Monsters director Gareth Edwards and producer Graham King at EIFF
Edinburgh International Film Festival Blog
This article is from 2010.
Saturday 19 June
The days, as Calvin & Hobbes astutely observed, are just packed. Saturday began with two great things: the first was Toy Story 3, which was possibly the best threequel I’ve ever seen (I’m meeting its two chief animators later today, so more on that in due course), and the second was a brief encounter (okay, just a brush of shoulder) with Sir Patrick Stewart in the Cineworld foyer. Having learned that my chances of getting an interview with him while he’s here as Chief Juror are exactly zero, it cheered me to get this momentary glimpse of the great man, and to see that he’s put all James Corden-related troubles aside to focus on the much more worthwhile business of movie-watching.
Resisting the urge to hang around on the slim hope of a chat with the erstwhile Starfleet captain, I hot-footed it to my next interview, with a brief detour into the Filmhouse to soak up a bit of pure EIFF atmosphere on the way. Trekking between the Festival’s various far-flung venues can lead to burn-out if you’re not careful, but I find a regular dose of the Filmhouse Cafe’s constant buzz is the perfect antidote. I bumped into pre-eminent multi-tasker and ace film critic Gail Tolley, who seemed uncharacteristically glum on this occasion, a fact she put down to her general disappointment with the Festival’s selection so far. I couldn’t really contradict her as I’m still playing catch-up and haven’t seen half the movies she was despairing over, but there is one film that I could guarantee would re-inspire her; the excellent sci-fi road movie-meets-love story Monsters. Starring real-life husband and wife Scoot McNairy (from In Search of a Midnight Kiss) and Whitney Able, it’s a slow-burning character drama about a guy and a girl making their way back from Mexico to the United States, with the added twist that in this version of the world extra-terrestrials landed six years ago… and life went on. Shot on location with a tiny cast and crew by debuting director and visual effects master Gareth Edwards (one of this year’s EIFF Trailblazers, and deservedly so), it’s going to get a general release in November and has the potential to become a proper cult favourite.
Edwards himself was making no such claims when I met him – this was the interview I’d been on my way to - and seemed simply delighted to have the film finished and playing in the Festival. He’s a typically self-deprecating Englishman with a wicked sense of humour (choice quote: ‘being a special effects artist is like being a gynaecologist; it’s just not so special when it’s all you’re looking at every day’), but behind the modesty he clearly has some great ideas for using visual effects not just as a way of dressing movies, but as an integral storytelling feature. He spoke of his admiration for District 9 director Neil Blomkamp, and I think it’s only a matter of time until we’re speaking in the same way about Edwards himself.
I also had the chance to speak to McNairy and Able who actually got married just a week ago. I felt I should apologise for intruding on their honeymoon, but they insisted they were having a blast on their first visit to Scotland, and are so enamoured that they’ve started making plans to come back and go camping around the Highlands. McNairy also revealed that making Monsters with Whitney was what sealed their relationship for him: ‘I’m a big outdoors person, and I was dating Whitney at the time and kind of thought “if she can make it through this production, cos it’s gonna be hell, I could definitely spend the rest of my life with her.”’ Aw, that’s love, folks, and these two made a perfect (and damned attractive) couple.
The big In Person event of the day was the Variety interview with British producer Graham King, perhaps not a name that immediately sparks interest (which might explain the smaller-than-expected crowd), but for those who ventured in it was a fascinating and rewarding 90 minutes. King’s film resumé is mighty impressive, from Traffic in 2000 through Scorsese’s Oscar-winner The Departed to Mel Gibson’s recent comeback movie Edge of Darkness, and this is a guy whose producing career only started 10 years ago. How is it possible for him to have started at such a high level? The answer, my friends, is money. Martin Scorsese needed 80 million bucks to get Gangs of New York off the ground, King found some spare change down the back of his sofa, and kerching! he’d made it in the movies. But while most Hollywood producers at King’s level (and by that I mean Jerry Bruckheimer) seem interested only in capitalising on investments, regardless of the quality of the movies they put out, King’s CV demonstrates a commitment to enabling some of the finest directors working today to put their visions on the screen, combined with an ability to make the end product profitable for investors. That’s no mean feat.
King had loads of stories that gave a little insight into that eternal question ‘what does a producer actually do?’, the most fascinating of which was his retelling of the making of The Departed – ‘the most stressful production I’ve ever been involved in’ – which began and ended with a world-weary chuckle and the statement that ‘there’s only one Jack Nicholson’. Apparently Jack had various off-script ideas about developing his character, none of which Warner Bros (the money) knew anything about, and Scorsese, always open to suggestions and improvisation, would tend to go with it. As King put it, ‘one morning before shooting a scene, Marty, Leo and I get a note from Jack’s assistant saying he’s going to show up on set with a gun, some whisky and a cigarette lighter. None of which was in the script. That is the biggest nightmare for a producer, not knowing what your actors are going to do, and it wasn’t just me – DiCaprio got pretty nervous about Jack and his props! The next time it was the movie theatre scene, where Jack decided to show up wearing a dildo.’ It goes without saying that The Departed was not the movie King was expecting to pick up an Oscar for, but if you can take anything from his experience it’s that nothing ever goes the way you expect in Hollywood.