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SXSW '09 Interview: "Monsters from the Id" Director David Gargani

by Erik Childress

The “Monsters from the Id" Pitch: Fun-Informative-Surprising

How did this film get rolling at the beginning? Give us a brief history from writing to production to post to just last night.

DAVID: Monsters From The Id started as a small short film called “Puffed Wheat.” Basically it was a 6-minute music video set to a song of the same title written by composer and dance music producer Brian Aumueller. After collecting the footage and weaving them into a short story, I was amazed at how the imagery worked with his music. From there I decided to try and extend it into a mini-doc that worked as a visual mediation on the era, devoid of linear story line. However, as I began researching, reading, and re-examining the films I began to see a new thread and a message that was far greater then my originally conceived 30 minute music video. From there “Monsters From The Id” slowly came together over the next 2 ½ years.

Where is the inspiration today for our youth who might one day invent something important or advance us towards the stages we dreamed about in science fiction for so long? Does it exist or are we too ingrained in a comic book like culture where otherworldly or God-like forces will be the ones to save us?

DAVID: Although comic books, and other otherworldly forces will always excite impressionable and imaginative minds, at the end of the day plausibility is what really inspires. In the monster movies of the 50’s the invaders and radioactive mutations that attacked us were outlandish, the science (or at least the proposed pseudo-science) was plausible and therefore believable. The idea that some of the science of the film was grounded in actual science made everything believable to the youth and in turn, very exciting. Similarly today, we need a mix of real science along with fanciful imagination to inspire. I see the cinema and the emerging space tourism field as a potent combination.

What films and filmmakers have acted as your inspirations, be they a lifelong love or a very specific scene composition?

DAVID: I think Stanley Kubrick has made the most lasting impression on me as a filmmaker. As a student I was obsessed with 2001, The Shining, Clockwork Orange, and Dr. Strangelove and although those films don’t relate to my documentary, Kuberick’s pacing, framing, and style have permeated everything I touch. Although the next two have nothing in common, I also love the work of Wes Anderson and Quintin Tarrentino. Like them, I share a love for an older style of moviemaking.

What are some of your favorite sci-fi films from the era you cover and do you have any favorites from the last few years or decade?
DAVID: My two favorites from that era are “The Beast From 20,000 Fathoms” and “Forbidden Planet.” Beast, was the very first “disaster monster movie.” Everything from Godzilla to Cloverfield owes that film and Ray Bradbury I huge debt of gratitude. Amazingly it still works and Ray Harryhausen’s animation is timeless. If any sci-fi film was ever capable of winning a Best Picture Oscar in the 1950’s it was “Forbidden Planet.” To this day it still stands as one of the most intelligent and innovative science fiction films ever made. This is because great science fiction isn’t just about monsters and ray guns, it’s about humanity and how men react both morally and philosophically to the world in which they live. Conceptually, the ideas put forth in that film still have never been matched. After the 1950’s there have been groundbreaking science fiction films that unfortunately were separated by huge spans of time. I believe the greatest Sci-Fi films of the last 4 decades were, 2001, Blade Runner, Alien, & Dune. If only we dared to make films like that today. However, I did enjoy Danny Boyle’s “Sunshine” immensely. If George Pal was alive today, this is the type of movie he would like to make, minus the dark undertones, subtle stylings, and serial killing mutinous ship captain.

Say you landed a big studio contract tomorrow, and they offered you a semi-huge budget to remake, adapt, or sequelize a science fiction classic. What project would you tackle?

DAVID: For one thing… I would stay as far away from the classics. Films like Forbidden Planet & The Day The Earth Stood Still should be left alone in their greatness. You never hear anyone wanting to remake Citizen Kane. Please just leave the classics alone. I think I have an amazing idea for a semi-huge budget Sci-Fi Hollywood smash. Something like Raiders of the Lost Ark meets Voltron. But unfortunately you’ll just have to wait like everyone else. Sorry.

With science sharing at the very least, equality, with the fiction of the genre, the scientist you attest was frequently the hero of these films. Not the military, not a big action hero. It was always a nerdy, if not always bad-looking guy, who would figure out how to save the world. Of course the performance and the actors are nearly as important to the story as the science they’re preaching. What are some of the best examples acting-wise of this of this era? And from any era, your choices for the worst and least believable.

DAVID: All of the Sci-Fi film of the 50’s used the same group or actors over and over again. However, the true face of the era was Richard Carlson. He played the scientist hero in “It Came From Outer Space,” “The Magnetic Monster,” and “The Creature From The Black Lagoon.” Most memorably was the character of John Putnam in “It Came From…” Here Carlson played the wide-eyed and idealistic scientist who proclaimed “ [we all must have an] imagination & willingness to believe that there is some things out there we don’t fully understand.” And my favorite in response to the town sheriff who wants to shoot the alien visitors; “you would destroy anything you don’t understand. Why are you afraid of it? Because it has eight legs and doesn’t look like you?” In the “Magnetic Monster” he saved the world from an Earth destroying manmade nuclear compound, but still had time to cook breakfast for his pregnant wife and explain that they were just a paycheck away from finally affording that dream home. In the “Creature From The Black Lagoon” not only did he deliver one of the most optimistic arguments for human discovery (in his monologue in the beginning of the film), but he also ran after a monster with a machete, with his shirt off, to save a girl. Richard Carlson was the ultimate scientist hero of the 1950’s!

Who’s an actor you’d kill to work with?

DAVID: Samuel Jackson. Who wouldn’t?

If you could share one massive lesson that you learned while making this movie, what would it be?

DAVID: I made this film in a vacuum. The wonderful thing about that is, I made a film exactly the way I wanted to and poured years of development and research directly into the movie making process. The result is a film I enjoy viewing. But… nobody should make a film in a vacuum. There are far too many talented professionals and advisors to be ignored when working on a documentary with a message you believe in. A little more collaboration may have pushed me to create a better film.

During production did you ever find yourself thinking ahead to film festivals, paying customers, good & bad reviews, etc?

DAVID: Nope… and that harks back to your previous question. I started developing my festival strategy the day after I locked my final edit. Although I am very proud, excited, and a pleasantly surprised at the exposure this film has gained, I can’t help but think a little more mentoring would have done me some good.

Do you have any favorite (or least favorite) film critics? And how important do you believe film critics are nowadays?

DAVID: Besides yours truly… No really… I don’t religiously follow too many critics. Although I am a huge of fan of the Rotten Tomatoes rotten meter. Being a local NYC boy, I’ve always enjoyed reading Lou Lumenick’s reviews in the NY Post and oddly enough I’m in almost 100% agreement with the 1-800-Movie-Phone guy who now does nationally syndicated radio appearances. You can say my critical input is quite eclectic.

What would mean more to you? A full-on rave from an anonymous junketeer or an average, but critically constructive review from a respected print or online journalist?

DAVID: Honestly, both would be amazing! Every time somebody tells me they have even slightly enjoyed my film I’m over the moon with excitement. My whole life I’ve always felt that I was the only one who loved these movies so much. Finding others who share that joy or have changed their opinion about the genre gives me a satisfying feeling of affirmation. But, if I’m ever going to bring this film to a big stage, I’m going to need one of the big dogs to say something nice about my film.

Back when the atom bomb was on everyone’s mind, much of the era’s science fiction was rooted around this one fear. But as is pointed out in the film, that very fear is not only responsible for the evil that is unleashed but also used to be our potential savior reassuring us of its positive necessity as well. What do you think would be the angel/devil on our shoulders that we could use for today’s science fiction.

DAVID: Bio-Technology. I think the film Gattaca painted an eerie possibility for the advancement of the human species. Nothing taps more deeply into the morality of our actions then the possibilities offered by advanced genetic science. However on the flip side, these advancements promise to cure cancer, AIDS, MS and other baffling genetic diseases. But like all great forces in nature, it has the power to destroy as well. The scary part is that man, with all its imperfections, holds the key. That is what great sci-fi is about… And I think people find it more plausible then traveling through space.

Do you have any hopes that once we get out of the inherited problems of the last administration, that Barack Obama will be able to inspire a generation for the future the way you show John Kennedy did in your film?

DAVID: If Barack Obama wanted too he could inspire us all the way to Mars and beyond. He has instantaneously transformed the feeling in this country overnight. However… in these though economic times I cannot imagine that the US government has anything further from their mind then space exploration. Presently the US allocates ½ of 1% of the federal budget towards NASA and other space related programs. Without another Sputnik or impending doomsday asteroid collision, that number is only in danger of shrinking. Of course I blatantly disagree with that. I believe that radical advancements in science are only achieved when tackling tremendous obstacle, like space travel. The technology always has a trickle down effect that leads to the improvement of all our everyday lives. Personally, I think the next wave of manned space exploration will be conducted by the private sector. Already private aerospace companies like Virgin Galactic, Space X, and Bigalow are investing money into leaner, more profitable, and cutting edge space programs. The free market always finds the most cost effective and efficient way of solving these kinds of problems. Government is too bureaucratic and slow. Once a profitable business model is created like mining on the Moon or Mars, or space tourism, or low cost satellite deployment, we’re going to see incredible leaps and bounds that will surely inspire the youth of the world.

In closing, we ask you to convince the average movie-watcher to choose your film instead of the trillion other options they have. How do you do it?

DAVID: We live in a cynical and divided world. Everywhere around us there are disappointing happenings and plenty of films documenting them. Here is a chance to take a step back in time and relive an era of hope, unity, and discovery. The power of the cinema is nothing less then magical, and I believe this genre captures something unique about the American experience. So I would say to them… “Why not go to the movies, check reality at the box office, sit down and enjoys some monsters!”


David Gargani's Monsters from the Id will have its world premiere at the 2009 South By Southwest Film Festival on Friday, March 13, 10:00 PM at the Alamo Lamar. It will screen again at the Austin Convention Center on Wednesday, March 18 (11:30 AM) and again at the Alamo Lamar on Saturday, March 21 (2:00 PM). You can visit the film's website here

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originally posted: 02/21/09 04:35:23
last updated: 02/21/09 04:39:45
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