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December 2010

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director’s chair Gareth Edwards— Monsters N By RANDI ALTMAN EDITOR-IN-CHIEF Going guerrilla in Central America. EW YORK — I first met Gareth Edwards, director/writer of the new Magnolia Films offering Mon- sters, two years ago in Amsterdam during the IBC show.We were sitting next to each other at an Adobe dinner. He, primarily an After Effects artist, had just completed di- recting and creating all the visual effects for the BBC’s Attila the Hun. Recently, over veggie burgers in New York City, the UK-based Edwards walked me through his journey as writer, director, cine- matographer and visual effects artist on the sci-fi horror film Monsters, about alien life forms and an American journalist and tourist making their way through an infected zone (Mexico) on their way to the US border. Edwards, two actors and a very small crew Gareth Edwards with the Sony EX-3, which was outfitted with the Letus Ultimate adapter. traveled through Central America shooting in locations that appealed to them and often using real people as actors in the film. POST: You manned the camera? EDWARDS: “Yes.The idea was always to do it as guerrilla as possible. I didn’t want anyone to know we were making a film.We wanted to come and go unnoticed because the whole premise was to make the world’s most realistic monster movie — I am not sure we did that, but it was our goal.We wanted to use real people and real environ- ments and stick all that fantasy bit in later in the computer.” POST: How did you decide which camera to shoot with? EDWARDS: “Initially, it was about the smallest possible camera we could have, but I also wanted beautiful depth of field.The idea of using Red would have been great, but the amount gear you need to lug around and the monitors and drives — it’s like going back to 35mm in terms of how many people you need to support the cam- era side of things, and I just wanted to shoot it myself. So the next thing down was to use these adapters that stick on the front of the camera, like the Letus Ultimate, which has really good optics. “We tested it with the Sony EX-3 and the Panasonic P2. I had them next to each other and shot the same shots in the same places.We scanned it, blew it up to 35mm and screened it in London.The Sony was a dream to work with. There is a high def monitor in the viewfinder.You knew exactly when it was in focus, and it was in color. “Ultimately, the Sony was problematic with this adapter because it was so front 20 Post • December 2010 heavy. I think, ergonomically, it’s supposed to rest on your shoulder, but it doesn’t really work out that way.You are pretty much sup- porting it with your front arm.Then add to that your regular Nikon 35mm SLR lenses and it gets even heavier.” POST: Can you describe the guerrilla-style shoot? EDWARDS:“We had a soundman and a line producer, and a Spanish-speaking equiv- alent, and I was shooting.We would go in a “You have an amazing day where you get this great footage, but you have to go home and delete the footage off that card so you can shoot the next day with it. It’s so scary — you don’t want to do it until you’ve checked the footage properly, making sure there are no corrupt files.Then you have to clone it because if a drive then failed we would lose that footage forever. “The editor (Colin Goudie) was trying to edit and the assistant (Justin Hall) was Edwards modeled the creature in Z-Brush, animated it in 3DS Max and composited it in After Effects. van with the two actors and drive to a place we thought would look good for a location. We’d ask permission when we turned up and rope in people to be in it. Everyone in the film, apart from the main two actors, are people we met along the way. “One of the main roles of the line pro- ducer, apart from organizing everything, was running around after everyone with a waiver. If I was filming I would gesture with my foot or something,‘That guy is in shot.’ He’d then run after him with a form.The weird thing about the depth of field is often in the background it suggests people but they are unrecognizable.That’s how great these lenses are. If I had a video lens that got everything in focus I think we’d still be trying to get release forms now.” POST: Were you editing as you were shooting? EDWARDS: “That was the plan.We had a laptop and some external drives, and we were going to edit on Adobe Premiere as we went. The fantastic thing about these cameras is they don’t shoot with tapes; it’s all memory cards.You initially think,‘Wow, that’s great,’ but it’s probably more work than if we had tapes. cloning everything.The poor guy… we went on the most amazing trip through Central America, but all he saw was the walls of each motel. He had to sit there all the time cloning everything, and he had to do it three times.So we didn’t get as much editing done as we hoped because of this cloning thing.” POST: Is all of the footage the blessing and the curse of digital cameras? EDWARDS: “There is no way on earth we could have gotten the performances we got out of the non-actors without shooting the hell out of it. It was sort of ‘spray and pray’ kind of coverage. If you shoot for an hour to get a minute, then you’ve got all these mannerisms, all these little moments and nuances of people reacting.We are using it all out of context, so sometimes we are watching reaction shots of them watch- ing somebody’s radio mic being fitted — be- cause all you are looking for is a realistic re- action. It doesn’t really matter what they are reacting to, I just wanted it to feel real. “My editor got really frustrated with me because I wouldn’t stop the camera. So we would record and we’d have 45-minute takes. I had a headphone in my ear and I’d get lost in the conversation.The viewfinder

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