With the future of the human race at stake, a group of young men and women, bred for intelligence and obedience, embark on an expedition to colonize a distant planet. But when they uncover disturbing secrets about the mission, they defy their training and begin to explore their most primitive natures. As life on the ship descends into chaos, they’re consumed by fear, lust, and the insatiable hunger for power.
What does it feel like… to feel for the first time? What happens when our innermost nature, after being long suppressed, is finally unleashed? Those are some of the provocative themes explored, within the context of a space epic, in VOYAGERS.
At the heart of the movie is about who we are at our core, our reactions and passions. These group of young individuals wake up to a world where they discovering their true desires, the power of freedom, the weight of power and the pleasures that creates these experiences. Teenagers who reflect the essential conflict of human nature, and who wrestle with these powerful impulses.
VOYAGERS is a space adventure wrapped in psychology, horror and beauty. Burger has created a world that’s visually striking while achieving a deep dive into character study.
To help bring VOYAGERS to life, Burger relied on Director of Photography Enrique Chediak to help audiences feel what it’s like living beyond the edge, and the delicate balance between control and chaos, subservience and dominance, numb versus switched-on, and order versus rebellion.
The Koalition spoke to Chediak about the power of LED lighting, the feel of claustrophobia and more.
VOYAGERS is not a fantasy but an actual spacecraft based on actual proposals within NASA and other organizations studying space travel outside our solar system. With extensive research that included a visit to SpaceX, this inspired the stripped-down environment of the film’s spacecraft.
“The story is about human nature in a vacuum, and the ship is a sterile environment where the young crew almost seem like laboratory rats. We watch to see how they behave under these conditions, how they quickly descend into savagery. And we wonder, is this who we are at our core?”
“It’s a long journey for kids created in probes to discover another possible planet for humans to live. It happens all within a spaceship, it happens all in a very confined environment and is a journey of discovery about themselves.”
“The most interests themes of the movie is the aspect of humanity and how these travelers are somehow being controlled with this beverage so they can function with no instinct and the discovery of instinct. The good and the bad of humanity which is much more powerful in a confined space. The feelings are very strong within the script and that’s what drew me.”
As a result, nothing extraneous was on the ship. Just enough supplies, food, fuel, to sustain the life of the 30 crewmembers—the bare minimum. The ship design is just big enough to support them. Any extra weight, any extra room for leisure, for example, would make the ship too heavy to push through space. The intention was to create an environment built to sustain life on a voyage to the next planetary frontier.
“That was one of the themes we discussed early on with Neil Burger. Of course the space is big and they’re gonna be there for three generations but you have to use the space in a very economical way, it needed to be claustrophobic. While the spaceship is big the spaces are small. So the hallways are small, the bedrooms are small, everything is small. We decided to maintain like that. We didn’t move walls to shoot, we shot within what we had, we shot with lens that allows us to be in those tight spaces. It was claustrophobic shooting the movie. It was not easy but that was a challenge to make us feel we are there with them using the resources we have which were those tight spaces. Conceptually it needed to be like that, it needed to feel complete close and uncomfortable.”
Dozens of designs of modular interiors for the ship were made to plot out the massive soundstages at Bucharest Film Studios in Romania, home to some of the largest soundstages in Europe. This included combinations of lengthy, inter-connected corridors, living quarters, communal and functional spaces – were constructed to make the cast feel claustrophobic, like they were experiencing interplanetary travel within a spaceship’s confined quarters. These tight interiors were built to stoke the characters’ isolation, confinement and cabin fever.
“How do you recreate the very real effects that a tight, confined space takes on the mental state of sailors down below and put that experience in the context of space? That was the true impetus as to where most of these sets came from.”
Burger, and Chediak collaborated closely on how lighting could be used to convey specific moods, emotions, and times of day within the predominantly white spaces of Humanitas, all windowless and devoid of natural light. By embedding approximately 4.5 miles of dimmer controllable LED lighting on the sets, Chediak had complete control of every light on board and could adjust them all with maximum speed and freedom.
The LED lights gave a hospital feel while keeping things very, very bright as the characters are starting to be stripped away in good and bad ways. Not only does the ship evolve, but the lighting evolves, whether it is bursts of color on sets, the colors of the monitors, or the red lights and the blue lights of danger.
“It’s a way to show the character’s passage through time, a way to put pressure on the characters as their fear grows, as well as conveying the escalating chaos on the ship. The set was huge but made up of tight, claustrophobic spaces. We worked with very small cameras where we could squeeze in with the actors and create a feeling of real intimacy and immediacy. Fear is a big theme in the movie. How it overtakes you, consumes you. The crew lose all rational sense and start to make really bad decisions. And it’s about how some of the crew exploit fear for their own ends, how they fan the flames of it, and then present themselves as the saviors.”
Chediak shot VOYAGERS on Sony VENICE cameras with Zeiss Supreme Prime Lenses and his inventive lighting design and camera movements mirror the emotional arc within this explosive narrative. Burger wanted the sets to feel claustrophobic and clinical, like in a laboratory. But he also wanted to create a sense of exhilaration, exuberance, terror, and fluidity in the camera, in a confined space.
“It still is a future in subjective terms. In this case it starts by building the set and building the lights within those sets and with the technology we have now, I try to imagine how the future will be. It’s just a speculation, it’s something that comes from instinct or from a gut feels. It’s a future through out subjective senses. Who knows if it’s gonna be like that or not? Constantly we’re policing ourselves [through conversations] as we try to make it as real as possible within the language we’re creating within the movie.”
“We were very in sync in terms of how we should attack the visuals of this movie and how the
language should evolve. Burger wanted a long, narrow corridor that was the ship’s central spine and symbolic of the characters alienation and later of their wild abandon. He and Chediak devised an inventive ceiling rig capable of hurtling at 30 miles per hour after the young crew members, as they run for their lives down a 200-foot-long corridor.”
VOYAGERS was shot in chronological order as possible in order to show the jarring rush of emotion. As “the story develops, certain colors start popping up in one way or another i was thinking, ‘wait until the blood comes, things are really gonna start popping up one way or another; the fire, the blood, the red light for emergency. We have certain colors that are really a shock. Since things are in order, it was more jarring.”
VOYAGERS is now in theaters.