Gareth Edwards’ “Monsters” Mash

Gareth Edwards’ “Monsters” Mash (photo)

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For a first-time filmmaker, there are worse things that could happen than the fear of getting kidnapped. At least, this is what I surmised when Gareth Edwards gave me a roll of the eyes when he thought I was about to ask about the budget of “Monsters,” the micro-budget sci-fi film that has become one of the year’s most talked-about debuts after premiering in March at SXSW amidst rumors that it cost a mere $15,000.

Not that Edwards would be reluctant to talk about it. Right now, he appears ready to talk about nearly anything, brimming with an enthusiasm that’s hard to come by — even by the standards of those who know they’ve pulled off their first magic trick — but money was hardly what was on Edwards’ mind as he backpacked across Costa Rica, Guatemala, Belize, Mexico and Texas with actors Whitney Able and Scoot McNairy, a boom operator and a camera.

While there are roughly 250 special effects shots in “Monsters,” of downed helicopters, of trees infected with fluorescent pods, and of the octopus-like creatures that threaten the lives of Americans Samantha and Andrew (Able and McNairy) as they try to find safe passage through Central America after an alien invasion, the most special effect of Edwards’ film has nothing to do with computer graphics or camera trickery. Instead, it is the vitality of shooting in areas rarely seen outside of National Geographic back issues as a springboard for a tale that feeds on both the joy of the region’s indigenous cultures and the dread that as societies they’ve been left behind.

In a genre that’s known for subtext, the fact that Edwards brings these things to the surface is only one of the refreshing things about his debut, which doesn’t shy away from showing its “Monsters,” whether it’s the full glory of his CG creations or the random ferry operator who exploits the Americans out of a higher fare for their travel.

09052010_GarethEdwardsMonsters.jpgFortunately, Edwards knows what scares an audience more than what to be afraid of himself, asking complete strangers from the area to interact with McNairy and Able on their journey and dealing with the harsh terrain of the jungle, only to come home to the daunting task of waking up every morning to do every CG shot for the film. (“Computers are like dogs – they can smell fear,” says Edwards.) On the eve of facing an even more intimidating task — walking the red carpet for “Monsters”‘ premiere at this year’s Toronto Film Festival — Edwards talked about the evolution of special effects, how he turned nearby gunmen into production value and the cheap version of “Avatar.”

With the limitless potential of CG special effects, it seems like we keep getting the same movie. How did you make yours different?

I think the background being in computer graphics is you just become bored with it and I love computer graphics — there are some things that are so much easier to do in the computer than they are to create in front of the camera, so it is an important tool and you do need them, but I think also people rely on them for its own sake. They don’t sit there and picture okay, what would be a good film. Okay, how the hell do we do that? A lot of people sit down and go, okay, we can do anything we want in the computer. What’s not been done? Let’s try and do that instead and it’s not necessarily a good idea to do that because it’s not using computers in the right way.

09052010_Monsters2.jpgIt seems it took awhile for computers to catch up with your ambitions. When did you know this would be possible?

I kept trying to pull this off since 1997, not this film, but I bought a computer after I graduated film school and tried to learn CGI because I just figured it would be the future of filmmaking. Every year, I’d have a little pet project, not necessarily a movie, but something and it just was never good enough or never quite how I imagined it. It was like those embarrassing short films and experiments that you want to hide and delete and never have anyone see. I just kept trying and trying and I kind of get back to a point where I think why didn’t I do this earlier? You look back and think well, I actually couldn’t have done this five years ago for a few reasons.

The main one was a camcorder that you can run around with in your hand only recently have these special adapters that allow it to look like 35mm film, so you can have that narrow depth of field and look beautiful and cinematic, but still like very cheap and you can film for hours on end without it being expensive. And before that, computer graphics were really slow.

It’s very easy to think computers were always the way they are today, but you forget how slow and rubbish they were five years ago. I remember how long it took the software took — a day [for] every time you moved a frame forward and it would like slowly update after a few seconds — whereas now with high definition, I can play around with it in real time. It’s very fluid, and thank God, the technology’s at a point now where I don’t look like such an idiot as I did before when I used to try these things.

It’s equally ambitious to set your first film in Central America and Mexico when you’re not familiar with the region and I’ve heard stories of bigger film shoots that have shied away from the area for fear of kidnapping. Had you been warned?

09052010_Monsters3.jpgEverybody in the film in the daylight that’s got a gun is a real policeman and what happened was I was filming and I noticed the guys with guns, I was thinking this is great. This really helps our film — brilliant, get them in shot. And in another scene, I’d realize it was the same guy and I’d be like “Hang on, why is this guy also here? He was also at the other place.” The producer said, “No, no, no, they’re our bodyguards. The government has supplied them for free, so we don’t get kidnapped.” So you think oh shit, okay, that’s how dangerous it is here.

It’s funny because whilst we were there, all kinds of crazy stuff happened — there was a shooting outside the hotel, there was a prison break and they decapitated some prisoners, there was a week before we arrived into town, they machine-gunned everyone in this café. So when we arrived, there was these coffin protests in the street and all this stuff was going on and I was constantly shitting myself the whole film, but it was never about these things. I was constantly shitting myself that maybe I hadn’t got enough shots. Maybe something was out of focus. Maybe the film is rubbish, you know what I mean? That’s what was worrying me.


New Nasty

Whips, Chains and Hand Sanitizer

Turn On The Full Season Of Neurotica At IFC's Comedy Crib

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Jenny Jaffe has a lot going on: She’s writing for Disney’s upcoming Big Hero 6: The Series, developing comedy projects with pals at Devastator Press, and she’s straddling the line between S&M and OCD as the creator and star of the sexyish new series Neurotica, which has just made its debut on IFC’s Comedy Crib. Jenny gave us some extremely intimate insight into what makes Neurotica (safely) sizzle…


IFC: How would you describe Neurotica to a fancy network executive you met in an elevator?

Jenny: Neurotica is about a plucky Dominatrix with OCD trying to save her small-town dungeon. 

IFC: How would you describe Neurotica to a drunk friend of a friend you met in a bar?

Jenny: Neurotica is about a plucky Dominatrix with OCD trying to save her small-town dungeon. You’re great. We should get coffee sometime. I’m not just saying that. I know other people just say that sometimes but I really feel like we’re going to be friends, you know? Here, what’s your number, I’ll call you so you can have my number! 

IFC: What’s your comedy origin story?

Jenny: Since I was a kid I’ve dealt with severe OCD and anxiety. Comedy has always been one of the ways I’ve dealt with that. I honestly just want to help make people feel happy for a few minutes at a time. 

IFC: What was the genesis of Neurotica?

Jenny: I’m pretty sure it was a title-first situation. I was coming up with ideas to pitch to a production company a million years ago (this isn’t hyperbole; I am VERY old) and just wrote down “Neurotica”; then it just sort of appeared fully formed. “Neurotica? Oh it’s an over-the-top romantic comedy about a Dominatrix with OCD, of course.” And that just happened to hit the buttons of everything I’m fascinated by. 


IFC: How would you describe Ivy?

Jenny: Ivy is everything I love in a comedy character – she’s tenacious, she’s confident, she’s sweet, she’s a big wonderful weirdo. 

IFC: How would Ivy’s clientele describe her?

Jenny:  Open-minded, caring, excellent aim. 

IFC: Why don’t more small towns have local dungeons?

Jenny: How do you know they don’t? 

IFC: What are the pros and cons of joining a chain mega dungeon?

Jenny: You can use any of their locations but you’ll always forget you have a membership and in a year you’ll be like “jeez why won’t they let me just cancel?” 

IFC: Mouths are gross! Why is that?

Jenny: If you had never seen a mouth before and I was like “it’s a wet flesh cave with sharp parts that lives in your face”, it would sound like Cronenberg-ian body horror. All body parts are horrifying. I’m kind of rooting for the singularity, I’d feel way better if I was just a consciousness in a cloud. 

See the whole season of Neurotica right now on IFC’s Comedy Crib.


The ’90s Are Back

The '90s live again during IFC's weekend marathon.

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Photo Credit: Everett Digital, Columbia Pictures

We know what you’re thinking: “Why on Earth would anyone want to reanimate the decade that gave us Haddaway, Los Del Rio, and Smash Mouth, not to mention Crystal Pepsi?”


Thoughts like those are normal. After all, we tend to remember lasting psychological trauma more vividly than fleeting joy. But if you dig deep, you’ll rediscover that the ’90s gave us so much to fondly revisit. Consider the four pillars of true ’90s culture.

Boy Bands

We all pretended to hate them, but watch us come alive at a karaoke bar when “I Want It That Way” comes on. Arguably more influential than Brit Pop and Grunge put together, because hello – Justin Timberlake. He’s a legitimate cultural gem.

Man-Child Movies

Adam Sandler is just behind The Simpsons in terms of his influence on humor. Somehow his man-child schtick didn’t get old until the aughts, and his success in that arena ushered in a wave of other man-child movies from fellow ’90s comedians. RIP Chris Farley (and WTF Rob Schneider).



Teen Angst

In horror, dramas, comedies, and everything in between: Troubled teens! Getting into trouble! Who couldn’t relate to their First World problems, plaid flannels, and lose grasp of the internet?

Mainstream Nihilism

From the Coen Bros to Fincher to Tarantino, filmmakers on the verge of explosive popularity seemed interested in one thing: mind f*cking their audiences by putting characters in situations (and plot lines) beyond anyone’s control.

Feeling better about that walk down memory lane? Good. Enjoy the revival.


And revisit some important ’90s classics all this weekend during IFC’s ’90s Marathon. Check out the full schedule here.


Get Physical

DVDs are the new Vinyl

Portlandia Season 7 Now Available On Disc.

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GIFs via Giffy

In this crazy digital age, sometimes all we really want is to reach out and touch something. Maybe that’s why so many of us are still gung-ho about owning stuff on DVD. It’s tangible. It’s real. It’s tech from a bygone era that still feels relevant, yet also kitschy and retro. It’s basically vinyl for people born after 1990.


Inevitably we all have that friend whose love of the disc is so absolutely repellent that he makes the technology less appealing. “The resolution, man. The colors. You can’t get latitude like that on a download.” Go to hell, Tim.

Yes, Tim sucks, and you don’t want to be like Tim, but maybe he’s onto something and DVD is still the future. Here are some benefits that go beyond touch.

It’s Decor and Decorum

With DVDs and a handsome bookshelf you can show off your great taste in film and television without showing off your search history. Good for first dates, dinner parties, family reunions, etc.


Forget Public Wifi

Warm up that optical drive. No more awkwardly streaming episodes on shady free wifi!



Internet service goes down. It happens all the time. It could happen right now. Then what? Without a DVD on hand you’ll be forced to make eye contact with your friends and family. Or worse – conversation.


Self Defense

You can’t throw a download like a ninja star. Think about it.


If you’d like to experience the benefits DVD ownership yourself, Portlandia Season 7 is now available on DVD and Blue-Ray.