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SxSW ’10 Interview – “Monsters” director Gareth Edwards

Monsters - At SX Fantastic Fest at Midnight!
by Jason Whyte

“It’s a road movie set in a world with Monsters, except the big difference is it begins years after all other monster movies end when people aren’t running and screaming anymore; life just goes on as normal with these ‘things’ in certain parts of the world. We follow a photojournalist as he tries to help a stranded tourist back home through the ‘infected zone.'” Gareth Edwards on the film “Monsters”, which is playing in the SX Fantastic Fest lineup at this year’s South By Southwest Film. Fantastic Fest is an annual film festival in Austin every September.

Is this your first film in SxSW? Do you have any other festival experience? Do you plan to be in Austin for the screenings?

No, I’ve never done this before. This is my first ever film, and Austin will be the world premiere! I don’t think even Giant Monsters or an Infected Zone would stop me from getting there.

Could you give me a little look into your background (your own personal biography, if you will), and what led you to the desire to want to make film?

When I was a kid I used my Dad’s video camera and learned how to make films very quickly and cheaply. These got me into film school where I learned how to make films very slowly and expensively. I was so frustrated with this process that I dived into digital effects as a potential solution to all the compromise. Years later I used this skill to bribe TV producers into letting get back into directing again.

Growing up, you were no doubt asked the eternal question “When I grow up I want to be a …” Finish this sentence, please!

When I was young and told people I wanted to be a director, they’d say “So you want to be the next Steven Spielberg?”, and I’d say “No, I want to be the first Gareth Edwards.” But to be honest, I did want to be the next Steven Spielberg.

How did this whole project come together?

I got paranoid that no one was ever going to give me the chance to make a film. I had this skill of creating computer graphics, so I tried to come up with an idea that I could afford to shoot on my own but still had lots of scale and cinematic potential. Adding digital effects to a journey through an exotic location seemed the obvious thing. I put a proposal together, cut a fake trailer for “Monsters” and went for a meeting at Vertigo Films, and within a week we were starting the movie.

What was the biggest challenge in the production of the movie, be it the script, principal photography or post-production stage?

The script was definitely the hardest part of the whole process, until the principle photography which then became the hardest part of the process, until the post production which was definitely the hardest part of the process, and we still have the marketing and distribution to go, which I suspect will become the hardest part of the process.

Please tell me about the technical side of the film; your relation to the film’s cinematographer, what the film was shot on and why it was decided to be photographed this way.

I was very close to the cinematographer, as it was me. Basically, I wanted the film to feel completely real, I didn’t want it to feel like a “movie”. Everyone in our film apart from the main two actors (Scoot McNairy and Whitney Able) are “real people” just going about their daily lives with the sci-fi element being added in digitally. Which meant shooting with virtually no crew, so we would have as little impact on the places we arrived in as possible. We pretty much did the same crazy journey the characters go on. All the scenes were ad-libbed. It was very hard work, but as a result we got an incredibly subtle and realistic feel to film which I’m really proud of. Their performances are incredible, and thanks to the recent development in 35mm lens adapter we got that intimacy without compromising on the cinematic look of the film.

Talk a bit about the experiences (festival or non-festival) that you have had with this particular film. Have you had any interesting audience stories or questions that have arisen at screenings? If this is your first screening premiere, what do you hope to expect at the screenings of the film?

This really is our world premiere. I have absolutely no idea what to expect. The nerves and excitement are both canceling each other out at the moment. I feel we have achieved the film we set out to make, so now I’m just really interested in what everyone out there will make of it!

Who would you say is “the audience” for this film? Do you want to reach everyone possible or any particular type of filmgoer?

I know it’s a cliché, but I really think you shouldn’t make a film for other people; I think you have to make a film that you really want to see yourself and hope that there are enough people out there that have the same taste as you.

Who would you say your biggest inspirations are in the film world (directors, actors, cinematographers, etc)? Did you have any direct inspirations from filmmakers for this project in particular?

My favourite way of explaining our approach during the shoot was that over the brow of every hill was the ‘Steven Spielberg’ version of our film, and like sensible people our characters are desperately trying to avoid those life threatening situations. But on occasion they’d accidentally pass right through the heart of it.

How far do you think you would want to go in this industry? Do you see yourself working on larger stories for a larger budget under the studio system, or do you feel that you would like to continue down the independent film path?

What an amazing dilemma to have! If I’m lucky enough to ever make another film then I think the most important thing to me is that I keep progressing creatively. My best guess is that I’d be allowed much more freedom to take risks and experiment down the independent route. I hope if this film proves anything, it is that you don’t need a Hollywood budget to make a Hollywood scale film. I’m not really interested in making films that are just like other studio films, if so then why bother? Just go and buy the film you like and do something easier with your life. If you’re going to do this then you want to try and push things and do something different. I can’t help think that these kinds of films will be much easier to make down the independent route, but maybe I’m wrong? We’ll see I guess!

If you weren’t in this profession, what other line of work do think you would be involved with?

I loved physics and art as a kid, so I guess in a parallel world somewhere I’m busy painting the cosmos, or doodling in a math book. But in both of those worlds I’m probably wishing I went to film school instead.

Please tell me some filmmakers, actors or other talent that you would love to work with, even if money was no object.

Is death an object? If not, Rod Serling & Bill Hicks.

How important do you think the critical/media response is to film these days, be it a large production, independent film or festival title?

For me, it’s really important. How people react at SxSW is going to have a massive impact on the future of this film and no doubt my career. But I’m trying not to think about it or you can drive yourself crazy.

If your film could play in any movie theatre in the world, which one would you choose?

Alamo Drafthouse at Midnight on Saturday March 13th 2010. Tickets available at all good retailers!

What would you say to someone on the street to see your film instead of the latest blockbuster playing at the local megaplex?

The Megaplex is closed. A giant monster destroyed it! Man, you should have seen it! But don’t worry it was all captured on film in this great movie down the road called “Monsters.”

What would you say or do to someone who is talking during or conversing/texting on their cell phone while you’re watching a movie (if at your own screening or another movie you attend)?

I’m English, so we don’t say anything to the person, we just complain about it all the way home.

What do you love the most about this business of making movies?

That sometimes ‘they’ pay you to do something you’d pay ‘them’ to do!

No doubt there are a lot of aspiring filmmakers at film festivals who are out there curious about making a film of their own. Do you have any advice that you could provide for those looking to get a start?

I know everyone says this, but it’s true: pick up a camera, go make something. It really is the fastest way to learn.

And finally…what is your all time favourite motion picture, and why?

“Battleship Potemkin” by Sergio Eisenstein because the juxtaposition of imagery created a deconstruction of the narrative form that... no, I’m kidding. It’s “Star Wars”.

This is one of the many films screening at this year’s South By Southwest Film in Austin, Texas between March 12-20. For more information on the film’s screening, point your browser to

Jason Whyte,

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originally posted: 03/11/10 04:24:23
last updated: 03/10/11 11:07:18
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