A graduate of USC’s film school, Dagen Merrill has made acclaimed films covering a wide range of genres. His latest project is the second movie to be made by Syfy Films, Atomica. Starring Sarah Habel (Riverdale’s Ms. Grundy), Dominic Monaghan (Lost’s Charlie Pace), and Tom Sizemore (Grand Theft Auto: Vice City’s Sonny Forelli), Atomica is a near future science-fiction mystery set in a remote nuclear plant that has gone offline. Want to learn more about Atomica and Merrill’s career, he allowed me to interview him for ScifiPulse.
You can learn more about Merrill by following him on twitter at @dagenwalker. Atomica will be released in theaters March 17th and on VOD and Digital HD on March 21st, but in the meantime, you can learn more about Atomica by checking out its homepage, liking it on facebook, and following it on twitter at @Atomica_Movie.
Nicholas Yanes: When did you know that you wanted to make a career in the entertainment industry? Was there a specific movie that inspired you to pursue this field?
Dagen Merrill: I remember seeing T2 in the theater when I was in 8th grade. I think I must have watched it thirteen times at least. I grew up during the cold war, so although I was fascinated by the action, special FX and sci-fi – what I think sunk a little deeper in was that there was an alternate future available – you know “no fate but what we make” kind of a thing. Made an impression and I think that’s the power of sci-fi.
Yanes: You are a graduate of the University of Southern California. How did this education prepare you for the film industry?
Merrill: The first ten years of my career I made movies with and for the group of people I met while at USC. While I think the education was very good, the opportunity to meet like-minded and highly motivated filmmakers was ultimately the best thing that came out of those years.
Yanes: From family dramas to movies about music to thrillers to horror, you have directed a wide array films. How has directing these various films helped you find yourself as a director?
Merrill: It’s helped me stay focused on what most interests me about making movies which is character and story.
Yanes: What attracted you to the story of Atomica?
Merrill: We were looking for a contained story and I was just amazed when I first read the script that I was caught up so entirely in a story that only has three characters and for the most part, only has two characters on screen.
Yanes: Atomica has a fairly small number of characters. What challenges and opportunities does this pose for you as a storyteller?
Merrill: I think the challenge is that you want to keep the audience engaged, but again that’s what really impressed me about the material was that it kept you guessing though out. The main opportunities are you get to go deeper into each character. In a film you only have so much time, being able to focus on the development of just a few characters allows for more depth.
Yanes: The film has a minimalistic look in regards to set designs, outfits, and vehicles. How did this look for the film evolve? And are there any other films that inspired its appearance?
Merrill: We shot in an abandoned Titan II nuclear missile silo which location I think really set the tone for the rest of the look and design of the film. I love Alien and Primer and other sci-fi that keep things very contained, so in that sense we were looking for something similar.
Yanes: On this note, the location and sets for Atomica provide for some unique camera angles. What is a unique shot that you accomplished for this movie that you are particularly proud of?
Merrill: The shot of the cooling tower fan was very difficult to get. We had to weld a special support beam to attach a crane and then I personally ended up free climbing down 100 feet to set up the lights we would need to make the shot work. Not to mention this silo was in the furthest end of the complex, so all gear had to be hauled in about 1 mile. In the end the shot looks amazing; SO AMAZING that I’m positive everyone will think it’s CGI but I’m super proud of the team for putting that one together.
Yanes: Atomica is SyFy Films’ second project. What was it like working with Syfy Films?
Merrill: They have been amazingly supportive and rad since they came on board. I’ve been really happy with their willingness to put some time and energy into the release as well. I’d love to work with them again.
Yanes: When people finish watching Atomica, what do you hope that they take away from the movie?
Merrill: It’s a film about looking for the truth below the surface. If I’m able to rattle a few deeper questions within the minds of a few viewers, I would be very happy about that.
Yanes: Finally, what are some other projects you are working on that people can look forward to?
Merrill: I have an INCREDIBLE indie sci-fi that I’m shooting this year that I’m totally freaking out about because it’s gonna be so wild and rad. And I have a TV show that should be coming out in early 2018. People can find me @dagenwalker to see more.