“I wanted to create a roller coast ride where audiences could connect with the main character,” says Jonás Cuarón, who co-wrote the screenplay for “Gravity.” The film – starring George Clooney and Sandra Bullock as two astronauts stranded in space without a means to return to earth – does feature Cuarón’s childhood obsession with space. But more than anything, says the Vassar College graduate, space and weightlessness are “visual metaphors to talk about life” in a philosophical way.
“When you’re a kid, the idea of being able to see the earth from faraway sounds amazing,” says Cuarón. “But now, I see space as a way to experience re-birth; a journey through adversity.”
“Gravity” – a joint project between Cuarón and his father, famed Mexican American director Alfonso Cuarón – has already made headlines ahead of its Oct. 4 release for its jaw-dropping special effects and seamless cinematography. But the film differs from other big budget releases by virtue of the fact that it’s the first large scale project that the father-son duo have tackled together.
“Obviously, because he’s my dad I had a hesitation and wondered how the relationship would work,” says Cuarón, 32. “But from the moment when we started writing, he became a collaborator. The hierarchy disappeared and we were equals trying to figure the best way to tell the story.”
And the younger Cuarón had every reason to have his doubts about working with dad Alfonso on the $80 million dollar project. The elder Cuarón has directed critically-acclaimed films like “Y tu mamá también,” “Children of Men” and pop culture favorites like “Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban.”
By contrast, Cuarón says he wasn’t even interested in pursuing a career in movies – despite growing up on his father’s movie sets – until meeting his film-obsessed college girlfriend.
“I never thought I would go into film. I went into university thinking I would be a writer,” recalls Cuarón. “I majored in English and studio art. But then I started doing shorts to impress my girlfriend, who is now my wife, to show off to her.”
Now, more than ten years later, a collaboration between father and son has yielded “Gravity,” a film that Cuarón says has changed drastically from the concepts first discussed by the pair in London 2009. The two had been in talks to produce a small indie film when financing fell through. Discussions then began about a movie that would use space as a metaphorical bridge to travel through various stages of emotion. Late night talks on Skype – with the younger Cuarón in Madrid, the elder in Mexico – resulted in a film script that Cuarón calls “something I would want to see as an audience member.”
“We would talk all night, writing from opposite corners of the world,” Cuarón reminisces. And yes, there were disagreements – “which often lead to a third option that neither one of us had thought about,” says Cuarón – but he says what he’ll remember most are the invaluable lessons he learned from his father.
“The drive to find new ways to do cinema is something I really admire of my dad,” says Cuarón. “He tries to be up-to-date, with all the new technology as a tool.”
And while Cuarón is very aware that the numbers of Latino directors, editors and screenwriters still lag behind, he expresses thanks to talents like his father who have paved the way for a new generation of Hispanic filmmakers.
“We’re now in an interesting moment where the younger generation has a tremendous amount of resources,” says Cuarón, who will be directing a film to be released next year that he says is “similar” to the story told in “Gravity.”
“It’s tremendously exciting.”