Monsters and more monsters

I’m so interested in Gareth Edwards’s reboot of Godzilla. He’s been chatting about the project lately with reporters. He was one of my favourite interviews during TIFF 2010; we spoke about his first monster movie, Monster, which he shot guerilla-style in Guatemala, Belize, Mexico, Costa Rica and Texas. He digitally added the aliens into the movie on his home computer.

This article was previously published in the National Post Oct. 30, 2010. By Gareth Edwards, as told to Melissa Leong:

I always wanted our opening scene to be the end scene of Godzilla or King Kong where someone has to clean up this dead carcass at the bottom of a skyscraper. You know, where are they going to put all of those pieces?

My background was visual effects. I only got into it because I grew up wanting to be a filmmaker and it seemed like a great tool. If no one came along and gave you a load of money, you could make a movie yourself.

I was on holiday and there were these fishermen. They were struggling, pulling in nets from the ocean and they were teasing each other. I just thought, “It would be really funny when they finally get this net into the boat if on the end of it there was a giant, dead sea creature with massive tentacles.” I actually started picturing how hard it would be to do on the computer by imagining cutting around the hand of the guy and adding a computer generated net.

I realized that there is this interesting thing happening where the guys can’t see this so they’re not reacting to it. That would be a really interesting world where you have a crazy thing like a giant dead creature but no one is reacting to it.

Maybe this is years down the line, maybe where every monster movie normally ends, ours begins.

I didn’t have a story beyond that. That’s what I presented to the production company and based on all that, they just went for it.

When you say to people that you haven’t got a script, they think you haven’t got a story. We had a story. We had all of the beats worked out.

You get your best stuff when you wait to see what’s in front of you and it’ll tell you what’s interesting. We shot the film like that. I wanted to be able to run around and shoot it guerrilla style. There were the two actors, next to them were me and the sound man and then the line producer and the Mexican equivalent — that would be the crew.

Virtually everyone, with the exception of two people, were not actors. There is this guy in the middle of the film who gives a great performance as a ticket seller. We just met him 10 minutes before we started filming and he had never acted before in his life. He ran the cafe across the road.

You can get a really good performance from a non-actor as long as you don’t tell them what to do. Everyone can do an Oscar-winning performance of themselves. Just tell them what their goal is: You’ve got to sell this ticket for no less than $5,000.

In the scene where the guy sells them the ticket, he gestures to this map but it’s really a burger menu. I changed the burger menu to be a map of the infected zone.

In the film, [we used] a place called Galveston [Tex.] that was hit by Hurricane Ike and it was a real suburban area that had been trashed. After we blew it up on the big screen, I noticed there was a freeway in the background so there were cars going past and I had to paint them all out.

I honestly don’t know [how much it cost to make]. We all got paid a wage. I’m guessing it would be the price of an average house.

The visual effects took five months. Getting the creatures to look right took me forever. They’re from Europa, which is a moon with an ice ocean. If you ask scientists where there is alien life, they will say this moon near Jupiter. They’re basically from the bottom of the ocean, so I picked octopus and crabs.

We were debating the ending of the film: the producers wanted one ending; I wanted a different one. Was it going to be a happy or pessimistic ending? I had a bad back from carrying this camera because the equipment is so heavy. I was getting a massage in Mexico. I was contemplating how the film should finish and in the middle of the massage, the woman leaned over to my ear and she whispered: “Happy ending?”

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