Directors Colin and Greg Strause discuss the speedy production process of Skyline, filming in L.A., a Skyline sequel, War of the Ages and much more.
Brothers Colin Strause and Greg Strause have certainly forged an interesting path through Hollywood. After moving to Los Angeles from Chicago in 1995, they cut their teeth doing visual effects for The X-Files before moving up the ranks to features such as The Nutty Professor and Titanic. Although they are still highly in demand for their visual effects work through their company Hydraulx, the brothers have branched out into directing with the 2007 adventure Aliens Vs. Predator - Requiem.
Colin Strause and Greg Strause's second directorial effort, Skyline, is a bit of a departure for the brothers, although not in terms of the scope and masterful special effects. They shot the feature on a shoestring production budget with their own equipment, bypassing the studio system entirely during the production until they sold the project to Relativity Media and Universal Pictures. I recently had the chance to speak with the brothers/directors over the phone about Skyline, which just hit the shelves on Blu-ray and DVD on March 22. Here's what they had to say about Skyline and much more.
When I was on the edit bay visit, you guys talked about that "Black Monday" lunch where you made the initial pitch to (writers) Liam (O'Donnell) and Joshua (Cordes). Was having Donald Faison's character a VFX guy part of your pitch, or was that something that Liam and Josh came in with?
Greg Strause: No, that was something that Liam and Josh came up with. They kind of snuck it past us at first. It was a little ambiguous until the first draft came in (Laughs). We were like, 'I guess it works, so we'll go with it.' It really wasn't my first intent, but I guess it made it easier for them to relate to the character.
Even though this was a really fast process, it didn't really seem rushed and you had plenty of time for everything. However, are there still things you still wish you had more time for, either for the effects or actually shooting?
Colin Strause: There's always that old saying that a movie's never finished, you just go with it. There are always things you can keep tweaking, whether it's the sound, or the cut or the effects. It was a crazy year. It was 1,000 effects shots to do and, to go from a lunchtime meeting to a script to shooting to the whole process, finishing the movie and getting distribution, did make for a pretty intense year. Especially the last three months or so, between the music and the mixing. There is a ton of sound design to do. It's a little bit of a chicken or the egg situation. You really need to have the effects completely done for those guys to be 100% confident in what they're mixing. So, the last couple of weeks of the movie was just insanity, turning it all over, getting it to the effects guys and then racing back to the sound guys and they're going, 'Oh my God, these things changed. Where did those new elements come from?' There's a crazy process those last few weeks, but it all came out pretty good. I'm really happy with the way the Blu-ray looked and sounded. That was a big relief. It went a lot smoother than the Aliens vs. Predator: Requiem Blu-ray did.
I remember you guys talking about some of the horror stories on AVP-R. Did you guys have any of those kinds of problems on this as well, or did Universal get it from day one?
Greg Strause: It's a different situation. Universal released the movie, but Relativity had acquired it from us. It was a very different situation, where you produce and finance a movie yourself and the distributors then acquire it. It puts the filmmaker in a more advantageous position. You definitely get to have more freedom and get to do your version of it moreso than when you're a hired gun working for a studio.
There is a really eclectic mix with the cast here. Can you talk a bit about bringing this group together? That must have went very fast as well.
Colin Strause: The role of Oliver, from Day One at the pitch, Josh was like, 'This guy has to be like Batista from Dexter. That's who this guy is.' That was one of those things where the role was written for him and, two or three months later, to hear how enthusiastic he was about it, was really cool. The rest of the cast, we started just the traditional casting process. Eric Balfour just came in and nailed an audition, so did Scottie Thompson, she just nailed the audition and was such a stand-out. There's the funny story about Donald Faison because he came in and he had a very charming audition, but it was a little more on the comedy side of things. His manager was like, 'Look, just let him come back. He'll do the serious, action-movie version of the audition.' He did and it shows that the squeaky wheel gets oiled sometimes, but it was good that he came back. We got to see a different side of Donald that we all liked very much. The whole process only took us like four weeks. We started right before Christmas, so we had the Christmas break and we had to get everything wrapped up in January because we had an early February start date.
Can you talk about the way you guys wanted to show L.A. in Skyline and the look of L.A. you wanted for this?
Colin Strause: We wanted to keep the geography as real as possible. One of the advantages we had was we were actually shooting in Los Angeles. One of the interesting things about the marina, is there are not a lot of really tall buildings. There are only really like three buildings, and that's kind of it in the marina. It's one of those views that I don't think people are used to seeing of L.A. Usually you see by downtown or the Hollywood sign, but very rarely have we seen a lot of movies that featured L.A. from the coastline, so high up looking inwards. That's also one of the cool things about the actual, real location of the building, just trying to keep the geography as real as possible. Like, when the alien ship crashes, we made sure that we built out a 3D version of Los Angeles that was the correct scale on that. When the ship actually hits and crashes, all of that distance that is traveled is real and accurate.
The movie does lend itself to a sequel and I read you have a treatment ready. Are you guys writing that currently, or are Liam and Josh writing it?
Greg Strause: (Screenwriter) Liam is just finishing up a project called War of the Ages, which is a huge sword-and-sandals epic. Joshua is working on another sci-fi action movie. The working title is called Singularity. There's a big disaster component to that story. Once those guys get done with that, we kind of have to refocus on the sequel. At the time, we hadn't opened internationally and the international response to the movie has been very good, so it definitely does seem to point towards getting a sequel going.
Just in seeing how you guys made this movie, I'm curious if you're keeping an eye on Red State, because (director) Kevin Smith is distributing it himself. Are you guys keeping an eye on that to see if that's a possibility for future films?
Greg Strause: I've seen the trailer and I know he does a lot of webcasts and everything, but I don't actually know what he's doing, financially, with that movie.
They're actually taking it out on tour. They had a $4 million budget they raised independently and they're trying to raise that through this tour before the movie actually hits theaters. You pay a lot more than a normal movie, but you get like a two-hour Q&A with Kevin Smith and some cast members. If they make that whole production back on the road show, it will be all profit when it hits theaters.
Greg Strause: Hm. That's actually, when you're working in that type of budget range, yeah, that could be kind of a cool idea.
Greg Strause: It will be very interesting to see if that works. I know some people have talked about models too where they do the pay-per-view on the same weekend it opens in theaters. The only thing is you get a flip side from a lot of the distributors who also, then, they wont' want to distribute it. If a movie comes out in pay-per-view in too tight of a window, to when the movie opened in theaters, a lot of the theaters are trying to tell the studios they aren't going to carry it. This is the trick too. There needs to be a way to change the business model a little bit, but, at the same time, theater owners have to protect. That's it. They have nothing else, really, so they have to protect themselves. If too many people can start watching it at home, and people don't want to go to theaters, theaters are going to have to do some defensive maneuvering.
Can you talk a bit about Take Shelter, which you executive produced? How did you get involved with that project?
Greg Strause: Yeah. We share an agent with (writer-director) Jeff Nichols at CAA. They saw an interesting opportunity to team us up, for the benefit of all of us. It helped Colin and I expand our executive producing career and for Jeff, who is a super-talented young filmmaker, to get him access to some of the toys that the big boys get to use on their movies. It worked out and it was a lot of fun. Colin and I have been involved in a few different indie films. It's been fun doing these indies, while, at the same time, powering through these studio films. Jeff had written a great script and we saw his previous movie, Shotgun Stories, and were big fans and saw a lot of potential in him. And us being a team that was very good at doing these weather effects, scary storms and birds dying, it's right up our alley. It premiered at Sundance and got a great response and incredible reviews. We're very proud of the film. Jeff just did an incredible job and the performances are amazing. It's one of these cases where the effects were used perfectly by Jeff just to tell the story. It's very much an actor's movie and it's a psychological thriller. The effects are just in there and build with the world. You never want to get pigeonholed. They'll go, 'They only like to do these kinds of things. We always want to try different things. Who knows. Maybe Colin and I could do a romantic comedy next.
Colin Strause: Or not.
Greg Strause: Yeah, probably not (Laughs).
Is there anything else you guys have lined up to direct?
Greg Strause: Our War of the Ages is going to be the next news item. Basically, an ancient artifact is uncovered, time is shattered and the seven greatest war leaders in history have to battle each other out. It's sort of like The Lord of the Rings meets Gladiator. You have Napoleon vs. Julius Caesar vs. Attila the Hun vs. Genghis Khan vs. Alexander vs. Hannibal. So, there you go. It's going to be in 3D and it's a big sword-and-sandal epic. We just finished up the script and we have just finished the trailer we shot for it. It's sort of the same way we did Skyline, except this is a much, much bigger film. In Skyline, we shot a 90-second trailer to get everybody excited about the movie before we sold it. We're kind of following in the same footsteps, but learning from the experience and pushing forward.
Just to wrap up, what would you like to say to anyone who didn't get a chance to see Skyline in theaters about why they should pick up the Blu-ray and DVD?
Colin Strause: It's a fun, interesting look about us, essentially, losing an alien invasion. It' a different perspective than what you normally see.
Greg Strause: What I really want people to realize, which maybe didn't come across well in the theatrical release, is it's truly an indie film at heart, just disguised as a bigger budget film. I just don't want anyone to lose sight of its indie roots.
That's about all I have for you guys. Thanks so much for your time and best of luck on War of the Ages.
Greg Strause: All right. Great.
Skyline, which just hit the shelves on Blu-ray and DVD on March 22.