It is an early March morning at Shepperton Studios and Sam Rockwell is in a spaceship, shaving. He stars in Moon, an unusual and ambitious film which is being made in the spirit of classic 1970s sci-fi such as Ridley Scott's Alien and Douglas Trumbull's Silent Running.

The film marks the debut feature of British director Duncan Jones (formerly known as Zowie Bowie, son of rock star David Bowie). Jones is renowned in the ad world for his commercials, working with brands including French Connection and Carling.

The film is set in the near future and follows a man isolated on a moon base, who is lonely but not alone. The film-makers are reluctant to give away too much of the plot but it is clear Rockwell has a very taxing role - in certain scenes, he will have to play against versions of himself.

'I am a huge fan of Sam,' Jones says of his leading man, who has previously starred in Confessions Of A Dangerous Mind and The Assassination Of Jesse James By The Coward Robert Ford. 'It's been a real strain and pretty exhausting for him but he has given everything.'

Jones also accepts that Rockwell - who recently earned praise in Sundance for his performance in Choke - will help open doors for the film in the US. 'We're making a British film but I spent an awful lot of time growing up in the United States. And if you have an American actor in a film, an American audience will take it on a lot easier than if it is a purely British cast.'

'Sam Rockwell was our first and only choice from day one,' says producer Nicky Moss, and the film-makers moved quickly to take advantage of his availability.

Stuart Fenegan (Cargo, Too Much Too Young), Moss (The Great Ecstasy Of Robert Carmichael, Taking Liberties) and Trudie Styler (Snatch, A Guide To Recognizing Your Saints) are producing for London-based Liberty Films, with Styler's Xingu Films co-producing.

Jones and Fenegan first met in 2003 and set up Liberty Films in 2005. At that point, Jones was developing a different feature film script, Mute, a drama set in the underbelly of Berlin with a protagonist who does not speak (he and Fenegan hope to revive the project once Moon is completed).

Liberty has since worked on a number of high-profile commercials by Jones and other directors, but makes its feature debut with Moon.

Jones, who is a graduate of London International Film School, cites Ridley and Tony Scott as inspirational figures for him as a young, would-be film-maker. He was on the set of Tony Scott's 1983 film The Hunger, in which his father starred, and says the director was always generous with advice and encouragement.

'One of the things I learned from the Scotts is that if you start off in commercials and continue to do commercials, it gives you the chance to be constantly working with, learning about and refining all of the more expensive tools. You can then bring that experience to bear when you do a feature film.'

Initially, Jones wrote a 30-page treatment for Moon before the producers recruited writer Nathan Parker (son of the British director Alan Parker) to work on the screenplay.

On the face of it, financing Moon looked like a daunting prospect: a sci-fi movie set in space, which involves cloning, complex CG effects and plenty of futuristic gadgetry.

'Lots and lots of people talk about making a film but don't manage to quite get there,' Fenegan notes. He and Jones were determined to get Moon made quickly, both to beat the threat of the potential actors' strike and to ensure the movie would be ready for 2009 - the 40th anniversary of the original moon landings (the film-makers are hoping for a Sundance launch in 2009).

Liberty's strategy was to set up an EIS scheme to raise the initial finance to move into pre-production - just less than 50% of the overall budget (which has not been disclosed). The company also brought in Limelight as majority financier. London-based Independent was appointed to handle international sales.

Moon was a beneficiary of the uncertainty in the UK industry at the turn of the year, as the US writers' strike affected production plans for many projects. When the film went into pre-production, Wolfman was shooting at Pinewood and Richard Curtis' The Boat That Rocked was gearing up at Shepperton, but the UK studios were otherwise very quiet. 'There was a large number of quality crew people who weren't working,' Fenegan says.

He and Jones were therefore able to recruit the cream of UK technicians. Their miniature unit supervisor Bill Pearson, for example, has worked on films from Alien to Casino Royale. Also part of the crew were figures such as visual-effects supremo Peter Talbot and costume designer Jane Petrie (fresh from 28 Weeks Later). Cinesite is behind the visual effects.

Both Jones and Fenegan are self-confessed sci-fi fans and space nuts, while their mentor, advertising guru Trevor Beattie, who Jones worked with at BMB, shares their enthusiasm for all things galactic.

'He's a big supporter of Duncan and me,' Fenegan says. 'He will be helping us with the marketing campaign for the film.'

Do not expect to hear Bowie crooning Space Oddity on the soundtrack, however. Jones is wary about outsiders trying to cash in on his father's celebrity and says he will not be using his music in the film. 'It will be a composed score ... and it won't be close to home.'

On the Bowie connection, Fenegan points out that while 'it might make a few more people look at the film, it certainly won't make them like it any more. The film will survive on its own merits.'