Gareth Edwards: Making 'Monsters'
After working for years as a special effects designer and occasional TV director, Londoner Gareth Edwards jacked in his job and headed to Mexico to make his debut feature. The result, low budget festival hit ‘Monsters’, hits cinemas this week.
‘Yes. But I think a lot of film journalists are frustrated filmmakers! Editors are frustrated filmmakers, writers are, I think even most filmmakers are! Maybe everybody is a frustrated filmmaker in their heart, if they like movies. But for sure, if you asked every single person in a major visual effects house sitting behind a computer, “would you want to make a film one day?”, everyone would say yes.’
Was there a moment where you just went ‘Okay, I’ve had enough’?
‘I think it was various moments. I worked my way up through the factual department at the BBC. On a big project we’d have about 100 people on set, all these trucks. And if you had a spontaneous idea, say the light suddenly did something beautiful and you really wanted to shoot it, you couldn’t because you had to move all the trucks. The more you spend, the more people you have to help you, the less you can actually do. Whereas if it’s just you and an actor and a camera, you can do whatever you want.’
How much of ‘Monsters’ was improvised?
‘Probably about 90%. We didn’t have a script, I just wrote a paragraph for each scene. There were a few lines we wanted the actors to say, but mainly it was just points we wanted them to make, and how they literally said those points was up to them. I looked at it like a documentary, but one I could control. If I didn’t like what the characters said, I could tell them to say something different.’
What was the reaction of the local people?
‘It’s funny. I live in Westminster, and the night before we flew to Mexico I had to test the camera, so I took it outside at about 1am. I put it on my shoulder and within thirty seconds these cop cars pulled up, because the camera had all these adaptors on the front, it looked like some sort of bazooka. Whereas in Central America, no one cared. They’ve got bigger problems to deal with than some film crew.’
And you did all the special effects yourself?
‘Yeah, I did. There were about 250 of them, and I had about five months. I had to finish about a shot a day. Towards the end there was a real crunch, because we got selected for South by Southwest. And once we’d committed to that, every single hour was crucial. We had to do the sound mix when I hadn’t finished all the effects shots. So the sound designers were trying to do noises for the creatures and they didn’t know how what they were supposed to be doing. I had to give them a really crude version of the creature animation so they could do the sound effects. And no matter how much I tried to tell everyone it was just rough, they shouldn’t panic, you could just feel the fear. “Oh my God, is it going to look like that? Can Gareth actually do this?”
What do you think the end result of all this DIY cinema is going to be? Can anyone really be a filmmaker, or do you need the backing of a studio?
‘If you look at any art form that has gone through a digital revolution, like music, it doesn’t lead to more great work. You could even argue there’s less great music now than there was in the ’60’s and ’70’s. So I doubt there’ll suddenly be thousands of great films, but I think it’s going to mean that people who do have talent don’t have to wait in line for twenty years; they’ll be able to pick up a camera and have a crack at it.
I was going to make this film on my own, with my own money, but I ended up getting backing. And I can pretty much guarantee that if I’d gone it alone, we wouldn’t be having this conversation. Because there are points in any filmmaking process that are so hard, that crush you so much – in terms of exhaustion and creativity – that if I’d had the option to stop and have a break, I would. And I might never have come back. But by having someone else’s money, there’s an obligation to finish; you haven’t got a choice. And so I think the fact that we did have a production company behind the film really kept it going.’
So what’s next? Any plans to move to Hollywood?
‘I’ve had offers. I think it’s really important now to make the right decision. The way I look at it is this: there are sausage factories, and if you’re invited to a sausage factory to prepare some steak, no matter what you do, if you’re using the same equipment and the same process, it’s going to come out as a sausage. So I’m just trying to avoid the sausage factories, to meet people who have previously cooked great steaks and not sausages. I don’t know anyone, everything’s new to me, so I can only judge people by the work they’ve previously done.’
Read our 4-star review of 'Monsters' here
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