The BFI Future Film Festival…

Copyright of Iain Harris

THE BFI Future Film Festival is a great way to promote fantastic new British talent. This year was no exception.
What’s guaranteed is that anyone wishing to enter the movie industry will not have walked away from this festival disappointed. There were seminar’s for practically every form of movie making- from producing to screenwriting.

Copyright to Iain Harris, all rights to BFI distributors, etc

But the best- and probably the most anticipated event at the festival was the screening of Gareth Edwards’ 2010 BAFTA Nominated Directorial Debut ‘Monsters’, which earned him worldwide recognition as a truly authentic director, proving himself deserving of all the hype the film received. It is no small task to make a film that looks like it was made on a Hollywood budget- when in truth this movie is, on the Sci-Fi spectrum, probably the most anti-Avatar budget you are likely to find.

Watch Trailer Here

‘Monsters’ tells the story of Andrew Kaulder (Scoot McNairy), a journalist who has been told by his boss he is to bring his daughter, Sam Wynden (Whitney Able) home through Mexico to the American border, through ‘the Infected Zone’. It’s set 6 years in the aftermath of NASA returning to earth and bringing with it Alien lifeforms, and as quoted by Edwards, ‘if ‘Independence Day’ was Iraq, this is Afghanistan’, the fact that these creatures have been contained in Mexico isn’t the main focus of the movie because everyone has grown accustomed to it. This means that where other popular science fiction movies failed, like ‘Independence Day’, this movie succeeds in leaps and bounds as it’s the relationship between the two main characters that drives the movie, not (admittedly, given the budget the somewhat impressive) special effects.
In truth, ‘Monsters’ doesn’t have many bad things about it. The cinematography is beautiful and is the perfect backdrop for these two characters to embark on their perilous journey, the script, although improvised, adds to the feeling that they have managed to find something normal and human and almost pure in such a dark post-apocalyptic setting, the soundtrack by John Hopkins goes exceptionally well with the melancholy feel and the pacing the editing and cinematography has crafted so well, all in all, it was a fantastic film.

all rights to Monsters distributors, etc

The main reason this was such an exciting event is because Edwards then did a half an hour Q&A. Here, Edwards answers questions about technology, film festivals, and his sexuality…

Interviewer: I was going to spend the first bit talking about pre-production, so how much preparation did you have to do before you fly out and what did you actually bother with conventionally?

GE: Erm, we didn’t really have lights, and there was one occasion when we had some lights, or a light; really was the stuff around the campfire. Because we were basically told, everybody in the film thats got a gun, we didn’t create that, that was the government in Guatemala and Mexico, they provided free police escorts because they didn’t want us to get kidnapped or shot, which for me was fantastic because everywhere we turned up there’d be police and guys with guns everywhere you look, so we’d try and get them into shot to try and create this feeling of a militarized area. I didn’t realize they were with us for quite a while, it was like, this is an amazing location, everywhere we go there are police! But then I realized one guy looked the same, that we saw at another location. I asked our producer ‘Are they following us?’ and the producer was like ‘yeah, don’t tell the actors but the government insisted because we could get kidnapped.’ So we kept all this sort of stuff from the actors and it was crazy; there was all these horror stories, like before we arrived in this one village, every had been machine-gunned in a caffe, and there were all these coffins in the street. There was also a prison riot in this one town and they decapitated some of the prisoners and put their heads by a fence, we had to try and keep the actors away from that. There were also shootings outside the hotel, all kinds of crazy, crazy stuff, we were lucky nothing happened to us. It was just like in the film, the horrible stuff was just behind us or just ahead of us, and we sort of managed to just navigate through it with sheer Mr-Magoo-style accident.

Interviewer: (*laughing*) Just dumb luck! How long were you out there shooting for?

GE: Erm, the main part of the shoot was 6 weeks, and then we always knew we were gonna try and be brave and just go for it, so we made sure we had a week of the actors time to go back a few months later after we’d tried to edit it and we knew “ok, we’re missing ‘this’, ‘this’, and ‘this’.” And essentially what we ended up missing was the majority of the beginning of the film because if you set up a whole big set of exposition in the first 10, 20 minutes of your film, you pay a heavy price because it feels like your being bombarded with all this stuff. Then your free the rest of the film to do what you want, like if you answer all the questions set up, like the logic of the world, why everyones doing what they want to do, so it was just going back, we’d shot in a train station, we’d shot outside a hospital and all these things, but it was ‘lets go and get all these specific moments, ‘this’ dialogue, ‘this’ sentence’…

Interviewer: So, you’ve then wrapped everything up, now you’re credited as doing the visual effects.

GE: That’s just because I did the credits. If you do the credits, you can do anything you want. Actually, there was the guy that did the credits, and I said to him, just for comedy value, ‘could you make your name twice as big?’ because it says like ‘end credits’, and I thought it would be funny. But apparently there’s some sort of Union rule that means you can’t do stuff like that. Anyway, yeah I did the visual effects. 250 in there. It’s about 60 creature-related shots.

Interviewer: Just explain to me how you did that, so you’ve got back, you’ve got your 100 hours of footage, you did the visual effects yourself, so explain how you actually went about it.

GE: I think the key, especially when you’re doing something like this is obviously discipline, but the way I work… I mean, there are a lot of visual effects people, they’ll find out what shot it is, and then they’ll kind of- they can’t help themselves, they’ll go ‘what’s the maximum effort I can go to to create that shot, maybe we can write some software to do the hair..’ and they sort of brag about this stuff when you read it in magazines on one page, and then on another they’re complaining about going bankrupt and you go ‘er, excuse me? You should connect these dots!’ But basically I go in with the attitude of as minimal effort as possible, I’ll be as lazy as I can be about this. The surprising thing is on average you get away with a lot of things you wouldn’t think you do; at the end of the day, it’s all an optical illusion. It’s not really on there on stage, it’s all pixels, it’s flickering on for 24 or 25 frames-per-seconds, so there’s no right or wrong on how you do visual effects. It works and so, for me, it’s what I do with what I’ve got. For example, if I had 250 visual effects shots, on an ‘excel’ document, and I don’t know ‘excel’ but what I do know is that it can automatically add up a load of cells, so then you go in and you go ‘ok, 1-10, I’m gonna rate each shot in terms of how hard it is- creature shot- that’s a 10. Ok, paint-me-out microphone, that’s a 1. Putting in a sign, that’s a 3.’ You go through the whole film like that, ‘how many units do I have? Right, divide that by the 5 or 6 months I had to do it, ok, therefore 1 unit equals 2 hours’. Then I’d go back through and change all the units to hours, like, ‘I’ve got 2 hours to do that shot, I’ve got a day to do that shot’, go through it like this, and as long as you don’t go over those times you’re gonna hit your deadline, so that kept me feeling safe, otherwise you shit yourself because you’ve got this mountain, and you can’t get your head around all this work you’ve gotta do. So everyday I’d wake up and knew I had about 16 hours to do, and I’d just go through each do and go ‘today, I feel like doing about one that’s 10 hours, yeah that’d be fun.’ Then you pick another two or one, and you think ‘right, as long as I do that and that, by the end of today it’s safe. Then I just write ‘ok, so I’ve gotta finish that by 4pm.’ I just put a film on in the background and watch it on my computer, and I really enjoy it. It’s kind of the time that it’s just you, and no one can come along and tell you you can’t do something. I’m not proud of the effects; I can point at all of them and tell you what’s so shit about… y’know, none of them work really, but it was just a case of getting it good enough. I felt like there’s a golden rule and that’s if you can watch the shot once, and believe it, in the context of the film or the sound effects, then your job’s done. If anyone’s watching the shot twice it means they either bough the DVD or they paid to come back in the cinema or they *quieter* downloaded it online *laughs* But they went back twice, even if it is to criticize it, you still won. I just see it as.. erm.. I don’t know if I can swear…

Interviewer: Of course!

GE: There’s a phrase called ‘pixel-fucking’, which they do in Hollywood, which means they work a shot to death, until the visual effects people are suicidal, and I was adamant not to do that to myself. I thought the visual effects would be the hardest part, but it was the shoot by far.

Interviewer: The point at which you start the visual effects, had you locked the edit? Did you cut it all together first?

GE: Yeah, in the edit we had text that said ‘creature arrives, creature’s mate, tank, helicopter, etc’, which was funny because was had to apply to film festivals, we got rejected by a couple, and then we applied to ‘Fantastic Fest’ in Austin as part of the South-West South-West and the guy accepted it just based on this text, which was amazing! So we turned up on the airport, and couldn’t resist playing with him a bit, he was such a cool guy, and we made some chit-chat, and eventually he was like ‘so did you finish the film?’ because he’d never seen it with the features or anything, he picked it on just the drama side of it. I was like ‘yeah, we’ve totally changed the fonts! It’s all chrome! You’re gonna love it!’ He didn’t know whether to believe us or not.

Interviewer: Just for people to get an idea, what software did you use to get the visuals?

GE: The software I used was Adobe stuff, ‘After Effects’, ‘Photoshop’, we edited it on ‘Premier’, the whole film, and all the 3-D shots, if there were any, was ‘3DS Max.’ But I’d say you can use any software, it’s not really about software, but it’s just the one I prefer because I know how to use them, and the computer, I don’t know what type it is, because it was given to us by Intel. Who are very nice. Hence their logo at the end.

Interviewer: Alright, so we’ve locked the visual effects, how did you start generating the buzz? Going to film festivals?

GE: There are parts of the process you’ll be very familiar with, and then there are bits that are further away that you never even think about. Obviously, I would sit there and try and conceive this movie in my head all the time, and have this pretend film in my head, but I never really thought bout the day someone would go ‘ok, let’s do it!’ and you go ‘oh shit. Ok, shit, we’ve gotta do this now!’ So then you learn quite quickly and it’s all straight-forward and it’s all fine- but the bit that I never ever thought about was going to film festivals, and doing publicity, and things like that, that was a major culture shock. The simplest way to view it is if you make a film, at some point someone is going to put it on youtube, at some point a production company or a distribution company, someone’s going to buy it, or take it off your hands, or go ‘we’ll work together, we’ll make this work,’ then they’ll do all this stuff for you, you don’t have to worry about this but you just go along for the ride and enjoy it, so I didn’t have to do any of this, the fact that ‘Vertigo’ were involved, there’s a sales company called ‘Protagonist’ that’s a part of them, and ‘South by South-West’, the first time we ever show it, at the end of that screening, unknown to me, you know, you do the Q&A, go back to the hotel in the morning, knock on the door, ‘we’ve sold the film’. We had distribution for the US through ‘Magnolia’, and they were all very happy about that which was great, then the great thing is once you have America sold, it’s way easier to sell it to other territories, so then piece by piece, we went to Cannes with it, not the actual festival but the market place during the Cannes which was fun to go to, and we managed to sell it to a lot of the other territories. From that point on it felt really comfortable because they’d all made their money back, so everyone was very happy. What happens is that each distribution company around the world, unless you’re gonna go with some major studio, it’s cheaper for them to get the film into a festival because a festival will pay for the filmmaker to come and stay in a hotel, and do Q&A’s, and all the press are at the festival anyway. So you end up doing all these different festival’s in all these different territories that you sell a film in, it was crazy… I’d love to say it was fun, you travel around the world to these amazing places, I say I’ve visited them and I hear it and and I go ‘Wow, that sound so amazing! Like so much fun!’ But it kind of isn’t, because you’re just having the same 30-minute conversation for months, ‘What camera did you use?’, ‘How did you film it?’, ‘I hear you didn’t have a script’, which is why I can just talk for England about this film because I’ve been doing it for so long. I think I’ll look back on it and go ‘that was amazing!’, but it’s a part of the process that I just wanted to end because you think to yourself ‘please, I just need a day when I can think about something other than that thing I did a year ago.’ But there’s been a break, so I’m cool with talking about it now.

Interviewer: Lets talk, quickly, about the aftermath. Obviously you’re up for a BAFTA tonight. Did you have any comprehension that that would happen?

GE: No. No, the whole goal of this film was to go on a bit of a suicide mission and it was like ‘ok, let’s just assume we’re never gonna get to make another film, everyone’s gonna think it’s shit, it’s gonna end up in the bin, when it’s in that bin, I just don’t wanna look at it and think “Shit! I know what I should’ve done! I should’ve done this! I should’ve made that movie, not this one!”’ I wanna look at it in that bin and go ‘well, at least I know people don’t like what I like.’ So it’s like, make a film that you want to make, and learn there and then if people have similar interests to you. So I just expected everyone to hate it, and if you look on the internet you get the impression that they do, but some people liked it. When we were filming it, our expectation was that it was just gonna end up being thrown away. Maybe on a DVD shelf, going straight to DVD, if we were lucky in a shop, and that was what we were braced for, and the thing is that would’ve been a good result! Like, go into a shop, and ‘oh, there’s our film! Look, Mum, look what I did!’ That would’ve been great, but beyond that was more than we expected.

Interviewer: So, the stuff you’ve got lined up for working on next must feel pretty amazing then.

GE: Yeah, yeah, definitely!

Interviewer: Explain to people that don’t know the couple of things you’ve got lined up that you’re going to look at doing next, clearly you’re not going back to TV visual effects?

GE: I hope not, no. One is Godzilla, it’s with ‘Legendary Pictures’ and ‘Warner Bros’, just developing it now, and the other thing is a Sci-Fi film that is a concept that I’ve always wanted to make that’s in development as well.

Interviewer: So this film that you hoped might make the DVD bargain basement got you two feature films lined up to make next.

GE: Yeah, but what I wanted to say was, I mean I don’t want to think about it. I feel like I’m gonna wake up and it’s all going to have been a dream, but what I did want to say was that things.. I mean, we were talking about this outside, everyone, most of the people in this room will want to know how you go from wanting to make a film to suddenly – ping! You’re a filmmaker, and it seems like there’s this gap, what is that gap, and I can tell you how it worked for me, but I don’t think it will be as useful as what I’ve spotted having gone through the process, which is that the way Hollywood tends to work for the level of a filmmaker is that there are major agencies, I’m very lucky, I’m with ‘WME’, but there’s also ‘ICM’, you’ll have heard of them all, and what happens is, again, you don’t have to know how to set up deals, you don’t have to know who everyone is in town, all you have to do is end up getting an agent in Hollywood, and everything else will take care of itself. So, how you get an agent, that’s the big leap for a wannabe filmmaker, I would say you don’t even have to go through the trouble of making a movie now, it’s like there are lot’s of stories about people who have made a short film, put it on youtube, created crazy buzz because it’s so good, those people have then been flown over to LA, and they’ve been signed with an agency, who just create this frenzy and bidding war between different studio’s and they’ll go round town and meet loads and loads of people and a lot of them have become attached to major feature films. So, I think if I was trying to do this again knowing what I know now I probably wouldn’t have even gone through the trouble of making a feature, there’s a better way because you can make a short and if it’s good, well done, but can they really tell a story over an hour and a half? They might risk it, they do, but if you’ve done a feature they’ll feel a lot more secure about you. It’s like, I went to a film school, and did a talk, and the guys there were going ‘when we’ve made a short film, where do we put it?’ and I was like ‘just put it online, on youtube, etc’, ‘no- but we can’t! That disqualifies us for the Oscars!’ and I thought ‘if that’s your problem- you don’t have any problems whatsoever.’ However, putting it online is exactly what you should do because every little crazy story about a filmmaker who made a short film and then Hollywood snapped them up had it online. What’s great about that is producers and agents can just forward it to friends, like ‘check this out.’ If it comes from someone they trust, they click on it, ‘oh wow, this is really cool!’ if you send a DVD, they’re not gonna look at it. If you have it at a festival- festival’s are great, but it’s very rare that someone is gonna sit there from an agency and just sit and watch it- they do! But rarely. Online is so amazing now in terms of getting your work out there and if they see, ‘oh my God, it’s had a million hits! The people have spoken!’ That makes them even more confident about it, so don’t resist doing that, it’s definitely a massive difference to how it was five years ago or ten years ago, in terms of breaking in. So I say just go and make a short film that knocks everyone out, whack it online and send it, go and look online at all the people at the agencies and send it to them, because everyone wants to be the guy that discovered the next filmmaker because the kudos is then really good for them as well as you.

Interviewer: Alright. Now, I know Gareth has to get on. We’ve got time for literally one question-

GE: No- let’s do a few. Let’s do a few.

Interviewer: Can we do a few?

GE: Yeah, go on.

Audience Member 1: Hi, really awesome film. Really loved it. This has nothing to do with your film but I won’t get a chance to ask you otherwise.

GE: I’m not gay.

AM1: (*laughing*) That’s a pity. But, there’s a film festival in Sheffield called ‘No Limits Film’, everyone should check it out by the way, could we get you to come to it? I’ll give you a card at the end of the talk, and I know you’re a busy man, but if you’re free…

GE: If I’m free to come to it- I will.

AM1: Awesome. Thankyou.

AM2: It says on Wikipedia that the films budget was under half a million dollars, can you tell me how much it actually was?

GE: I honestly don’t know. But it’s not $15,000, which is what got out there. That wasn’t some kind of clever ‘oh- let’s all sit around and figure out how to create a buzz around this film.’ What happened was we just did an interview and they said ‘if someone wanted to make a film, they way you made it, what would you need?’ and I said ‘a Sony DX3, an adapter, a computer, with this software on it, and then however long they can work for free.’ They tallied that up to be 15 grand, so they went with this thing of ‘you can make a film for 15 grand!’ We never ever said we’d made this film on that because I got paid a wage, other people got paid a wage, if you look at a pie chart of what this film cost, it’ll mainly be wages. A good 80% is wages, because you can ask people to work for free for a day but not for a year, and I couldn’t work for free for a year. So the majority went on wages, but I’d say the equipment, 15 grand is probably fair, and then whatever your film’s about, the extra costs, we had flights, and motels, and shitty places in Guatemala, and your wage. I feel like if you had the kit, and I could’ve sweet-talked Scoot and Whitney into doing this film for free, you could make this film for next to nothing, but as soon as you get a production company involved, with that comes a load of expense that they’re happy to spend. The arguments went the other way- I was trying to get them to spend less, all the time, because I felt like if they didn’t like what I ended up giving them, I’d pay them back. Then it just got to a point where I couldn’t have paid them back. I had that exact conversation with the producer, I said ‘we’re spending too much money,’ and he asked ‘why?’ and I said ‘I can’t pay you back if you think it’s shit.’ He burst out laughing and said ‘you’re the first Director ever to even consider that.’ What was great was if you ever get into that position, even if you don’t mean it, say it, because then they just let us do what we wanted; it was like ‘oh, he really cares about spending money! We trust them, don’t even look at what they’re spending.’

AM3: I noticed at the beginning of the film it said ‘Film Council’- and I was wondering how you feel about it being axed?

GE: Erm, the first time I saw that logo appear was when it got released in the cinema, it went on the press thing, I was like ‘really?!’ then someone explained, and they were very, very generous, and it helped pay for the posters promoting the film, so that was fantastic because we had loads of posters everywhere. But in terms of how I feel about it being axed, I have no opinion on it is the terrible thing to say. It’s like, I don’t think it should effect you, I wouldn’t worry about it, I mean, the kind of price range we made this money for, we could’ve done it anyway, if people like that existed or not, and I feel like you’re probably in the same position, so whatever happens, I don’t understand the politics of it, but I think an equivalent will be reborn in another name with the same sort of people helping the same sort of people, so I don’t think it’s really a problem.

AM4: With technology revolutionizing the filmmaking process, do you think student films are taken more seriously today than they were when you graduated?

GE: Yeah, I think so. In a weird way. I don’t know how true this is but first time filmmakers seem to be trusted more than second time filmmakers, in that when you’re a first time filmmaker you’ve got one point on a graph and everyone thinks the best of you, everyone thinks ‘you could be this person! You’re going to be the person that’s going to do this! You’re the next James Cameron or Spielberg.’ When you’ve got two points on, they go ‘ah, right, I see. You’re just gonna do this, ok, fine, go away.’ So it’s never been a better time to be trying to get into filmmaking, but in a way filmmakers have never had it so hard either because there are millions of people doing the same thing. It’s like, how do you stand above the crowd? There is no straightforward answer, I think all you can possibly say is make the best film you can and you will get noticed. I went to a meeting a long time ago, and the guy wasn’t saying anything about me, but we were having this conversation ages ago, when I just started doing visual effects, and he said ‘the lightest element in the world is talent. It just rises. You can’t stop it.’ You can try. You can try for years, but eventually it just pops up. If you’re talented at what you do, it’ll frustrate you, and you might want to get recognition within a month, and it might take ten years, but you can’t stop it. People are not idiots, if they see something, they know how hard it is to do stuff, and if they see something, and they can recognize ‘there’s something in that’, you’ll get a chance. The more you’ll get a chance, the easier it’ll be to prove it more. And so, I just say have faith, in yourself, and never give up. You’ll have plenty of chances to give up too, I did along the way of making this, but it’s just that whole cliche of, to sound like Yoda, ‘I believe success is not a measure of how little you get knocked down, but how often you get back up.’ I’ve made a lot of shit stuff, and had a lot of people tell me it was bad, and a lot of stuff I did was really crap, but you’ve just gotta keep going for it and I feel like I would’ve probably had a few more cracks of trying to do something in me, but I think when I hit 40 I just would’ve had to stop, out of embarrassment of being so crap. Just never give up is the key, I think.

Copyright Iain Harris, all rights to BFI