Exclusive: Strause Bros. On the FX and Spectacle of Skyline

“More is more…”

With their sour experience on Aliens vs. Predator: Requiem still haunting them, the Strause brothers – Colin and Greg – aim to properly demonstrate their filmmaking skills with Skyline, the self-financed, creature-filled alien invasion film written by Joshua Cordes and Liam O’Donnell. The film opens this Friday and, in addition to Shock’s previous conversations with the siblings on the set and in their Santa Monica based FX house Hydraulx, I caught up to the siblings to talk specifically about the visual FX process, the design work and bringing “spectacle” back to filmmaking.

Shock Till You Drop: Let’s talk about influences. Not for this film in particular, but what set you on the path for what you two do now…

Colin Strause: The biggest one is Aliens, that was one movie that we watched in some hotel room on pay-per-view. We’d turn it on, hear someone walking down the hallway, get scared that our parents were coming in and we’d change the channel, then change it back unaware that we were getting charged every time we did that.

Greg Strause: It was a giant hotel bill. We’re very much children of the Lucas and Spielberg generation. The Spielberg influence is definitely felt in Skyline with the atmosphere and the beams of light. Close Encounter of the Third Kind, Jaws, Raiders of the Lost Ark and stuff like that had an influence on us along with Star Wars and The Empire Strikes Back.

Shock: When you had me down to your office, I was amazed by some of the detail that went into the design work. Eric Balfour told us there’s a reason for everything in terms of, say, the ship designs – each one looks unique.

Colin: You’re definitely going to get everything, because it’s about as plain as day as you can get. Ninety percent of the movie takes place during the day, so you have a lot of “wow” stuff going on. What we don’t have, which was important from the beginning, was your scientist character, someone on the news, trying to explain what was going on. We didn’t want to have any of those lame clichés. When you get a studio movie, the first thing is: your audience is stupid, explain it all for the common man who doesn’t know what’s going on. With our ending here, there’s some really interesting shit going on that’s done without any dialogue, you’re just seeing what’s happening. You get a sense of the purpose, but at the same time you’ll probably have 20 or 30 new questions. But we wanted the designs to all feel coherent so you got what was going on without someone explaining it to you. We wanted people to realize what was happening through the experience.

Shock: Shooting Skyline in the daylight seems to be the complete opposite of the rainy, dark Aliens vs. Predator…

Colin: [laughs] We shot it during the day, even if they f**ked up the Blu-Ray, it still couldn’t possibly be as dark as AvP:R.

Greg: [laughs]

Colin: We now have it in our contract to see the DVDs before they’re made. We’re not going to have that mistake happen again. If you see a movie like War of the Worlds, it’s mostly at night. To us, it was like, you know that saying, less it more…on Skyline, more is more. We wanted to make sure while the events were happening, from the building the story is set in, the vantage point, seeing everything…that’s the scariest shit ever. Everywhere you look, something is massive doing something. That’s scarier in a way because of the scope of it. For this, that’s scarier than some small creature running down a dark hallway picking people off. We have those intimate scare moments as well, but if this is going to be the end of the world, we might as well see it.

Greg: We kind of went gonzo. It’s a huge visual concept and in order to serve the best purposes of the movie, we wanted to create moments of awe and spectacle as much as we could because, partially, there’s a commercial aspect of that that makes it a good idea, but also Colin and I were fighting the overriding concern, because it’s a small independent from a budget standpoint, we wanted to counterbalance the claustrophobia with something big so we didn’t go out with something small in the end. Maybe we overcompensated. [laughs] We have maybe 948 FX shots. I was reading early press clips where we said there were 500 shots. Then I read another one later on where Colin said it was 800 shots. It’s basically 1,000 as we neared the finish line.

Colin: But part of it, too, from a technology standpoint, it was the way we built our pipeline and the way we managed this movie was very different from how normal movies are done. Usually what happens is you get a script, you talk about the sequence, there is an average cost for the shots that are needed and the director is stuck telling his story in a box that was pre-given to him by the FX supervisors and producers. He’s only got 12 shots or so to tell his story. But what if he needed 24 or 40? That’s what happens on a lot of movies. Set pieces start getting compromised. You’ll say, “Oh, what a cool shot! But that was a short action scene…” We set up a pipeline where if we had to double or triple the shots needed, it wasn’t going to murder us. We cut it the way it felt right. Eric [Balfour] goes into hand-to-hand combat with one of the creatures, that was 25 shots…

Greg: Eh, more like 48.

Colin: 48 shots of him getting physical with this thing. It was better because we were allowed to tell the story. Normally, the visual FX are a huge political battle on a movie. It’s the most expensive line item other than cast.

Greg: Often, it’s bigger than cast.

Colin: Our mandate was to make the movie right and we’ll figure it out how to get it done in three months.

Shock: What can we expect to see creature-wise?

Colin: Tom Woodruff and Alec Gillis designed the Tanker, the big King Kong-looking thing you see in the trailer. They did a drone, you see that a little bit in the trailer. That goes into buildings and starts snatching people. There’s another creature we haven’t revealed yet. That’s pretty bad-ass. Reel five of this movie is one big 19-minute long set piece.

Greg: It’s pretty nuts. I hope it leaves everyone’s jaws on the ground. I think there are, like, 300 shots in that reel. Because of the nature of the story at that point, everything is f**ked. It makes for a fun movie experience.

Source: Ryan Turek, Managing Editor


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