It will be shot in Los Angeles and its sets are under construction in London but much of the work on the upcoming "Persephone" is happening in Woodbury.
Writer/director Jeffrey Morris is wrapping up financing while he prepares to film the science-fiction adventure in 2022. Meanwhile, he's employing local artists to develop the project, remotely supervising set construction at London's famed Pinewood Studio and putting finishing touches on his script from his Minnesota home.
"Persephone" is about efforts to establish a colony on the titular planet, where Earthlings hope to escape the ravages of climate crisis.
"It's the anti-'Alien,' " said Morris, 53, who has helped develop science curriculum for schools and whose FutureDude Entertainment has made shorts, commercials and TV shows. "We're the problem in this film instead of the alien life form being the problem."
In many ways, "Persephone" is well suited to production in these uncertain times. Rehearsals can be done via Zoom. There are only five characters (Malcolm McDowell and Brianna Hildebrand have been cast, with Mary-Louise Parker in talks to play the lead) and they spend much of the film in spacesuits. The crew won't be large. And because of extremely detailed storyboards, it should only take about a month to shoot.
"Persephone" has been percolating in Morris' mind for years. He developed it with the help of son Kieran, 23, a sci-fi fan like his dad, who grew up idolizing astronomer Carl Sagan and "Star Trek" creator Gene Roddenberry.
"It's about a small group of astronauts who are the advance party for this big colony ship with tens of thousands of people on it," said Morris. "[Mary-Louise Parker's role] is an engineer who has designed the shield [protection] system but when they arrive, the system isn't working so they dispatch a crew to figure out what's going on. Their ship crashes on the planet and when they set out in a rover to investigate, they discover something they didn't expect."
Morris, who moved from Illinois to Minnesota in 1988, has spent time here and in Arizona, raising money for various projects. Much of that time, he has been working on "Persephone," which received an early boost from Parker.
"Many drafts of the script ago, she was one of the first people I reached out to. I wanted this to be an intergenerational conflict between an older woman who's in her 50s [Parker is 56] and a younger woman [Hildebrand is 24], the older woman having just awakened from being in hibernation for 50 years and awakening to these young people who have never even been to Earth," Morris said.
Knowing he needed a compelling actor for the older astronaut, he asked his casting director to get a script to Parker, a Tony Award winner who's best known as a pot dealer in a Woodbury-like community in the TV series "Weeds."
"I flew to New York and had lunch with her and we really hit it off. I ended up hanging out with her kids, who are big sci-fi fans," he said. "She's never done a sci-fi film but she has always wanted to. In one of her books of poetry, she wrote a whole chapter about NASA and space."
Parker's busy Broadway schedule might make it tricky for her to participate in the oft-delayed movie but the postponement has made it possible for "Lord of the Rings" executive producer Mark Ordesky and partner Jane Fleming to join "Persephone." After the Los Angeles shoot next year, most of the editing will be completed in Minnesota. Then, plans for releasing the movie are, like most things in the pandemic era, in flux.
"We have presales all over the world, over a million dollars of sales, so it will end up in theaters overseas but, in the U.S., we're finalizing things and it may be a simultaneous theater/streaming thing," said Morris, a onetime purist about cinema who has come around to streaming options.
He came around the same way everyone else did during the pandemic, with a big hit that came to him in the comfort of his own home.
Watching the "cinematic" "The Mandalorian" on a large TV in his office convinced him. "Especially in this COVID[-19] environment, there's nothing wrong with this movie being on streaming," Morris said.
Chris Hewitt • 612-673-4367