I recently had the great pleasure of watching MONSTERS. I enjoyed the movie on many levels, including that it is just good fun. But what I really loved was how well micro-budget production techniques enabled good story telling. In my raving about this, Jonathan Stromberg responded and pointed me to his far better articulated post on the same subject. What follows is his first two paragraphs in CineSpect , but check out the whole post here.
The following review is partially adapted from a workshop I gave to film students at the State University of New York at Purchase College on 6 October 2010.
“Monsters”, the debut feature of writer/director Gareth Edwards, is, from the point of view of a spectator, an imperfect film. It is, however, from the point of view of a filmmaker, one of the most exciting releases I’ve seen this year. Edwards’s production reads like a map for young filmmakers, marking pitfalls with his struggles and showing a way forward with his successes. “Monsters” is one of the clearest case studies yet for the challenges—and advantages—of micro-budget filmmaking.
The ostensible auteur Edwards approached his first feature from his background in visual effects and documentary television. In some ways, this spelled destiny for the production style of “Monsters.” The narrative is basically theatrical, but the shooting style is strongly influenced by the production necessities of non-fiction television. For example, the film has no script per se. Edwards shot using scene outlines and necessary plot points but allowed his cast, Whitney Able and Scoot McNairy, to improvise freely within the scene. The apparent production doctrine was for Edwards, also the cinematographer, to shoot the scene multiple times from different angles to get broad coverage of every beat. The film in this way develops a signature somewhat different from more traditional narrative constructions. Edwards foregoes the “establishing wide then punch in for medium shots and close ups” archetype for something that ends up more like a multi-camera shoot. The angles in any particular scene are more varied, but also less predictable. In documentary television we—I work in non-fiction television as well—often shoot this way. In this way, a decision regarding the mode of production has significant impact on the film’s aesthetic, for better or worse, in a way that contrasts it to traditional productions.