Hacksaws, Flying Saucers, and Improv: Round 2 with MONSTERS' Gareth Edwards
[Can't get enough of MONSTERS? Or maybe you don't have time to
explore/enjoy Kurt's ultra-in-depth interview at the moment? Well,
here's another option for you, a quick Q&A from Peter with our man of the hour, Gareth Edwards]
Team ScreenAnarchy has already spilled a lot
of ink on Gareth Edwards's MONSTERS, covering it as it made a splash
at various big-name fests throughout the year. No surprise there: it's
the kind of film that critics like to trumpet. Writer-director Edwards
clearly represents a new voice on the scene, one whose presence it's
hard not to be excited about. And as a film, MONSTERS tightropes that
thrilling line between genre pleasure and sheer aesthetic pleasure...
and in the process shows that maybe such a dividing line doesn't have
to exist in the first place.
But for this same reason--the film appeals to both giant monster and indie romance fans--it's easy to see MONSTERS getting lost among all the genre releases from studios this season and not finding its true audience until home video. We didn't want that to happen, especially with a film that so obviously deserves to be seen on the big screen when it opens this Friday. That's why we cornered Edwards into this interview--it's for his own good, really. And if you haven't seen MONSTERS, don't worry, there aren't any spoilers in what follows. But listen to where Edwards is coming from, and you might get a sense of why he comes across as one of the most refreshing and original film talents to surface in recent years.
Peter Gutiérrez: An interesting
refrain in the film involves the idea that one gets paid more for delivering
photos of the bloody or the dead. So I've got to ask, would it be reading
too much into this to view it as "meta"--a caveat to those
who expect a genre flick entitled MONSTERS to be heavy on graphic destruction
and death instead of being about, well, life? Feel free to laugh at
me, by the way.
Gareth Edwards: You know, it wasn't really... but if it's okay with you, I'm going to pretend it was from now on--I like it! But you're right, for me the title "Monsters" wasn't supposed to translate as simply as "this film has monsters in it." It's supposed to mean one thing when you walk into the cinema, and then something else when you walk out. I think all good journeys that you go on should involve a change of perspective. I'm not saying we achieve that in this film at all, but it was certainly the aim to have the film arrive somewhere different than where you expected to go. The fact it does this will no doubt annoy some people who wanted "this film has monsters in it," but there's plenty of versions of that film out there for those people. For better or for worse, we wanted to try and do something different.
Gutiérrez: One important way the film is different is in its world-building. A lot of Hollywood product uses very broad strokes--elaborate CGI of cityscapes crumbling before our eyes--but in MONSTERS what's so evocative and believable is the steady accumulation of small details. Does Hollywood avoid this path because it has the money to tackle those vast establishing shots every ten minutes or because it thinks the public values "spectacle" above all else... or because it's actually trickier to pull off what you've done?
Edwards: Thanks. To be honest, I think [the film's approach to world-building] is mainly a result of having spent the last ten years doing CGI. When you do visual effects for a living, the honeymoon is well and truly over. My very crude analogy is that it's like being a gynecologist: when you see that stuff all day at work, it really doesn't turn you on anymore! Going from visual effects to directing a movie is like being a porn star and suddenly getting your big break as an actor--the last thing you want to do is another sex scene! Don't get me wrong, I love visual effects. But they should be used only when it serves the story, not to compensate for the lack of one.... I'm going to do what you did now, and possibly read too much into JURASSIC PARK, which started this whole Hollywood obsession with CGI--"Just because you could, doesn't mean that you should." I think you should always try and film things first and resort to computers second.
So imagine we lived in a world where
ALL films throughout history were computer-generated, then suddenly
fifteen years ago someone invented this thing called a "camera."
We'd all be like, "Wow, you mean, we can film real things, and it's
instantaneous, free, full of random details, and looks 100% real!"
We'd all be jumping over it as the best thing ever. I'm hoping the gimmick
factor of CGI starts to calm down soon, and we start using it like the
powerful storytelling tool it is, like a camera. Not a gimmick factor
of "Roll up, roll up, for the first time ever, come see a flying saucer
over New York!" ...Although flying saucers over New York do look pretty
Gutiérrez: Watching MONSTERS, I was occasionally reminded of films as varied as DISTRICT 9 and BIG MAN JAPAN. What recent films have made you think of the filmmakers, "Yeah, they really get how to make a 'fantastic film' with the tools that are available today"?
Edwards: I think there are a whole bunch of young filmmakers that grew up with these digital tools--and therefore aren't seduced by them--and were inspired by the films I love from our childhood... like DISTRICT 9, MOON, LET THE RIGHT ONE IN, etc. I think it's a very exciting time for young filmmakers--it's never been more easy to make a film (short or feature length) and it's never been easier to get it out there to an audience (YouTube, etc.)... the downside to that is that the competition is now far greater.
Gutiérrez: The storyline in MONSTERS is so easy to interpret as allegorical. Have you heard any interpretations that really surprised you, or where you thought, "That's not what I had in mind, but I'll take it."
Edwards: I recently read someone's interpretation of the film who thought it was actually about aliens from outer space arriving in Mexico... I mean, come on! The things people think of... I think people tend to "overthink" these films where the main goal of the hero is to get through immigration back to America. Some people have asked is it a dream? Is it a dream within a dream? Or is it just a Monster Movie? I like the audience to make their own minds up (can you see what I did there?).
Gutiérrez: Yeah, you improvised to a fairly random question and it worked. Speaking of which, I loved the sense of improv in MONSTERS. Can you see yourself working with actors very differently in the future, or did you hit upon a few strategies that will probably be keepers regardless of the budget or who's in your cast?
Edwards: Thanks, but like all things, [improv] has its advantages and disadvantages. I think a lot of people do their best work when they have limitations imposed on them (myself included). Then, if you're very lucky, that work elevates you to a position where you have fewer limitations. So I think the real trick will be trying to combine the good that comes with "no money" with the good that comes with "more money." I'd definitely like to improv again, but maybe combining it with scripted scenes.
Gutiérrez: All right, so let's finish up by continuing with that idea of what's next for you. In fact, let's pretend that you make or collaborate on a film that doesn't make use of your VFX expertise--what genre would it most likely be? Noir, romance, drama... documentary? And why?
Edwards: I really respect filmmakers who jump around seamlessly to different genres with each film. I'd love to try and do that. But I also like the idea of mixing genres together. My rubbish way of explaining it is, imagine you had a DVD boxed set of all your future films, each one being a different genre. Then you take a hacksaw and cut them all in half, then mix and match them up, I think those are the kinds of films that interest me (and are a marketing nightmare). I think MONSTERS is part sci-fi, part romance, part road movie (maybe I cut my boxed set up too much?)... But on the other hand, life would be pretty dull if you had all your future films mapped out perfectly. For better or for worse, I think I'm gonna improv it!