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July 14, 2017

Neill Blomkamp on Short Films, Oats Studios, and Why He Would Never Borrow From ‘Halo’

We discuss the idea behind Blomkamp’s new studio and why the filmmaker is always striving to create new worlds.

It’s tempting to describe Zygote as the short film where Dakota Fanning gets chased by hands. That was my gut reaction to Neill Blomkamp’s latest Oats Studio short film, which borrows a bit from John Carpenter and expensive ’90s horror films to create a disturbing horror story about a futuristic mining company gone terribly wrong. Zygote is the latest in Blomkamp’s ongoing effort to revolutionize the way established filmmakers use short films, joining a blend of science fiction, horror, and comedy shorts on his company’s YouTube channel that has been steadily released over the past few weeks. And after writing about the possible directions that Oats Studio could take in the future, I sat down with Neill Blomkamp this week to further discuss his new studio and the creative decisions behind some of his signature shorts.

To hear Blomkamp describe it, the main impetus behind Oats Studio was to let his potential audience — not a focus group or individual Hollywood producer — dictate which of his company’s projects deserve to be adapted into feature films. “If the problem that Hollywood poses is that many ideas are shut down before they see the light of day — out of the fact that the studio guesses that the audience may not like it,” Blomkamp explains, “this whole company is kinda of like, let’s just make it anyway and see what the audience says.” This is an expensive way to crowdsource ideas for your next feature, but one that understandably allows Blomkamp and Oats Studio a great deal of creative freedom for each of his small projects. That also means that the majority of Oat Studios’s shorts are walking a unique line between telling original short stories and testing the waters on feature concepts. “Some of them are designed only ever to be short films and not features,” Blomkamp says, “but the bigger concept is to see which pieces work and make those into larger-scale features.”

Unsurprisingly, then, the short films released by Oats Studios are not so dissimilar from the feature films that Blomkamp has already released. Blomkamp has never shied away from his love of making futuristic films where technology — and the occasional gaggle of alien invaders or refugees — run amok on Earth. It shouldn’t come as a shock, then, that Blomkamp’s longest shorts seem to operate at the same intersection of futurism and techno-horror that we’ve seen in films like District 9 and Elysium. When prompted to speak about his inspirations for the stories in each Oats Studio film, Blomkamp readily admits what he knows we already know: his career has been influenced very heavily by a handful of seminal science-fiction films. “I want to make films that feel like Blade Runner or Aliens because I love those films,” Blomkamp explains, “but I also want to make movies that feel like District 9, which hopefully don’t feel like many other films that come before it.” That means a lot of high-tech soldiers at war with a variety of monsters, but each with Blomkamp’s signature style and story elements.

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