Film-making, the Times They are A-Changing. Monsters 2010

Monsters (2010 film)
Monsters (2010 film) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I just finished reading an interesting blog post from Africa is a Country Although the post dealt with a specific set of films, it made me think of how film-making has changed over-all.

Everything is digital – with the advancements made on the digital front a lot of ‘new’ films are being shot entirely on a digital format. The superior 2010 film Monsters was made with a two person crew  they used “off the shelf” $8,400 cameras, editors, digital effects programs and other “common” software programs. Monsters, besides being an entirely ‘digital’ film also  could be labelled the zenith of “guerilla” film-making.

The film-makers travelled to each location and filmed quite a lot of the time without any local authority’s permission. The ‘extras’ were not ‘actors’ but real people who happened to be in the area where they were filming. The two film crew members, would then edit the day’s footage in their hotel room at night.

Written and directed by Gareth Edwards, who up to this point was better known as a documentary film-maker, Monsters is his first venture into the  feature-length arena. The script he wrote had little to no dialogue in it. The scenes in the film with the two protagonists are mostly improvised rather than scripted. Amazingly this seems to work in making the film seem more believable.

The film is about two Americans who are trapped in Mexico by a quarantine. The Americans, Andrew Kaulder (Scoot McNairy) and Samantha Wynden (Whitney Able) spend the entire film trying to get back to US soil and dodging  alien monsters, opportunistic people and the elements.

Kaulder is actually in Mexico on an assignment. Wynden’s father has hired him to find her and bring her home. Wynden is a sort of ‘Greenpeace’ “Save the world” type and she is initially reluctant to leave the alien infested Mexican/American border.

The film-makers help sell their film and their aliens by deciding to make them huge. Shots in the film ‘featuring’ the aliens show us enormous legs or trunks and refrain from showing us the actual bodies of the aliens till the end of the film.

The sets and the actors look gritty and real. That director Edwards has a background in documentaries this is evident from the very first frame of the film. Monsters looks and feels like a documentary. We feel like a fly on the wall watching these two protagonists interact with their surroundings and each other.

McNairy and Able were dating during the making of this film and are now married, an interesting fact that helps to explain their characters interaction with each other in the film.

Digital only films are increasingly becoming the medium of choice by new film-makers. These digital films look good and apparently the ‘run of the mill’ editing programs on the market are very good, because the editing in most cases is almost flawless. Asian cinema has been making ‘mainstream’ films digitally for some time now.

English: Gary Oldman at the 2011 Venice Film F...
English: Gary Oldman at the 2011 Venice Film Festival. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Not too long ago actor Gary Oldman made a music video filmed entirely on a mobile (cell) phone. In 2009 Juliet Landau filmed the entire process for a short documentary entitled Take Flight: Gary Oldman Directs Chutzpah. Intended as a no frills look at the filming process it looks instead at the creativity and thought process of Oldman himself. It also shows how the film medium can be captured with a device as simple as a mobile phone and still look impressive.

English: A photograph of Juliet Landau

A lot of the filming community are mourning the new trend of digital film making. They have gone on record as saying that digital films are more transient than traditionally made films. That may well be true, but without the option of digitally made films, little gems like Monsters would never be made. And what a shame that would be.

Author: Mike's Film Talk

Former Actor, Former Writer, Former Journalist, USAF Veteran, Former Member Nevada Film Critics Society

9 thoughts on “Film-making, the Times They are A-Changing. Monsters 2010”

  1. Hi Mike, firstly thanks for following me, it was a nice surprise to see my little face in that widget to the left. And secondly given the title of this post, I will inform you that about two hours ago I saw Bob Dylan with my own two eyes at his concert in Lyon… Really truly brilliant!

    Anyway, Monsters, I saw it a while ago and really enjoyed it. It has one of my favorite lines in it of any film recently, when the photographer explains how much money he could make if he gets a photo of a child who’s been killed by an alien, and the girl asks how he can live with himself making money out of the misfortune of others he says “would you say that to a doctor?” Or something like that… like I said it was a long time ago.

    But definitely when I saw this film I could just about tell, because I went into it knowing that the effects were done on a laptop in a hotel room that they weren’t perfect. But that’s only because I was squinting and looking for them, but actually for the most part it was hard to work out it was an independent film, had I gone in not knowing anything I don’t think I’d question that millions and millions had been spent on it, it’s a real achievement.

    Funnily enough I was thinking about digital vs film just yesterday, I was trying to think of a reason why film is better and the best I could do is the music video for Stupid Girl by Garbage, To make it the director filmed the band, and then took the film out, and physically scratched and screwed up and bit and messed up the film in all sorts of ways to create the feeling of Garbage.

    It might be quite a simple idea but there’s no way you could do it with digital. There would be some kind of effect that you could use maybe, but it wouldn’t have the purity of this. Otherwise, off the top of my head, I think the move to digital is an entirely good thing. What you reckon?


    1. I believe that any medium that allows new creative people to make films that entertain, inform, or just bring something new to the party, is a good thing. I might be wrong, but I also think that going digital is going to keep your production costs down. That fact alone makes it a good thing. I know the biggest argument against digital film making, did not make sense, essentially they were implying that digital films would not last as long as traditional films. This argument makes no sense to me at all. Thanks for the great input and comment! Cheers!


  2. Glad you liked Monsters. I was part of the location crew on the film – Assistant Editor. Just to expand, there were 7 of us out there making it. The two actors, Scoot and Whitney; Gareth, writer/director/DoP; Ian Maclagan, sound recordist; Colin Goudie, editor; Jim Spencer, line producer; and myself. We also had locally based Unit Production Managers.
    It was real guerrilla filmmaking, no script, no pre-defined locations and grabbing locals off the street to be major characters.
    It was all digital, as you said, shot on a Sony EX3, and almost entirely natural light lit. Scoot and Whitney even did their own costume and make-up, as well as helping carry what little gear we had.


    1. Wow Justin, thanks for taking the time to comment on my little article! I adored Monsters and after watching the ‘making of’ featurettes fell even more in love with it. I heard about it from a friend at work who is friends with one of the crew. It looked challenging to make and to logistically plan. Thanks again for commenting, I’m going to have to brag on twitter and fb now! 😀


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