Skyline has all the makings of a Hollywood film – a grand-scale alien invasion, big special effects and scenes of mass destruction. Except it wasn’t made by Hollywood. Instead, directors Greg and Colin Strause decided to cast off the shackles of corporate movie-making and compete with the big guys all on their own.
To pump us up for the impending release, Dread Central was invited to Hydraulix Visual Effects, the elaborate computer effects studio owned and operated by the Strauses, to check out their alien epic in progress. Self-financed with a 20-person crew, Skyline was shot entirely at the Strauses’ tall apartment building overlooking downtown Los Angeles, where a few remaining survivors battle it out with the hordes of bio-aliens that are laying waste to the rest of the city. “By Act 2, 99.9% of the people on Earth are gone. It’s a Biblical scale event,” says Colin Strause. “If you’re in this giant building and can see everything, why don’t you use it to your advantage?”
The brothers give us a grand tour of their studio with dozens upon dozens of high-powered machines and computer artists, each animating a different shot. Shots of Eric Balfour wailing on a punching bag are digitally swapped with a giant Lovecraftian tentacle monster. There are gorgeous large-scale shots of alien ships laying waste to California. Legions of animators have essentially taken a tiny backyard movie and beefed it up to the level of a $200 million dollar summer tentpole movie. It gives a whole new meaning to the term “We’ll fix it in post.”
From there, the brothers take us up to their screening room and show us several unfinished bits from the film. The first scene is an extended version of the Comic-Con footage: We see our heroes witness the full invasion by organic motherships that appear out of the clouds. As the residents of Los Angeles all gawk, the ships attack and begin vacuum-sucking the entire population up by thousands.
The second batch of clips showed the cast trying to flee from their apartment building, only to be stopped by a giant Godzilla-sized creature that unleashes some pretty major carnage. Lots more alien action and brain-sucking ensue.
The final clip showed an Independence Day style attack on one of the motherships with nuke-carrying bomber-drones. The FX work is definitely impressive and unlike their last film – the gloomy Aliens vs. Predator: Requiem – we can actually SEE what is transpiring on the screen.
The Strauses drop more than a few subtle hints about their unpleasant experience making AVP-R for Fox, which is what ultimately led them to the do-it-yourself school of filmmaking. “It’s amazing how many assholes it takes to get a decision made,” says Greg Strause of the whole studio experience. “This was very liberating … We greenlit the whole movie ourselves … We’re not gonna make another studio movie. We’re always going to do this.”
“Dexter”’s Sgt. Batista, David Zayas (portraying the building’s badass bellhop), loves working with the whole big-scale indie process: “It’s also gonna weed out the filmmakers who are not talented, who are not going to cut it under these circumstances and limited budget and resources,” he says. “To the credit of Colin and Greg, they made this happen because they knew what they were doing.” Owning your own FX company probably helps, too.
As the brothers race to the finish line, they’re gearing up for a sequel (“We already have a 40-page treatment”) and juggling multiple FX gigs all at once. With Skyline, it looks as if they’re taking the Robert Rodriguez approach of personal filmmaking to the next level. When a couple of indie filmmakers can destroy the universe in grand fashion, that’s a cause for celebration, right?
Look for Skyline in theaters November 12th, 2010.
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