September 20, 2010 / 7:27 AM / 9 years ago

"Monsters" sets standard for guerrilla filmmaking

LOS ANGELES (Hollywood Reporter) - Director Gareth Edwards’ sci-fi pic “Monsters” is being hyped as this year’s “District 9,” which does the movie a disservice as it sets it up against an unrealistic standard.

Both belong to the category of “elevated genre,” where horror, sci-fi and monster movie tropes are smartly used to tell a not-so usual story.

But the movies are leagues apart, beginning with the $15,000 budget for “Monsters,” arguably the most amazing example of guerrilla filmmaking this year.

The movie screened toward the end of the Toronto International Film Festival, which wrapped Sunday, with Edwards and his two cast members on hand to talk about his film. Edwards, who wrote, directed, and shot the movie, is already on the Hollywood fast track, and is now collaborating with Timur Bekmambetov (“Wanted) on an untitled project.

“Monsters” is set in Mexico six years after a good chunk of the country has become overrun by a creature-creating bacteria brought about by a fallen space probe. Two Americans are forced to travel through this infected zone in order to get back in the U.S.

The germs for “Monsters” were planted when Edwards saw a couple of fisherman pulling out a net, chatting away, not even paying attention to what was in it. “It’d be funny if they pulled out a dead sea creature,” he recalled thinking.

That led him to begin pondering the kind of world that would exist if monsters are a daily occurrence?

And while he initially wondered how to finance the film, he said, “If you have a commercial idea that is dirt cheap, you’ll find people to give you money.”

Edwards said he set out to make “the world’s most realistic monster movie.” He accomplished that through careful planning but also through serendipity, such as casting a real-life acting couple (giving the couple real chemistry) and when shooting in central America, finding local non-pros to work on the film. (The “actor” who plays a ferry ticket salesman is one of the truest characters on film this year and was found only 10 minutes before Edwards shot the scenes.)

Most of the dialogue was improvised, with the actors given talking points in blue and black pages, one conveying the emotional beats, the other the physical.

Actor Scoot McNairy said that at times, he and Whitney Able would talk 10 to 15 minutes, with Edwards rolling away. Then, according to McNairy, Edwards would say ‘Great. Can you say that again?” “And I’d be like, ‘Say what again?’” McNairy recalled.

The movie features downed fighter planes, ships lying upside down in jungles, and husks of buildings in the aftermaths of monster attacks. Most of that was done by CGI, as were the creatures themselves, but the part of the movie that features a devastated American neighborhood was real: it was shot in Galveston, Texas after Hurricane Ike ripped through it.

“It was delicate,” said McNairy of the shoot. “Everyone was mourning their losses.”

One thing that puts the movie a cut above the average sci-fi or monster flick is a certain amount of political and social relevancy. The movie doesn’t beat audiences over the head with it, but the two Americans are trying to get back home as the U.S. is erecting a giant fence long the border to keep the monsters out.

“It’s different looking at America from the outside in,” says one character. Another character says the wall may keep things out, but you get locked in.

“Monsters” premiered at the South By Southwest Film Festival earlier this year and was quickly picked up by Magnolia Pictures, which will release it on October 29.

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