VIDEO EXCLUSIVE: Director Wyatt Rockefeller Reveals Why He Wanted To Make ‘Settlers’
Film producer and director Wyatt Rockefeller spoke about his experience in filming his new movie, Settlers, in his new uInterview.
“It’s about a young girl and her parents living on the remote outskirts of the martian frontier on a homestead and just really getting by,” Rockefeller told uInterview Founder Erik Meers. “They’ve got each other and they’re refugees effectively from Earth and so are happy to have found a place that they can at least have peace. That peace, though, is quickly interrupted early in the film by strangers [who] appear in the hills. Things go kind of south from there, I’ll leave it at that.”
Rockefeller is both the writer and director of Settlers and came up with the idea from his own experience in the woods.
“Well it came actually from a feeling of unease back [when] I was in the woods with my dad,” he explained. “It was snowing quite heavily and you’ve experienced that where the falling snow just absorbs all the ambient noise so that it’s quiet in a way we almost never hear and there’s something very eerie about that and I just remember looking over at the tree line and imagined being watched by someone through the trees and looking up ahead at my dad in his old, tattered coat and imagined this guy patrolling the outskirts of his farm and started thinking about what he might be guarding against. By the time we got inside, I had the plot right up to the point where Jerry puts down the gun. One, I think it’s a good sign when a story tells itself, but also, it really hit me at the gut level, just, ‘Wow, that’s really dark. ‘I was actually working on something else at that point so shelved it effectively and was only when I had the idea to set it on Mars, on a changing Mars, Mars as it may be one day when we’ve colonized it in the process of changing it to be habitable, that I thought, ‘Well, hey, this could actually be a feature and this could be worth an hour and a half of people’s time and a few years of mine.’ That was really because of the themes and the visuals that came with setting the story there.”
Settlers was filmed in South Africa in an isolated area. Rockefeller believes this likely helped the actors with their roles in the movie.
“We filmed in South Africa, right up on the border with Namibia in a very remote spot in and of itself. It’s about seven hours from Cape Town, but it was worth the trip, not only because of the landscape itself, but just having that actual sense of isolation I think was very helpful for the actors, and being able to build 360 sets, so they really could be immersed in the world.”
Rockefeller and his crew members faced considerable challenges during their time in South Africa. “The number one challenge was the weather,” he said. “It can get extremely hot [in] the town which we shot in – 120-something degrees and there were sand storms and there was actually one day, on set, I look over my shoulder and we were shooting up on a hill. There’s [a] lightning storm coming in, in a place where it doesn’t rain. We called it, we were literally on a hill with a bunch of metal baby legs and c-stands, you know, film equipment, and as we’re driving down back to the main set, I had my window open [someone yells], ‘Roll up your window!’ I look over and there is a wall of sand straight out of The Mummy coming towards us. I start rolling up my window as this wall of sand is rushing towards us. It felt like we were in a Spielberg movie for a second. I got it closed a second before it hit and it was a lot to deal with and it was challenging, but I would actually say our morale improved through those tough stretches because the crew and cast really pulled together and got through it together.”
As a first-time director, Rockefeller was surprised by the actors he was able to cast for his movie. He said the project officially took off when Brooklyn Prince became a part of the project.
“It was probably the opposite of settling because we were very lucky to have all of them,” he said. “I mean we really were punching above our weight with this whole cast. I’m a first-time director or future director, and so they were all taking a chance on me and it really started with Brooklyn Prince. When she attached, that’s really when this project took off or got off the ground. Actors, they came on and helped this become that much more real and all, and also allowed us to dream bigger. We were just very lucky to have each of them come on. They all had their questions about how was I imagining this and ‘How are we going to pull this off?’ It was great to be able to work with them. They each work in very different ways in their approach to their characters and just acting in general. It’s a great collaboration.”
Rockefeller said that a scene that he is proud of is one he referred to as “the attempted rape scene.”
“I have quite a few. I will say, this scene – this is definitely not my favorite – but it is one that I am proud of. There’s that scene – the attempted rape scene – which was an incredibly hard scene to shoot. It’s one of the few scenes that I barely touched in the editing room. The editor put it together, and I thought, ‘This is it, we don’t really need to do much more.’ I will say, I’m very proud of that scene for a few reasons. One, as the editor pointed out, there is nothing sexy about it, which is very important because we don’t want to have it both ways. Just the process of working with the actors to basically map out how we were going to accomplish this so that it wasn’t just a mess of people yelling and waving around. [This] was something that I’m very proud of and actually, that yielded changes to the experience that they both went through and filming that scene resulted in changes to the script in subsequent scenes based on that experience. We were able to draw from their actual lived experience to just get closer to the truth of how these characters would behave in subsequent scenes.”