After premiering at SXSW earlier this year, and playing at a slew of other festivals including Locarno, Edinburgh, and Rio de Janeiro, Gareth Edwards’ “Monsters” makes it to theaters in limited release this Friday, October 29, courtesy of Magnet Releasing. In anticipation of the film’s opening, Edwards shared an exclusive scene from his take on the ‘creature feature’ with indieWIRE.
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 and grow. In an effort to stem the destruction that resulted, half of Mexico was quarantined as an INFECTED ZONE. Today, the American and Mexican military still struggle to contain the massive creatures… Our story begins when a jaded U.S. journalist begrudgingly agrees to find his boss’ daughter, a shaken American tourist and escort her through the infected zone to the safety of the US border. [Synopsis courtesy of the film’s website]
The film is set several years after a crashed NASA space probe has accidentally introduced alien organisms into the Earth’s ecosystem, specifically Central America. As things stand right now, these new giant ‘creatures’ migrate each year causing havoc. But no-one really knows when or where they’ll first appear (much like the unpredictability and destruction of hurricanes).
In our story we follow Andrew Kaulder (Scoot McNairy), a photojournalist who is covering the war on the creatures. The migration has come early this season and so the whole area is on lock-down, with no-fly zones etc. This would be great for his photojournalism, but annoyingly for him he is tasked with making sure his boss’s daughter Sam (Whitney Able) gets back to the United States safely. So, with all flights canceled, they arrive at the harbor to find a boat home, which is where we join them in this sequence.
I really wanted to make a monster movie that felt completely ‘real.’ And by that I don’t mean found footage, or shaky video cam. I just mean had a tone to it that didn’t feel ‘acted’ and the story didn’t feel ‘written.’ We figured the best way to achieve this was to completely improvise every scene. And with the exception of our two leads (Scoot and Whitney) pretty much everyone else in the film were ‘real’ people we just met along the way and talked them into being in our crazy monster movie. I was really excited about the contrast between real people, real dialogue, and all the random details you get from turning up at real location, and then mixing that in with something fantastic, like giant alien creatures. I felt like the more normal and underplayed everything was, the more realistic and believable our world with monsters would feel.
So we just had a crew of a few people. I was on camera, Ian was our sound man, Jim was our Line Producer and for this location we had Victor as our Spanish speaking Line Producer, and I think some of Victors friends too.
So we turned up to the harbor in Costa Rica (Puntarenas) and looked for part of the harbor that can be our ‘Ferry Ticket Office,’ but nowhere looked right. I kind of wanted a view of the actual harbor behind them. So we got back in the van and headed to the other side of the town. There was a great cross-road that had a ferry on one side and a ticket office on the other. Just in front of the office was a small restaurant. So we politely asked if we could film in there, promising not to stop them from serving customers. Now all we had to do was find our ‘ticket seller.’ We asked around who could speak good English. One guy came forward who drove a cab, but he looked too young. The only other person was this guy across the road who owned a cafe. I went over to look at him and he looked great! He looked like he’d been in a Sergio Leone film!
We explained to him what we wanted him to do, then crossed our fingers that he’d agree… and he did! Thank god for that. I told him about the world and what happened in our film. I’ve learned from experience not to tell ‘non-actors’ how to behave. Don’t say things like ‘get angry’ or ‘look concerned’ because it will look bad. It’s best if you let them be themselves. Tell them what is happening and they will do whatever they will do.
Thankfully I had Scoot and Whitney with me. Whitney is the most lovely person you could hope to meet, so all shields come down once they start talking to her, and Scoot is brilliant at winding the guy up and creating an argument. I just hit record and made sure we hit all the story points we needed. Everyone got into the zone and we literally recorded solidly without stopping for about an hour or so. Going over and over different details, whilst I covered it like a documentary cameraman might (spray and pray!). I even got the guy to gesture at the hamburger menu as if it was a map of the ‘infected zone’ knowing I’d replace it in photo shop when I got back home.
So many people who see the film comment on this scene. “Where did you get that guy? He’s amazing!” We were in and out of his life for just a few hours, he probably doesn’t even remember it happening. My dream is that someone soon is going to go up to him and say “Hey, aren’t you that guy from that movie?” and he’ll be like, “No, I’ve never been in a Sergio Leone film… I get this all the time!”