Interview with Gareth Edwards, the Director of ‘Monsters’
Monsters is written, shot and directed by BAFTA award-winning CGI animator Gareth Edwards. The low-budget film features aliens that have infected Mexico, resulting in the area being closed-off from the rest of the world.
This was your directorial debut, what made you decide to direct?
My background was with effects, which pays quite well – a lot more than directing I found out! – so I saved a bit of money and then it was a case of good subject matter that I could use my visual effects skills on. The obvious things were alien invasions and monster movies. The first thing I thought was that I’d have to shoot on video as I wouldn’t have any money. I liked the idea of making a film moving on from Afghanistan or Iraq as it’s the other side of the world, there’s a war going on but people get on with their lives. People that live there on a daily basis don’t react to it any more, so I figured that would be really easy to shoot because if the people in the background were ignoring the CGI, they couldn’t see actually see it anyway.
Is it true that all of the characters, except for the leads, are locals?
Pretty much, yeah. Some people we just met along the way and we just talked them into being in the film. The ticket bearer actually just worked in a café across the road and had never acted before at all. I just found that you get great performances of people – everyone can do an Oscar-winning performance of themselves.
Do you think having a real-life couple play the leads added depth to their character’s relationship?
They’re both good enough actors that they would’ve pulled it off a treat even if they hadn’t been going out.
There was a point where we came back to do some pick-up shoots to get some little pieces that we needed in the edit and we had a bet on to see if they were a couple or not because we noticed they weren’t really holding hands – but I was wrong as they got married two months ago! They’re actors, so they can hide anything. You have no idea what’s going on in their heads.
There are parallels with real-life immigration laws and also war, what were the main messages the film were trying to get across?
Monsters usually personify what the fear of the times is. In the past it was radiation, then communism and now the modern fear is terrorism. So if there are monsters in the world and they kill people, that’s bad. But what price is it worth eliminating them if you kill far more innocent people than they could ever kill? Those are the sort of questions that I wanted to be posed, not in the front and centre so that it became a preachy, political film. With a giant wall in Mexico, everyone leads into immigration and that was not on my agenda at all.
Have you been pleased with the reactions so far?
Yeah it’s been amazing; we never expected any of this when we started. I just would’ve been happy if we’d got it into one cinema somewhere!
Do you believe in any alien conspiracy theories?
I think either there is life out there, which is an incredibly profound concept if it’s true. Or there isn’t life out there, which I think is just as profound a concept that we happen to be a complete fluke.
Creating a visual for Monsters or alien life-form can be difficult, as viewers can easily find them unrealistic – were there any designs for the Monsters that were scrapped?
I had about 140 proper designs and I was really happy with most of them. I think the best design for an alien were the originals in ‘Alien’ by Ridley Scott and even that is based on Earth biology. It’s humanoid with insect-like exoskeleton. I think if you stray too far from nature it’s unrecognisable, and if you want to get a reaction from the audience you’ve got to tap into things to make the audience scared or react in a certain way. I think if there really were aliens we probably wouldn’t recognise them. Also, nature had like five billion years to get it right, so the idea that I could come up with something in two weeks…
What would you say to people who’ve commented that the film rips-off District 9 in some ways?
I’d love to say that we did copy District 9 but the film only came out after we’d finished editing. If people are told “this looks like District 9” and then they go and see it and they’re like “it was nothing like District 9, I was conned!”, you can’t win. Our film has more in common with ‘Sin Nombre’ or ‘Lost in Translation’, a little bit of ‘War of the Worlds’.
Does the lack of a formal script make it difficult to re-enact a scene?
It was, it was. We’d ask them to do something again and they’d say “well I don’t know what we just did…”. I wanted the random cutting to feel that the cameraman can’t film the bit in between so there’s a jump cut. When you don’t have that and it’s perfectly edited it feels like a drama. So I was quite happy not capturing it all as it gives it that level of realism.
Would you agree that the film is more of a romantic sci-fi than an adventure sci-fi movie?
It did become that in a way, though I didn’t start off intending to do that. I like to think it’s kind of a love story guys will like and it’s a monster movie girls will like, just to be really sexist about it.
What have been the best and worst examples of CGI you’ve seen in film?
I think the best example, because it was the first and it still hasn’t dated, is the T Rex in Jurassic Park at night. But as for the worst, anything when the camera whizzes around 360 degrees, the shot is inherently fake. I always feel like I’m thrown out of the movie when that happens. It’s sacrilegious, but I wasn’t a fan of the time slice in the Matrix, I know people hate me for saying that.
If had an endless budget, what else do you think you’d have done with the effects?
I would probably just be sitting on a desert Island chatting to you now, with a yacht and a lot of sexy girls.
What other projects have you got coming up?
I’ve got a thing with a Russian guy, Timur Bekmambetov, who’s financing me to develop a sci-fi idea and he’ll produce it. The tagline is ‘an epic human story set in a futuristic world without humanity.’
Monsters is released in cinemas today
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