IGN/Fox has been releasing a bunch of Alien short films that were put together to celebrate Alien’s 40 Anniversary along with Alien Day coming next week. HN Entertainment’s Nicholas Whitcomb was lucky enough to ask Canadian twin directors Kailey and Sam Spear aka The Spear Sisters, who tackled one of these shorts titled Alien: Ore about their short film.
The Alien: Ore short was just released this morning by IGN and you can watch it below before jumping into our interview with the two directors.
HN: Before we get into Alien: Ore, I wanted to know about your background with the Alien franchise in general. When was the first time you experienced the films, and what is your personal favorite film in the series?
SPEAR SISTERS: “We were probably around fifteen or so when we first saw Alien. At that point, we had decided we wanted to be filmmakers. Our dad found out that we hadn’t seen Alien yet and he immediately said something to the effect of ‘What!?.. You haven’t seen Alien! You have to see Alien if you want to be filmmakers, it’s a classic’.”
“So, we went to our little island video store and rented it. Of course, we had seen it there before. You know the cover. Glowing green egg. Looks scary, right?”
“Yeah, and at that time we weren’t ones to pull the scary stuff off the shelf. It wasn’t that we were actually scared of scary films; more so we were scared of being scared. And we had heard Alien was a scary one, so hadn’t sought it out. But here we were with our dad, Mr. Ph.D. in education, telling us that it was one we had to see. And, of course, our dad is an intelligent man and he was right. We loved it. We were immediately struck with the beauty and craft of the film. We loved the characters. Especially Ripley. It was scary, of course, but not in the way that we thought it was going to be. It really opened the genre of horror to us and gave us a wonderful example of what sci-fi could be. After watching that film, we went and watched the rest. Wasn’t Aliens great?! Love that film. The original Alien though, that’s where it all started. So we have to say that one is our favorite.”
HN: How did you get involved with this project? What was the submission process like?
KAILEY: “We were in the middle of working on a script for another project when Sam hopped onto twitter for a moment. She was scrolling through her feed when her eye was caught by a video of Ripley. She stopped scrolling to watch the video, thinking “god, isn’t Ripley awesome”. Then she saw what was written with it: that 20th Century Fox was opening up the opportunity to pitch original short concepts set in the Alien universe and that they would be choosing six filmmakers to make these shorts. We decided almost immediately to drop what we were doing and get a pitch together. We knew that it would be steep competition, but we couldn’t not throw our hat in the ring.”
SPEAR SISTERS: “A film set in a mining colony was actually the first idea that came to mind. That idea came quite quickly. We were always curious about what kinds of people would be mining the materials used to supply humanity’s expanding reach in space. We had actually imagined that our particular miners would be mining materials needed to build components of synthetics. We were excited about exploring life as a space miner. We also knew we wanted something that would get us into a claustrophobic space as well as somewhere that would bring in an ensemble of workers. The mining colony suited us well for that.”
“After coming up with that first idea, we did come up with a couple of other pitches. One involved a group of young cadets training to fly cargo vessels. One of the main cadets we follow would have been a relation of one of the lost Nostromo crew members. The other followed an ICC officer at an Interstellar Commerce Commission checkpoint who encounters a bounty hunter transporting someone wanted by Weyland.”
“The wonderful thing about this universe is there are so many opportunities for different stories to be told. We could keep cooking up stories forever!”
HN: Can you talk about your experience filming on location, especially in the mine? The short has excellent locations.
SPEAR SISTERS: “Yeah, we loved working in Britannia mines where we shot. The Britannia team that we worked with there were wonderful. We have actually thought of that specific location when we were coming up with a story to pitch. We knew that it would look great. The only thing that was a bit tricky was that we were trying to sell it as a hot mine, but we were shooting in Canada in the middle of the night in October. For the actors, it was: ‘Shot’s up! Coats off – Shiver-shiver-shiver..annnnd Shiver-shiver-shiv- Action!.. I’m not cold at all…Nope!…'”
“The exterior Bowen’s Landing shot was partly Britannia Mine. The space around where you see the miners going into the building and the sign is on location at Britannia, but our visual effects artists at Image Engine expanded the environment to create the more stark setting we needed for this story. In actual fact, the building that they are walking into is smaller and has beautiful trees behind it.”
“The elevator was a build designed by our fantastic production designer Cheryl Marion. I bet you know what inspired the design! We actually shot the elevator both in the mine tunnel itself and in another space at Britannia. Because there was no space to get the camera beside the elevator and far enough above for the security cam shots, we needed to create a little studio set for those shots. We shot part of the elevator in “studio” one day, then Cheryl’s wonderful team moved the elevator into the tunnel so that we could get the rest of the elevator business.”
“We shot the locker room and Hanks’ office in the same building. Cheryl was wonderful in bringing the world of Alien to those spaces.”
HN: These shorts as far as I understand it, are meant to invoke the original film the most. What were some of the aspects of Ridley Scott’s original film that you wanted to get across in your short?
SPEAR SISTERS: “Yeah. These shorts were made specifically in celebration of the original film, so while making our film an original story, we also wanted to bring in elements that celebrated the original film as much as we could. We wanted to allow our audience to experience some of the things everyone loved from the original but in a new way.”
“We specifically wanted to include familiar aspects from the original film: sweat, slime, claustrophobic locations, retro-futuristic tech, a dynamic blue-collar ensemble, and an awesome Xenomorph. And of course, we had to add in a bunch of easter eggs. See how many you can spot! With these familiar aspects, we wanted to give our audience the chance to revisit and remember things that they loved about Alien. But, while giving nods to the original film, we wanted to give the fans a new story. A new part of the universe to explore. A new set of characters to meet.”
HN: One thing I loved about the short, was how quickly it established the characters. I really enjoyed Lorraine and Hanks. Can you talk about the amazing cast you assembled?
SPEAR SISTERS: “It is always important for us to root our stories in character. We were so lucky to have the fantastic Mikela Jay and Tara Pratt bring Lorraine and Hanks to life. We loved working with them both. We found our cast with the help of casting director Heike Brandstatter and Coreen Meyers. Both the characters of Lorraine and Hanks were actually quite tricky to cast.”
“For Lorraine, we needed someone that could feasibly be a grandmother, someone who was physically strong and someone who could bring a bit of edge, a bit of fun, and deep heart to the role. We knew that we didn’t want a Ripley clone in the lead. There is only one Ripley and she is fantastic. For Alien: Ore, we were looking for a new kind of hero. Someone who could bring a new unique energy to screen. Heike and Coreen suggested we look at Mikela. At first, we didn’t know if we could actually get her! She had stopped acting and was working on a farm on one of the Gulf Island. Luckily we were able to convince her to audition. We loved her immediately. She brings such a great energy to Lorraine. And lucky for us, her farming work gave Lorraine the physical strength she needed for her mining work as well!”
“For Hanks, we saw quite a few people for the role as well. Again, we were looking for something very specific. Hanks is a synthetic; a model that falls somewhere between Ash and Bishop. We needed someone that was able to capture that unique quality of being a synthetic in this universe; almost human, but with something a little off. There’s a certain grounded grace to the synthetics of the Alien world. Tara walked in and immediately brought the levels we were looking for brilliantly: the grace, the unique curiosity, and the programmed dedication to the company. She is truly a gem of an actor. After we cast her, we found out that she is actually a huge Alien fan! It made complete sense she would understand the character so well!”
“We absolutely loved working with every person in this cast. We were incredibly lucky that every single person who came to our set brought such a beautiful level of commitment, respect, and care to the project.”
HN: When did you decide the Xenomorph would be created digitally? The VFX was really impressive.
SPEAR SISTERS: “Originally we had wanted to have a practical Xeno. We always love practical effects. However, with the resources that we had, or rather didn’t have, for this project we weren’t able to get our hands on a practical Xenomorph suit.”
“But we were so incredibly lucky that the ridiculously talented folks at Image Engine came on board for our visual effects! What they were able to achieve with the Xenomorph was amazing! She’s a beaut. With their work, we were able to bring something to screen that we would not have been able to achieve with a performer in a suit. They were able to bring beautiful, terrifying, fluidity and strength to the movement of the Xenomorph. That leap onto the wall!?! No one wants to be stuck in a mine with something that can do that!”
HN: What kind of costumes, props, or equipment did Fox supply (if any) from the official Alien sandbox?
SPEAR SISTERS: “We got the Weyland-Yuanti logo from them. The rest of the creation and recreation was up to our team. They did a wonderful job at tracking down and creating pieces that fit into the Alien universe.”
HN: How does it feel to have contributed to such an iconic franchise with your short? It’s such a neat idea on the part of Fox and Tongal to have put together these shorts.
SPEAR SISTERS: “Truly wonderful. It is such a special thing. We feel that giving the opportunity to emerge, filmmakers, to fans, to come in and help expand the universe is such a wonderful way to honor the original film. The original Alien film touched all of us, expanded our imaginations, influenced our work as filmmakers and storytellers. It is wonderful to take part in something that not only gives us the chance as filmmakers to play in a fantastic universe but also, as fans, gives us the opportunity to celebrate and honor the film that has influenced our journey as storytellers.”
HN: I personally feel that both of the shorts with female directors, both yours and Kelsey Taylor’s Specimen, were the strongest of the bunch. Do you feel it’s overdue that the franchise has a female voice behind the camera?
SPEAR SISTERS: “First of all, thank you! We are thrilled that you enjoyed Ore. And, yes, Specimen was freaking fantastic!”
“This franchise has been created by incredibly talented people. They have built out a wonderful cinematic universe. The brilliant thing about what had been created is that it is a universe that is so vast. There are so many opportunities for different stories to be told. For different perspectives to come in. Right now is a great time for women to be brought in to helm the next expansions of the universe.”
HN: If given the chance again, would you be willing to work on something else within the Alien universe?
SPEAR SISTERS: “Absofreakinglutly we would!”
HN: There’s been a lot of talk about the future of the franchise, whether Ridley Scott continues his prequel series or something else. Where would you personally like to see it go next?
SPEAR SISTERS: “We would love to see more from this franchise. We would love to see more from Ridley and we would love to see more from other filmmakers. Again, the wonderful thing about this universe is that there are so many places to explore, so many people to meet.”
“Personally, we would love to see a limited-series set in the Bowen’s Landing colony. In Aliens, with Hadley’s Hope, we saw a colony after it was destroyed. We would love to follow a working colony before it gets to that point. For us, Alien: Ore only scrapes the surface of the larger story we had built out in our minds. It would be awesome to have time to really get to know an ensemble of miners and their families as we follow them coming up against the aliens.”
HN: Lastly, I’d love to know what is next for you. Is there anything you’re currently working on?
SPEAR SISTERS: “We are back to writing now, cooking up the next projects. Keep your eye out for another short film of ours we have on the festival route called CC. It will be finishing up its festival run soon and then will be available to watch online. CC follows an altercation between an AI nanny, CC, and the mother of the child she has been leased to take care of. We actually did this film before Alien, but both happen to deal with some common themes and they both have synthetics as prominent characters.”