Gareth Edwards' MONSTERS Is A Microbudget How To Model

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.

Adopt A Monster

Maybe we are bringing the bowl a little late to the party, but we finally stumbled over Moshi Monsters. We've always been more fond of odd beasts over here than stay those monochromatic ground-bound birds (aka Penguins). That said this playground does remind us of the Penguin's club, only still different. And it does get our "hey, I wish I thought of that" star of the day.

Check it out. We do call it fun.

Real Live Monsters!

Well, okay, a real dead one.  This is a 96 tentacled octopus.  Each of it's tentacles branches out 8 times.  It's as if each of your fingers had five fingers on them.  Or something like that.  Make a note, you can visit this one the next time you are in Shima, Japan at the Shima Marineland Aquarium.

But this one lives!  This two headed Bearded Dragon Lizard just celebrated it's first birthday.  Say Happy Happy to "Zak n' Wheezie".

Political Monsters by Gerald Scarfe

I have always dreamed of Alternative Careers.  Within that is the subset of Imaginary Alternative Careers.  Pursuits may be a better phrase; I dislike Career as it supposes that work is distinct from life.  The use of our labor is one of primary choices, inherent to whom we are -- or rather I think it should be.

But back to the dreams: I once wanted to be a cartoonist.  Unfortunately that takes talent and craft. I once also wanted to be a journalist and also to work in politics -- basically I wanted to both observe, comment, and to change things.  
Gerald Scarfe is a political cartoonist who's stock in trade captures another one of those dreams: monsters.  For me it might have been more of a "monster shepherd".  I envy that character on Doctor Who who collected all the beasts across time -- but of course I would want to live with them, at least not these days.
BBC has a great slideshow profile on Scarfe and his work.  He's sort of the Brit Ralph Steadman, but you probably know him best from Pink Floyd's The Wall.

Staying Wacky Forever

You know those drawings you do that the grownups say "that's so silly!" about? What is it that they are saying then? Do they want you to keep on doing those drawings forever -- or do they want you to stop drawing those creatures right then and now? Did you ever notice how kids' drawings are soooo much fun, but when the drawers get older they forget about monsters and monkeys and start drawing bowls of fruit? It happens. The why is one of those many unanswerable questions.

Dave Pressler never caught that dread fruit bowl disease. He not only draws really great and silly monsters, but he makes sculptures and all kinds of stuff. Check out his website. It's a BOWL of fun.

Not Your Parents' DOCTOR WHO

Two holidays ago, we encountered Theo, an eight year old boy in a spiffy suit with a great Brit accent.  When we asked about his get up, he told us of Doctor Who, whom he was playing homage to.  We are forever indebted to Theo.

 The BBC has completely reinvigorated this series, with great scripts, actors, and CGI special effects.  Yes, it's creepy.  Yes, it's sometimes scary.  And yes, it's generally mind-blowing.  We think you need to be seven years old to get the permit to watch it.  But Netflix has the entire series run (they are now up to Season Four).  And they have pretty darn good website too!  Check it out.