Being released by Magnet on October 29th (but now available on iTunes, Amazon, PS3, Xbox Live, On-Demand!), director Gareth Edward’s Monsters is an ultra-low budget sci-fi/drama with elements of horror that has gotten lots of buzz since it debuted Stateside at this year’s SXSW and LA Film Festival. B-D’s Chris Eggertsen sat down with Edwards to discuss the film’s rather misleading marketing campaign, how he created the look of the creatures, and whether he’s interested in ever directing a straight-up horror film. See inside for the entire interview.
Make no mistake – director Gareth Edward’s ultra-low budget (like, $15K low budget) second feature Monsters, which debuted at this year’s LA Film Festival to a large amount of buzz, is not your typical monster movie. Though it’s more or less being marketed in the Cloverfield vein, unlike that film it’s a hard movie to pin down. Sure, it has elements of horror, but it also has elements of sci-fi, and romance, and road movie. Ultimately, Monsters challenges perceptions of just what a “genre” movie is, and it’s certainly not a film that fits comfortably within the constraints of the Hollywood marketing machine. The blonde-haired, blue-eyed Brit was open and forthright when discussing this fact with me at the offices of his Hollywood P.R. firm, not to mention a warm and engaging presence who so far seems grounded and essentially ego-less in the wake of his astonishing good fortune. After all, when you make a film for $15,000 and it’s as hyped up as Monsters is, it’s pretty much already a success.
BLOODY DISGUSTING: Monsters is definitely being marketed as a horror film, like Cloverfield or another more traditional monster movie, but that’s not really what I feel the film is. So I just wanted to get your take on how it’s being advertised.
GARETH EDWARDS: I don’t envy them [meaning the studio]. It’s funny, because when you start to make a film people say, `Why is your film different? We’re not gonna give you money unless you tell us why it’s different.’ So you make something different, and at the end of making the film they say, `Oh my god, what have you done? You’ve made something different. How can we sell this? It has to fit in a box. It can’t fit in two boxes, it’s got to go in one.’ I think films don’t have to fit in a box, but I think the marketing does.
And I’m guilty of this, like there are quite a few recent films that I just didn’t see at the cinema that are apparently pretty good. And people go, `Gareth it’s really good, you’ve gotta go see it!’ And I go, `eh, I don’t wanna.’ [And they’re] like, `why not?’ And I always end up going, `I just don’t know what it is.’ I won’t name the films because it’s probably unfair, but you go, `Is it a comedy? Is it a superhero movie? What is it?’ And they’re going, `Well it’s all of those things and none of them, and it’s something on its own’…
So what I think has to happen is, for better or for worse, you have to say, `This is what our film is.’ And if you can’t do it justice in a poster or in a trailer, then you have to pick an element of the film. And I think it came down to a choice with the distributors and the sales companies…[and] I think if they’d gone for a love story angle, I think it would’ve misrepresented the film a lot. I think the thing that probably represents it best is probably a road movie with a relationship at the heart of it, set in a world with monsters. It’s like someone said the other day, they saw it and said, `Were you trying to make a love story for boys or a monster movie for girls?’ And I sort of went, `Actually I was trying to make a road movie for aliens.’ So I think I completely fucked it up.
BD: I think what I’m getting at is, are you afraid people are going to see the trailer and feel misled once they go and see the actual film and realize it’s not truly a horror movie?
I’m as much afraid of that as I am afraid that people won’t go see it… the choice comes down to, do you have some people angry because they saw it and it wasn’t what they were expecting, or do you have people angry with you because they never saw it because they didn’t realize what the hell it was? If you ask any sales person they’ll say it’s better to have people see it and be angry with you than to have people not see it and be angry with you…
I find the hardest question in an interview is `what’s your film about?’ Because it’s like, `God, I don’t know.’ Cause it took me two years to figure out what it was about…to me sitting here, I kind of can’t explain it. Not because it’s amazing or anything, but just because it is a mix of things…it’s a very important lesson if I ever get to make another film in that [you should] think straight-away before you even start with the script, think of the poster, think of the trailer. Think of all the things that are people’s first exposure to it. And what are they? Because you can end up like we are now in this situation where it’s really hard to do it justice.
I’m really keeping my fingers crossed that whatever anyone goes in expecting, hopefully some of them come out having really enjoyed it for what it is and recommend it to other people, and it can have a life like that…it’s funny though, cause I go into the blockbuster movies, the Hollywood movies, and I have an expectation and…I’m always disappointed for the complete opposite reason which is, `I didn’t give a shit about the characters, I could totally predict the story, [it had] CGI just for the sake of it’…and for some reason that’s completely tolerated. It’s allowed. But if you do it the opposite, which is it’s more about the characters, and their journey, and not so much about the spectacle and the CGI, it’s like you commit the biggest crime against cinema…it’s the thing everyone whines about when they go and see one of those other [films]. So you can’t win. It’s like politics, you know? I understand how Obama must feel now.
There’s no such film that pleases everyone. Look at IMDB. There’s no ten out of ten [in the user ratings]…you end up getting ratings on IMDB, and you think `ok, I wonder what that means?’ I looked at some great movies, and I looked at `Jaws’, and I might get this wrong, [but] I think it’s an 8.3. I might have that wrong. And I’m just sitting there [thinking], `Who the fuck did not vote 10 on that movie? What was your problem with it? Where did it screw up?’ It’s like perfection, you know, near enough…I think the problem is there’s not enough CGI in it, and it was [about] the characters more than the shark.
BD: Were you influenced by any classic giant movie monsters when you created the alien creatures?
The biggest influence was the idea of where they came from, which is…I wanted a realistic premise, and if you ask any scientist where the most likely place of alien life is in the solar system, they’ll tell you that there’s a moon outside of Jupiter called Europa. It’s got an icy surface, and it’s cracked, and it’s changing. And it means that they basically know that underneath there must be a liquid ocean. And the only way that can work is having a volcanic core…so that’s exactly the same conditions that started life on Earth. We didn’t start on the surface, we started on the bottom of the ocean.
So NASA was planning a mission to go and have a look, and so in my movie they bring that sample back and that’s the beginning of everything going wrong. So to me, they’re from the bottom of the ocean. So I looked at crabs and octopuses, and bio-luminescence. And it kind of took awhile to arrive at something I was happy with in that it’s very easy to stick different animals together and you get a real mess…so that’s where that’s from.
BD: One thing I noticed is that the sound effects are used very effectively when the creatures aren’t on screen, when you just hear them. I was wondering how you created those sound effects, and what was your inspiration for how the creatures would sound?
They’re from the bottom of the ocean so I was thinking like whale song, and dolphin clicks, and eco-location, and then [the sound designer] just literally went away and did everything. I virtually had no role in that…he’s brilliant, his name’s Jurgen [Funk].
What I will say is that scene where they go up to the jungle and they hear those noises, that wasn’t in the script or anything. What happened was, we were waiting for lunch in the boat and we had about half an hour, 45 minutes to kill. So we thought, `let’s film some extra scenes…let’s just pull in, pretend we’re getting gas, and see what happens. Like, Sam [the female character played by Whitney Able] can pretend she needs to use the loo or something.’
And the actors are looking at me like, `What the fucking point is this, can’t we just have a rest?’ And I was like, `Come on, let’s just see what happens.’ And so we did the scene, and I don’t know why, I just felt like something was gonna happen. So we started filming, and in the middle of the scene these howler monkeys start screaming. And I don’t know if you’ve ever heard a howler monkey, but it’s like dipping a baby in molten oil or something. And everyone knows how that sounds, right? I haven’t done it in awhile, I haven’t done it since I was a teenager. [Laughs]
So this amazing sound stuff was happening, and it was really scary. And some of the reactions are in the film, like `what the fuck’s that?’ And it was like `Great, why didn’t I think of this? We have to have a scene that’s all about sound and not seeing it.’ So then we just elaborated on that and got some of the guys with the guns to pretend they were hearing it too.
BD: So what’s up next for you?
All I can say is I do have a development deal and it will be science fiction…the thing I’m trying to write is science fiction, whether I do that next or not depends on everyone [else]…it is more ambitious than `Monsters’, but it’s not a monster movie. That’s all I’m really allowed to say.
BD: Will you ever do a straight-up horror movie?
I’m actually a fan of horror. I’m ten thousand times more a fan of horror than I am of a love story. It was like `gosh, if I’m gonna do a love story I wanna do one in an environment that would interest me’…would I do a horror? Yes, for sure. And I don’t consider this film a horror really. It has elements here and there…and I think there’s a sort of tension and atmosphere a lot in the film that just feels awkward. But it’s not a horror movie. But yeah, sure.
BD: So are you aiming to do a big-budget Hollywood film at some point?
The kid in me is like `yeah, absolutely’. That’s the whole dream. And now the adult is saying `well, things have changed’…you don’t necessarily need to do that anymore. I think the problem is that when you have loads of money, you also have loads of obligation to have a big successful film, which means you then have an obligation to appeal to a wide range of people. And that means you have to play it a bit safer…and obviously there’s lots of examples of people who didn’t [play it safe] and had success. But there’s just as many examples of people who didn’t and have a failure…
So I would prefer to trade lots of money for…because why do you want money, anyway? The only reason I’d want money is to have freedom to do what I want, and what I want to do is make good films. So I would trade the money to create the freedom to make a good film. And if that means not having the money and having a small crew and doing things the way you want to do them, as [hard] as it is, cause I really do want to go and make those big Hollywood movies.
At this stage, anyway, I’d keep it lower budget and try and do something I really want to see. It’s kind of like having a wedding and somebody goes to your wedding and says, `Oh, I really loved your wedding, it was great. We’re getting married in six months, could you do our wedding?’ It’s like, well if the wedding was any good, it’s because I was completely in love with the person. And you can’t be a wedding for hire, you know what I mean? You’ve gotta really love what it is you’re doing, and so for me at the moment it feels like it’s gotta be an idea generated by me that I really, really wanna do. Two years is such a traumatic amount of time to do a movie…you’ve gotta really, really wanna do it…you’ve gotta be really passionate about it from the start. It’s hard for someone to give you something [that you didn’t write the script for] and feel that kind of passion. It’s very rare.