‘District 9’ director Neill Blomkamp says no to Hollywood: ‘I don’t want to do high-budget films’

Dec. 31, 2009 | 2:44 a.m.


The surprise film of 2009 was “District 9,” the $30 million sci-fi tale that was directed by newcomer Neill Blomkamp, the Johannesburg native who celebrated his 30th birthday the month after the movie opened wide. “District 9”  met with strong success both critically and commercially and it’s still being discovered after arriving this month on DVD and Blu-ray. I sat down with Blomkamp at Pete’s Cafe in downtown Los Angeles during the filmmaker’s recent visit to Southern California and we talked about the movie and his surprising plans for the future, which, he says, won’t include any big-budget sci-fi epics. This is Part 1 of the interview:


GB: “District 9” arrived at theaters as a rarity among science-fiction and horror films these days for the simple fact that it wasn’t a sequel, a remake of an already-popular film or an adaption of a comic book,  novel or television series. That gave it the air of the unexpected.

NB: That’s true, that does make it a bit left of the norm. I think about this a lot – a hell of a lot actually – and how it plays out within the genre of sci-fi and horror. This concept of “Where does that fiction [in its source material form] come from?” If you look at the most meaningful science fiction, it didn’t come from watching other films. We seem to be in a place now where filmmakers make films based on other films because that’s where the stimuli and influence comes from. But go back and look at something like [Joe Haldeman’s 1974 novel] “The Forever War” – that is very much rooted in his experience in Vietnam, that’s where the stimulation comes from. And that’s my goal, really, is not to draw from other films in terms of the overall inspiration and stimuli. You can in terms of design and tone and stuff, certainly, but not in terms of the idea and the genesis of that idea.

GB: It’s an admirable goal but other filmmakers have found that, if they want to make well-budgeted special-effects movies, they have to bend to studio pressure to make films that are remakes, adaptations, sequels, etc. Studios feel far more comfortable with “known quantity” properties when the budgets go north of $100 million.

NB: That’s exactly right and that’s precisely the reason I don’t want to do high-budget films. I’ve said no already to doing the Hollywood movie thing with big budgets. And that is the exact reason.

GB: “District 9” had an interesting journey both before and after it reached the screen in wide release in August. Tell me about some of the memorable points along that journey.

NB: I’d say Comic-Con [International in San Diego 2009] was the big turning point. The whole time I was making the film, the only guiding thing I had was how I felt about it. “Is this a movie I would like to go and see? Is this a movie that resonates with me?” Directors make movies they want to watch, really. So I made it and it felt correct to me. But what was undecided was how people would receive it and whether they would like it. I mean, I knew I loved it. Comic-Con was awesome because there was a whole bunch of guys that love those kinds of movies that I like and they responded to it strongly.

District 9 stick up

GB: What was your first reaction to that affirmation?

NB: “Thank God.” But that was still only the hard-core, genre group, so we still didn’t know how a wider audience would approach the movie. But it was made for a relatively little money. If a movie was a $170-million film it would still have been stressful after Comic-Con but if it’s a low-enough amount of money you walk out feeling that you’re probably going to be OK just counting on the hard-core group.

GB: What happened after Comic-Con?

NB: Well it’s such a blur now. What happened now, really, is I toured around and showed the film in a bunch of cities all over America, Mexico, Canada and eventually Europe and each time we screened it the reaction seemed very positive and I started feeling like we were definitely going to make the cash back. That was really the only goal. As long as whoever put up the money for it got their money back and a little bit of profit that was good enough. It wasn’t like some completely capitalistic machine – it was “Get a return on your investment and let me be creative.” That was the goal. I never want to be ruled by the size of the profit, that’s not how I approach it.

GB: So for you it’s more like playing on “Jeopardy.” If you win, you get to play again. In your case, if you break even or better, you get to make another movie.

NB: Yes, that’s it exactly! That’s precisely how I approached it. If I don’t win, it’s going to be difficult to get another one.

GB: The film drew on your experiences, observations and insights from growing up in South Africa. After watching the way the film was received and reviewed, do you feel your messages were understood in the way you hoped?

NB: Yeah, I think so. For the most part, “District 9” is absolute popcorn. It’s absolute fluff compared to how serious those real-life topics are. The topics in the film are on my mind all the time and they’re very interesting to me. The bottom line is “District 9” touches on 1% of those topics in terms of how severe they could be portrayed, and I knew that when I made it. But people got the messages. Xenophobia, racism allegories – they got all of it. I don’t think the film was misunderstood. Not everybody loved it. Nigerians weren’t happy. They were pissed. And I suppose that’s fair enough because I directly named them and they don’t come off well in the film. But that was part of the whole satirical nature of the film. And that conflict, well, that’s a South African thing.

— Geoff Boucher


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LAT REVIEW: “District 9” is “scathing social satire…terrific action”

“District 9” and the alienation of apartheid 

Peter Jackson: Movie fans are “fed up with the lack of original ideas”

HOLLYWOOD EFX: Searching for the alien soul of “District”

Jackson: “District 9” director has “courageous sense” as filmmaker

“The Hobbit” is just the beginning of the Del Toro decade

CREDIT: Blomkamp portrait by Spencer Weiner/Los Angeles Times. “District 9” image from TriStar Pictures.


10 Responses to ‘District 9’ director Neill Blomkamp says no to Hollywood: ‘I don’t want to do high-budget films’

  1. Nemesister says:

    I was stunned! It was awesome! Good for him, not letting the Hollywood suits set the terms. That's what I liked about it. Very original. I hope we find out what happens to the story 3 years later. I can hardly wait.

  2. Mick says:

    Respect for not caving to the big studios with the big budgets that pump out garbage, watered down, recycled material. Best of luck in the future.

  3. Wayne Beamer says:

    Unfortunately, I've seen more comments from D9 naysayers comparing it very disparagingly to Alien Nation. D9 = Different generation, different sensibility and much better movie.

  4. Daniel Wilcox says:

    Can hideous creatures like the Prawn also show a sense of humanity? Damn right and it in no way detracted from the fear and ghastly arena that was District 9. I just happen to have seen D9 the day after Avatar. Both splendid fun and yet I slept a bit more on edge after Mr. Blomkamp got hold of me.

  5. Matthew Schramm says:

    District 9 is one of the best movies I have ever seen. I have already re-watched it three times after buying it on iTunes last week.
    As a fan, I would have to say that while you think that the movie was 1% making political statements about xenophobia and racism, as a viewer the takeout was more like 25% in the same regard. In my humble opinion, just because the movie doesn't devote buckets of screen time and dialogue to these underlying ideas, doesn't mean the impact can't be realized through symbolism and intelligent story design.
    Thank you for making this movie.. PLEASE make a sequel. Just continue on where it left off, because we didn't want it to end.

  6. Donna says:

    Why should he ever want to be associated with big Hollywood budgets again, after the shoddy way he was treated on "Halo"? Good riddance, and good for him.

  7. calos vides says:

    i must say this movie is so awesome lets wait for the comeback

  8. ghabuntu says:

    Being an African -Ghanaian actually- the movie kind of touched me in the sense that it said all the problems facing most of the African society in a way that would make even die hard critics want to listen.
    The issue of racism, 'superiority' complex, xenophobia among others are seriously a part of the obstacles standing in the way of African development.
    I seriously hope Neill comes out with a sequel to let us know what happens later. Will Christopher return as he promised? How is life for the pawns in District 10? I can hardly wait.
    Go Neill, Go Neill, Go Neill. We are solidly behind you.

  9. Mar says:

    District 9 was a shockingly, extremely… satisfying movie. Being a sci-fi, fantasy, drama, docu and action movie fan. I loved it. I wasn't surprised when I later found out that Peter Jackson had a hand in it (how much I don't know) and I also suppose that it's a boon that it didn't materialize as a thoroughly Halo adapted movie.
    It was my best movie for 2009, and I didn't expect it to reach critical approval as well, but alas, no thanks to Avatar, it could have been THE dark horse of the year.
    Still, Neill Blomkamp has shown enough to earn praise as one of the upcoming directors to watch out for. Seriously, he's going to turn away big money productions? We'll see.. ; )

  10. bill says:

    i have been looking for part two of the movie, but i don't think its going to happen.
    but I'll keep hoping. everyone i have talked to wont's to see a sequel.

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