This weekend at New York Comic Con, I had the privilege of sitting down with Gareth Edwards, the writer/director/cinematographer of Magnolia Pictures’ Monsters.
The film follows a photojournalist escorting a client’s daughter from Central America back to the United States. The biggest obstacle standing in their way, naturally, is the Contaminated Zone, which covers half of Mexico. The Contaminated Zone is host to octopus-like aliens who came to Earth six years ago.
With tape recorder in hand and butterflies in my stomach, I embarked on my first one-on-one interview. Check it out after the jump.
Sean: So what was it like – what was it like filming the movie, coming from a – coming from a visual effects background?
Gareth Edwards: It was very liberating! Because – my very bad analogy of it is like, you know Karate Kid? When he has to ‘Wax on, Wax off’ and he’s thinking, ‘Why am I doing this?’ and one day he blocks the guy? Doing visual effects is like that kind of training for filmmaking. You learn so laboriously and such a long time – it takes you so long just to make one shot – that you painfully learn what makes an image look good and what makes an image look bad. So one day when you finally get to use the camera and you finally get to make the film that you want, all those lessons you learned are suddenly the most liberating things in the world. You can suddenly…wanna change it, what I jokingly call ‘real time rendering’ – like, if I move the camera the image moves. Where as in the computer when the image moves in the camera…sometimes it can take a day to see the result of what you’ve done.
So, I read on Wikipedia that one of your influences is Jurassic Park. What was it from JurassicPark that was an influence on your movie?
Edwards: It wasn’t really, I mean Spielberg was! I’d say a much more Spielberg influence on this film was Close Encounters. I think that’s one of the best movies ever. And I think the tone that I was trying to achieve and the emotion in a way is most close to that kind of film. And with Jurassic Park, it’s kind of like…you can’t make a monster movie without being in the shadow of that film, CGI-wise. And so, it’s kind of like, like in a scene in our film, which I really wanted it to be in it, where they’re trying to go through the gates which is really a similar kind of effect and so…and they haven’t got the right documents to go on. And these bureaucrats take them in, and it gets very complicated. They had no idea in the reality of it, like if you wanted to go into Jurassic Park, you have to…‘Have you filled in the right form?’ and, you know, ‘You need a visa,’ and all that sort of stuff. Like the stuff you never see in movies, the reality of traveling and how mundane… I love the mix of the mundane situations with these insanely fantastical scenarios. I love that contrast between something so dull as filling in a form going into something so crazy as going into an alien infected quarantine area. So yeah, Jurassic Park was – was like the starting point to say that, ‘Okay, they kind did that film brilliantly a long time ago, where do we go from here?’ So for me I wanted an even more realistic take on the struggle and the bureaucracy and the normalness of it. If that kind of place really existed six years down the line, when everyone was bored of it, what would that world be like? ‘Cause to me it’s like, if they really could genetically engineer dinosaurs, it would be amazing just for one generation. And after every generation like that, kids would go to the zoo and look up at the screen and say ‘Oh look, there’s a T-Rex!’ And be like ‘Have they always been there?’ And so, no matter how really crazy something is like a UFO coming or whatever, it’s only crazy for a while. Then we adapt and it becomes normal. Like we can make a phone call from my pocket and I can speak to someone from the other side of the world. That was magic like 100 years ago. Now it’s just like, no one cares! You don’t think “Oh my god! I have a magic device! Thank God I’ve got it!” It’s just like, ‘Whatever, no one cares.’ I wanted to make a film like, there’s alien monsters there but nobody gives a s***. I really don’t wanna mistranslate the movie…‘cause it’s got this attitude throughout which is ‘No one gives a s***’. People take it as if it’s a bit dull, it’s not exciting enough. It’s what I love, what I love about it is the fact that it is down to Earth. It is a calm kind of approach to that movie. So, it’s like with all the other kinds of films, where everybody is running and screaming? There’s thousands of those and we were just trying to do something a bit different.
That’s really cool! Do you have any other projects lined up? What’s next for Gareth Edwards?
Edwards: I’m trying to calm down with the release of the film – I’ll start writing when I’m ready. But there’s an idea I’ve always wanted to do. Thankfully the great thing is like though the film’s not there quiet yet, people are interested in doing the next movie. And so I’ve got a development deal with a filmmaker Timur Bekmambetov, who’s doing Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter with Tim Burton. And he’s basically helping me finance and make my next movie, which is science fiction. It’s a lot more ambitious than Monsters; I’ll need a few more resources. All I can say is that it’ll have a lot more of a wide release. It’s an epic human story in a futuristic world without humanity. So it’s like a human story, post humanity. It’s just hard to explain really but it makes sense.
Is there anyone that once you have more of a budget, that you’d really like to work with?
Edwards: You mean actors or…?
Actors or other, you know, writers, directors. Sky’s the limit.
Gareth Edwards: I have a lot of heroes. I think it’s less the case of wanting to work with my heroes and more the case of wanting to meet them. And not even meeting them, showing them your work and getting to see if they kind of like some of it. And there are certain people that would mean the world to me if they ever watched Monsters or liked it. But in terms of working with people, I’m kind of happy. You know, there’s a whole new generation coming. I kind of like the idea of meeting the next version of our heroes. I love John Williams, right? I think he’s genius and he is obviously and, I wanna find, like obviously we found John Hopkins who did the score in our film and he’s a genius as well. I kind of, I think it’s good that the new generation come up and we find all the new versions of…I hate that we use the “Are you the new so and so?” It’s like, when I was a kid, we’d say, “What do you wanna do when you’re older?” And I’d say I wanna be a filmmaker. And they’d say, “Oh, do you wanna be the next Steven Spielberg?” and I was a cocky little kid and I’d say, “No, I wanna be the first Gareth Edwards!” Like, as much as you love your heroes, I think it’s a real waste of time if you’re just trying to copy them without doing anything of your own.
That’s great. Thanks so much for taking the time to speak with me!
And there you have it! Gareth Edwards, writer/director/cinematographer of Monster, which is in theaters today!