Gareth Edwards is a funny man. You might not know that just from seeing his feature film debut Monsters. You also might not know it from the things he had to do to get the film made.
Edwards speaks with the casual tone of a seasoned pro, and after seeing heads on spikes, making his actors eat ants, and making a CGI-heavy film with almost no money, he might just be a few years ahead of his own resume.
I got the chance to speak with Edwards, whose film comes out Friday October 29th, and we spoke about the advice he has for aspiring filmmakers, the challenges of shooting in South America and why the worst day of his life happened during production.
[Editor’s Note: As usual, I’m in bold.]
I imagine you’re calling from Los Angeles.
I’m actually right outside where you are. I can see in through the window. I just think it’s cooler to do this over the phone.
I should have the shades drawn, then.
You shouldn’t sit in the office naked. It’s not good.
Hey, I work from home. You gotta take what freedoms you can get.
Damn. You saw through my scam.
Yes I did. But how are you doing?
I’m good. I’m good.
Congratulations on seeing the release of Monsters.
Yeah, I think the theatrical is October 29th.
When you started out, did you ever think you’d be seeing a release as large as this? The indie world is difficult these days.
It was a favorite question of me and editor when we were editing the film, because you have a lot of time to kill [laughs]. There were random conversations, and one of them was, “What is the minimum that has to happen with this film so that you feel it was worth the effort?”
I would say that in one cinema in England, you can go in and pay money in the cinema so that it’s by definition a theatrical film – that would make it worthwhile. So the idea that it’s going to be in quite a few cinemas is quite insane.
You had a humble goal then.
I guess so. The other goal was that it would make enough money back so that I was allowed to make another film.
That’s gotta be a common goal for most indie filmmakers.
For the producers it was.
Well, while it seems like a humble goal, it also seems like an impossible dream. There’s a lot of people out there that talk about making movies. What made you grab the camera and make this happen?
I think it comes down to a moment where the fear of failure is not as much as the fear of regret. Because you always put things off because subconsciously, deep down you have this sneaky feeling that it ain’t gonna work. You’re actually kidding yourself. You can never make a movie.
You hide behind a load of excuses like, “Yeah, when I get some money” or “When I finish this job…” and they’re all excuses. “When that new camera comes out I’ll buy it, and I’ll go do that movie.”
Really the only thing stopping you is just making a decision yourself. My background was computer graphics, so I always viewed myself in my head as a filmmaker who was pretending to be a visual effects artist, and after a while, everyone perceives you as a visual effects artist who talks a lot about wanting to make a film, and who’s just kidding themselves. So there was a bit of, “Oh, I’ll show them.”
A lot of my friends talk about making films, we went to film school, and all that sort of thing. But it’s just, like, do it. That’s the best film school in the world.
This is a question I get asked a lot: What advice would you give to someone who wants to make films? And it sounds facetious, but it really is – Pick up a camera. Go make a film. That’s it.
I know your lead actor Scoot McNairy is a big fan of grabbing your balls, grabbing a camera and making it happen, so to speak. Was he a help on that front for you?
Yeah, I think as soon as we got out there to start filming. It’s hard to imagine because they, him and Whitney [Able] put up with so much crap. There was no red carpet treatment for them. It was literally sweating in the back of a van, hopping out, and doing scenes. There was no one there to get us coffee and stuff like that. It was totally obvious that [dedicated] attitude with him and Whitney all the time.
It became a little experiment of “What wouldn’t they do?”
There are scenes in the film that are cut out…like eating an ant’s nest. They eat some of the ants at some point to survive, and it’s not even in the movie. So many weird things happened. We filmed until it was pitch black, and we had to trek back to the road to get a ride home, and we couldn’t see anything. So, the person in front had to hold the night vision camera so they could see the path through the jungle, and everyone else was just following the noise of the person in front. Things like that.
There was like, all sorts of shit. There were prison riots where we were, and they decapitated some of the prisoners and put their heads on the fence, and things like that.
Wait, where was this?
This was in Guatemala. There were gun fights outside the hotel. The week before we arrived, they had machine gunned everyone in this cafe, and as a protest, there were all these coffins in the street. So there was a lot, a lot, a lot of crap all the time. But [Scoot and Whitney] saw it as an adventure, which it was in a weird way.