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Gareth Edwards

Monsters vs Locarno

Gareth Edwards | foto di Giulio DoniniBeatrice Biggio (BB): Fucine Mute has the pleasure of interviewing Gareth Edwards, director of Monsters. Your film is going to be screened in the Piazza Grande in this edition of Locarno’s film festival. This morning, during the press conference, you said that all you wanted to do was a good monster movie, and that’s obviously what it is, but it also became a fully developed story about a relationship. Is this what you had in mind while writing the screenplay?

Gareth Edwards (GE): When I was writing, I definitely thought about it then. When I was saying to people: “I want to make a film”, at that point it was literally a monster movie, but basically a monster movie with a difference, and the difference was going to be that our movie would be set years after when most of the monster movies end. I wanted our opening scene to be… I mean, not that there’s any criticism on that kind of film, but say like, they kill Godzilla in that kind of movie… and I wanted the beginning of our film to be like the workman digging up the carcass, removing bits of rubble and, you know, who are the people who have to, like, wheel Godzilla away in the trucks, and like, clean up the next day. And I thought, if that’s the start of the film, that would be really interesting, and everyone acting like this is normal, we’ve done this before, what’s the big deal. That really interested me, and then it became a case, well, if that’s the concept, what’s the story? And I went through about three different options with these producers, and they really latched on to this idea of a couple, that were trying to get their way back home. So, as soon as you end up with a couple, male and female, whether you like it or not you have a love story, and so to me it was very important that this love story be different… I don’t like love stories, I don’t like romantic films, I’m a guy, and…I so I wanted to make a film that I really wanted to watch. Like, I wanted to keep it subtle and realistic, and films that would be good references for me would be films like Lost in Translation. So it was born out of picking the characters, then it became a love story, or not really a love story, it’s just really about connection, because you spend half of the film thinking: “Are these two people even going to admit they like each other?” Like, they’re not really arguing necessarily, I just didn’t want it to be this kind of over the top Hollywood thing, big full on arguments and then big comebacks and kissing… It’s not that kind of film at all, it’s literally about, you know, whether people admit it or not, we’ve all been in that situation where you’re with someone you’re attracted to and you can’t say it. And you’re in the middle of doing something else, like, you’re working or something, and it comes to a point when, if you’re really attracted to someone it’s like: “Do I say this? Do I really want to say this? Is it not going to ruin everything? I’m going to shut up, I won’t. But then if I don’t say it, I’ll never know, I’ll never get a chance… no-way.” I wanted that to go through the film, ‘cause the film really, at the heart, I think, is a road movie. And it’s like a journey – they’re going pretty much through Central America to get back to the States – and it just so happens in this particular version of Central America there’s these giant creatures that are part of everyday life.

BB: So the tension builds up between the two actors and it also starts building up for the audience, because you keep asking yourself, you know: “What about the monsters? What’s going on here?” So these two tensions go hand in hand until the end, which is quite strong, not easy to understand the ending exactly. You sort of tried to explain it this morning at the press conference, but, you know, it’s confusing, which is a result anyway.

GE: I didn’t really set out to frustrate people, but I definitely set out to try and keep it realistic, and it wasn’t just the relationship between these two characters that I wanted to be realistic, it was the monsters in this world that I wanted to be realistic, and if these creatures turned up every second and killed loads of people and stuff exploded all the time you’d just stop what you’re doing, you’d be like: “I’m not going to carry on anymore, I’ll just stay here, ‘cause I don’t want to deal with this stuff, it’s crazy”. So we had to kind of drip feed that element in, in such a way that they didn’t look stupid continuing their journey. You know, it’s a classic thing to do in a horror film, to hide the monster, but in our film we do show it, you know, we do see it. And you see it, you know, like, really soon, in the film, we don’t hold back. We’re trying to say, look, this is not that kind of movie, here you go, have a look, this is it. Now, let’s get on with the movie that it is. And the movie is a lot more about the people. And there is a connection to the creatures, and it does all work itself out, but, I don’t know, I wanted it to feel like when you’re young and you might go backpacking on these crazy holidays, and you might meet someone, it could be a big risk, and maybe you get into trouble, and I just wanted that kind of mix of tension and excitement, like: “this is a once in a lifetime moment and maybe it’s going to change everything in my life or maybe nothing”. And it was all that: is it going to happen? Will they make it out alive? And I didn’t want the audience ay any point to feel that they knew what the outcome would be.

BB: It’s true. You’re actually left with that “I don’t want to go home” feeling, after the film, like: “Is there anymore of this?”. I was asking myself, though: people have said to me, it’s a political film, you know, what with the Mexican border and the aliens and all that… I’ve seen the poster to the film, the one that will be used in the States when it will come out, in October I think…

GE: Is that the one with the two walking down the road?

BB: That’s the one. And there’s a caption on it which is quite self-explaining, I think, of what I felt the film was about – apart from being a monster movie, of course – and it says something like: “After six years, you’re not an alien anymore, you’re a resident”. And then, just below that, it says: “Now you have to adapt,” or “You’re going to have to learn to adapt”. Now, of course you probably didn’t have anything to do with this marketing stuff, but, do you think there’s something to that effect in the film? I mean, I think there is…

GE: You’re actually making me think about something for the first time, which is really interesting, which is they have this thing in the States, don’t they, or they did do, where if you’re an illegal alien and you got into the States illegally, what’s the term, you have an amnesty, and, if you’ve been there for a certain amount of time, you’re now a US citizen? It’s a bit like the creatures in our film, you know, how many years does it take to be considered earthlings, you know, and not alien monsters, which is quite interesting. But, no, I really haven’t been to Mexico before we actually landed to shoot the movie, so I had no agenda like: “I want to tell a story about immigration and the only way I can do that is through the disguise of a monster movie”. It was not part of the agenda at all, but what happens is, when you are telling such a fantastic tale, everyone’s asking you, well: “Hang on, Gareth, if this was really happening, the Americans would have sealed that border, they would let people through to escape”, and you say: “Well, look at Mexico. People aren’t allowed through there, no matter how hard their life is”, and “Oh, yeah, but, Gareth, if this happened, the military would come in and we’d destroy them and we’d dive in and these things wouldn’t survive, they haven’t even got laser weapons, they’re just animals…” and I would go: “Well, look at the war and terror, they haven’t even managed to kill Osama Bin Laden in like, nine years. So, if they can’t kill a guy in the middle of the desert, what makes you think they can kill hundreds of these creatures in the jungle?” So, you’re pulling from real worlds, events, to explain the believability of this crazy situation, and so, inevitably, when you do that, it ends up having a political layer to it. And I’m very happy for that, like I wouldn’t fight that, I wanted to make a film that would have to it much more than just a monster movie, but it’s a happy accident, it’s not me with a message to start with, I have not tried to preach to anybody, I just wanted it to feel real. So, if out of that reality, people read things into it, then that’s great, fine. You’re allowed to do that.

BB: One other thing that works out very well in the film is the chemistry between the two leading actors. Did you have to do anything in particular to make that happen? I know they’re a couple in real life, too. Did it happen naturally, was something said or suggested about that during shooting? I know you also improvised a lot…

GE: Yeah, we improvised virtually most of the time, so their literal dialogue, for the most part, except when there’s key “we really need you to hear you say this” things. Apart from those moments, it was left up to them how to say things, you know, often they would just be talking about stuff their own way. Yeah, and in terms of their chemistry, I didn’t really have to do anything. It was their, I felt like I was getting in the way! In England we have a term called gooseberry, which is when there’s two people in love, and a third person, and you just feel awkward. It felt a bit like that, but also, honestly, saying this is like doing a disservice to their acting, because they were amazing I thought, the whole time. They are a couple, they are now married, they got married two months ago, I actually had a choice, that was the European premiere of the film on the same day as their wedding, and in totally different places in the world, it was like: “Which one do you go to?” So I went to their wedding, ‘cause I’m really good like that, and I missed the European premiere. Yeah, I mean, I think it probably… it’s unfair to say they were a couple, and that’s why it was really good, I think, ‘cause I mean, they have to fall out and they have to make up, you know… I don’t know if I could do that with someone I was in a relationship with, ‘cause you can’t really fake that stuff. I think this film, if about anything, is about them. And, I basically learned, weirdly learned through doing lots of computer graphics that, when you’re trying to do a computer graphics shot, and it doesn’t look that good, or you’re trying to do a painting in Photoshop, and it doesn’t look great, and you’re looking at someone who’s done something great, you’re going: “How did you do something so good?” And then you watch their process, and their process isn’t “I’m going to do a painting of this”. The process is “I’m going to play around with shapes, and I’m not going to have an agenda, and I’m just going to start going with whatever starts to work and roll with it. And people who work like that, they tend to do really good work, because they just go with the flow and they find something beautiful in whatever’s in front of them. And it was like that with the film, I didn’t want to have an agenda, like “this is definitely the film”. I wanted it to sort of let it get out of control, and I had in front of me these two remarkable people that had this great bond, and so the film inevitably… I just got sucked in, you know, and the film became probably far more about that than I’d planned it to when we first started, but… The story was all written, all the bits of the story were all written, you know, they do that, they have that phone call, this happens, they fall out in front of each other, all the things that happen in the film during the story, but, you know, I was very lucky, ‘cause I think they did a great job.

Gareth Edwards | foto di Giulio Donini

BB: You had a very low budget and you made the film almost all by yourself, apart from editing. You directed it, you wrote the script, did your own cinematography and visual effects. Did you feel this gave you more freedom, to be so “sucked in” by the film, as you mentioned? Would you have had more problems if you’d have counted on a much higher budget?

GE: I mean, like we said on the shoot, if we’d had more money, it would probably be a worse film, it’s the fact that we were so limited that I think made it what it was. And it’s funny, people think because you film and do the visual effects and direct or whatever it is yourself, they think you’re a control freak and that’s why you’re doing it, and what they don’t understand is that you couldn’t have a film more out of control than what our film was. I didn’t know what the actors were going to say, I didn’t know what the people we met were going to say, I didn’t know where we were going to be filming from day to day. It was completely out of control, there was no control over it. But what I wanted to do, I wanted to smash everything, it would all fall apart, and then pick up the pieces, and I would go straight to the interesting pieces. It was like: just throw all the ingredients in front of the camera, just put it all together as a mess, and it would just be really obvious what’s interesting, and as a cameraman, I would start filming whatever was engaging me, like it might sometimes be not the person who was talking, but the person that was listening, just something about the way they were listening, they might be distracted, looking at something else. And as your filming you’re thinking: “Why is he so distracted, this is really interesting, maybe he’s looking at… maybe there’s something I can use… ok, I’ll remember that, I’ll get a shot of this and we’ll film and use it”. All these ideas start coming, because it’s out of control and unpredictable, and I really got a kick out of that. I really worry – if I get to make another film – that it’s going to be so controlled, so regimented that none of that process will happen. And so that’s what I’m concentrating on now, trying to create a situation, if I can, if I’m lucky enough to get another film, to do that, to allow that random experience. It’s very scary for a producer, though, I mean it’s amazing that they did it for this one. Yeah, I’m not sure what we’re going to do, but we’re going to do something, don’t worry about it, you know, we’ll see you when we’re finished.

BB: Ok, last question. How did it work out with the producers, I mean Vertigo are a very young production company, but they’ve come out with lots of successful independent films. What was it like to work with them, how did you come to be produced by them?

GE: Well, I was mainly working with James and Allan (James Richardson and Allan Niblo, co-founders of Vertigo). They were the producers on the film, and it’s very interesting because, I say this to them and it’s not really fair, but they’re kind of, like, polar opposite people, and the joke is – it’s not true, but the joke is – Al loves artistic, art-house films, and James’ very commercial, he loves Hollywood sort of blockbusters and things… It’s not quite true, but between the two there would be this battle, and we would be in the middle, and it was actually a very good place to be, because you had both concerns, you had like, you know: “This should be like a art-house movie, it should be like this”, and “No, it’s not, no-one will see it if it’s like that, he’s got to go for broke and make it a spectacle”, and so, like, it was a really interesting mix, and they make a great team. In the main team, to be honest with you, they’ve got balls the size of England to do what they did, ‘cause they just put the money down and went – we didn’t have a script, you know – : “Yeah, we’ll pay for that, we’ll let you do that”. And James came out to Mexico at one point, and I began getting really nervous with him, and went: “I just wish you weren’t spending this much money, ‘cause I want to pay you back if you don’t like it, ‘cause I feel, like, too much of an obligation, like I want to run and go jump off a cliff and I don’t know if we’re going to survive, I wouldn’t want to do that, because I’m worried about your reaction”. He said: “Gareth, look, we all agreed at Vertigo that, whether this film’s a hit or a failure, it was the right choice. We wanted to make this movie and it doesn’t matter the outcome, you’re doing the right thing. Now, just go and make the film that you think is the right film to make”. And it was the best thing anyone could have said, ‘cause I just felt such a relief, this pressure came off my shoulders, and it was great. And so, yeah, they’re an amazing company, really. I think they’re just going to go from strength to strength really.

On January the 10th, 2011, the Locarno Press Office issued the following update:

Gareth Edwards, the young British director of Monsters, which has been screened on the Piazza Grande during the last Festival edition, has been chosen to direct the remake of the infamous movie Godzilla.


by Gareth Edwards – United Kingdom – 2010 – 97 min.

with Scoot McNairy, Whitney Able


Six years ago, NASA discovered the possibility of alien life within our solar system. A probe was launched to collect samples, but crashed upon re-entry over Central America. Soon after, new life forms began to appear there and half of Mexico was quarantined as an infected zone. Today, the American and Mexican military still struggle to contain ”the creatures”… The story begins when a US journalist agrees to escort a shaken American tourist through the infected zone in Mexico to the safety of the US border.


Gareth Edwards’ graduation film was one of the first student films to combine live-action with digital effects. As a result he soon got sidetracked in a career creating BAFTA award-winning and Emmy nominated visual effects. He recently directed the epic drama Attila the Hun for the BBC, creating all the 250 visual effects. But still frustrated with the ”factory approach” to filmmaking, he entered Sci-Fi-London’s 48-hour film contest, hoping to prove that you could make a cinematic film with no crew and just one actor in only two days. The film won first prize and led to his feature film debut Monsters.


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