Cookies help us deliver our Services. By using our Services, you agree to our use of cookies. Learn More.

The Surprising Amount Of Improv You Likely Didn't Know Made It Into District 9

Long before he received worldwide recognition as the man behind such science fiction epics as "Elysium" and "Chappie," Neill Blomkamp started small. Throughout the early 2000s, he pumped out several short films and worked as a 3D animator, paving the way for him to inevitably end up on Hollywood's radar. In fact, famed director Peter Jackson enlisted him for a cinematic adaptation of the beloved video game series "Halo." However, these plans eventually fell through, leaving Blomkamp to literally pick up the pieces and make the best of the situation. The result? 2009's "District 9," his feature-length directorial debut.

Using Blomkamp's 2006 short "Alive in Joburg" as its framework, "District 9" arrived and became a fan favorite in short order. The film follows Blomkamp's longtime collaborator Sharlto Copley as Wikus van de Merwe: an employee of Multinational United's Department of Alien Affairs who ends up in the middle of a sociopolitical conflict between the governments of Earth and an alien species known as prawns. They landed on the planet some decades ago, yet humanity made little positive effort to integrate them into society or improve their living conditions. The story very much parallels the state of South Africa during apartheid and explores themes like xenophobia and segregation.

"District 9" is arguably one of the most visually striking and thought-provoking sci-fi projects of its time, which is incredible considering how much of it was improvised.

Most of Copley's scenes in District 9 were improvised

In August of 2009, Neill Blomkamp and Sharlto Copley sat down with Bigfanboy.com to talk all things "District 9." During the interview, they shed some light on how they went about shooting certain scenes and how they ensured the interactions within them felt genuine. As it turns out, little credit goes to the script itself in that regard, seeing as Copley threw out much of his dialogue and instead improvised most of his scenes on the spot to give them a raw, natural air.

"Any details in words and the language between the two happened right there on the day of shooting. That's what makes it feel like they are really communicating," said Blomkamp, specifically referring to the scenes where Wikus would enter the homes of aliens and speak to them directly. Copley adds, "There was a type of freedom, I think, in the filmmaking process, which is extremely unusual...It really felt like we were making a documentary."

Blomkamp further elaborated on this point to Gizmodo, revealing how Copley's improvisational skills helped flesh out the world of "District 9." "When he walks up into the shack and says, 'this is a gang sign, we're in a gang area right here,' we would draw the sign on the wall, and he would randomly say it's a gang area," the director recalled, though he clarified that they'd only keep a Copley addition around "if it works."

Sharlto Copley and Neill Blomkamp had an excellent creative dynamic going for "District 9." It's a shame that much of the original script went out the window by the time cameras rolled, but for all we know, the written work may have paled in comparison to what made it to screen.