Interview with Liam O’Donnell & Phet Mahathongdy

Phet Mahathongdy has not one but two roles in the upcoming sci-fi film “Skyline”. She also is married to Liam O’Donnell, one of the writers and producers of “Skyline”. Movie Mikes’ Adam Lawton got a chance to talk with both Phet (pronounced Pat) and Liam to discuss their new movie, “Skyline”, which opens in theaters Friday, November 12.

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Adam Lawton: Phet, what are your roles in the movie?
Phet Mahathongdy: I have two small cameos. The original script had a different role for me but that never made it to the cut. So I ended up doing a mother and baby scene and a bartender scene.
Liam O’Donnell: When we first started shooting Phet did the bartender scene and played the character Mandy. Then we started editing and thinking about doing re-shoots. We weren’t sure if we were going to keep that scene or not. It was a big pool sequence with all the characters hanging out and kind of enjoying the California life style. So when we started the re-shoots, we wanted to do a scene in an airplane which showed the characters arriving to LA. Originally due to the initial budget, we just had the characters arriving in a limo but when we got the re-shoots approved and we had a budget for an airplane set.  We wanted to  have a little “save the cat moment” where Jared played by Eric Balfore helps a single woman with a baby in her arms with her luggage. This is kind of a little screenwriting trick to make his character more likable. I said I know a good looking lady and cute kid. So Phet and our six month old played that as well. Later on however we didn’t know that the pool scene which had originally been cut came back. So Phet ends up having two scenes as two different characters in the movie. You really have to be looking closely in the pool scene to realize it’s the same woman.

AL: Phet How was it working on your first feature film?
PM: The film started of independently with a really small cast and crew maybe no more than twenty people. I have done independent films before so it was basically the same feel where everyone knows everyone else. We didn’t have trailers so everyone was hanging out together between takes and talking so it was very intimate.

AL: Are you and Liam fans of the sci-fi Genre?
PM: We are huge sci-fi nuts!
LO: She’s a very cool wife to be with because she only really likes action, horror and sci-fi. So if there’s a drama I kind of want to watch, she’s usually not interested.

AL: Phet, do you have any other upcoming projects?
PM: We actually just had a baby and he recently turned one year old. I have barely been auditioning for much of anything the last year or so. Lately I have just been trying to get back into it. When I filmed the scenes for “Skyline”, our son was about only about six months old so. We were still trying to get back into the swing of things.  Right now I’m just starting to get back into it and retrain and go back out there. It’s been a real life adjusting moment having a child and being in LA trying to pursue a career. It makes things a lot tougher. You have to be a lot stronger and without family here it’s hard to find a good sitter.

AL: Liam, can you tell me how you got into the business of writing scripts and treatments?
LO: I went to school for political science. I had wanted to be a writer since I was a kid, but it was one of those things that I wasn’t sure if I could. I originally came out to LA to do entertainment law. So I had gotten to know some people at some of the smaller production companies and I started writing treatments for local cable commercials. At one point I ended up directing one of these cable commercials and started figuring out the whole treatment game. One of the guys at the company knew Greg Strauss (co-director of “Skyline”). So I kind of met the brothers within six months of moving out to LA. After I met them, we hit it off as friends. We would go out and hit the town. One day Greg needed someone to write a treatment for a presentation, so myself and a friend of mine who was in graphic design did a few style frames and a few treatments. The second one I did for them was for a Fresca ad and the company got the job. Then we did the Gatorade ad where Michael Jordan misses the shot. After that I started developing features. I always loved movies. I loved sci-fi and I loved big ideas. I always had this kind of love for playing with the big epic story and then whittle it down into a small human intimate moment. I wrote a big disaster movie with the Strauss brothers a few years ago and we took that out on the town. I also wrote a period epic. “Skyline” is the third script I wrote. When we came up with the idea, I had been collaborating with the Strauss brother’s animation supervisor Joshua Cordes, who I had worked with before on “AVP 2”. He wrote a really brutal horror movie script called “Toxicity” that I thought did a good job with the contained kind of character story with teenagers trapped in a drug tenement house. “Skyline” was never anything but people trapped in a high rise. I wanted to play with the more epic aspects of “Skyline” and Josh would help keep me grounded. So we each wrote a treatment the first day. We had the idea and we put them together the next day and a lot of the beefs lined up. So we took the best parts of each and we almost immediately had a story. Within a week we had people who wanted to finance the movie because it had these awesome concepts of spaceships over cities and people getting sucked up in the air. It was a really big story set within the parameters of a small production.

AL: Is it true that the whole movie came together in less than a year?
LO: Yes, November of 2009 is when we had the first meeting. We had about thirty five pages in the first couple weeks,then we had a script about mid December. We started casting in late December/early January.
PM: It happened really fast. They were all really hungry. The teaser was shot Thanksgiving Day, it was pretty wild.
LO: The process has been great and I have been able to share it with my family and have them involved in some capacity. Phet has been my script reader since we have been together and it was great getting that feedback. She actually had input on the “Skyline” script in a few places.
PM: I was watching out for that woman character.
LO: In one scene we had Eric Belfour’s character tell Britney Daniels character to “shut up” and Phet said “No”. So when we were on set for that scene I told Eric that I had a female friend of mine read the script and that she hated the shut-up scene. Eric was like “I Love It” and he got really pissed and was complaining about the scene not being liked. Then I told him it was my wife (laughs) and he felt super bad. The next time he saw Phet, he apologized to her.
PM: From a woman’s perspective when a man tells them to shut up you do not like that man. They were like “Come on, he’s going to be a really likable character” and I was like “Um, No”.
LO: It was good insight

AL: Liam, you have done everything from commercials to music videos and now movies. Do you have one you prefer over the others?
LO: Movies, any day of the week! I was getting frustrated with videos and commercials. We would start writing the treatment in almost script form. There would be seven pages for a music videos, which would make it look very theatrical. It would get frustrating because we would do all this work only to be passed off for a more simpler low budget idea.  Also when you’re doing pitches for studios, the scripts get sent out to directors like Greg and Colin. Then they want meetings and when you do meetings you have to come in with a really well thought out idea of how you are going to approach that script. You are doing a lot of visual development and other things. I literally spent a year doing that and all I have from it are a bunch of really well written twenty page treatments of movies that someone else went on to make or that never got made. It’s just a frustrating use of your time and your passion.  I really immersed myself into each one of those projects and tried to make them as good as it could be. At times it can came down to things being political as to who gets the job. All those type of things just contributed to us saying we are going to do “Skyline” independently and by ourselves.

AL: You have another title in the works titled “Offline”, can you tell us about that?
LO: “Offline” was something I worked on with the guy I moved out to California with Mathew Santoro. He is a really talented director. We actually lived in the building where “Skyline” was filmed at. We were shooting this short film that kind of turned into a sizzle reel/trailer. It just kept evolving into so many different things. I helped come up with the story for that with Matt and helped shoot it for about a year. Matt put it out in Vimeo which got him attached to a few other productions. Right now, he is working on “The Dark Tower” with Ron Howard. The film is still being developed as a feature, so hopefully it comes out soon.

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