MONSTERS Production Notes
The low budget indie UK film MONSTERS will be distributed in the United States by Magnet Releasing, a division of Magnolia Pictures (THE HOST, LET THE RIGHT ONE IN). The picture will first be available on Video On Demand, iTunes, Xbox Live, Playstation Marketplace, Amazon and Vudu starting September 24th, with a limited theatrical run beginning in Los Angeles and New York on October 29th.
The following production notes are courtesy of Magnet Releasing/Magnolia Pictures…
SPOILER WARNING: This article contains plot details for a new movie.
Protagonist Pictures, Vertigo Films and Magnet Releasing Present a Gareth Edwards Film
Directed by Gareth Edwards
SXSW Film Festival 2010
Los Angeles Film Festival 2010
93 min., 1.85, 35mm
Six years ago NASA discovered the possibility of alien life within our solar system. A probe was launched to collect samples, but crashed upon re-entry over Central America. Soon after, new life forms began to appear there and half of Mexico was quarantined as an INFECTED ZONE.
Today, the American and Mexican military still struggle to contain “the creatures”…
Our story begins when a US journalist agrees to escort a shaken American tourist through the infected zone in Mexico to the safety of the US border.
ABOUT THE FILM
Having finished film school, Gareth Edwards quickly became disillusioned with a filmmaking world where it seemed increasingly difficult to shoot the film he wanted and still keep things simple where locations, crew and actors were concerned, without having to compromise. So, 10 years on, having carved out a very successful career as a BAFTA award winning & EMMY nominated visual effects creator for the BBC (series including 7 WONDERS OF THE INDUSTRIAL WORLD and SPACE RACE), Edwards decided the time had come to embark on his own feature and capitalize on his, by now, well-honed CGI skills, and combine it with the simplistic approach he had always wanted.
Gareth came up with a plan for how to shoot a film which would tick all these boxes whilst on holiday. He realized that building a story around using everyday situations and locations could be his way forward. Edwards spotted some fishermen in the Maldives struggling with whatever was on the end of the line whilst he imagined a huge tentacled monster surfacing from the water. MONSTERS was born.
‘I sat watching the other fishermen laughing and taking the mickey out of the poor guy struggling with this net and thought it would be brilliant if a giant tentacle was attached. I thought if only I had my camera I could just shoot it there and then. There’s so much production value in exotic locations where you don’t have any complications; you can shoot what happens and then manipulate the story to fit once you get back to the computer’.
‘I wrote down how I would approach making a film like this rather than a specific storyline and Vertigo loved the idea. We then spent 3 months coming up with a story until we were all happy.’
Having grown up with films like JURASSIC PARK, ET and other Spielberg classics, Edwards wanted to make ‘The most realistic monster film ever’. He also wanted to make a love story that didn’t make him cringe as well as a sci-fi movie where the premise wasn’t totally unbelievable. ‘I did some research on one of the moons of Jupiter called Europa which, scientists say, has the highest chance of there being life on it and NASA apparently wanted to send a probe up there to try and bring something back. So I thought if they did, it could easily crash and bring with it micro-organisms which could then infect the area it ends up in. In our case, the Mexican Ocean.
Casting for the film was another area Edwards felt very strongly about. ‘I wanted a real life couple for the two lead roles, as I thought it’s much more believable to have a couple act out just meeting and getting to know each other and then when it comes to having the chemistry of a couple on screen it’s much easier and more natural than if you have two people who don’t know each other then trying to create this tension and chemistry that isn’t real.’
Highly praised for his role in IN SEARCH OF A MIDNIGHT KISS, Scoot McNairy jumped at the chance of working with his then girlfriend Whitney Able on a project that promised to be both challenging and unpredictable.
Scoot explains, ‘If the guys at Vertigo are doing a picture, you better try and get involved, it seems to be the only company out there with the guts to take on the films that no one else will. They approached us with a very loose treatment to go and shoot a film in Central America, which we thought was a wonderful opportunity and as we were looking for something that we could do together, it was perfect. Then when we saw Gareth’s short film FACTORY FARMED, it really struck our interests; we were completely sold’.
Edwards flew out to the US to meet them not only to make sure he had found his ideal couple but that, faced with 3 weeks in a truck together 24/7 they would all get along.
Whitney explains, ‘Gareth put together a really enticing treatment, complete with images, clips, and a thrilling story idea. The next thing we knew, he was on a plane to come and meet us. We told him not to book a hotel and that he had to stay on our couch. If we were going to spend week upon week with a small crew in intimate situations, we wanted to be sure we could make it at least through a week of him at our house. It was a treat. Together we brainstormed, researched, developed our back-stories, and started to form a solid picture of what was to come. We may have also played a 5 hour long game of Strategy at some point! At the end of it I knew that we’d all be able to work, have fun, and pull together something really interesting.
And rather than being put off by the premise of the film, the improvised script and shooting style Gareth had in mind, Scoot was even more enthused. ‘My initial thought was “this is never going to work!” I think that’s what got me so excited about doing it. It was absolutely outrageous. I recall sending an email to Vertigo saying…. “Near death experiences, small crew, possible kidnappings, lugging gear through the jungle in the middle of the night, and improvisation – that sounds like the project of a lifetime. We are definitely in.’
Part of the appeal for the couple were the real aspects of the story itself. ‘In a sense, the story begins in the middle’ says Whitney, ‘people are already used to the notion that there are these occasional creature flare-ups happening around them. The word “creature” or “extraterrestrial” has become common nomenclature in everyday conversation. Like when the weather is bad, and someone throws out “El Nino”, it just is. This is the world these people are living in.’
One of the keys to keeping the dialogue as true to life as possible was improvisation. Gareth gave certain guidelines on what would happen in a scene and what character developments should be between particular stages of the story but then left the actors to it. Which meant at times they would be improvising and shooting for up to 40 minutes sometimes to get what he wanted.
‘The improvising was one of the biggest challenges for me’ explains Scoot, ‘I would improvise a scene and go on for ages coming up with things and doing this and that. Then Gareth would call ‘cut’ and turn to me and say, “Ok, so can you do that again? I need to get coverage on that, so just say everything you just said again”. Of course I’d have no idea what I just said because I’d been talking for 10 minutes, so I’d ask him which part he wanted me to repeat and he’d say “All of it!”. That part was a bit of a nightmare but I’d do it again, for him’.
Aside from his two leads all the other people in MONSTERS were locals who often didn’t know they were going to be in the film until 20 minutes before. ‘It was great, because you just told people what not to do and what you needed them to achieve by the end of the scene but it was up to them how they got to it.’
‘I was very much on the fence about going down to these places and just finding people to be in the film’ Scoot says, ‘I wasn’t sure how that was going to work. I think I felt it might be a lot of pressure to carry a scene with people there who weren’t actors. As it turned out the ones we worked with were amazing; they were so open and willing. I met some truly amazing people on the project, and on this journey, people you would never normally come across deep in the jungle. It really gave me an appreciation for humanity and people’s behavior. I found myself really wanting to hear more about them and what their stories were’.
With just a four person crew and a fixer, the team traveled through Guatemala, Belize and Mexico picking locations and shooting them as they found them with little or no specific plan or preparation. Gareth explains: ‘We’d see a place that looked amazing or unusual and work out what scene we could shoot there and just do it. We picked these challenging and often remote places because we wanted a journey that got worse and worse and worse for the two main characters, and the classic idea I thought people could really relate to would be a journey home, but one where the tension gets greater and greater as it goes along and then becomes not what you’re expecting at all’.
‘The film took us on an incredible journey’ explains Whitney, ‘hiking through jungles, climbing to the tops of incredible ruins, riding in boats, cars, trains… you name it. The scenery was always changing around us, leading us into new challenges in our journey back, in both the world of the film, and while we were making it. There were mosquitoes, alligator hazards, snakes as well as blazing heat and dehydration scares. At one point we had to walk back through a dark jungle after the sun had set because it was the only way back and I was sure we’d all be eaten by a panther. Of course there were weather challenges as well. You can’t predict the rain in lush jungle area. The forecast is generally, “Yes, there might be rain today.” It was thrilling. I loved every minute of it. I was able to experience places a regular tourist would never find themselves in’.
Having shot the film and spent many months on the editing process, one of the big post- production challenges Edwards had to work out was what his Monsters would actually look like. ‘I spent nearly a year working out what the monsters would be, and have hundreds of drawings and sketches to that effect! I finally settled on the design and the flickering light idea to make them more visually interesting and almost beautiful to look at.’
For Gareth though, ironically perhaps, the aspects of the film that gave him the most pleasure were the more mundane rather than fantastical. ‘The scenes I enjoyed most were the ones in the hotel room, and the banal but real conversations between Scoot and Whitney’s characters, Andrew and Sam. At one point she turns on the TV and there are these crazy scenes with monsters attacking the city and Sam just yawns and stretches out on the bed. It would be like a film set in Iraq or somewhere like that, despite the seeming madness going on around you, you still have to do normal things, and people do eventually get blasé about shocking situations or events. Just because there are monsters around, people won’t be running away and screaming all the time’.
For Scoot, some of his favorite moments were hanging out with local families, particularly the kids. ‘I really loved the scene with the family that gives us the map and lets us stay with them for the night. I got to play with their 2 year old baby boy. He was sucking on this lollipop for about 3 hours and got it all over his face. Then we hung out for a while and I taught him a little about photography, women and growing old!’
For Whitney it was the experience of a lifetime and one she would never forget for many reasons. ‘I laughed, I wept, I saw, I did; It was truly the most enriching, well-rounded experience I have had so far, on a personal and professional level. I would do it again, especially if it were with Scoot. We knew if we could survive this experience we could do anything together, so he proposed a few months after we finished shooting. So in MY fantasy world, we definitely make a sequel!’
‘I’m really proud of it’, says Gareth, ‘there were definitely times I wasn’t sure I could carry on but I feel I’ve really made something that I want to go and see at the cinema. In a dream world I’d say it’s the first love story a bloke would want to go and see and the first monster movie I’m confident a girl would love; one that hits the radar for both. I also love that it doesn’t hang on visual FX, it’s more about the journey these two people go on both literally and emotionally’.
ABOUT THE CAST
SCOOT McNAIRY – Kaulder
Scoot McNairy started on a winding, fateful path to Hollywood by way of Richardson, Texas. His love of the entertainment industry found its seeds in a local theatre where his parents sent him for an after school activity. However, after doing a number of plays at a young age Scoot’s love of the outdoors won out and he spent the rest of his childhood fishing.
When Scoot moved to Austin, Texas he landed his first movie role in the feature film WRONG NUMBERS, which went on to win the Austin Film Festival.
You would think this experience would have led him straight to Hollywood. But Scoot decided his next move should be to British Columbia to be a glacier guide. When a back injury put his hopes of climbing on hold he finally found himself in Los Angeles, pursing his interest in cinematography at film school.
After a brief period working as a cinematographer for music videos and a carpenter for set design, Scoot moved in front of the camera starring in over 200 national commercials. Besides starring in MONSTERS, Scoot also starred in and produced IN SEARCH OF A MIDNIGHT KISS, which won the John Cassavetes award at the 2009 Independent Spirit Awards. Scoot has appeared on TV (SIX FEET UNDER, CSI, BONES, ELEVENTH HOUR, MY NAME IS EARL, THE SHIELD, JAKE IN PROGRESS, CLOSE TO HOME, HOW I MET YOUR MOTHER), in two TV pilots (MORE, PATIENCE and GOOD GIRLS DON’T) and in films (ART SCHOOL CONFIDENTIAL from director Terry Zwigoff and opposite John Malkovich; TWISTED from director John Asher; THE SHADOW EFFECT from directors Jared and Justin Varava; the upcoming THE LISTENING PARTY opposite Selma Blair, Neil Young, and Seth Green, and THE FALL from director John Krugger,).
Actively pursuing his independent filmmaking dream, Scoot partnered with his long time friend and manager John Pierce, and The Group Films was born. Scoot’s first film produced was IN SEARCH OF A MIDNIGHT KISS. Currently Scoot is in pre-production on two films. FRANK AND CINDY is the theatrical adaption of the award winning documentary of the same name, starring Rene Russo and directed by Aaron Schneider – the production is slated for the summer of 2010. THE LAST TIME I MADE STRAIGHT A’s is being produced by The Group Films and Holly Wiersma and to be directed by Tommy O’Haver.
WHITNEY ABLE – Sam
Born in Houston, Texas, Whitney Able began her training as a performer in early childhood. Starting in local theatre as a child, Whitney later moved on to study at The High School for the Performing and Visual Arts as a young adult. She later studied at The University of the South, Marymount Manhattan College, and with various respected coaches. Since living in Los Angeles, Whitney has worked on numerous films and television shows, most notably, in the international cult horror flick ALL THE BOYS LOVE MANDY LANE and the upcoming sci-Fi flick MONSTERS. Other appearances include CSI: NEW YORK and COLD CASE and the upcoming Jenji Kohan/T-Bone Burnett produced pilot TOUGH TRADE alongside Sam Shephard.
ABOUT THE CREW
GARETH EDWARDS – Writer / Director / Cinematographer
Gareth Edwards has always pushed the boundaries of filmmaking. His graduation film was one of the first ever student films to combine live-action with digital effects. As a result he soon got sidetracked in a career creating BAFTA award-winning and EMMY nominated visual effects entirely ‘from his bedroom’.
He recently broke new ground directing the epic drama HEROES & VILLANS: ATTILA THE HUN for the BBC, creating all the 250 visual effects by himself. But still frustrated with the ‘factory approach’ to filmmaking, he entered Sci-Fi London 48 Hour Film Challenge with FACTORY FARMED, hoping to prove that you could make a cinematic film with no crew and just one actor in only 2 days. The film won first prize and led to his feature film debut with Vertigo Films… MONSTERS.
ALLAN NIBLO – Producer
Allan Niblo is a graduate of THE HUMAN TRAFFIC, which was picked up by Miramax and won a BAFTA. Along with James Richardson, Allan was one of the founders of Vertigo in 2002 and is has produced films such as THE FOOTBALL FACTORY, IT’S ALL GONE PETE TONG and the Oscar nominated AJAMI. He has just completed MONSTERS with Gareth Edwards.
JAMES RICHARDSON –Producer
James Richardson co-founded Vertigo Films in 2002 and, with partner Allan Niblo, has produced most of the company’s 11 feature films from THE FOOTBALL FACTORY to the recent STREETDANCE. In addition to its production and distribution activity, Vertigo also owns The Post Republic, a successful state of the art post production company based in Berlin, and is a partner in Protagonist Pictures, the international sales company joint venture with Film Four and Ingenious Media.
Vertigo has recently joined forces with US 3D production experts Paradise FX to form PFX Europe, a one stop shop for all European 3D production. Paradise’s credits include MY BLOODY VALENTINE, DARK COUNTRY, Venice Film Festival 3D winner – THE HOLE and STREETDANCE 3D. The company is due to start shooting JACKASS 2 in 3D, the Nic Cage film DRIVE ANGRY and STREETDANCE 2.
Written and Directed by Gareth Edwards
Produced by Allan Niblo and James Richardson
Executive Producers: Nigel Williams, Nick Love, Rupert Preston
Line Producer: Jim Spencer
Director of Photography: Gareth Edwards
Production Designer: Gareth Edwards
Visual Effects: Gareth Edwards
Editor: Colin Goudie G.B.F.T.E
Sound Recordist: Ian Maclagan
Music by: Jon Hopkins
Music Supervisor: Lol Hammond
Andrew Kaulder: Scoot McNairy
Samantha Wynden: Whitney Able
For more information on MONSTERS please see the earlier coverage here on SciFi Japan: