German director Christian Alvart could not believe his eyes when he was given an early draft of Pandorum to read by UK producers Jeremy Bolt and Paul WS Anderson of Impact Pictures and Robert Kulzer of Germany's Constantin Film: Travis Milloy's spec script was similar to a project Alvart had been developing himself called No Where.
He was even more surprised when the producers agreed to the idea of him working with Milloy on bringing ideas from both projects together in a new draft of Pandorum.
'Our original script was about prisoners on a spaceship and more of a genre piece,' Bolt recalls. 'Christian's was more about settlers on a spaceship as the last hope for mankind since the Earth is dying. He brought more of an A-movie sensibility to it.'
'My idea was science fiction,' Alvart adds. 'Travis' screenplay was more thriller and horror, and now we have all three.'
Pandorum follows two astronauts, played by Dennis Quaid and Ben Foster, who wake up in a sleep chamber aboard a seemingly deserted spacecraft. It started shooting in August in Germany at Studio Babelsberg. Comprised mostly of interior shots of the craft, the $40m production could have shot anywhere in the world.
'As a German company, Constantin wanted us to try and do it in Germany,' Bolt explains. 'Christian had just been in the States for a while (making Case 39 for Paramount), so he wanted to be home, and we (Impact) had a great experience on Resident Evil (at Adlershof studios in 2001).
'But at the end of the day, it was economics. Once we did the numbers, the money we got back from the German Federal Film Fund (Dfff) made it worthwhile. Moreover, Berlin has a lot of good crew, so we didn't have to bring in many crew members. When you're spending a lot on hotels for crew, it defeats the purpose of the tax credit. In fact, we only brought in Stan Winston's team for the special-effects make-up and our British production designer Richard Bridgland.'
Additional scenes are being shot at a disused power station in the Berlin suburb of Steglitz. 'We did this on the first Resident Evil. We try to use real locations even when we are doing movies which are mainly stage-built because it gives a greater sense of reality to the film,' Bolt explains. 'It also helps the budget because the (power station) set is so awesome - like the Reichstag underground station in Resident Evil - we could not afford to build it.'
Kulzer admits passing the Dfff's cultural test to access its funding was quite a hurdle with a story set in outer space. 'But one of the characters is the young scientist Nadja (played by Antje Traue) who is German, so a section of the film takes place on Earth in the Berlin in the future,' he explains, pointing out the 'Germanness' was not shoe-horned into the script.
'These German elements were actually in the original spec script by Milloy. What I like about the German system is that it's purely about the German spend so you're not restricted in terms of (the nationality of the) crew or the cast.'
The $5m (EUR3.7m) granted to Pandorum by the Dfff is the second highest amount received by a production this year after the $7.8m (EUR5.8m) for James McTeigue's Ninja Assassin, which shot in Berlin and Babelsberg in the spring. Further support came from the German Federal Film Board (FFA), Medienboard Berlin-Brandenburg and FFF Bayern.
Summit Entertainment is handling international rights to the project and launched it at Cannes. Overture Films bought North America as a domestic negative pick-up, Icon took the UK and Australia, Svensk acquired Scandinavia, Movie Eye bought Japan, and Belgian rights went to Belga, among others.
'There are so few buyers on the block now so we were lucky to have one like Overture where Pandorum is an important film for them,' Bolt says. 'For a studio, this would be quite a small film, but for Overture we are a very important film.'
As with Resident Evil, the team would like to create a franchise out of Pandorum. 'Christian would like to spend the next four years making these movies. He's completely absorbed with the whole world,' Bolt says.
'My original story was much bigger,' Alvart recalls. 'Travis' script was a good entree into this story, but it is far from being finished. There are concepts ready for a second and third part which would not simply be the same and could even be in a different genre.'
'With Resident Evil, there was already a built-in audience,' Kulzer explains. 'On this one, we have to first ensure the film delivers.'
Overture will release Pandorum in the US in September 2009, with Constantin set to open it in Germany in late 2009.