Interview with Skyline's Colin & Greg Strause

Colin & Greg Strause have worked on many high profile films under their company Hydraulx. Some of them range from “The Day After Tomorrow” to “300” to “2012” to “Avatar”. Together they have only previously directed one film, “AVPR: Aliens vs Predator – Requiem” back in 2007. They decided to create their latest film “Skyline”, completely independent from studios in order to make it under their own terms. “Skyline” looks like $100 million movie but was shot for less than $1 million dollars, according to the brothers.  Movie Mikes got a chance to chat with the brothers about “Skyline” and how they got it made in under a year.

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Mike Gencarelli: How did Hydraulx originally come about?
Greg Strause: Hydraulx came to be in 2002.  Colin and I moved to LA in 1995 and had another company called Pixel Envy with some partners.  We couldn’t all get along, so we split that up.  Colin and I decided to just go at it on our own and do it just the two of us, that is when Hydraulx came to be.  We started off pretty small, it was like ten guys in an apartment in Santa Monica.  It has grown now into a big office with like a hundred and twenty people.  It has turned into this little monster.

MG: Tell us why you decided to make “Skyline” completely independent from studios?
GS: There were a few things, we thought a lot of things could have gone better on “AVPR”.  In the three years that has gone by since it came out, we have been developing scripts.  We were meeting with producers and trying to get things going at other studios.  It is a very frustrating process of trying to get a movie off the ground.  If we had an idea that we thought was cool, a person at the studio would say “If there was a comic book that sold 250 copies of it, then I could show my boss”.  Colin and I thought that was absolutely ridiculous.  That is honestly the dumbest thing I have ever heard.  I have to make a comic book in order to get a movie made?  That is really lame that you can’t show your boss unless it is based on an existing property.
Colin Strause: It doesn’t even matter if the existing property only sold like ten copies either.
GS: Yeah, it is such a studio mentality that everyone is just trying to protect their jobs.  It is very difficult to get original sci-fi and stuff like that off the ground.  You have to take a risk, like what we did by just financing your own film.  We did it independently, just rolled the dice and see what happens.

MG: How were you able to complete “Skyline” from script to screen in under a year?
CS: It was like 11 and a half months. It was insane.
GS: I think the important thing is that we had our writers, Liam (O’ Donnell) and Josh (Cordes) and they stayed on it until the last day it was delivered.
CS: We had a strong outline and that was real key.  You can spend years on the development process and writing the script.  Just because you spent three years on it doesn’t mean the script is going to be any better than if you spent two months on it.  Sometimes you get these ideas that sounds great in a room and once they are implemented you say “Oh my God, it got worse”.  That is why things get stuck in development hell.  We had a very detailed outline written out right off the bat.  From that outline Josh and Liam stuck to it when they wrote the script.  That aloud the script to get finished in what is considered a short order from what the business is used to.

MG: “Skyline” was shot on a low budget, what was the hardest part of making it looking like a $100 million dollar movie?
GS: The first thing was getting everyone on board in the beginning and making them believe we could pull this off.  They would read the script and it reads big.  Colin and I said told them we can do this for $10 million. The physical live action budget was only a million bucks.
CS: Yeah, it was like $980,000.
GS: The agents and managers were flipping.  They thought we were smoking crack.  That is them though doing their job, it didn’t make sense.  You have this script it reads really big.  So convincing people we weren’t smoking crack was one of the hard parts.  The other part was after we finished shooting, we were cutting the movie this past summer and Universal tells us they want to release the movie on November 12th.  So probably the hardest thing really was getting it done in that amount of time.

MG: How does working on visual effects for “Skyline” differ from you working on a film like “Avatar”?
GS: The actual process is very similar.  Again, the time compression on “Skyline” was rough.
CS: We had to do a thousand FX shots in just under four months which is insane.  It is the most shots Hydraulx has ever done on a movie.  The actual process, the software and the way things are put together, is identical to how we did stuff on “Avatar”.
GS: The biggest difference is that since we were our own client, we were  able to eliminate a significant amount of bureaucracy between supervisors, director, producers and the studios.  There are all these levels of people that need to sign off on things.  As directors, we are also visual effects supervisors, we knew what we were going to do from day one.  We just stuck to the plan.  Usually what happens on movies, they are trying to race through pre-production.  They do not always work out the visual effects until after the movie is shot.  They are like “Ok, now let’s get into it afterwards.  We knew this wasn’t going to be a two year process, so we didn’t have that luxury.  We had to come up with our plan up front, stick to our guns and ride it out.
CS: It is a different way of doing movies and that is how we pulled it off.  I do not think that anyone else could have ever done it the way we did.

MG: When I watching the film, I thought to myself you guys probably had this all planned out.  It felt very well thought out, like the visual effect were already there when it is was shot.
GS: One of our camera operators on the movie was Josh Cordes, who is also one of the writers.  Having your writer be your camera guy really helps.  You have someone who knows why the camera is being pointed somewhere.  That is a huge positive in trying to streamline the process.

MG: What has been the most difficult film that you have worked on?
GS: This film definitely ranks up there for me and probably another would be…
CS: “2012”, it was huge.
GS: Yeah it was, but I think it might be “The Day After Tomorrow” actually.  We came in after another company had a problem on the movie.  We only had a couple of months to do, what this other company had a year to work on.  “Skyline” definitely takes the cake though overall in that realm.
CS: We were also wearing a lot of hats in “Skyline”.  It is our first movie as producers as well.  You have involvement of making sure it doesn’t go over budget.  We had to get it done on time.  We were dealing with the marketing materials.  The color grading and final assembly of the film was done at Hydraulx.  It was the first movie we have ever done that on.  We were learning all the ins and outs of managing the sound department also.  It was a huge undertaking.
GS: Even though it is a small indie.  There is still an incredible amount of man hours that goes into the film.  Staying above all of the departments is a lot of work.  Collin and I were running on pure adrenaline the whole film.

MG: I liked the ending of the movie, I thought it fit well.
GS: It was ballsy.  It is not a studio ending.  We wanted to do something really interesting with the ending.

MG: When was the ending shot? Was it a pick-up shot?
GS: It was literally shot the last day of principal photography.  The whole things was shot in one day on green screen.  It was intense.

MG: Any hints you can give us for what’s to come in “Skyline 2”?
GS: [MINOR SPOILER] We already have a forty page treatment that we did.  I hope people take away when they watch the movie is that “Skyline” is the prequel.  We basically shot what we wanted to do with this trilogy in order.  Normally you do the big movie first, then the sequel, then come back and do the prequel.  With this one we had the story mapped out in what we wanted to do.  Now seeing where the movie ends, it leaves it open for a chance for us to fight back.  We got our asses kicked and we find out first resistance fighter.  I think it takes us to a really cool place for the next one.
CS: It gives us hope for the human race.

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