What's Next For District 9 Creators? Stone Monsters And Gritty Worlds

We checked in Oscar-nominated writer Terri Tatchell, the day after District 9 picked up four Academy nods. She talked about District 9 director Blomkamp's new project, her next scifi movie, and why this nomination is such a mystery to her.

District 9 is currently in the running for the Academy Award for Film Editing, Visual Effects, Writing [Adapted Screenplay] and the most buzzed about category Best Film. We had to congratulate Tatchell on her Screenplay Adaptation nomination, and tell her to congratulate co-writer, director and spouse Neill Blomkamp as well.

How are you doing since the announcements yesterday?

It feels a bit more real today, yesterday it felt more like a dream. I'm not drinking Baileys this morning so I'm not quite as giddy as I was. But I feel like I should still be celebrating. We never ever, ever, ever, ever in a million years thought this was going to happen, ever. We even joked that this wouldn't happen. It's certainly more pay-off than we ever expected. We're just happy people liked the film. That was excitement enough...

I feel like the luckiest person on the face of the Earth. I feel incredibly fortunate, and grateful. I'm so excited to have been nominated for the screenplay, but I'm also excited that it got nominated for Best Picture. Probably more excited about that. There are so many people that worked so hard on this film, and I don't think it would have been as big of a success without them, like Sharlto Copley. He was amazing in it, and I hate that he didn't get a nomination. So I feel like the Best Picture represents everybody.

Why do you think District 9 did so well?

I don't want to say it doesn't deserve it, but if we hadn't gotten it, I don't think I would never have thought, "Damn, they cheated me!" I don't want to say it deserves it, but where I feel proud of it, is that I know how hard we worked on the story. We worked non-stop for a year, and we agonized over it. We agonized over the heart of it, the structure of it. What rules we were breaking, and why we made those choices. We worked really, really, really hard on it. I'm proud of how hard we worked, and I'm proud when I sit in the theater and I hear people laugh at the right times or be horrified at the right times. And you know that it works.

So in that sense I'm proud of it. I feel proud that people have said they leave the theater thinking about things. As opposed to just being entertained. Because there was a fine line when we were writing it, as to how serious and heavy-handed we wanted to get with the thoughts that were in our head. It was the first film, we had satire written on the wall. We just kept saying, "Satire, satire — let's not take ourselves so seriously." I'm really happy with the balance that came out of the film. I don't know if that's to credit the screenplay, or to credit the director. I think maybe Neill gets the credit for that.

You're an important figure in the science-fiction community now. What do you think about all the other genre nods that popped up this year. You mention Sharlto, but were there any other you were disappointed that didn't get nominated?

I was disappointed about Moon. I loved Moon. I thought Sam Rockwell was amazing in Moon. That one I'm definitely disappointed in. Avatar is definitely dominating everything, and it was an incredible film, very visually so. Star Trek was great. The Hurt Locker. I absolutely loved. That's not scifi, but that deserves to be up there. I liked the Hurt Locker so much that I got halfway home from the theater and I realized I left my purse in the theater. That's a compliment, that's when you know you enjoyed a film. But yes, for science fiction specifically, I have to say I was disappointed Moon wasn't included.

Sometimes we feel that science fiction is the red-headed step child of award ceremonies, especially in Best Picture. Do you agree?

It definitely seems that this year it's getting some respect. I'm not sure why that is. I'm still shocked District 9 is. I have no explanation for that, none. Avatar, it's James Cameron, it's huge. It's a film that appeals to everybody, younger kids and families. So I understand why that's in there. But District 9, it's a mystery to me, I really just don't understand it, I'm just really happy that it happened. I hope that it opens up avenues for future scifi films to come, because I think scifi is amazing. Sometimes a lot of people shut their minds to it, because they don't understand what it is.

I was reading an article yesterday that claimed that Dark Knight opened the door for District 9's Best Picture nomination, what do you think about that?

Right, because [as a result of Dark Knight's shutout, there's now room for] 10 pictures, too. There is no question District 9 would not be nominated for Best Picture, if there were only 5. I think I know the article you mean where it said Neill should be calling up Christopher Nolan and thanking him? [Laughs] Yeah I definitely think that's true that yes, we would not have been in the top 5 for sure. So I personally, and I know there's a lot of controversy over making it 10, but even before we were nominated I was still in favor of it. Because it is nice to see different dramas in there. So people can get excited about different films. I've been a die hard Oscar fan since I was a little girl. I was brought up where you ripped the announcement out of the TV Times and every family member would put in who they thought would win, and at the end of the night you totaled it up to see who would win. It's just more fun, if there are other films that people can root for.

District 9 has been called getting praise all year, but what has it been like since yesterday? Are all your projects now getting the green light overnight?

[Laughs] Neill already kind of had that going on so he's covered. The big thing for me with District 9 was getting an agent, because I live in Vancouver, so to get to be a writer represented in LA is really tough. So that was huge, but I actually got that before, writing for Peter Jackson, kind of opened that door. And when it did well people are now willing to read my spec scripts, so that's a good thing. But as for how an Oscar nomination is going to change things, I don't know. I'm not going after paid writing jobs, I'm more into writing at my own pace, and seeing what happens with it. For now at least.

So James Cameron didn't call you and say "It's On!"

[Laughs] No! Gimme a week, we'll see. [Laughs] No. Writing with Neill was great, because I know him so well. I know exactly, exactly what he's after. And I can write for him. I'm writing for another director now who is one of our best friends and know him so well, I know how to write for him. So it kind of stresses me out to think about writing for a known director.

What's next? We know that Neill is currently working on another scifi project, that he wants to keep semi-low budget, are you working on that project with him?

No, aside from the fact I live with him, but apart from passing it back and forth, no he's doing this one on his own. We decided after doing District 9... we have a daughter, it just took over our entire lives. You couldn't have a dinner without talking whether Christopher Johnson should make it home or not. It just took over every minute of our lives. We'd wake up in the middle of the night with "I have an idea!" We decided to try and to preserve the home life and to work separately. He's working on this one on his own, but I think he's getting pretty close to the end. I have to tell you, it's amazing. It's really amazing. It' going to be really good, it's definitely scifi and I think it's going to be a little bit over the budget of District 9, but not too much.

We're excited for more scifi, will it be set in the near future like District 9 or in the now? District 9 was so gritty and dirty, will Neill try a more sterile approach?

I think Neill will always be gritty and dirty with his work. That's very much his style, that's what he likes. So I think even if it were to be in the far future, which I'm not saying it is, but even if it were — in my mind, I think [in the] future everything is slick and clean, [but] I think his far future would still be gritty.

Does he have any idea who he wants to work with him on this film?

For actors and actresses? No, no. I don't think he's made that decision yet. We constantly play that game: "What about them, what about them?" But he hasn't made that decision.

What are you working on right now, are you staying with genre work?

The heart and soul thing that I really want to do is write children's novels, always... The film I'm working on now is an adaptation of a short film called Terminus. It's a bit more science fiction, fantasy. It's about a stone creature that follows this stressed-out guy around, just stressing him more and more. It was incredibly well received, and the director that created it, [Trevor Cawood] hasn't done a feature yet, and he's really talented. I approached him about writing a feature script of that. It's been a little more challenging than I expected it to be. I'm probably on my second draft now. I'm not ready to send it off yet, but we'll see.

Here's the short film she's referring to:

So you're interested in writing children's novels or young adult?

Young Adult, the day that I feel like I've really made it is when I can walk into a book store in the YA section and see a novel of mine on the shelves. And something scifi, definitely. The dream of all dreams would be to write a young adult science fiction novel and adapt it to the screen.

Are you ever going to write with Neill again? Maybe on a D9 sequel?

I'm sure we will. If, if District 9 were to have a sequel, we'd work on that together. But who knows. In the meantime we enjoy being each others' helpers.

When is the District 9 video game coming out?

Nobody jumped on that. It was talked about initially and it never happened, I don't think they are going to do it. And the figurines, WETA is doing a Christopher Johnson, little CJ and the exo-suit collectibles. It seems like there was so much stuff that could have been done, but I don't think anybody thought it was going to be such a success, that it was. I guess it didn't get going early enough.

It's gotta be pretty sweet sitting here now after all the Halo fiasco, I'm not sure how close you were to that project. But it was pretty disheartening with Microsoft and everything.

You know Microsoft, they were great through it all. There is no animosity at all towards Microsoft, they were wonderful...it was more Fox. You know what, for me it worked out better. I wasn't on Halo at all. For Neill, at the end of the day, while he would have done an amazing Halo fim, in fact I'm standing in my living room right now and I have all these amazing WETA sculptures of all the Halo characters that they were developing with Neill. It would have been a fabulous movie. But I think it was better for Neill that he created something wholly his own. And District 9 is 100% Neill Blomkamp and Halo wasn't. I think it all worked out for the best.