Cory Finley & Kylie Rogers Talk Landscape with Invisible Hand’s at Sundance
Feb 4, 2023
In screenwriter and director Cory Finley’s third feature, Landscape with Invisible Hand, the near-future Earth has been overtaken by an alien species. Rather, the governments have handed over control to the Vuvv – said alien species – in a transaction of sorts, as the Vuvv have essentially bought Earth and many humans now face poverty. Releasing sometime this year, this is the screenwriter-turned-director’s third feature film, and the second to premiere at Sundance after 2017’s Thoroughbreds starring Anya Taylor-Joy and Olivia Cooke.
Adapted from a novel by MT Anderson, Landscape with Invisible Hand stars Yellowstone’s Kylie Rogers and Asante Blackk (When They See Us) as Chloe and Adam, two teens attempting to adapt to their new way of life. When Chloe’s homeless family moves into Adam’s home, the two develop a romance, something the Vuvv pay good money for. This new dominant life form doesn’t experience the human emotion of love, but they do love to watch it unfold, so Chloe and Adam decide to cash in on this. Unfortunately, as relationships splashed across social media so often do, Chloe and Adam’s honeymoon phase begins to fade, and as they resort to faking their relationship, the Vuvv believe they’ve been duped, taking swift legal action.
Ahead of Landscape with Invisible Hand’s world premiere at the Sundance Film Festival, Rogers and Finley joined Collider’s Steve Weintraub at the Collider Studio in Park City. During their interview, Rogers shares her first impression of Finley’s unique script, the most challenging scene to film, her growth since first appearing in Taylor Sheridan’s hit series, Yellowstone, and what it was like working with Joaquin Phoenix on Ari Aster’s Beau Is Afraid. Finley talks about how he knew Rogers and Blackk were perfect for their roles, how long Landscape took to film, and the challenges faced with their tight schedule. They also discuss working with the VFX supervisor from Bong Joon-ho’s Okja for the alien design, how the script was “whittled” during editing, and how Finley’s next project will be “very different” from his first three films. You can watch the interview in the player above, or read the full transcript below.
Image via Photagonist
COLLIDER: I’m here with Landscape with Invisible Hand. I’m so excited to see this because this is my genre. Sci-fi is the one, and I’m so, so excited to see this tomorrow when it’s going to premiere here at Sundance. Everyone watching this won’t have seen it yet, so I hate doing the generic thing, but how have you been describing it to friends and family?
CORY FINLEY: So Landscape with Invisible Hand is a kind of interesting riff on the alien invasion genre where the alien invasion is a fully economic one. The aliens come, and they don’t dominate Earth through military, they take over through the free market. They make everything we make better and faster than we do, and within that world, it’s the story of a young artist and a young woman that he meets at his school, played by Kylie here, and their attempts to save their struggling families by monetizing their courtship and their young love.
What I’m really looking forward to is, this is not a synopsis I’ve heard of. I’ve never heard this one, which is one of the reasons why I’m excited, but I am curious for you, what was it like reading the script for the first time? How much were you told in advance what this story would be, and how much was it you discovering it in the script?
KYLIE ROGERS: I remember like when I first got the audition, you know, it gives a little brief synopsis, and I was like, “It’s kind of weird.” It felt very odd, and then I got it, and then I spoke to Cory about the character and everything. I read the script and I mean, my initial thought was like, “I’ve never heard or read anything like this in my entire life.” I was mainly excited because aliens, and I love sci-fi, and I was so excited to work with Cory, because I loved his previous work. But I don’t know, my previous thoughts were just like, “I’ve never seen anything like this in my life,” and I was so excited.
You’ve obviously booked gigs, you’ve been working, but what is it like when you are meeting the director for the first time? Either on Zoom or in person, and you really want the gig? How nervous are you on that Zoom call, and how much are you sort of just, “It’s going to be what it’s going to be?”
ROGERS: Yeah, I’m always nervous for everything. So, of course, I was super nervous. I usually overthink, and as soon as I get into it, it’s totally normal and fine, and Cory is like the nicest, like funniest, warmest director ever. So immediately I was so comfortable and fine, and ready to talk about the character and everything. It was great.
Image via Sundance
Obviously casting this movie is, I mean it’s everything, you know, who you’re going to put in the film. So talk a little bit about how you decided on your lead actors, and also just the casting process in general. I’ve spoken to a lot of directors, and they say within like a few seconds they can sometimes tell this is the right person. Is that the same for you?
FINLEY: Yeah, I think the easiest and best casting decisions are usually the most instinctual, the most sort of immediate and gut decisions. I certainly had that about Kylie, certainly had that about Asante Blackk, who plays our lead. I think one of the things that really struck me about Kylie’s audition is that we gave her two really high-degree of difficulty scenes with a lot of very strange, unusual concepts that make perfect sense by the time you reach them in the movie. But Kylie has this amazing talent for making it seem as though she’s just coming up with these Baroquely-written sentences on her own, and making them sound like the most natural thing in the world. She also had an enormous sort of naturalness, and a natural magnetism that were certainly important things for this role.
When you have a film like this where you have aliens, and you are depicting a near-future world, there’s going to be CGI involved, and this is not a cheap film. You can’t make this for like a million dollars. So talk a little bit about where and when you wanted to spend the money to amplify your story.
FINLEY: Yeah, it’s a great question because it’s not a cheap, tiny movie. It certainly has scope and scale, but also one of the things that really drew me to this story – and it’s based on a wonderful book by M.T. Anderson – is that it’s also super intimate. So it has sort of a big budget shell and a moving, smaller-movie heart, I suppose. Hopefully, the best of both worlds.
We wanted to be very tactical with how we deployed our pretty limited resources on this movie, and one of my very first calls was to a gentleman named Erik De Boer, who was the VFX supervisor on Okja, Bong Joon-ho’s movie. He worked with Bong to create this amazing super pig in that movie, which was one of the first times for me that I’ve been watching a movie and thought visual effects have really reached a point technologically, and with the artists making it, that if you do it well, if you do it in a kind of carefully planned out way, and you mix the real and the CG, you really can create a character that doesn’t constantly have you fighting the sort of suspension of this belief that you might have with even a very good puppet, or something like that.
And so, I worked really closely with Erik, both developing the design for these creatures and then realizing it throughout the process. They’re not onscreen an enormous amount of the movie, but they certainly took the lion’s share of planning and resources, and ultimately, they really exist to give our human actors a chance to shine and really tell the story of this movie.
Image via Photagonist
By the way, for people that have not seen Okja, phenomenal, and changed my eating habits.
FINLEY: I hope so.
I literally changed my life because of that film.
FINLEY: Are you a vegetarian?
I don’t mean to get into this, I don’t eat red meat. It’s so rare, and it’s from that film, it literally changed my life.
FINLEY: It certainly changed the degree of guilt I have about my eating habits, and some amount of my eating habits.
Yes, if you have not seen it, I strongly recommend it. Just throwing that out there. So, I am curious, one of the things I read was that you wanted to design aliens that had never been depicted on screen before. So how did you end up with the final look, and why was it important to you to create something that had never been done?
FINLEY: Yeah, well, I’m sure that’s, to some degree, the goal of anyone that sets out to create a new creature. I think one of our unique challenges and opportunities was, this is based on a book that has not previously been adapted into any visual medium. And the book is very careful about describing only what it really needs to describe about these creatures and leaving the rest to your imagination, which is totally the right tactic in the literary world, but obviously, we’re working in a visual medium.
So we wanted to create something that preserved the kind of mystery of these creatures that the book pulls off so well, but also gives you something that feels very tactile and very real. Without giving too much away about them, it was just endless iteration, working with a bunch of really talented concept artists, and just not settling until we found the design that felt kind of perfectly simple and perfectly different. Our kind of mantra in creating those creatures, there’s a stray line in the book about how they don’t look much like any existing creature, they look, if anything, like sort of squat coffee tables. And so, “coffee tables” was our sacred phrase in designing these creatures.
I’m curious for you, when you were looking at the script schedule, what was the day that you had circled like, “This could be a really challenging day for me.”?
ROGERS: Ooh, there’s a scene where Adam and Chloe, me and Asante, go up to where the aliens are, and they have a conversation with one. And I didn’t know how challenging that would be because, you know, you’re speaking to something that’s not there. I mean, it was there physically, but it’s speaking back to you, but it wasn’t actually speaking back to us. So I don’t think I was concerned, but I was just a little like, “I don’t know how that’s gonna go.” I’ve never really done so much work with CG VFX. The whole process was–
FINLEY: A non-existent scene partner.
ROGERS: Yeah, nonexistent scene partner, but it was great. It went fine.
Image via Sundance
If you don’t mind me asking, how long did you actually have to shoot the movie?
FINLEY: Something like 34 days? Do you have a better memory than me? I think it was about 34. It’s the longest I’ve ever had on a movie, but it, as it always does, felt very tight for what we had to accomplish in that period.
For people that don’t realize, I mean, there are some movies here at Sundance that were shot in 14 days, but a big-budget movie could be 70 days, and obviously 100-and-something, but you know, 34 is a tight schedule. So what were the things that you were really nervous about being able to pull off with the time that you had on set?
FINLEY: I think, as Kylie alluded to, we had to kind of develop a new – not unique in the history of cinema, but certainly unique for a lot of us, and first time for a lot of us – we had to develop a way of working with these creatures that were not physically present on set. We had a system of proxy statues and a really brilliant sound team, that had all sorts of tips and tricks and ways of achieving that.
But certainly, those days were tricky, and it was just a lot of story to get through. I think it helps when you have really prepared actors and great actors that you just don’t need to… As a director, you need to know when you need to go for those extra 10 takes or something like that, but it’s also a real skill in knowing when you have it. And that was certainly important on a tighter schedule like this.
So, one of the things about this is it takes place in the near future. So what are some of the near-future technology that we currently don’t have that you wanted to depict in the film?
FINLEY: It’s a good question, something we thought a lot about because I think my aim… What drew me to this book was it’s kind of metaphorical, sort of aphoristic approach to the future. It was not an interest in designing a whole lot of very fascinating whiz-bang technology. I think one of the interesting ideas of the book is that when aliens come, they bring this incredible technology, but only a handful of the richest humans can afford it, and our story almost exclusively focuses on the rest of the humans that are left down on the earth’s surface and have to make do with technology that’s not all that dissimilar from what we have now.
We wanted to create some interesting little pieces of technology that feel very emotionally real and feel like increasingly surreal, bizarre, uncomfortable versions of some of the technology that we love to hate in our own lives today.
One of the things that I read is that hopefully when you leave the theater, you’re going to want to talk about it, you’re going to want to maybe debate. So is that one of the things that you hope people take away?
FINLEY: I think it always is. I think certainly with this movie. In post, one of the things that we really enjoyed doing was… My script is a little bit wordier than the final movie. I think that’s not unusual, but there was a little bit more of characters expounding on the themes of the movie. And I think when you have great actors and talented DP and a great team that can do more visual storytelling, more storytelling with a look, you can get rid of some of that exposition. You can get rid of some of that exposition, not just exposition about the world, but you can get rid of some of that thematic exposition.
And so we really tried to whittle the movie down to something fully fleshed out, but still sort of mysterious, and with room for the audience to fill in their own ideas about why things have happened, and to debate it walking out of the theater, for sure.
You play young Beth on Yellowstone, which is a super popular show. How has being on that series been? Have you noticed when you’re at the supermarket that there are a lot of people that want to talk to you about the character?
KYLIE ROGERS: Yeah, I’ve been on since Season 1, which is crazy. It’s definitely been an experience. No one expected it to be this massive hit TV show. It’s a cowboys TV show in Hollywood, you know? So it’s very unexpected, I guess.
I am originally from Texas, so whenever I went back to Texas I’ve definitely noticed a lot more people are like, “You’re young Beth from Yellowstone!” Or there’s Yellowstone merch in the airport. It’s actually crazy how much Yellowstone merch exists in Texas, but yeah, I for sure noticed a massive growth.
You’ve been in some episodes, so how early on do you know that they’re going to need you for an episode? Is it sometimes really last-minute?
ROGERS: Yeah, I feel like it can be. Most of the time it’s at least a couple of months in advance, so it’s pretty 50/50. Sometimes it’s like, “Oh, we need you next week,” or sometimes it’s like, “We’ll need you in two months for a day.” You know what I mean?
Image via Paramount Network
I have one other question for you. I’m really looking forward to a certain Joaquin Phoenix film that’s coming out in the not-so-distant future. So can you talk a little bit about being part of that film? Because I’m very excited for it.
ROGERS: Yeah, I mean it’s insane. I still don’t believe that I’m actually a part of such an amazing movie. I don’t know, I can’t really say much about it, but the process was amazing. Joaquin is so talented, he’s obviously one of my biggest inspirations. I feel like that’s a given. And [Ari Aster] is so creative, and I can’t wait for everyone to see it. It’s insane.
One of the things about Joaquin is that he disappears in the role. He’s told me that sometimes when he’s on set he will just be in it, and all of a sudden he will hear, “Lunch!” and will sort of wake up a little bit, and then he submerges again. He told me about his process, and it’s fascinating. So what is it like to work with someone on set who is such a gifted actor and gives so much of his soul to a performance?
ROGERS: I think it’s honestly very helpful to me, and everyone on set, because it is such a crazy movie with a very weird subject. It’s just helpful to get everyone in the moment and in the scene, and no one feels weird about anything they have to do because everyone’s fully in. Everyone was so passionate about everything they did, and it was great.
Yeah, I would imagine that working with someone like that, and because you worked on a number of things now, it’s really helped you as a performer to not be self-conscious on set.
ROGERS: 100%. I’ve never done a role like who I portrayed in Beau Is Afraid, so I was definitely a little nervous going into it, but then honestly, by the end of it, I was just totally out there, not self-conscious, just doing anything I could, and it was great.
I’m a big fan of your work. For both of you, if someone has never seen anything you’ve done before, what is the first thing you want them watching and why?
FINLEY: Oh, it’s like having to pick between Children. I love them all equally for different reasons. Certainly, my first movie Thoroughbreds will always have a special place in my heart. It was the first time I was here at Sundance, and I just never experienced… Came out of playwriting and the largest performance I’ve ever had prior to the debut of Thoroughbreds was in a 50-seat basement theater in downtown New York. And so, that was surreal for me.
Then Bad Education, my second movie, was also just a wonderful privilege working with Hugh Jackman and Allison Janney, and just a fantastic stacked cast. So I couldn’t tell people where to dive in. If you’re more of a psychological thriller person start with Thoroughbreds. If you’re more of a true-crime drama, dark comedy person, start with Bad Education.
ROGERS: Ooh, I’d say… It is a very hard question. I really like Yellowstone because you can really see my growth and I think I started the show when I was like 12, and [in] the most recent season, I’m 18. So that’s fun to start with. And, I don’t know, Landscape isn’t out yet, but Landscape, perhaps.
I wasn’t sure if you were going to say Landscape.
FINLEY: I assumed that was, you know, present company excluded. That’s the obvious place to start.
Now that the movie is done, I’m sure you’re thinking about, “What am I going to do next?” Do you know what you want to do next?
FINLEY: I am writing my next movie, and I am a very fast writer when I have kind of figured out all the key points of the movie. I’m a wonderfully slow writer in figuring out the core of what the movie is. That was certainly true with this one. There were many COVID field years of development on this. So it’s still got a little while to germinate, but it’s [going to] be a very different thing from any of the three I’ve done to this point, and I’m excited to get into that.
Are you one of these people that can develop multiple things at the same time, or are you very laser-focused on one?
FINLEY: I’d say closer to laser-focused. I certainly do have a couple irons in the fire at any given time. I usually have one baby at a time. I can split my attention to some degree, but I have friends that can truly juggle five or six projects at a time and I’m in awe and envious of those people.
Image via Photagonist
It’s so fascinating because I know a lot of [directors] like Guillermo del Toro, he will develop like eight things at the same time. He just told me recently that something that he wanted to do, that he’s passionate about, got turned down. How the f do Guillermo’s projects get…?
FINLEY: Dark times if Guillermo’s getting turned down.
That tells you about Hollywood, where even a major filmmaker who has won Academy Awards still can’t get certain things made.
FINLEY: Absolutely. You know, it’s an expensive business, and I think we’re always grateful for the studios, the independent financiers, all the people that allow us to make these movies. But certainly, I think as the ambition of the movies you’re making grows the difficulty of getting them made grows. I think there’s something good and humbling about that, that even directors much further along in their careers than I am still have to be grateful for each movie that gets greenlit because it is, it does feel like a miracle every time it happens
I apologize for not knowing, but is Landscape for sale at Sundance?
FINLEY: No Landscape is with MGM. This is the first time I’m not taking a movie to a festival to sell, and I highly recommend it. It’s a much more relaxing process.
Is there a plan yet for release?
FINLEY: It will be coming out this year. I can’t disclose when yet, but yeah, I’m excited to get into that later this year.
Special thanks to our 2023 partners at Sundance including presenting partner Saratoga Spring Water and supporting partners Marbl Toronto, EMFACE, Sommsation, Hendrick’s Gin, Stella Artois, mou, and the all-electric vehicle, Fisker Ocean.
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