Not all aliens have to be giant transforming robots in a three hour movie. This weekend’s new family movie Earth to Echo just has one adorable little alien and a group of kids filming their adventure themselves. It’s found footage, only we found the footage after the kids edited it themselves, complete with a soundtrack, and they’re still alive. No one said you have to find footage after everyone died.
I met director Dave Green and screenwriter Henry Gayden to discuss their first feature film. They had worked on shorts and the FEARnet series Zombie Roadkill before, and it seems their influences are still grown-up, even though they made a movie that’s pure nostalgia for childhood adventure.
When a construction company forces families to move out of their homes, three friends go on one last adventure. They find an alien named Echo and help it find the parts to repair its spaceship, running from adults the whole time. We discussed the making of the movie and also geeked out over movie aliens of the past.
Did you have Astro do a lot of ADR since he’s not on screen and he’s not actually operating the camera either?
Green: Yeah, he was on set. Sometimes he would have an arm on the camera. Sometimes he would be walking with me and the DP through a scene and he would say, “I wouldn’t shoot it this way. I’d shoot it this way.” I would say for the most part he was off screen tossing lines at the other kids so they could have someone to bounce off of. It was a challenge for the other kids because they had to look into the lens instead of at him because he’s behind a big cameraman. Of course, there’s other ADR in the movie.
Gayden: As would happen in this kind of thing. Chronicle did too but honestly, Astro was rarely not there. He was there to interact with those kids.
I don’t doubt that. I would just imagine you’d have to ADR his lines to make them clear.
Gayden: Oh, for sure, sometimes, yeah.
Was the Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves soundtrack the most expensive thing in the movie?
Green: Dude, hilarious. It was not a cheap joke and it was a joke that everyone kind of assumed was going to go away.
Gayden: You had to go to Costner. He had to go to all these people hot it.
Kevin Costner, because he was a producer too?
Green: Because his face is on the image. It was a joke that honestly a friend of mine had thrown at me and I was like, “Oh, that’s great.” We played it at a test screening and it went over well. I was like, “See, it’s a great joke.” But it was not cheap. Credit to Relativity for letting them because they said, “Sure, we’ll pay X amount to let you have this joke” which for me, it’s a big deal because I’m a movie nerd. It’s part of their self-referential vibe.
As a kid, your biggest fear is that you’ll have to move away, isn’t it?
Green: Yeah, or that everybody will move. I remember it was that first feeling of other pain. There was a girl I liked in second grade and we would eat each other’s spit. Then very casually on the schoolyard one day she’s like, “Yeah, we’re moving to New York.” And I was like, rip, rip, rip out the heart. I’ve been fortunate because I grew up with the same core group of friends since I was five years old and I didn’t have to make that departure from them until we all went to college. We all split up and everything was different.
You just reminded me, my second grade girlfriend did move away and every once in a while I think I see her as a grown-up. I go up and ask that person, “Are you by any chance...?” It’s not her but someone who has that red hair I remember, that could be what she looks like now.
Gayden: Have you ever looked her up?
By the time Facebook came out she must have long since changed her name.
Gayden: Women are tough because they sometimes change their name, I know.
Did you get real home videos of the actors for the end credits?
Green: Absolutely, yeah. Those were home videos and their parents are sometimes in the background.
Gayden: That’s their real life. That was a thing, getting outside of found footage that was a really great gift, that we could include that stuff. If this was just a document of a night, it would be very straightforward. But the fact that this kid has edited it and is showing it, presented this to us. We could work in shots of them when they were younger and growing up. I love that personally. I love being able to see that connection.
Were any kind of reshoots out of the question because of growth spurts?
Green: A little bit. Principal photography was our run and gun, 28 day principal shoot. Then we went back and we picked up this truck scene. That was inserted in, so if you look closely in that scene, the kids are a little older. So we picked that up and we also picked up the epilogue, which is the kids getting together basically a year and change later, which was really taking advantage of their age. It was a luxury that a lot of movies don’t get. I’ve seen it in certain movies where you can tell at the end of Empire of the Sun that Christian Bale has gone from 12 years old to 14. He looks older, but we wanted to take advantage of it. We knew we had the opportunity to do it. Let’s show them.
Gayden: Let’s show them grown up. Let’s not hide it in makeup. Let’s not hide it in wardrobe. Let’s show it.
Did you have to fight to use puppets for Echo?
Green: Honestly, no and then yes. At first it was, “Let’s do it all puppet. It’s going to be great! Puppet, puppet, puppet! We don’t want any CG bullsh*t.” Then the studio was like, “Maybe you want some CG.” We were like, “Puppet!” Then when we got the puppet, it was built by Legacy. They’re the best in the business. They’re amazing but by sake of making Echo this big instead of this big, it just meant you had to pack so many robotics into a little thing. It was tough for them. I would want Echo to move his ears and one motion. They’d be like, “Well, this one does this. This one does this.” They had five different puppets, not all in one. So there are full CGI shots, but in a lot of shots we had a puppet in the kids’ hand that we either replaced head movement or we replaced ears or we replaced the whole thing, but actually gave the kids something metal that shined blue light on their faces so they could react to it.
What are your favorite movie aliens?
Green: Probably the alien in Independence Day because it scares the sh*t out of me. Probably the alien in The Thing because it scares me and it’s different every time we see it.
Gayden: I mean, Giger’s thing has to be in there. I love that. E.T. has to be in there because that really unexpectedly sneaks up on you and becomes something so lovable. That’s a really interesting question. Not Starman.
Green: Not Scarlett Johansson [in Under the Skin].
Gayden: I love that movie.
Green: I love that movie. What’s your favorite movie alien?
Definitely Giger’s Alien. That’s just one of the greatest monsters we have. I remember liking the Starship Troopers bugs.
Gayden: Oh yeah, they felt very CG even then.
I do like Starman.
Gayden: I love Starman, but he’s just Jeff Bridges.
I’ll say Alf.
Gayden: Ha! That’s awesome.
And Flight of the Navigator.
Gayden: The ship?
Oh yeah, the ship is an alien too, but I meant the alien he finds on the ship.
Gayden: Oh, the little guy.
Green: I’m hanging my had on The Thing, John Carpenter’s.
Do you have your next movie?
Green: We’re working on it. We’re working on the script for Lore which is an action movie.
Gayden: With The Rock, and then we have a movie with [producer Andrew] Panay that we’re putting together.
Is Lore based on a comic?
Gayden: A very obscure comic. If you’ve read it, it’s almost all written but it’d be amazing if you’ve read it.
How big can the scope and budget of Lore be?
Green: It can be big, much bigger than Echo.
Gayden: It’s more traditional Hollywood scope but it’s not massive.
Green: I have to say there’s something kind of fun about Echo because it kind of has stuff that I love in the movies I watch, which is I want to feel like I’m in a real world but I also want awesome CG.
Gayden: Honestly, I think Lore is becoming that too in a real way. It’s becoming a very real-world, sort of outsized reality.
Have you written any lines that you just can’t wait to hear The Rock deliver?
Green: It’s just a trailer moment.
Gayden: It’s the end of the trailer.
Green: Either that, or it alienates every family in the audience.
Is it from the comics?