Interview: Writer/Director Zeek Earl Discusses the Future of the Prospect Universe Ahead of the Film’s Netflix Release in November

If you've binged your way through a rewatch of your favorite sci-fi series this summer, you won't want to miss the November 2nd premiere of Prospect on Netflix. 

Prospect began as a Kickstarter campaign for a short film that premiered at SXSW in 2014. Four years later, the writer-director team of Christopher Caldwell and Zeek Earl returned to the film festival with their feature-length debut of the film, where they were awarded the SXSW Adam Yauch Hörnblowér Award. The film starred Sophie Thatcher as Cee, Jay Duplass as her father Damon, and Pedro Pascal as the charismatic Ezra. 

Caldwell and Earl's straightforward approach to sci-fi storytelling has the potential to spark a new generation of storytellers and Wealth of Geeks recently chatted with Zeek Earl about the inspiration behind the film and the potential of seeing more of the Prospect universe. 

Maggie Lovitt (ML): When you were greenlit for the feature, what was the first thing that you were the most excited about being able to incorporate with a larger budget? 

Zeek Earl (ZE): I grew up as a big Lord of the Rings fan. I watched the 12 or whatever hours of behind-the-scenes and was enthralled that they created their own little movie universe out in New Zealand. When we got funded we got to open our own production design shop in Seattle that was completely dedicated to the movie. Spending all six months of pre-production getting to pour over all the little details with the designers was a dream.  A lot of the people that we had building props weren’t propmakers, they were people like Boeing engineers. It wasn’t like where other productions have everything spread out in different shops and you get an update every couple of weeks. We were living in the workshop and seeing things get built in realtime — like the weapons and the spaceships. 

ML: One of the features I thought was really interesting was that you use the microphones through the helmets for the actors which makes it more realistic. 

ZE: It was a risky choice to do it that way because most projects use audio filters to get that effect. But it also worked as a radio system with our actors so we were able to communicate with them when they were in the helmets. 

ML: What were some of your outside influences for the look and the feel of the film when you were building it? 

There was a lot of influence from films like Alien, Blade Runner, and the Coen Brothers’ westerns. But there’s also this gritty Soviet moon rush aesthetic. A lot of the details of our suits are ripped off of prototypes from suits used by both NASA and the Russians during the space race. It’s a movie about the characters’ decisions, not the technology. We wanted everything to feel old and on the verge of breaking down. When you’re on the Green moon you’re on your own, technology can’t help you. 

ML: On the topic of in-world aspects, there were a lot of very, small details that I thought really sold the universe. What was the inspiration behind the Getting Rich on the Green Guide?

The design is loosely based on the “Whole Earth” catalogs from the 70s. We had all the details from the world so thought out, even though most of it doesn’t appear on screen. The guide was an opportunity to share some of this detail with hardcore fans of the film.

ML: You also created a language for the world, which I thought was really interesting.  What inspired you to create your own language and music? 

I wanted to create this world where we had evolved beyond the Earth and the languages we know. Where people weren’t wondering where the Green moon was in relation to the Earth. With the music Cee listens to, I knew the style of music that a teenage girl would be listening to. So I spent a lot of time on YouTube looking for non-English pop music that had a familiar feel. I think our music department said this was the most difficult film that they had worked on, because of trying to track down these obscure records in other countries, where the tracks had been sold to other labels. But it really worked. 

ML: When you were writing the script, was it the characters that came to you first or this concept of space prospecting? 

We are really dedicated to character-driven storytelling and building the world around them. With the original Prospect short it was more of a father-daughter story. With the feature film, it had evolved from that, but you see hints of the original short in the characters. We took these characters and their interactions and then took them further. 

Pedro Pascal as Ezra

ML: With the character design of Ezra, I was rewatching Prospect last night and I was thinking about how the character design emulates one of those old Western gold rush types with his accent and the swagger. Where did that inspiration come from? 

Pedro dropped in halfway through, so we didn’t have a whole lot of time to prep. We had Skyped with him before, but we were working on our first feature and we were overwhelmed. This wasn’t like a larger production where you could work with a dialect coach. We sat down with him before filming and went over some different ideas for the language and that was the accent that stuck. Looking back, after watching it a hundred times, you can kind of see how he gets more settled into the accent and it evolves and becomes more “Prospect-ian.” 

ML: As a fan of Star Wars how cool was that to see one of your lead actors go on to star in a Star Wars project? 

ZE: Our agent actually told us that Lucasfilm requested a private viewing of Prospect and we thought that may we were going to get to direct a Star Wars film. Then a few weeks later it was announced that Pedro was going to be in The Mandalorian. It was really exciting. I think The Mandalorian is more of the kind of Star Wars stories I like seeing. It’s got more of the smaller storytelling, the backwater locations, and none of the Death Star, Jedi, lightsaber battles that are in the trilogies. 

Cee 2
Sophie Thatcher as Cee

ML: With the potential for there being more of Prospect if it does well on Netflix, is there a hope to bring back Cee and see more of her story or expand into new characters? 

ZE: Let me see what I can say. When we were writing the script for Prospect, we created this sort of Wikipedia with Google Docs with all of these different elements for the world. So it was nice to dive back into that. It’s in the planning phase, but what I can say is that it’s set after Prospect. It’s not on the Green. We’ll see more planets. We’ll meet new characters and we’ll see some familiar faces. With Netflix, that first week of watching is so important. Prospect has been out for a while, but I think this is the largest release for it. With quarantine and COVID, things have been very different for movies and releases. We'll see.

ML: I know that there is a very loyal fan base already. I don't know if you've poked around on the Internet at all and seen just how passionate fans are about Prospect, but how has that been to see people responding so positively to your film? 

ZE: I love it. People will message me on Instagram and ask things like how time works on the Green. I’ve seen the fanfiction that’s been written and people will tag me in their original fan art. It’s been cool to see people take what’s been created and create their own content in really creative ways.

ML: I have one last kind of fun question. Do you think you would be able to make it on the Geen as a prospector? 

ZE: Oh, no way! I have to give credit to Sophie Thatcher, Jay Duplass, and Pedro Pascal, I couldn’t wear the helmet. We had Pedro walking miles through the forest in the helmet with all of this dialogue that he had to deliver. I love hiking, but I don’t think I could do it with a helmet on. I like breathing air. 

Prospect arrives on Netflix on November 2nd, 2020. 

Maggie Lovitt is a writer at Wealth of Geeks where she covers her favorite topics: Star Wars and pop culture nerdery.

In her free time, she is also a novelist, screenwriter, actor, and member of the Screen Actors Guild.