It’s Thursday night and I’m queuing in the freezing cold outside the Royal College of Surgeons in Holborn. I’ve been here for more than an hour. My instructions were to arrive early, so I did. And now, despite my hat, scarf and gloves, I feel like I’m on the verge of hypothermia.
When the doors eventually open, I shuffle forward until I reach the college entrance, where I’m shepherded inside by people in biohazard suits. At ‘passport control’, I’m handed a wristband granting me ‘access to the Infected Zone’. And three drinks tokens.
Welcome to the Jameson Cult Film Club, one of an ongoing series of film screenings in unusual venues around the country, complete with live dramatics and complimentary tipples. Tonight, a heaving throng of mostly twentysomethings has ventured out to see Gareth Edwards’ Monsters, complete with an introduction and Q&A from the director and his editor, Colin Goudie, with Chris Hewitt from Empire magazine on MCing duties.
It’s a brief but enjoyable chat, with the filmmakers in good spirits (yes, the Jameson was flowing, but no pun was intended). This must be the 738th interview they’ve given since Monsters’ birth, but they still appear to be enthusiastic about their baby, even though Edwards has clearly had some knocks over the last few months from cinemagoers expecting to see something more blockbusting and visceral. He doesn’t apologise but he does warn, which I guess is fair enough.
I posted a favourable review of Monsters back in November, and I’m pleased to report that the film holds up well on its second viewing, even though I’m too close to the screen and my chair isn’t any kind of match for the seats in my local multiplex (I never thought I’d be singing Vue’s praises). The evening for me ends on a downer, though, when I discover that my bag has been soaked by someone behind me tripping over a drink. Not so much a biohazard as a fire hazard. Thankfully, my trusty recording device survives, and I’m able to bring you the highlights of Edwards and Goudie’s grilling.
On the Cult Film Club
Edwards: “I just want to say how fucking weird this is. Being here, it’s like… Three years ago, you’d sit in a room and you’d say: ‘I know, maybe a monster movie, maybe a boy and a girl, maybe…’ And now everyone’s here, and all these amazing people have turned out… I’m absolutely shitting myself.”
Edwards: “The film was originally called Far From Home. It was never really going to be called that; it was just that when you go to hospitals and you need permission to film, and you’re in the middle of Central America, when they go to sign it, if they see Monsters on the top of the piece of paper they kind of panic and say: ‘No, we don’t want to get involved.’
“So we called it Far From Home, but it sounded like a Disney movie. Wherever we filmed, we said: ‘We’re called Far From Home. Can we shoot here?’ You know: ‘Yeah, fine.’ We’d turn up, and then after a while they’d go: ‘Where are the puppies? Are they coming?’ We’ll put the puppies in with CG afterwards.”
Goudie: “I like Far From Home because the aliens are far from home, and the lead characters are far from home. So, for me, it ticks those boxes. And also, when you go and see a movie called Aliens, it’s got a lot of aliens in it, right? So when you come to see a movie called Monsters, you’re going to be thinking this film’s full of monsters. It’s not. So bad luck.”
On comparisons to Cloverfield and District 9
Goudie: “A lot of people compared it with Cloverfield, which is interesting because the original deal was much closer to that. But we went to see Cloverfield before filming, and then we ditched that entire pitch. And then a lot of people compared it with District 9. But, in fact, we had picture lock before District 9 even came out, because we’d finished the story over a year ago.”
Edwards: “Let’s get it straight – it’s nothing like Cloverfield or District 9. People say it’s like Before Sunrise, and things like that.”
Goudie: “We were aiming for kind of Lost In Translation. That was a major influence. Plus a little bit of Godzilla thrown in. You imagine Lost In Translation, and halfway through that movie Bill Murray’s sitting on his bed, and Godzilla goes past the window. That’s the movie you’re going to see.”
Edwards: “I would never make a Godzilla movie, Colin. That’d be really selling out.”
On Monsters’ status as a cult movie
Edwards: “What is a cult film? What is it? I’d say a cult film is where people love it and hate it. It’s not universally loved. Some people love it; some people hate it. And I’m really sorry – I predict that a third of this audience is going to hate it. It’s typically how it breaks down.
“If you do a Q&A after the film, as a filmmaker you stand by the sides, usually the exit, and there’s this really awkward moment where everyone who thought the film was shit has to go past you and they’re like ‘sorry, excuse me, yep, sorry’ as they all leave. And you can’t do that now because we’re saying all this stuff up front.”
Goudie: “Yes, we’re definitely cult film fanboys, definitely. The films that we watched when we were making this – not to copy in any way, but to get in the right frame of mind – were things like THX1138, Lost In Translation I’ve already mentioned, Eternal Sunshine Of The Spotless Mind, In This World, Babel. Now there’s not a Hollywood blockbuster amongst that, but those are the things that we were kind of looking at for reference.”
On Colin Goudie holding a gasmask
Edwards: “That’s half the prop department from the movie. The rest of the prop department was another one of those and, like, one machine gun. And that’s about it.”
Goudie: “We broke a gasmask, one of the gasmasks, at one point, and there was this whole debate of, oh my God, what are we going to do?”
Edwards: “Yeah, you saw it in the film. I don’t want to ruin it for you, but there’s a sort of gasmask and it’s broken. And everyone on the internet was saying: ‘Duh, it’s broken.’ It broke whilst we were filming, and we just thought, well, the scenario is that this family who had it wouldn’t be able to afford to buy another one. So we kind of rolled with that… and I don’t even know why I’m saying this because it’s the most boring fact about filming possible. This is the problem with doing a Q&A before the film. Nobody has seen it, so you can’t talk about it!”
Goudie: “Giger’s Alien.”
Edwards: “I don’t know what you’d classify the film as, but Jaws. It’s probably one of the best films ever made. And I’m going to try and stop a third of the people hating Monsters and get it down to more like 15 per cent by warning you that we went with the kind of attitude that Jaws had, which is that you don’t see the shark all the time.
“I actually got so much criticism about this film because of the title, and the fact that the monsters you see – you do see them; don’t worry, you will get it, but it’s not all about them. So what happened is I ended up timing the shark in Jaws with a stopwatch. And something incredible happened, which was… an hour into the film, how many minutes of shark is there? Three seconds. For me, it’s not as simple as ‘more monsters means a better film’. So we’re certainly going down that route.”
On Gareth Edwards’ forthcoming Godzilla film – what can he tell us?
Monsters is released in the UK on Blu-ray and DVD on 11 April 2011.