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DVDTalk Interview: Monsters Writer/Director Gareth Edwards

DVDTalk Interview: Monsters Writer/Director Gareth Edwards

When you meet him, Gareth Edwards comes off as a rather unassuming, very British fellow who doesn't seem quite interested in creating a scene. He's drawn quite a bit of attention though with his debut feature film, Monsters, a genre-crossing story about two people trying to get back to America from Mexico, by crossing a quarantined zone along the southern border of the U.S., where giant space aliens have taken up residence. While promoting the film in advance of its October 29th, 2010 theater release, he spent a little time with DVDTalk's Francis Rizzo III, to chat about low-budget filmmaking, back-breaking camera gear and drunken DVD commentaries.

Gareth Edwards

DVDTalk: What's your view of the popular myth that Monsters cost $15,000 to make?

Gareth Edwards: I think some films benefit from being "no budget." It just feels more real, like Blair Witch, because they had no money. I kind of wish Cloverfield was "no budget," you know? Then it would be truly a milestone in cinema. Someone could make a low-budget movie, an insanely massive spectacle, and it made hundreds of millions. My only criticism of Cloverfield really would've been, I wish it was some guys in a garage who made it. You know, it felt like if there's any film that should be owned by CGI film makers, it was that movie. I think with Monsters, what I guess we try to do is try to take it to another level, where it's "low-budget" or "no budget" or whatever you want to call it, kind of film that doesn't look like we had any limitations visually.

The thing that was lacking that's just changed recently, is that if you had no money, you had to shoot on video and video looks rubbish usually and film looks great. One of the big differences is that with film, you have a very narrow depth of field with a lens, so that if I'm filming you, the background is beautifully out of focus, and it puts attention on your face, and everything therefore looks very clean and beautiful and simple and pure. On video everything is in focus, everything is shouting for your attention, everything is pinging at you, and it looks ugly. Only very recently they've been able to allow you to shoot on video for next to nothing and have the look of 35mm. That was the missing link. As soon as that happened, I bought one of those lenses and I was just itching to make a movie, because now, it's the holy grail of independent film making. You can make something and it won't look like shit. It can look as good as you want and you can do the CGI and background effects. From a production standpoint, I can stick in anything I need to for production value. The thing you're sticking it on, the very base image, looks cinematic in the first place now. It's not cheap.

DVDTalk:What did you shoot Monsters with?

GE: We shot it on a Sony EX3 with a Letus ultimate adapter on the front and I mainly used a 50 mm Nikkor lens, at like 1.2 - 1.6, and I still have a bad back. I permanently damaged my back from it. It's so front heavy, even with all the supports you have. I have to click my back every half hour. I wouldn't recommend it. (laughs)

DVDTalk: Have you looked at the RED system?

GE: I've not really properly looked at that, but the thing is that it feels like the entourage you need with a camera, i.e. the monitors and the recording devices, etc., it's as big as the entourage you need with 35mm film, so it's not like this liberating thing. It's not liberating in terms of the amount of what you need to carry.

DVDTalk:With you shooting guerrilla-style you probably couldn't do that with a RED then?

GE: Probably not. And also, I mean, we set out as a small film crew, with a camera on my shoulder and a sound man. I recently bought a Canon 5D, to have a little play with the whole video settings on that. It's hard to get things in focus, but it's definitely got a beautiful look. For the amount of money it is, like one and a half grand, it's a really cinematic look you can get out of it

DVDTalk:The way people watch movies is changing with people even watching them now on phones. Your film is available in iTunes before it even hits theaters. How do you feel about the changing movie-going experience?

GE: It's so hard to predict, how it's going to work out. I think there's something instinctive, primal in us that will never leave, which is we're a social animal, and we like to have communal experiences. Like the World Cup was on recently, and I was watching the broadcast and if there was a bad refereeing decision, I would rewind it, look at the play again, and I had to fast forward it to get back to the moment the whole world is watching. I have to skip ahead just to get to real time. There's something about knowing people are watching the very same moment at this very same time that makes it more exciting.

I think that's why people still go to the cinema. It has a more powerful impact when you're sharing it together with other people. You're strangers and you don't talk to each other, but there is the knowledge that it's a group thing. As much as I think it will evolve and will end up blending your telly and your computer, and the Internet will be the same thing, and the idea of a film downloading in real time, you know that's going to happen. I can't help but wonder... well theater is alive and well, musicals are alive and well and they should be redundant, considering how much we progress with technology, etc. People want to go out and they want to be with other people and have an experience. I think that's just in us. I don't think that will ever go away. There'll always be that "Let's sit around a campfire and have a story." I think it's been there for millions of years and it's always going to stay.

DVDTalk:You have any feeling about the fact that there will be many people who will experience your film for the first time on a computer?

GE: As long as what they're looking at is the best quality, like the compression is great and everything, then I'm cool with that. I just worry that we have a lot of night scenes, and if you don't get the compression right on that, it looks very pixely and it makes the graphics look bad, and the original is not like that at all. In the cinema, there's no pixelation or anything going on.

I think it's way better for people to see the film in any way that's good for them, than to not see it at all. I'm totally cool with that and also it's interesting because you do wonder what will there be a day when you can make a film and submit yourself to iTunes and therefor you won't have to have that big a hit to generate enough money to keep yourself alive and have a career in filmmaking. You could have really cool little films, but as long as X thousand people download a film. I mean you look at some of the hits on YouTube, people with shorts and videos there, if somehow they got one cent per hit they can make a living out of. That would be great. The trick is as long as the money finds its way back to the filmmakers. Everyone should make money, you know, but as long as it keeps generating more films or more storytelling then it can only be a good thing.

DVDTalk:Now you've made a movie on your own and had success with it and have seen that it can be done, do you want to work in the studio system?

GE: I wouldn't knock the studio system, because most of the lineup on my DVD shelf, the top 50 films that I love, they're all studio films, pretty much. A lot of them are Hollywood movies. I grew up in the era of Star Wars, Spielberg and all that, so the idea that you can't make a great movie in the studio system is obviously nonsense, since a lot of my heroes have. What I don't want to do, want to avoid is, and what everyone tells you to avoid, what they warn you about is... I don't want to get myself in a situation where I'm thinking the best film would be in this direction, I'm forced to go in another direction, for financial reasons. I think he was Mel Brooks who said, when he started he started in SHOW business, and now it's show BUSINESS. It feels more and more about the market and for me, I just want to tell stories, and I just want to create worlds and have an epic emotional experience. That's the holy grail of what film should be, I think.

DVDTalk:Any talk about a DVD release yet?

GE: Oh yeah, it's going to get all that. Magnolia will do that in the states, in the UK it will be Vertigo.

We're working on the extras right now. We'll definitely have a very in-depth behind the scenes thing. We're going to make it as long as we can make it, with the amount of room left on the DVD. We've got loads of footage we shot; we had these pocket cams in Guatemala and Costa Rica and we shot loads and loads of stuff. We've got lots of individual crew and everything and I'll do a visual effects breakdown of how I did all the main shots in the movie. Anyone who's interested in filmmaking, it will interest them. I'm not saying this so people but it. I don't care about the money or how many people buy, I'm just saying it from the point of view that this movie is proof that you don't need loads of money to make a movie, so I just want people to realize that. So however you get to see the DVD, you should check it out, if you're into that sort of thing, as we'll break down exactly how we went about doing that.

DVDTalk:Do you want to do a commentary on it?

GE: We've already done it. The film was in Edinburgh and Scoot and Whitney were there and it was the only opportunity we we're going to be together with professional recording equipment. We were really hung over and we went to the studio and they hit play and after a night of all-night partying we had our best shot at talking about the film, but I cannot for the life of me remember what was said. I'm quite nervous about it because I know we were a bit jokey and tired. I had so much to say about the film, you can't possibly fit it on a commentary.

DVDTalk: Is there anything you just need to get on that DVD?

GE: There's a whole lot of deleted scenes and extended scenes that we'll put on there. In terms of a specific one, not necessarily. There's some really interesting stuff and we'll explain for each one why it didn't end up in the film, but I haven't looked at any of the behind-the-scenes footage at all, so I'm kind of nervous about what I look like. In your mind, I always think I'm the biggest dick in the world, and so, I'm thinking "Oh, God," because you're so stressed out when you're making a film and you're so tired and the idea that someone is filming you and it's going to be put on a DVD one day, it's like, you can't pander to that. You've got much bigger problems, so I'm a bit nervous about how you end up looking in that stuff. I hope I seem polite and all that.

DVDTalk:Now that Monsters is done, what's next?

GE: When it all calms down, I'm going to sit and write. I'm basically developing a film with Timur Bekmambetov (Night Watch, Wanted). He's very supportive of the movie, and his company bought it for Russia and my region. He's going to play like a godfather role, and just protect me from the studio system. I pitched him an idea of the movie I always wanted to make, a science-fiction movie, a lot more ambitious than Monsters. It would require a few more resources than we had for Monsters and so, fingers crossed, if it all goes to plan, I'll get to make that film next and I'm really excited about it, genuinely. It's a film I really want to see and make. That's where I want to concentrate. The most important thing now is that Monsters gets on people's radars and so I'm busy promoting this and trying to position it correctly for the audience. It's not Cloverfield 2, it's not District 10, it's Monsters, it's its own film and I hope people like it for what it is.

Monsters, released by Magnolia Pictures, is available currently on-demand on iTunes and Amazon, and will be in selected theaters starting October 29th.

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