While Tron: Legacy and Oblivion may not have had the strongest scripts or story lines, they both blew me away visually. They really feel like a true continuation of what was happening cinematically in the late '70s and early '80s. I’m still hoping he gets to do Tron 3 and The Black Hole remake.  As for others, I think Alex Garland and Duncan Jones are both really talented. Ex Machina was very well done and Moon from 2009 is about as good as the genre gets as far as I’m concerned. I can’t wait to see what they come up with next. I also want to send a shout out to Gavin Hood. I loved Ender’s Game and It thought it was a great adaptation of a complex and textured book. As for the past, my all-time favorite director is Robert Wise. He was a seriously intelligent man with a great eye for compelling cinema. I dedicated Oceanus to him and his memory.

TMS: How long did it take to get Oceanus made and how did you raise funding for the feature? I know the plan is to release a full length film at some point. Is the funding already there and what hoops do you have to jump through to make these movies?

JM: We first developed the initial concept in May of 2014 and wrote the script in June. I designed the vehicles and the Oceanus base simultaneously. We were building the set in July and August and filming last September  in Los Angeles. The guys at Hydraulx Studios were amazing and helped us with equipment and a fantastic shooting location. We completed our post by the end of February 2015. It was a busy year! 

I have a  great investment group that is financing my company. I put together and extensive business plan in 2012 and 2013 to get the company moving. Film was always in our long-term plans. We ended up speeding up the process. We are currently working on finance for the full feature. It is an  expanded story with more sets characters and locations. While the original was made for well under a million dollars, we are going got need around eight million more for the feature. It is a frustrating and tedious process, but having such a powerful short is helping us cut through the minutiae. I think we will get it on track to be in pre-production in early 2016 with a target of a Spring or late Summer release in 2017. 

TMS: What other projects are on the horizon for FutureDude? And when can we plan on seeing them?

JM: Our other major project, Parallel Man, is available as an animated short film that I directed and produced simultaneously with Oceanus last year. You can see it on Vimeo and YouTube and it features the voices of John Cho, Ming-Na Wen, and Lance Reddick. That project is currently being pitched to Nickelodeon and Cartoon Network so we have our fingers crossed that it can become an animated series by 2017. I also am developing two more features, Venus which is listed to star Lance Reddick as my next film after Oceanus and Arrow of Heaven which is a project that is dear to my heart that features a faster than light race to Pluto between the US and China. Stay tuned on that one. I was recently at the Applied Physics Lab in Maryland for the Pluto encounter and it really inspired me. I think it will be a rocking space adventure that will eventually launch my own adventure in the vein of Star Trek. This story details my Pluto adventure:

TMS: How can people see Oceanus Act One and what do you want them to know about the film?

JM: Oceanus: Act One is currently available on Amazon Prime, iTunes, Vimeo and Blu-ray. The links are listed below. I really want people to know that our film was a 100% independently produced labor of love. We self-financed it without the oversight or creative direction of a major studio. We knew that we had to do this on our own to show what we could do as a team and for me to show what I could do as a director and designer. I have a vision for science fiction that takes it back to its roots. While we have action and adventure, we also want to showcase great characters and real human drama. I think Oceanus pulls it off. I was personally involved in every single aspect of the production. I hope this shows in the details. 

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TMS: Tell us your opinion on the current state of cinema. Have we reached a point where VOD and straight to video is overthrowing the cinematic experience or (in your opinion) are theaters still a viable way to watch movies?

JM: To be honest, I am consistently disappointed. I no longer feel a sense of wonder or awe when I watch movies. I am not inspired. I forget what I saw minutes after I walked out of the theater. This really bums me out, because there used to be a time when I would go crazy after I saw a film. I would obsess over a good movie for weeks, talking about it and analyzing it with my friends and colleagues. Visual effects didn’t feel like glorified video game cut scenes. I cared about the characters. I worry that those days might not be coming back. Hopefully if enough of us complain, better films will be made. The medium is not dead! It’s the creativity and execution that are the issue. 
I think VOD and straight-to-video are outpacing the theater for three reasons:

1. The price to see a film is way too high—especially for what you get. Hell, there are so many damn commercials before films these days (that we are paying to see!!)  it makes you feel like you should just skip it and stay home and watch network TV. 

2. The films just aren’t good enough to make you feel it’s worth the trip to the theater. It used to be that cinematography mattered that was the point of seeing films on the BIG screen. I want a more grandiose spectacle. I guarantee it would help. I’m going to see Everest this week. Maybe that will deliver. 

3. It is really neat to be able to watch what you want whenever you want to. I binge watch shows and save movies that don’t seem with seeing in the theater visually on Netflix and Amazon. So I guess I am pulling cash from the theaters like everyone else!

TMS: Is science fiction your favorite genre? And if there were one movie sci-fi movie you could have directed, what would it be?

JM: Science Fiction is by far my favorite genre. I would have to say that 2001: A Space OdysseyBlade RunnerStar Trek: The Motion PictureSolaris (2002), and The Empire Strikes Back are my top 5 genre favorites. I love to see well-realized visions of tomorrow. All of the films I listed build interesting and tangible worlds. Each one, I want to know more about them and spend more time there. 

As for the one film I would direct, it would have to be Return of the Jedi. I spent three years theorizing what the conclusion to the Star wars saga would consist of. I was woefully disappointed. I think audiences would have really liked the film I imagined. Needless to say, it would have been much darker. Leia would not have been Luke’s sister. He would have turned to the dark side and defeated a man who was not really his father! Boba Fett would have played a MAJOR role and ended up being a hero in hiding. The other heroes, like a thawed Han and reunited Leia would have had to go on a final mission to stop the rogue Luke and turn him back to the light — or die trying!  I think it would have blown people away. So, yeah, I would write and direct ROTJ!

TMS: Lastly, how has social media effected the marketing of Oceanus and how easy have things like Facebook made the accessibility of your latest film?

JM: Without social media, we would be dead in the water. It’s the only way we can promote work like ours without a billion dollar media conglomerate behind us. It allows us access to people who really care about our work and the genre. We have gotten great feedback and that helps drive us on. I often tell my team, the stuff we are creating may not be for everyone, and it certainly isn’t designed to compete with the big-budget fare out there.

TMS: Anything else you want us to know?

JM: I just really appreciate each and every person (such as yourselves!) who has taken the time to watch and promote Oceanus: Act One. It truly makes a difference. I hope you will spread the word if you like what you see. It will enable us to bring more realistic visions of the future to the big screen for years to come! 


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