Gareth Edwards on Monsters
A lot are talking about the technicality of Monsters, but storytelling wise, it's also well done. From an opening that sets the world up perfectly to the film itself basically being a road trip film with monsters, it's got a story to backup its visuals. It may not be a run and scream type of monster film, but instead a patient and well handled drama.
Note: If you want to learn more about the technical side of Monsters, make sure to head over to Francis Rizzo III's interview.
DVD Talk: The opening itself really establishes the universe seeing those soldiers on a daily routine and even joking around. Can you talk about the decision of having that as your intro versus just starting right off with Samantha and Andrew?
Gareth Edwards: The film was all improvised with the dialog by everybody, you know the story. The two main leads Scoot and Whitney are professional actors, but everybody else was just people we roped into being in it. Basically, we got these guys to pretend to be marines. We had one guy that was a real marine, maybe two, but they were all dressed up. I didn't have anything specific for them when it came to lines, because I wanted real moments of guys my age interacting like guys do. I said to them, "Look, we're going to drive along and I just want you to take the piss out of each other; talk about having sex, having sex with someone's sister," and things like that. That scene was about 2 or 3-minutes, but there was really good gags when it came to them joking around about one of them not getting laid and just them all putting him down.
When I was filming it I started thinking that all needed was a memorable moment that felt real. The guy that was the real marine let out excitement right when I hit record by singing and I started thinking, "There we go! Maybe I don't have to drive for an hour." So yeah, we got very lucky with those guys. They were very patient, because they waited maybe 6 or 7-hours just to have that one little moment, and I never told them about that moment. They sacrificed a lot for very little and they really think they're in it a lot more than they are, because of how much time we spent with them.
DVD Talk: But them joking around does show that they've done this probably countless times.
Gareth Edwards: Well, one of things I did as research was that I watch this series about the soldiers in Iraq, it might be called Off to War, and it shows these soldiers get called up and go to Iraq. I just watched it thinking, "Just imagine if there are monsters. It's not terrorist attacking, but monsters," but, to be honest, 95-percent of that series was them joking around, doing mundane tasks, and them talking about their family. Only occasionally would there be a confrontation with the enemy, and I thought that was as real as it gets. I wanted to take that ratio of it for our movie, because I feel like a realistic war movie isn't all battles. If you ask someone who fought in World War II how often they fired their gun, it would probably be twice in 4-years. There's so many monster movies that are constant fighting, and we wanted to go against that. For better or worse, that's what we tried to do.
DVD Talk: What made you want to start the film off with them?
Gareth Edwards: It's a bit like... I'm going to have some terrible analogies, are you ready? (laughs) It's like when you want to buy a pack of condoms, but you're embarrassed about it. So you buy loafs of bread, milk, cheese, and sweets that you don't need, but you'll end up saying, "Oh look, I might as well buy a pack of condoms," and everyone knows that's why you're in the shop. I wanted to knock those condoms on the counter straightaway and say, "I'm here for condoms." For an opening scene, I wanted to have a monster to say I knew why the audience was there, here are the monsters, now let's move on. Now let us take some bread and milk, because when you got bread you can make some great sandwiches. It was like getting it out of the way opposed to walking around it. I know this film will frustrate a lot of people the way we do it, but the goal was to get it out of the way, so we could move on with a different kind of movie.
That's why I did it, but I know some people come in expecting a monster movie. To them, that opening reconfirms what they expected and it's a shock to them once our film goes off into a different direction. I just try to give them what they want at the beginning and hope they come with us once we go off in that different direction. It's a very hard film to talk about without ruining it for people, but it's no secret it is a love story and a road movie. It's a road movie that happens to be set in a time where giant aliens are roaming Central America.
DVD Talk: What was the decision behind playing the love story angle in a subdued way? With having them not be a couple at the beginning or even kissing.
Gareth Edwards: I don't like romantic films, to be honest with you. Once you have a male and female as your lead, you've got a love story whether you like it or not. I felt it was important to make it subtle and to try to base it on things that have happened to you. Now, I've never been in a situation with giant monsters, but everyone has been in situations where you're with someone and you know you're going to end up in different places. It's this limited period where just for that limited amount of time it can mean something. For me, it was trying to capture the intensity of that feeling and also trying to relate that to the world of our creatures. I didn't want it to feel like we just picked up and dropped our love story off into this alien movie.
The parallel of what's going on with the main creatures and our leads is that it's them all trying to find a mate. They're all just trying to reproduce, which is the theme of the film: you cant fight nature. The couple is trying to fight nature and they know they cant be together, but it just doesn't work and the world is trying to fight nature by containing these aliens, and that's where it tied up for me. I never thought I was going to make a love story when I set out to make a monster movie, but you just roll with it. Scoot and Whitney are such great actors and have great chemistry that it'd be a mistake to fight that.
DVD Talk: You've mentioned Spielberg as an influence and Jaws is the comparison a lot of people are making, but do you see that comparison as totally suitable? You do get a glimpse at a monster the first 2-minutes or so in.
Gareth Edwards: I'm not proud to admit this, but I sat and timed Jaws with a stopwatch. I had heard so many people say how you don't see the monsters in Monsters, and I always have to explain that you really do. I felt to prove it I was going to time Jaws with every time you see the shark and I did the same with Monsters. There is more time shown of the monsters than the shark in Jaws. Jaws is obviously a far superior movie, but that proved to me that it's not a simple matter of the more monsters you have shown the scarier it'll be and it doesn't work that way.
I think with our movie people are forced to care about our leads and it's not like they're going to fight the monsters, but the details that are more important are whether or not they're going to say what they feel. Hopefully, there's a tension that monsters could be around the corner, but with this you're in a different headspace than Cloverfield. It's not Cloverfield with the Lost in Translation storyline, but Lost in Translation set in a Cloverfield world.
DVD Talk: Do you consider the ending bleak?
Gareth Edwards: I like to view the film 100-percent as a tragic love story, and you can take that anyway you want. You can see it as these 2 people who cant be together, and they cant. Without ruining it, you may have heard about 4 different interpretations of how our movie ends. I know what I think it is and I think I can prove it, but I've heard really good counter-arguments. I really like the fact that this film allows people to have their own thoughts throughout with what it's about and what really happens, and I like that. I love going to the cinema and having that experience. If you don't like to think, you probably shouldn't go.
DVD Talk: What's your interpretation of the ending?
Gareth Edwards: (Spoiler Alert) We cannot do a sequel with Scooter and Whitney, and that is my interpretation. Depending on the box office, the producers will probably prove that we can. (Spoiler Over)
DVD Talk: It would be interesting to make this Planet of the Apes-esque type of universe where you could have sequels following different characters or even have comic-books.
Gareth Edwards: Yeah, I love that idea. I really enjoy the world that they're in and I would love to go back there, even though I felt like I've gone back there 100 times over the last 6 months with all the film festivals. I'm kind of waiting to get bored of it. Every time I watch it I think, "This is going to be the time where I hate it," but I just really enjoy the world. I think you're right, because there are a lot of interesting ways of doing sequels. There was that era of sequels and also now the era of prequels, but I want an era of equals. The equals would be set in the same time as the original, so you could tell the story of the marines or a bunch of other people. You could have Scooter and Whitney influence them or walk by them, and I love that. I like that trickery of seeing things from a opposite perspective where you could see something in a different way, and that's what I tried to do with the opening.
DVD Talk: You could even make a political thriller out of it: following a character in Washington influencing the building of the border wall.
Gareth Edwards: Yeah, there's loads and loads of characters you could follow. Vertigo Films in the UK own all the rights for Monsters and I know they're very exciting about continuing the world, but it all depends about what happens the next few months. You could maybe have the creatures get out where it becomes a global thing, and that was the original premise.
DVD Talk: Why'd you change that?
Gareth Edwards: The early screenings of the movie when we had no CGI every TV we showed was blank, maps were Burger King maps, and because of that the sense of geography of where the monsters are and where people were going to became incredibly confusing for everybody. An early decision was made to simplify it to help everyone's confusion and to keep them just in Mexico. It evolved and we just the set the film there. There was originally going to be TV broadcasts from different countries, but we just pulled back on that because it - for whatever reason - people thought it'd be best to simplify it.
DVD Talk: Do you think that was the right decision?
Gareth Edwards: I think we could have gone the other way and it would have worked just as well, but hey, that's what prequels and equals are for!
DVD Talk: You could basically pull an Aliens and up the ante with action and make it bigger.
Gareth Edwards: That was my first choice, but then I got steered towards keeping it simpler. In the end, we went with the male and female leads. Thankfully, we met Scooter and Whitney, who knocked it out of the park. My first reaction was to do the soldiers, but as we worked it out we realized it would be too ambitious.
DVD Talk: My final question: Is Andrew a cheap opportunist?
Gareth Edwards: Picking up a camera and going to foreign country to shoot images of aliens to make money I'd have to say is a very noble job, because it's what I've been doing the last 2-years. I see a lot of sense to it and I think he's a great guy and not a hack whatsoever, but maybe when I have a bit of distance from the film I'll... I really have to defend him.
Monsters is now in theaters and on VOD.
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