When developing the idea for his first feature Monsters, director Gareth Edwards knew that he wanted to start where Hollywood monster movies leave off, with the people left picking up the pieces and cleaning up the rubble. Following Andrew Kaulder (Scoot McNairy) and Samantha Wynden (Whitney Able), the film takes place six years after Earth has suffered an alien invasion. Now, a cynical journalist must escort a shaken American tourist through an infected zone in Mexico to the safety of the US border, at the urging of his boss, who happens to be her father. If they can manage the trip without drawing the attention of the creatures that have caused the area to be quarantined, then maybe they can survive long enough to accomplish their goal.
After spending years as a successful visual effects creator for the BBC, the filmmaker decided that the time had come to embark on his own feature, capitalizing on his well-honed CGI skills and using the simplistic approach he had always wanted to do. In this exclusive interview with Collider, Gareth Edwards talked about his journey to the big screen, his need to just dive in and see if he could accomplish his dream, and his desire to continue down this path of creative freedom, as much as possible. Check out what he had to say after the jump:
Here’s the trailer for Monsters:
Question: When did you first realize that you wanted to be a filmmaker and storyteller?
Gareth: My earliest memory of actually definitely wanting to be a filmmaker was when I got thrown out of class when I was 10 and I was storyboarding a short film I wanted to make with my friend’s camera. We never did it, but I was storyboarding it, so I was definitely thinking about wanting to be a filmmaker then. My joke – and it’s a shit joke – is that I really wanted to be a Jedi and blow up the Deathstar, and then found out that that was bollocks. My parents explained that it’s impossible, it doesn’t exist and it was made by someone called a filmmaker, so the second best option was to be a filmmaker and become a liar, and create some lies to give other kids false dreams. It just continually perpetuates itself. It’s all about fooling kids, really. I’ve always wanted to do it. I know a lot of people say that, but I really did want to make films, even when I was a tiny little kid. It just took fuckin’ ages to get into a scenario where I could try to do it.
When your career veered off of filmmaking and into digital effects, did you have a moment where you stopped and said, “I have to get back on track”?
Gareth: Yeah, every day. I’ve got some really dark analogies and I’ve got to be careful saying them because they end up on the internet, but it felt like that film Cyrano de Bergerac. Especially in television, when you do visual effects, what you’re predominantly doing is trying to add value to TV shows that otherwise don’t have any. I would have killed to have been a director, like these other people were, and I felt like what I constantly doing was trying to save their shows from being utter crap by being just crap with a few effects in there. My effects were crap, but it’s more tolerable when you’re crap with effects in it than just crap. It was really heartbreaking.
Then what was it that finally got you to step up and follow your dream?
Gareth: Whenever I plucked up the courage to talk to one of them and come out and say, “I actually want to make films,” I realized that everyone just didn’t take it seriously at all. Basically, I viewed myself as a filmmaker that was pretending to be a visual effects person, and everyone else viewed me as a visual effects person who had these illusions that maybe he could make a film. You start to believe it and think, “Well, maybe they’re right. The chances of being able to make a film are very small, so maybe I am kidding myself, and maybe I should just shut up and feel lucky that I can at least do computer graphics for a little bit.”
It was a bit like, “How badly do you want to do this? In order to do this, you have to give up your career in computer graphics.” I’d saved a bit of money and all that money was gone, so it came right down to the wire of how badly I wanted to do it. I had wanted to do it since I was so young, but I wanted to do it stupidly badly, and I preferred to fail than not try. You get to a point where it’s like, “I’d feel better with myself completely failing than I would never having tried,” so you just give it a go. The jury is still out. We’ll see what happens when the film is out. But, for what’s happened so far, it was completely worth it.
Did you have the idea for Monsters when you decided you were going to leave your job and go be a filmmaker, or did the idea develop later?
Gareth: In terms of Monsters, it was the concept of, “Start a monster movie where the others end.” I wanted the opening scene to be the equivalent of people picking up the pieces of Godzilla and disposing of his carcass and clearing up the rubble. I wanted that to be the first scene of the film. Our film begins where Hollywood normally ends, and that was the premise. On top of that, I wanted to shoot it realistically, opportunistically and guerilla, but that wouldn’t mean it would look horrible because of these 35 mm adapters that connect to low-budget, very cheap, high-definition cameras, so it can still look cinematic. And then, on top of that, I did my special effects very cheaply.
How did you end up getting the financing you needed in order to make the film?
Gareth: I presented all those things together to Vertigo, the U.K. company, and they were like, “Yeah, let’s do it.” Then, it became a case of, “Oh god, okay, well what’s the story?” I pitched three different stories and I drew a diagram of how all the stories interconnected and the producer was like, “If you need a diagram to explain your story, then something is wrong. Pick any one of these three and then go make that one.” I went, “Okay, I’ll do this one,” and he was like, “Pick another one.” So I said, “Then, I’ll do this one,” and he said, “No, pick another one.”
In the end, it became this love story about this couple. I hate love stories, personally. I’m not a fan of them. I absolutely loathe romantic comedies, with a passion, and I really worry when people use the word “romantic” when they describe the film. It is, in a way, but it just sets up this feeling of it being really dull or cheesy. To me, the type of film that I was aspiring to, and that’s my favorite film like that, would be Lost in Translation, which I just thought that was a beautiful film, and films like Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind. Those are really good romantic films that I wouldn’t even call romantic films, really. I don’t know what they are. They’re ultra-real relationship films.
Gareth: In a way, I was hedging my bets. I had to try to do my career in parallel. I was trying to claw my way up directing, and then separate to that, I was trying to save money so that I could go and finance my own low-budget film. I thought if that all failed, then maybe I could carry on, directing TV and maybe, in five or 10 years, I’d be able to direct a movie of some sort. I was going to pay to do something like this film on my own, and just go and make it somehow.
Was there ever a point where you considered having the special effects done by a company instead of doing them yourself?
Gareth: If we’d gone and done the visual effects with a proper post-production company, I’m guessing it would have been in the millions, just for the CGI. In the U.K., there’s a limit. Once you start going over a million pounds for a movie, you’ve got to perform at the cinema. If your film just does an average take at the cinema, it just dies off and goes straight to DVD and, if you’ve spent more than a million or so, you’re in quite a bit of trouble. So, as long as you can make a film for way under a million, then you can basically do whatever you want, to an extent, because it’s very hard to fail.
So, the idea of doing visual effects with the big companies was impossible. It wasn’t really an option. If we’d gone that route, it just would have been too much pressure to deliver more of a standard film with all of the things you expect of this sort of film, and do it exactly how people have already done it because it’s proven that people like that and want that.
I felt like, with this film, instead of behaving myself and doing what you’re supposed to do, and then one day, down the line, when I’ve behaved myself on four films, I’d get to do what I want on the fifth film, I just wanted to forget that and know now. So, I went and made the film that I wanted to make, the way I wanted to make it. If everyone hates it and it was a complete waste of time, at least I’ve learned now that I can’t make films the way I like, and save myself 15 years of taking it up the ass from the industry.
Gareth: Yeah. We’ve got so much behind the scenes stuff. We all had these little cameras with us in our pockets and we shot loads of stuff. There’s hours and hours and hours of it. I want to do a really big DVD thing with how we did the film, but I think we’re only going to have room for half an hour of the making of it, and then another section about the CGI, and then deleted and extended scenes. For some of the scenes in the film that were two minutes, we’ve actually got 10 minutes of stuff, and some of it is really funny and interesting, but we just had to pick. It was really hard to pick what stayed in, so there will definitely be deleted scenes. There’s quite a few that I regret cutting out, but it made sense, in terms of the whole film.
Have you given any thought as to where you’d like to see your career go next and what sort of filmmaker you’d like to be in the future?
Gareth: Yeah. I’d always dreamed of doing these big-budget films. It’s just that, having a taste of it in television terms, it’s so restrictive creatively, compared to doing this film, which was incredibly free and we were completely left to do what we wanted, to an extent. I’m much prouder of what we did on this film than any of the stuff I did before. It just feels like it’s got to be more of this route. I don’t want to lose the things that I liked about this process.
It’s about how to marry the two. Maybe they can’t be married, but I’d like to think that they can. If I make another film, I can do the proper crew-based thing for certain elements, and then I can do the crazy guerilla, me and the actor thing for other scenes and moments. You can marry the two and, hopefully, the audience doesn’t know or care how each bit was done. It’s just the final effect of the film.
I don’t have aspirations to do a massive franchise thing. I go and watch them and I like them, but I think there’s a limit to how good they can be. I know some people do really good franchise movies, but I don’t know. They talked about doing this in 3D, and they looked into it, but thank god they didn’t bother.