Aliens: Zone of Silence – Interview with Dir. Andy Fowler

 

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Aliens: Zone of Silence

Starring Sarah Hester (Unfabulous), Peter Gesswein (A Plea for Tenderness), Jed Maheu (The Rambler),  and Vince Tula (Four Cities), Aliens: Zone of Silence follows a young woman who goes on a daring search for answers after her brother vanishes from the Mexican desert. But when she discovers an extraterrestrial presence, she must risk her life to expose the desert’s otherworldly secret.

Written by: Fidel Arizmendi, Andy Fowler
Directed by: Andy Fowler

Aliens: Zone of Silence is out today, October 24th, on VOD.

Find out more on: http://alienszoneofsilence.com/

 

 

Talking with Writer & Director Andy Fowler

Sci-Fi & Scary: You’ve got a solid background of visual effects – 300, Tron, San Andreas just to name a few- and now you’re the Director of Visual Effects at Netflix. What ultimately persuaded you to step outside the visual effects field and write and direct your own movie?

Andy Fowler: I’ve been into making films since my teens and won a couple of awards back in the UK for some shorts which fueled my interest and passion. However, soon after I found myself carried along by the creativity of commercial and graphic design production in London and cut my teeth there for a bunch of years during its digital genesis in the 80s before settling into VFX. First film was Lost in Space back in 1996 and I never got off the train. Visual Effects really helped contain my creative demons and it still does! However, when I left Disney Feature Production around 2011 I got the itch to make something of my own again.

Sci-Fi & Scary: What was it like making the switch to the writing / directing chair role? Was anything harder or easier than you thought it would be?

Andy Fowler: Making the switch felt natural for me, I really get a kick out of working with actors and the live feedback and creative interaction. After all, VFX is pretty much removed from dealing with flesh and blood, beyond what gets thrown in front of camera as FX elements for say 300 so its wonderful contrast! As a VFX Producer you get to be on set A LOT and so are used to seeing what it takes to bring a film to life, how thrilling it is and how grueling it can be and was therefore under no illusion how tough this project would be, albeit with much different challenges considering the tight budget. What was harder than I thought going in? Having the stamina to finish it. Easier? ADR. Loved ADR.

Sci-Fi & Scary: From script to production wrap, how long did it take you to create Aliens: Zone of Silence?

Andy Fowler: Had early concept for the film in 2011, started in earnest in 2012, so 5 years or thereabouts. Work got in the way!

Sci-Fi & Scary: Do you think your background in visual effects brings anything special to Aliens: Zone of Silence beyond the standard glitchy camera work one knows to expect in these films?

Andy Fowler: It certainly helped in some ways as part of the of problem with making VFX look great in films is the understanding or sensitivity of some filmmakers and knowing when a VFX shot might break, in turn pushing an effect too far at the expense of the integrity of a shot or sequence. So with Aliens: Zone of Silence (AZOS), I naturally dialed back any areas that’d take the viewer out of the experience. This is a found footage film after all, so keeping things organic and visceral was key.

Sci-Fi & Scary: Aliens: Zone of Silence isn’t a large budget production. After being part of so many films with more money poured into them than most of us will see in ten lifetimes, how hard was it, effects wise, to work on a much smaller scale?

Andy Fowler: It was hard. It was very, very hard. But the low budget forced me into finding ways, creative ways of making the shots work outside of the digital norm which in the end (I feel) helped keep the movie honest. Not that AZOS is like Scott’s first ALIEN movie, but I liken the experience of Ridley having a low FX budget forcing an approach that was more ‘in camera’ than its bigger budget sequel Aliens which (although equally amazing) was a totally different viewer experience. Sometimes having little money can work for you!

Sci-Fi & Scary: How many different cameras did you use during the shoot? I believe the main character has at least 4 on her at one point?

Andy Fowler:  I lost count! Hmmm,  2 attached to Sarah Hester’s pack (POV shot and CU),  plus a handheld that could switch between a regular camera or night vision. On top of that we utilized devices such as a motion-triggered head on which the hand-held cam could be attached. Also, Sarah had a HDR (High Dynamic Range) camera that could capture a wide range of exposure, a key story telling point! To round off we had a bunch of perimeter fixed security cameras to help ‘keep an eye’!

Sci-Fi & Scary: Regarding multiple camera use, were they actually often all running at the same time, or were you turning them on/off as need to be spare the time you’d need to sort through and splice footage?

Andy Fowler: Sometimes we had all three cameras running on or around Sarah, totally depending. We got a lot of coverage! However, when shooting action/drama specific beats we often focused on only using cameras that we felt would provide relevant material.

Sci-Fi & Scary: There’s a fair few alien-oriented found footage films released recently, most notably Phoenix Forgotten and The Phoenix Tapes. What would you tell people to persuade them to give Aliens: Zone of Silence a try as well?

Andy Fowler: Our movie is different to those films in the same way chalk is different to cheese. I’d say AZOS goes out of its way to remain fully authentic while aiming to be different from anything else that’s been out there in the ‘found footage’ space. Basically, key difference here is that the footage in our case was never actually ‘lost’ in the first place thanks to the miracle of live streaming!

Sci-Fi & Scary: What was your favorite part of filming Aliens: Zone of Silence?

Andy Fowler: I loved shooting with Sarah (Morgan), Vince (Goose), Peter (Hal) and Jed (Peter). It was great fun! BUT, after the movie had been shot and was editing, I ended up filming pick-ups in Lone Pine California with my wife Gabby and our two kids Henry (13) and Poppy (7). We had such a blast mixing family time with filming productive footage that glued parts of the film together! Very cool.

Sci-Fi & Scary: Did the plot or script of the movie change any once you actually started filming? Or was it a pretty as-it-was-written shoot?

Andy Fowler: I’d like to say it was a locked script to completion, but lets just say making this film was a fluid process!

Sci-Fi & Scary: What’s next for you? Do you anticipate taking on more directorial endeavors?

Andy Fowler: Netflix keeps my busy! I’m really lucky to be working at a studio that’s pushing the boundaries in so many creative and technical ways to help change the industry. HOWEVER, I’d be happy to direct a Star Wars movie if anyone from Lucasfilm is reading this.

Sci-Fi & Scary: Any last remarks about the film?

Andy Fowler: Yes, all my previous comments are false. This movie uses real footage I came across in a trash can in Van Nuys….


 

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