There’s always one big film that flies mostly under the radar at San Diego Comic-Con. This year, a panel featuring footage from fall’s alien invasion event film: Skyline, received rave reviews from those in attendance. I was invited, along with several other members of the internet press, to a special preview day for Skyline at Hydraulx Studios hosted by the film’s directors: brothers Colin and Greg Strause. Also in attendance to answer some questions following a screening of four select scenes, were stars Donald Faison, David Zayas and Brittany Daniel. Read the entire article after the jump.
For those who weren’t at Comic Con and who haven’t yet seen the trailer, Skyline features an alien invasion that’s a little different than those we’re used to. There are no politics, no armies, and no decorated, wiseacre war heroes. According to writers Joshua Cordes and Liam O’Donnell the film instead takes a cue from the myth of the Sirens. (Though both writers, and brothers Colin and Greg admitted that their affinity for Independence Day may have influenced some of their thinking as well.) In Skyline, strange lights draw people out of their homes, where giant ships hoover up the unsuspecting populous. Of course there are people trying to survive, but the Brothers Strause tried to steer this more towards realism as if, according to Colin Strause you have “boxed seats for the end of the world”. According to star Donald Faison – At some point I’d say something funny and these guys would say ‘would you really be cracking wise’?
That’s not to say that this won’t be a fun movie. The excitement from everyone was infectious. Donald Faison joked, “This is great for us. I always wanted to do a film like this, but I’m not Will Smith.” David Zayas liked the brothers’excitement saying, “I’m always hungry for enthusiasm.”
Enthusiasm and excitement seemed to be the buzzwords for the day. One of the writers left the refreshments to finish rendering scenes. The DP held the camera. Actors held boom mics. Everyone on the 20 person crew did their part, because they believed in the project. Greg and Colin apparently decided to do their own thing after their agent pointed to the success of Paranormal Activity. Armed with only a finished script and a teaser trailer, the brothers hit the Berlin Film festival and found funding and distribution. In a time where guys in suits in room far away from the rest of us decide what we want to see based on market research, it’s refreshing to see this kind of filmmaking on a grander scale. Everything but final sound mix was done in house at Hydraulx. Colin Strause stated, “We’re not doing another studio movie. We’ll do it ourselves. … For distribution you need a studio. For making a movie we want to do it like this.” Colin also mused, “It’s amazing how many assholes it takes to make a single decision.” With Greg adding, “Hint, hint, Fox.”
David Zayas suggested another interesting aspect of this type of independent filmmaking saying, “Doing films this way will weed out filmmakers. With 50 million dollars you get a lot of help. With 500 thousand you have to be creative.” Donald Faison chimed in with the funny, “Independent means no stuntmen. We’re fighting CG monsters so there’s a lot of ducking and jumping.”
Still, you wouldn’t know this was an independent film based on the footage. That could have something to do with the fact that Hydraulx is one of the top CG effects houses in Hollywood. Around the time of the footage being shown at Comic Con there were 700 effects shots planned. Now the number has ballooned to 900. Since the Brothers Strause have been working on alien movies since 1996 according to Colin, they seem to have a pretty good handle on ETs. Greg also pointed out that they were able to pepper in a great deal of “disaster movie effects”.
The questions and refreshments weren’t the only thing on tap for the media day. Those of us in attendance were also treated to four different scenes in varying degrees of completion. Those wishing to avoid spoilers should skip the next several paragraphs.
The first scene was a more polished version of the original Comic Con footage. The aliens ships are gorgeously rendered. This scene showcases what is smartly being used to sell Skyline, the otherworldly lights. As Greg Strause states, “It’s like watching an accident. The lights. We want to stare. It’s such a simplistic attack on human nature.” In the footage stars Donald Faison and Eric Balfour watch helplessly as monstrous contraptions suck humans up into the gaping maws by the thousands. Again, the footage is incredibly detailed and vivid and, as it was at Comic Con, striking.
The second scene, where the stars attempt to escape the building, showcases two interesting aspects of Skyline. The first being the aforementioned attempt to make the film feel more realistic in tone. The second is the fact that the script was written based on the building itself. The film was shot in Greg’s building and much of it takes place in his condo. In the scene, the stars bicker and fight as they make their way out of the parking garage and run into a giant alien. The creature’s design points to one of the differences between Skyline and other alien invasion movies. According to Greg, “All our creatures are living and organic. It’s not political. It happens and how do you deal with it?” Colin adds, “There’s different types of evil. Is a parasite evil? We kill cows.” This footage wasn’t quite as polished, but still it’s clear the action is intense and the CG renderings look, well, like they’re handled by one of the top effects houses in town.
The third scene focuses on what is one of the, “several alien subplots to explain their motives,” according to Greg. In the scene a character has his brain removed by one of the Drones. The drones themselves, like all the creature designs we were shown, have multiple eyes and appendages. The influence of the designs from Independence Day is apparent on the drone, but the creature still has its own look and feel. The third scene was the least finished of the four we viewed. The brain removal itself was part of why the script was originally intended to be rated “R”. But since brain eating doesn’t snag you an “R”, the film will be PG-13. This is ideal as Greg pointed out, “We did a really dark and gritty movie, and now we want to appeal to a broader audience.”
SERIOUS SPOILER ALERT!
The remnants of the government launch a counter strike after the initial encounter with the aliens. As the survivors watch through a telescope, unmanned drones weave in and out of flying aliens as a bomber tries to deliver a nuke to the invaders. The living alien fighters take out most of the drones, but a single bomber attacks the mother ship and the scene ends with a huge explosion. I was initially annoyed that the end of the film was ruined for me, but was pleasantly surprised when it was revealed that over 60 percent of the films major action takes place after this scene.
In addition to the footage screened we toured the facility and saw lots of effects in varying stages. A scene of star Eric Balfour fighting a drone was getting lighting and shading added. We also saw the inside of the massive ships which had a somewhat Aliens Hive look. Again, all the effects look solid. If I hadn’t already been excited for the film, I would be after the visit to Hydraulx.
Chatter on the web about Skyline has focused on two things. There’s the positive, with Greg quipping that fans feel “despite the fact that Colin and Greg are directing, it looks good.” And, the footage is stellar. There’s also been a bit of backlash from some fans and sites. A few have pointed to similarities between Skyline and another alien event film: Battle LA. Greg addressed the rumors by stating, “When you see them side by side you’ll notice the difference.”
Whether the film does well, the brothers are already thinking franchise as a 40 page treatment for a sequel exists and there are plans to shoot in the spring. In the meantime, Skyline opens on the 12th of November. I know I for one will be in line to see it.