SXSW Interview: Director Gareth Edwards Talks ‘Monsters’

When you go to as many film festivals and see as many movies as I do, it is refreshing to find a film from out of virtually nowhere that gives you renewed faith in the filmmaking process. During SXSW I was lucky enough to discover such a film: Gareth Edwards’ Monsters.

As I said in my review, Monsters takes several elements and blends them together well to create a director’s singular vision. It was one of my favorite movies from SXSW. I had a chance to sit down with the talented Mr. Edwards during the fest and over a couple of beers discovered the man behind the Monsters.

The Flickcast: First off, let’s talk a bit about your background.

Gareth Edwards: Sure, well, like a lot of people it all began when I saw Star Wars. I basically decided I wanted to join the Rebel Alliance and blow up the Death Star. But then I learned that it was all made up by someone called a filmmaker so I decided I wanted to be one of those instead.

TFC: A lot of directors like to plan out shots, do storyboards, etc. You didn’t even really have a completed script for Monsters, right?

GE: I had a scene by scene outline but I didn’t want to write dialog. Although, it’s funny when you say to an actor “I don’t want to write the dialog” then they say “Well I have to write it then.” But that’s not what I wanted.

I wanted it to look like they were saying everything for the first time and thinking about what they were going to say. That’s really hard to fake. It doesn’t happen naturally because everyone knows exactly what they are going to say if you have a script.

Also in the process I wanted to involve real people. Some of that was for budget reasons but I also wanted them to provide texture for the world. To make it more real because they were real.

TFC: When you first conceived of the project was it always going to be improv? Was it always going to be a love story first and then a monster movie? How did the creative process go?

GE: I guess the order it went in is that first I didn’t want to use any actors. I wanted to talk to real people about real things and then put it together in the edit. I wanted to imply this crazy science fiction scenario.

I used to experiment by talking to people about something like Bird Flu and their answers started to sound like they could be talking about an alien invasion scenario.

Once I got that figured out I had to figure out the story and characters you could hang this on. I think it was always going to be a road movie. It came down to three ideas that were all good ways to tell the story. One involved stranded backpackers but it was always going to be a man and woman who eventually develop a closer relationship.

TFC: And that’s when Scoot (McNairy) and Whitney (Able) came into it?

GE: Yeah, once they got involved we fleshed out things even more to decide how to tell it. It’s simple really, you can start it two different ways. If they start together then all they can do is grow apart and then maybe get back together. So, we started them apart and eventually brought them closer together. I think that worked best.

TFC: How did you end up going with those actors?

GE: Someone gave me a film called In Search of a Midnight Kiss, which is this back and white indie film with Scoot and he was brilliant in it. It did kind of play in my head but I didn’t want to cast two people who didn’t know each other because for me the chemistry is important.

Scoot already knew Whitney but I’ll be honest I thought when I first saw her I she was too attractive and it would detract from the film. But then you meet her and she’s so down to earth and great I decided to cast her. Then I had both my actors.

TFC: Can I ask you about the budget of the film? I know it isn’t a lot.

GE: I don’t know and that’s the official answer. But really, I don’t know. But let me ask you, what do you think it is? We’re going to have a contest and the winner gets a free trip to Mexico and the infected zone.

TFC: It’s a great vacation spot. I don’t want to guess because I’m sorta experienced in this area. Maybe its better if we don’t know. Either way, the movie looks great for what it cost.

GE: Cheers.

TFC: Was there anything from the film you feel is missing or that you want to put back in? Or was this pretty much the final cut?

GE: For sure. There’s stuff I would maybe put back in. We’ve got hundreds of hours of footage. The first cut came in at four and a half hours. But we had to get it to about 90 minutes. But this is pretty much the final cut.

We may take another look back in the UK and tighten it up a bit. Even if nobody is telling you anything you can see when people shift in their seats, etc. Plus I want to improve the visual effects.

They were okay for a first screening like this but they can be better. I’m never really happy with anything I’ve done and always want to make it better.

TFC: What do you hope people take away from the film after they watch it?

GE: A lot of things. Let me think of the best one. Everyone always says this when they come out of a big Hollywood film these days: “I didn’t really care about the characters but I really loved the effects.” That happens.

I wanted to make a movie where you do care about the characters. You have to see things in the characters that you can relate to the more you are pulled into them

I wanted to go with something like Lost In Translation meets War of the Worlds or pick your favorite Sci-Fi film. Part romance part monster movie. I think we achieved that.

Magnet releasing picked up Monsters for distribution during SXSW so hopefully that means you will get to see it at a theater near you soon.

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