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Mars Express

(Status: in development)


Aline Ruby, a stubborn private detective, and her partner Carlos Rivera, who’s been dead for five years, set off on a race against time to Mars. Their mission is to find Jun Chow, a cybernetics student on the run, before the murderous assassins who are hot on her heels.

Mars Express
Director: Jérémie Périn
Author: Jérémie Périn
Producer: Didier Creste (Everybody on Deck, France)
Target audience: Young Adults / Adults
Technique: 2D digital

Mars Express is a 2D sci-fi/detective animation film project set in a Mars colony. Jérémie Périn and Laurent Sarfati, the core creators of Lastman (2016)* are reunited for this film project.

During Cartoon Movie 2019, we could have the opportunity to hear the story behind the exciting film project Mars Express from the director Jérémie Périn and the scriptwriter Laurent Sarfati.

*: Lastman (2016) is a French animated series for adults based on a popular comic series of the same name.

Interview with Jérémie Périn and Laurent Sarfati

Hideki Nagaishi (HN): Could you please let our audience know about the idea of the story, in brief?

Jérémie Périn: It’s a sci-fi movie, as well as a private-eye movie. We are following two characters, Aline Ruby and Carlos Rivera. Aline is a drunk who struggles with alcoholism.

Laurent Sarfati: At the beginning, she is a tough person and doesn’t smile. She is all about her job. But as soon as she drinks a drop, she becomes a sweet, nice, funny and tender person. As the story is getting more and more complex and the problems are piling up, her alcoholism problem will reappear. So, the drunk Aline is going to be an important character.

Jérémie Périn: Her associate is Carlos. He is a robot. In fact, he is a dead human who was subscribed to an insurance to be reborn as a robot. For him, he is a human because he kept his memories from the time when he was human. But for everybody else, he is a robot. So, he also struggles with the fact that no one recognizes him as human.

Laurent Sarfati: They are both detectives. The story is very classical: Aline and Carlos are hired by worried parents, because their teenage daughter disappeared and the police is after her, as she was suspected for piracy and hacking. It turns out that hitmen were also after her, so Aline and Carlos rush to find the girl before the police and the hitmen.

Jérémie Périn: In fact, they find her really soon in the movie, but she’s killed instantly. It’s at the beginning of the movie. So, both mission accomplished and mission failed. They are really disappointed and the movie could end there.

Laurent Sarfati: Then Aline started to drink again. She wakes up after a really huge party and she realizes that it is not the parents of the teenage girl who hired Aline and Carlos. It is, in fact, the killers, and they used them to find the target. They used some future technology to change their face, so they could look like the parents. When they go to the funeral of the girl, they see the real parents. They see that the faces are the same, but the bodies are totally different.

That makes them super angry and they do what detectives and private-eyes do when they are drunk and angry: They start to look where they shouldn’t look and ask the wrong questions to the wrong people. The real story unfolds.

Jérémie Périn: The real story is more about the robot and AI uprising. It is something that’s been inside the movie from the beginning, but it was almost muted. It’s really a background story that later in the movie becomes the main story.

Laurent Sarfati: What we hope is that the audience watching the movie will get very used to seeing these nice robotic slaves all the time: being very polite, holding a glass of water, doing everything. However, we want the audience, after that, to realize that it is a situation of apartheid. We wanted the audience thinks it’s completely normal, and after a while, they conclude: “But, they are sentient, yet treated like objects!”

Actually, what’s very important in the movie are the directives that are exactly like Isaac Asimov’s “Three Laws of Robotics”, meaning that all the AI have “locks” in their programming that forbid them to harm any human. But it is also like a prison of their mind. Their mind is in jail, they cannot think about some things, because they are forbidden to think about harming a human. That’s the background that becomes the main story at the end.

Jérémie Périn: Of course, the story of the disappearance of Jun, the daughter at the beginning, was linked to the main story. It was not like the movie changed the story, for whatever random reason. She has been killed because she knew too much.

HN: How did this film project start?

Jérémie Périn: It was because Laurent and I always wanted to make a Sci-Fi movie since long ago. We knew it would be a private-eye story on Mars that we wanted to write, but the story changed many times.

Meanwhile, we met Didier Creste, who is the producer of the movie, but at that time, he proposed me to direct an animated series which was an adaptation of a French comic Lastman. So, I decided to do it, and we worked together on it, with many other people of course.

After that, Didier wanted us to make a Lastman movie. I was really happy to make Lastman, but also a little bit bored of it, because I spent three years of my life on it, I wanted to do something else.

Laurent Sarfati: I pitched this film project to Didier and he says, “OK, you are paid to write that.” And Jérémie and I spent nine months in paradise. It was amazing to wake up and think, “OK, I am going to meet my friend and we are going to dream about the movie that’s happening in Mars, with robots.” We loved writing that.

HN: How are you developing the characters and the story?

Laurent Sarfati: It’s a very long process, actually. Writing is rewriting, you don’t say “OK, that’s it, my movie is done” after writing the first draft. When you write a movie, it’s layers and layers of rewriting. There was a lot of back-and-forth between the story we want to tell and what kind of characters are efficient with that story to show every aspect of it. It’s difficult to explain the process completely but it’s half technical, and half organic.

Jérémie Périn: Characters in a script have many functions. They are like vehicles for the story that the audience are inside of, to see the character’s point of view. The choice of the characteristics for the characters are super important, and there are two main characters that change a lot during the process of writing the story.

Actually, we were surprised at the point when we realized: “Oh, Aline, our main character, is not very funny. She’s super serious, she’s tough.” And that was not the character at the beginning that we were writing. Then we had that thing where she was struggling with alcohol, that we removed sometimes, and after removing it, we realized, “Ah, no! She’s too flat!” She needs a malfunction.

It’s subtle, but that subtle change really transformed the ending of the movie. The experience for the audience will be slightly different, but more efficient.

Laurent Sarfati: It’s also a secret thing in the movie. Each character has an addiction to something and struggles with it. So, we had to have something for Aline, and because she’s a private-eye, she has to deal with alcohol.

Carlos appeared in the process also, because at first we wanted him to be a robot. Then we had the idea that he’s a dead guy who has his memories in a robot. And that completely changed the movie.

Jérémie Périn: In the movie, we talk about humans and robots, and he’s the perfect character to symbolize both in the same person. He’s half-robot, half-human. He has to choose, in a way, what he is. So, the movie questions some ideas like that.

Laurent Sarfati: It’s one of the main themes of the movie. It’s in the future, where the blurry limits between reality and fiction are important and upcoming now in our world. Between what is intelligent and what is an object. Between what is alive and dead. We are blurring every aspect of life.

In the movie, there is another technology that is going to replace the robots, and we call it the “organics”. They are artificial life, but they got blood and organs and plugged into computers. Even between life and inanimate objects, the lines are completely blurred.

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