LOVE AND MONSTERS Exclusive Interview With Director Michael Matthews About His Monsterpocalypse Movie
Love and Monsters is now available on PVOD and in select theaters, and director Michael Matthews talks in-depth to us about what it was like to bring this story set in the Monsterpocalypse to life...
Love and Monsters premieres at home and in select theaters today from Paramount Pictures, and takes place seven years after the "Monsterpocalypse." Humanity has been forced to hide underground, but Joel (Dylan O'Brien, The Maze Runner) decides to embark on a mission to reunite with his high school girlfriend Aimee (Jessica Henwick, Iron Fist) after reconnecting with her over the radio. However, with dangerous monsters standing in his way, their reunion isn't going to be easy.
Michael Rooker (Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2) and Ariana Greenblatt (Avengers: Infinity War) are also part of the cast, and we recently caught up with director Michael Matthews to discuss the movie.
The filmmaker received rave reviews for his 2017 movie Five Fingers for Marseilles, and is now tackling a very different project with Love and Monsters. Bursting with amazing visuals, unforgettable action scenes, and a tonne of great characters, this is a must-see, and we appreciated the opportunity to speak to Michael over Zoom to pick his brain about this epic blockbuster.
Among the topics covered here are the work that went into creating those monsters, some of the movie's standout sequences, how COVID-19 paints this story in a very different light, and much more.
Check it out below, and make sure to hunt down Love and Monsters this weekend!
Love and Monsters is your first blockbuster, and I was wondering what it was about this project that jumped out at you?
This is definitely a jump up. You know, my first film was much smaller, so this was my first big studio movie and it ticked a lot of things I loved from the movies I grew up with. Indiana Jones, Jurassic Park, Back to the Future. In ways, it's got bits from all of those. It's not overly complex, and I like that Joel has this vision and drive and passion for the journey he's trying to embark on. He meets these multiple characters along the way, but there's a simplicity to that singular character adventure which I haven't seen for quite a while. That was probably a big part of it, and I love monsters and designing worlds and coming up with those kind of things.
When it came to creating the monsters we see here, how difficult was it to come up with designs that wouldn't immediately remind people of other creatures they've seen on screen before?
It's tricky. You go through a whole bunch of things and everyone has done everything to a degree. I stuck to the core idea that what I like is they're amphibians, reptiles, and insects. They're from our planet but had just mutated and grown. So, how do you keep that tangibility to them so it feels like a big centipede or whatever it might be, but without it simply being that simple? It still has to have mutated in a way, so you adjust the way it's textured and the design elements to accentuate things. I felt like relating it back to something so they don't feel too alien was the key for me. Then, balancing between giving them a bit of character and making them quite interesting in their design, but not going too far so they then become a bit cartoony where they've got too much quirk. It took a while to find those balances across the different creatures.
Without getting into spoilers, the movie also plays with the idea of robots and A.I., so what was the thought process behind that and that stunning sequence it leads to with the jellyfish-like creatures?
I'm glad that's only hinted at in the trailer as it's nice to have things that people don't know is coming and you haven't shown too much of everything. That scene, specifically, catches people a bit by surprise. It's not plot-y, it's not action-y, but is just a heartfelt eight or so minutes that's really interesting and feels profound in a way. What was tough about that is those jellyfish didn't want to end up feeling too Avatar-ish, and it's so hard to not go there! The idea we do have all Earth based stiff, but in nature we have some very real, fantastical things like glowing bugs and deep sea creatures that glow in different ways and are quite alien. It was, 'How do you do something like that that's adapted in a way that works in the sky floating through?' The trick was to make them feel super weightless. So many designs and tests we did, they felt quite heavy as jellyfish, and it was just the idea they were floating didn't make sense, so I tried to get them as paper thin as possible so it's almost like you can imagine a breeze making it wobble and float off in a different direction, so they have a gassy bulb inside them which is the justification of allowing them to float.
We shot with these quite big lights on cranes that were the colour of the jellyfish so we could glow and dim different bulbs we moved across the sky so the light was working in the location and reflecting off everything because we obviously couldn't do them practically, but wanted the effect on the scene to be as real as we could. Similarly, Mavis, the robot, is not CG. That was one I really liked going in. It was really risky because if it didn't work, we're on a tight schedule and we're suddenly looking at a pretty terrible puppeted robot, but I didn't want it to have a CG-ness and wanted it to be clunky, simple, and her eyes animate so there are little bits of CG we used to give her more articulation in parts or little things that moved to make her look more complex, but it's ultimately an actor acting the scene with a puppet with Dylan which I really liked.
The relationship between Joel and Boy is such a key part of this film, but as the director, how challenging is it when you're working with an animal who is obviously pivotal to the story?
We had an amazing animal trainer who had trained them before, so she had a lot of history with the dogs. I was concerned about it going into the shoot because I knew how important Boy is and I love dogs and so does Dylan, and he wanted to get that across in the movie like a real relationship there and for Boy not to just to be this character you cut to for a second to go, 'Rrr?' or something. He wanted there to be a real relationship there and feel like you're watching a real dog and it's not just cutaways. He and Joel have a real relationship in the way they talk to each other or walk next to each other, and all of that took a good amount of time of them hanging out before the shoot for a while, and Dylan getting extremely comfortable with Boy. A lot of it is down to the incredible team training Hero and Dodge which were the dog actor names.
The final battle is such an awesome set piece, and when I spoke to Jessica Henwick, she talked about the challenges of shooting in sand. What were the toughest moments for you in that VFX-heavy sequence?
There were a lot. It was a really hard set to build by itself. It wasn't actually even a beach, we turned it into one. It was a park with a rockface, and we wanted a separated cove feeling where these people have found a place which is hidden away and has high walls so it's not easy for monsters to get in there, and was a beach. We couldn't find it, but found a park with the rocks so had to bring all the sand in and then put up huge walls on one side, some of the rocks, some blue screens to replace big parts of the wall. On a technical level, it was challenging because I had to know how many VFX shots we'll need and how often we'd need to build backgrounds. Because there's so much that's happening on there, you can't do that on every shot. So, technically wrapping my head around the eight or ten minutes of action on the beach was tricky.
Fortunately, we had a great team and managed to get Brian Smrz as our second unit action director because our schedule was also very tight and I needed to go and do other stuff and so Brian who has done amazing action work across the board could come and get these specific shots that were potentially didn't need Dylan's performance as much as someone flying through the air, so the more complicated stuff that I had less experience with so it felt comfortable and efficient to have Brian come and do some of that. The whole shoot was a challenge because it was ambitious in what we were trying to achieve based on time and money, and the film has an expensive journey and a lot of characters and the monsters, so that would be overall the challenge: getting the day in every day and trying to make an amazing movie with the limitations.
Once I was done watching Love and Monsters, I definitely found myself desperate for a sequel, and so I was curious where you think this franchise could go next?
I have got a few ideas that could be really interesting, but it's not something we've gone too far down the road with. It really just depends on the movie itself and how audiences take it in. It was really important to Dylan and myself from the beginning not to be...look, it obviously sets itself up to go on, but the important part was to make a great movie and that's the core. We're not trying to build a universe or a franchise. If that happens because people love the movie, then I think there are a lot of great ideas for where it could go. That's the first step. Putting it out there and letting it be its own thing rather than it feeling like a product that there's four in a row waiting to go. That was really important to us.
If feels like a property that would work really well in an episodic format, too, so do you have any interest as a director in working in television and could that possibly even be something like a Love and Monsters spinoff series?
Television at the moment is so good. The quality of shows, characters, storytelling and all of it is such a high level. I really would love to. I think it's got to be a show for me that I'm part of creating just because that's the part I like about the whole process; the world building and putting the ideas together, thinking about the type of music, sound and wardrobe and the design and tone of the movie is a big one for me I really enjoy. I wouldn't want to jump on to another show where I'm coming to just direct, unless I'm working with someone I really love and respect. Then, I can go in and learn from them. I enjoy the building part, so I think a TV show is something I'd love to do as long as I've built it. That would be the key for me.
Watching the film, it's kind of hard to ignore some of the unintentional similarities with our world, particularly when it comes to how COVID has made us isolate like the people in the bunkers. What's it like for you now looking back on that?
I can't quite see it, to be honest! I spent that couple of years making it without that concept of it in my mind. I can understand how other people perceive it with the perspective of seeing it fresh after we've been through this type of year. I think what's interesting about films and stories in general is that things relate in different ways at different times. Anything could be happening, and then another aspect of the story is relatable or another thematic part is relatable, and then again in ten years for some reason, it's relatable again. That's the great thing about films. Politics can swing this way and that way, and a movie can be more relevant at certain times. As long as what you're doing you really believe in and buy into the truth of what your story is and what you're doing, it goes in and out of being relevant to different things. I wouldn't say people should take anything too literally about the film based on where we are now as it was never made or developed thinking about COVID [Laughs].
Because of COVID, Love and Monsters isn't getting a traditional theatrical release, but I think it's really cool that Paramount is giving us all a great new film to watch – what's your take on movies like this one being released Digitally?
I feel pretty much the same as you. I'm happy it's getting out there and that people can watch it. My concern was that it was going to be coming out early next year theatrically, and if it did that, maybe we're in the same position right now or perhaps cinemas are all fully functional but only half the amount of people are going. It's such a tricky one to just be debating, and in the meantime, time is going on and there aren't that many cool movies coming out. In that way, I was excited they made the call to say, 'Let's do this.' It is going to be in select theaters, so people in most cities should be able to find a place to watch it on the big screen if they want to go out, but the majority will be watching it on PVOD, and personally, I'm just happy it's getting out there and I'm talking to you guys about it, and it's a real movie people will be watching this weekend! I think it's all good and we're in strange times, but this is a definite positive.
Finally, I loved the film and felt like it delivered a really hopeful message, but what do you hope viewers are able to take away from Love and Monsters?
Just that it's a positive film. It's a hopeful film towards the future, it's not trying politically to make any statements, and the world is very divided in general with people making very strong enemies out of each other, and I think the film, one of the things I liked when I first read it, is that people are good to each other in this world. This feels more like the real version of an apocalyptic situation happening with a lot of people getting wiped out and the world not being what it used to be anymore, and there's not that many people around, I think you cherish other people that you meet or find or have these moments with because that's all we have. Right now, we're stuck so much in our own boxes of what we think are important, but you can't make enemies out of each other and be self-serving, so hopefully it makes people feel good about being human and remind them we need to care about each other and there's a hopefulness towards the future. That, for me, is the main feeling I liked about Love and Monsters in general.
Check out the Love and Monsters trailer - which is released on PVOD today - below: