Freakin’ Surround with Wayne Coyne of the Flaming Lips

So after 6 or 7 years of work, Christmas on Mars (Warner Bros.) is finally here. And it isn't "just" a holiday film, it's what I'm calling a fable for the sci-fi generation. It's a fable of hope for the sci-fi generation, yes. Is there a sci-fi generation?

We'll have to investigate that. At least they have a separate channel for that now. [laughs]

It must be satisfying to have Mars done since you'd been working on it for so long. Satisfying in that people like it. There's a certain joy in working your stuff. If you don't really like doing it, you're not gonna do it. Then comes the time you're done doing it, and then there's a collision with the world, which can either be a great collision or it could be bad. The Flaming Lips audience and the open-minded filmgoer seem to get it immediately - and that's the only audience I'm shooting for anyway.

You need a "first" viewing to wrap your head around it, then you need to see it again to catch the nuances and subtleties. Of course I'm speaking to Mr. No Dialogue here, essentially… a clearly conscious choice, yes? In the beginning, we would shoot scenes where I wasn't saying anything anyway. Then we shot the scene where the Captain says, "silent green motherfucker," and we went into this thing where my character doesn't talk.

At first I thought he was saying, "soylent green," then I thought, "no." [laughs] See, you know too much. I wasn't really sure I could even act, to tell you the truth. It's a really strange state of mind for a person to get in. People who do the acting thing well, there's some sort of magic button that's pressed to do it. Plus I was trying to get around having to direct myself and judge myself. Knowing that in real life, I never shut up, I thought that maybe it would be great on film that I'm a more dignified, noble character.

I was waiting for that Marcel Marceau Silent Movie moment at the end where he finally speaks…. George Salisbury, my co-director, wanted to have a One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest moment - you know, where the big Indian doesn't say anything the whole time then finally screams, and he thought I might do something like that. And we actually filmed it where I sing. At the very end, they're singing "sleep in heavenly peace" during "Silent Night," and my character sings "peace." But when we went to edit it, there were too many things going on at one time, and I'd have had to overdub my singing and all that. It looked like it was too much to demand, too many jokes at one time, so I said, "I don't even need that." And my character looked even cooler because of it.

You speak in "light," how about that, since you extract the light ball from your throat… Yeah, that's my spaceship that I've shrunk down and can carry in my throat. Maybe that's why I can't talk - I've got this spaceship in my throat! So there you go.

It's not an easy thing for people to wrap their heads around. Well, I think you've discovered more meaning to the film than I intended.

That's like what we were saying earlier about when you put art out into the world, it's open to interpretation in way you may never have expected. I absorb what I'm told and will say, "Yes, it means that," and the bad ones, I just reject. [chuckles]

Black and white was always the choice to film in, right? We mostly shot it in this weird black and white to make you think we did it on some film stock I found from some educational reel from the 1950s.

It's totally got that '50s, Twilight Zone/Outer Limits feel to it. That's exactly the trip I was looking for. There would be times that we added more scratches and grain to it. And then there were Wizard of Oz times where BAM! - we'd go to a freak-out color shot and then right back. The audience can take that as part of the druggy experience of the film. The way films are shot nowadays, they're not thrown by that anymore. A TV show like CSI: Miami utterly saturates the color palette, for example. But there's some sense of the surreal or unreal that black and white evokes, and the mind can interpret it as a dream, or whatever. It adds to the bleakness of the film, a melancholy. And I like that.

There's something about Christmas on Mars where I'm not sure it's supposed to be in the future or in the past. It lives in a netherworld. If you think it's in the future, it looks like that. If you think it's the past, it can be that too.