Saturday, May 21, 2011

Monsters: slick sci-fi shot by 4-man crew!!!!

The following is written primarily with the A2 exam in mind, but also has obvious application for the AS, given the example of digitisation explored. What follows is a bit of info on and analysis of Monsters, an $800k UK Indie produced in a manner genuinely very similar to that of IGS Media students' work... I'll look to get the DVD into thje Lib so you can watch the extras for yourselves.

With thanks to Simon Walpole (IGS Helpdesk technician) for the suggestion, one nice example of how the relationship between planning and creatively shooting can be very fluid: Monsters, Gareth Edwards' feature debut, shot for $800k through Vertigo Films but achieving a real gloss, CGI-heavy look nonetheless.

The DVD extras include an extensive behind-the-scenes doc on the shoot (and additional docs on the editing and creation of VFX [ie SFX]) which reveal the highly guerrilla-style approach. I've often used the examples of Ken Loach and Mike Leigh as low/micro-budget Indie filmmakers who usually rely heavily on actors' improvisation; the lack of advance scripts is one reason they've struggled to get funding in the UK despite hoovering up awards over the past three deacdes across Europe.
Edwards here works in a similar fashion. The aesthetic effect is not unlike social realism, although of course he's highly dependent on post-production CGI (with the titular monsters seeking to cross the US border from Mexico there is clearly an allegory of a contemporary social issue too: immigration, with the US spending billions on a security wall to keep immigrants out). His initial treatment lacked some detail, but the central concept (and his showreel of a short with impressive SFX on micro-budget and a BBC feature) was strong enough to win the backing of an Indier production company, Vertigo. The manner the film was shot exemplifies the potential impact of digitisation: Edwards acted as the sole cinematographer, with a boom operator/sound recordist, editor to check through each day's rushes and producer forming in essence a 4-man crew. Thats a FOUR MAN CREW. Check it out here ... and compare this with the listing for Cloverfield (which had the working title of Monstrous!), big 6 member's $25m JJ Abrams' produced but highly comparable 2008 release (Matt Reeves directed). This had a much bigger crew ... though again was shot with a single cinematographer (in both cases credited as DoP - Director of Photography).
The Monsters shoot was researched and planned: the cast and crew would speed through various locations in Mexico, Guatemala, Belize and the USA in just over a month's shooting, which required thorough advance planning. Nonetheless, Edwards continually improvised the narrative, and other then the two co-leads (a couple in real life, which he had insisted upon for a convincing chemistry - and tested this by sleeping on their couch for a week prior to finalising the casting!), used non-actors throughout, such as the police escorts that local authorities offered up for most of the shoot. The leads themselves generally improvised the script - as did the locals conscripted into the film (indeed, many shots were shot documentary style, Edwards taking advantage of the language barrier and inobtrusive portable single camera set-up to film genuine interaction with various locals). Furthermore, and I've seen many great examples of this across AS and A2 work, kept a constant eye out for locations that might work within the overall framework of the film, often coming up with new material to utilise what looked like interesting locations as the small crew travelled around. Cloverfield had a huge set-design team, not to mention extensive make-up personnel, but Monsters really was comparable to the way you yourselves produced your work.
One final observation: there is a great irony here; Monsters successfully set out to make a glossy, convincing sci-fi flick that would sit comfortably alongside Hollywood multiplex fare ... while Cloverfield, a genuine production of a Hollywood major, set out to attain an Indie look and credibility, almost mimicking the archetypal Indie breakthrough hit, slasher Blair Witch (Abrams explicitly cites this as his inspiration in the interview below). Of course, the film with genuine Indie sensibility has no announced plans for a sequel, but Hollywood loves nothing more than a franchise and Cloverfield 2 looks a good bet. (Its also a good example of how digitisation and new media are more than just a threat, through piracy, to the film industry: there are already several fan-made Cloverfield 2 trailers on YouTube, helping to generate pre-release - even pre-production! - hype and anticipation):

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