Ryan Morrison on Life and Death Sacrifice with Netflix’s Stowaway [Exclusive Interview]

Stowaway written by Ryan Morrison and Joe Penna

Ryan Morrison enjoys these debates and discussions that spurs a moral quandary. He raised a lifeboat scenario in space with his co-writer and director Joe Penna. As a result, Stowaway was born. 

The film stars Anna Kendrick, Daniel Dae Kim, Shamier Anderson, and Toni Collette in this space thriller about a stowaway, who managed to board a spacecraft destined for Mars, but only designed as a three-person mission. 

Here’s the logline: 

On a mission headed to Mars, an unintended stowaway accidentally causes severe damage to the spaceship’s life support systems. Facing dwindling resources and a potentially fatal outcome, the crew is forced to make an impossible decision. 

LRM Online’s Gig Patta spoke with the co-writer and editor Ryan Morrison on Stowaway. We talked about the originations of the idea; how their previous movie Artic influenced this film; the research; and the lifeboat scenario debate. 

ALSO CHECK OUT: Joe Penna Talks Lifeboat Scenario in Space for Netflix’s Stowaway [Exclusive Interview] 

Netflix’s Stowaway is now streaming today. 

Read the exclusive interview below. 

Gig Patta: Congratulations on Stowaway on Netflix. You must be proud to get your first feature on Netflix like this.  

Ryan Morrison: We had such a great run with our previous movie Arctic. Then being able to get a movie on Netflix is a dream come true, especially right now. For everybody to be able to watch it whenever they want and be able to watch it from the safety of their home–that’s a dream. I’m thrilled and I’m very excited. I started the way that the page look on Netflix. It feels so surreal to see projects that I’ve been working on the platform that I’m on every day. So it was really a dream come true.  

Gig Patta: Now, you wrote this story before Arctic, right? Is this technically your first feature film that you wrote, right?  

Ryan Morrison: No and yeah. We wrote both this and Arctic. This is the first feature that I wrote. You’re right. I’m thinking about getting it into production. We wrote this before Arctic and we took it around town in Los Angeles. We were very politely told that it was not exactly the project that you would be able to spend the money on a first-time producing partners and first-time director. We needed to go a little bit sane, a little bit smaller, for the first one.  

We ended up writing Arctic, which is a bit smaller than Stowaway. It was a big ask to go around and say, “Hey, do you want to go let these first timers shoot a movie in space?” It’s a big risk. In the end, I’m glad. I’m glad because we learned so many great lessons on Arctic that we applied into Stowaway. It was fortunate we did it in the order that we did these movies.  

Gig Patta: Tell us for those people who don’t know. Where did the original idea for Stowaway came from in this lifeboat scenario?  

Ryan Morrison: That’s very exact. I had watched Alfred Hitchcock’s Lifeboat. Joe and I tend to do a lot of moral mental experiments or thought experiments. He had a young family at the time, which was about five or six years ago. He’s got a six-year-old now. At the time I was thinking, if myself, Joe, his wife and his son was stuck on a boat–I would absolutely have to be the first to go. [Laughs] You can’t break up the family.  

So we started kind of exploring that idea and we both love space. We had thought about a couple of different environments to create a situation like that. Then we ended up deciding on space to start building out some characters and some situations.  

We were fortunate to be able to look into the actual science first, before we dove too deep into the moral quandary. We went to an event with the Science & Entertainment Exchange. We met some engineers for JPL and created a great relationship with them. Then we had talked to them about the kind of situations could we create that would be based in reality. We got to make a pretty well-informed script with the the engineers and scientists that helped us on the project. Certainly, I hope they all are very proud and happy with the finished result.  

Gig Patta: That must’ve been an interesting debate. What is the actual procedure if there was a Stowaway situation? 

Ryan Morrison: [Laughs] People from different organizations would say, “Oh, this would never happen with but it might happen with those guys.” Then the other guys would be like, “Oh, this would never happen with us, but it’s entirely possible to happen with those guys.”  

The procedure would be saving the most lives is what’s the most important. It comes down to the cold equations, the cold math of it. It’s a really tough debate. All those agencies hope that it never ever will happen.  

Gig Patta: Was it easy for you to wrap your head around the actual science? You’re talking about space science in conversations and technological functions of a space ship. Was it easy for you to write that into a script?  

Ryan Morrison: I have the great fortune of having a co-writer that is one of the most intelligent people I know. Whenever we would get into a situation where something started to be a little over my head, uh, Joe was always there to put it into a frame of reference for me to understand. We had conversations on topics like artificial gravity and the general threat of losing resources on a mission that’s six months.  

One of the challenges was a six-month window to get from Earth to Mars. It is creating tension for something that might not happen for six months. How do you do that? How do you convey that to an audience? That was one of the bigger challenges, with the help of the scientists and engineers we spoke with, Joe and I whacked at it creatively. I think we figured it out. Nailed it.  

Gig Patta: At the beginning of this conversation, Arctic was mentioned. What did you learn from Arctic that you brought along to story? Was it the sense of isolation, or was it a sense of urgency?  

Ryan Morrison: A little bit of both. The isolation was something that Joe and I really wanted to make sure it was really clear. Joe directed our production designer, who built the ship, to have it very closed off very much like the ISS. There aren’t windows everywhere. There aren’t 10 foot to 20 foot ceilings. Everything is functional. When you were on set, it was a fixed ship. We didn’t build anything to be moving walls so that cameras could get in and around. It was like our actors were on a spaceship. Our camera guy had to watch his head when he was walking through the corridors. We tried to make it feel as isolating as possible.  

In terms of the workflow, the process of making your first feature film is a huge learning experience. We learned so much about how to do things more efficiently and then how to be better storytellers as well. You grow with every project.  

Gig Patta: Ryan, you did edit this film and I have checked out your previous with Turning Point and Mystery Guitar Man. You guys use some creative camera and editing work there. In doing a feature film like this for editing, did you went with more straightforward approach? Or did it become a little bit more difficult and daunting to be creative?  

Ryan Morrison: That’s a great question. My dad always says use the right tool for the job. On Mystery Guitar Man, that channel is a platform where frenetic editing, and very energetic musical style editing is the tool for the job. It’s a two-minute video. It’s just to, to entertain for a moment and move on with your day. For something like Arctic, we wanted it to be slower. Let things breathe. Let the actor do his job. Also, it feels isolated and he’s alone out in the middle of nowhere.  

Then for Stowaway, we tried to use the right tool for that job and we have more characters involved by letting the actors play off of each other. As the screenwriter, it’s very difficult to think that the person that can write something and it should be the person that does the editing. They’re afraid that I won’t be able to be objective about a scene. That’s always a challenge. 

On this film, Joe and I got to change a bit of the story in post. They say editing is the final rewrite. That was a fun challenge. We looked at the film that we had. We looked at the film that we had written. Then we now had the final product that was going to be a little bit different. We got to see something new instead of what we exactly pictured for the last few years in our heads. The actors brought so much novelty to it and the set looked beautiful. It changes how you feel about things. So then you might not necessarily need this scene or that scene, which, so it was a great problem to have.  

Gig Patta: Let me start to wrap things up, as you work with Joe for so many years, how does this collaboration work? Do you guys basically collaborate since the beginning all the way to the end? Or do you take turns? How does this work with, between you two?  

Ryan Morrison: The writing process is a partnership, from conceiving an idea all the way through to the end of the process when the movie’s about to come out. It’s always a partnership. Then there were boundaries that we have a respect for. Joe is the director. If he has a way that he wants to shoot a scene, direction for an actor, or input for our production designer on what the set looks like–then there’s a line there. Oftentimes, a lot of those decisions come with a conversation that him and I have already had. The vision of the film is always something that we both have a strong hand in and an agreement about. He supports my editorial decisions and I with his directorial responsibilities.  

Gig Patta: One last thing, Ryan before I let you go. Since this is a life lifeboat debate scenario,, my decision would have been the Daniel Dae Kim’s decision on that spaceship. Which side did you actually ended up on?  

Ryan Morrison: When writing the movie, uh, Joe and I would debate. Joe would take the David position. I would tend to take the Zoe position. Whenever we would convince each other to make a convincing argument, we would write it down. It’s funny because we, we changed our minds. By the end of production with a cut of the film, Joe would look at me and say, “Oh, you know what? I think you’re right. Maybe Zoe is right.” Now I’ve also changed my mind. In reality, I go back and forth. It’s kind of a non-answer, but, initially I was on the side of Zoe. After looking at the cold, hard facts of it, David’s got a pretty good point.  

Gig Patta: Thank you very much, Ryan. It’s been a pleasure speaking with you, congratulations.  

Ryan Morrison: Thank you so much. 

Netflix’s Stowaway is now streaming today. 

Source: LRM Online Exclusive, Netflix 

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