Grant Humphreys Interview: ‘Taking Earth’ Director Talks About His New Film
Taking Earth is an action-adventure story about a strange event that causes a worldwide outbreak that turns people into predators monsters, though that’s just the start. It seems there is more than meets the eye and a young hero holds a secret to why it’s all happening. From Empress Road Pictures, Taking Earth is opening later this year. In expectation of that, we had a chance to ask a few questions to Grant Humphreys, the film’s co-writer and director about the movie-making experience. Click here to learn more about the film. Read on for our exclusive interview.
Tell us a bit about your new film.
Grant Humphreys: Taking Earth is a Science Fiction film that follows the events of aliens arriving in three ships across the globe, hidden from us, they are searching for a 17 year old kid out of seven billion people. We have watched many Sci-Fi’s lately that are explosive with visual effects but lacking in character development and story. Many also throw everything into the first 30 minutes leaving nothing new for the audience except more of the same till the end of the film. We worked really hard, despite our limited budget to build exciting characters that have an experience that potentially changes them and makes the audience care for them. More than anything, we wanted to make a fun journey that you could watch more than once, without feeling you’ve seen all there is to offer. How many times do people watch Star Wars, it’s just so awesome.
This is obviously a passion project. What were some inspirations for creating this story?
GH: We have many stories that we have created over the years, waiting for the break to have the chance to produce them. Taking Earth is our first feature film, but I’ve been imagining and making movies in my imagination since I was a kid, as well as all the home movies I made from a young age that are probably really awful to watch but to me, that’s where it started. A great story is one you don’t have to wrestle with too hard, When we wrote Taking Earth, the story just flowed and took shape so well, because our characters were so interesting and the premise had a lot of heart and meaning. When we write we can’t just write something that isn’t motivated by more. So, for Taking Earth we developed the back story, where the conflict began, generations before, to where it is heading inevitably for our characters. As a result, we already have two sequels plotted out: Leaving Earth and Saving Earth.
What were some of the larger obstacles in bringing your vision to the big screen?
GH: The largest obstacle has been time. We are a small team and low budget, so as far as bringing in some big guns to get through obstacles and sheer volume of work, this was not an option. Every effect that you see has been keyed / tracked/ created / rendered / composited by a team of 3 people. We are extremely happy with the outcome even though it has taken a little longer to produce, but we have all worked on every frame of this film.
How important was it for you to film this on location in South Africa?
GH: As ‘local boys’, South Africa is our backyard. We have a beautiful country that offers anything you could ever dream of as far as locations go. From the beginning we had the mission to show off the country for the landscape and talent that it has. We also know the terrain as we have vacationed here our entire lives. There are some truly special places and knowing some of the secret hideaways gave us a great advantage over shooting in unchartered territory.
A world in chaos or in a post-apocalyptic state are classic themes in sci-fi films. What drew you to taking this direction and using it to craft your story?
GH: Sci Fi’s in general share some common threads, it is some of these threads that keep the audience and fans coming back for more. From the get go we had the motive of ‘they took the planet to find just one’. This was the drive behind the story and a great platform to inspire some truly creative scenes and plotlines. We have not made just another run of the mill film here, but we have followed the Hollywood writing rules and structure. Our film has 3 acts in proportion to the regular process and has all the milestones like the 17 minute mark and the speed bump in the middle of the second act and so on, BUT, it is not obvious or predictable, the story happens as the events affect them. We didn’t create a visual effect idea and force our characters into it, we developed the story then thought how best to make it look exciting.
How involved were you in the creative process of the look of the film, including the aliens and numerous robotic lifeforms? Tell us about that aspect of bringing your vision to the screen.
GH: Like I have mentioned earlier, we are a 3 man team working on this film. All of the sets have been conceptualised and designed between us. The robots were all rigged and animated, Camiru/ Cameron’s ship were designed from the ground up. We even went past the visuals and supplied our composer with character themes/ tunes for the score and Josh, our composer then incorporated these and gave them a wonderful cinematic life. It has been almost 18 months in post production and we have not even begun to count the effects shots yet, but looking back now, we don’t know how we have got this far with everything. We are proud of the look of the film and cant wait for it to be available for the public to see. What we did try to do is give our digital characters a character and personality, remember we are film children of Star Wars, so even though some of the nuances are small they are there and though it was harder to create as we didn’t have motion capture facilities and did everything manually, the result is worth it and there is a fun element to our digital characters.
Tell us about your actors and what it was like working with your fresh-faced cast.
GH: All of our actors had a passion for performing. Yes they were all first timers, but they all wanted to take this route in their lives. Some have had training and some have not, but everyone had a desire for acting at some time in their lives. We used them in our short film and it was almost like a very in depth screen test. We worked very hard with them to mould and deliver an excellent performance. Even though they are first time actors, they did an outstanding job of bringing their characters to life. I am sure that they will not only act in our future projects, but will also begin a great career in Hollywood and around the world. We are fortunate to have received a lot of praise in the casting, as each actor is so well suited to their role.
We know you are busy promoting Taking Earth, and you’ve mentioned the planned sequels, but are there any other upcoming projects you can tell us about?
GH: We have a giant castle of scripts ready to go. We chose Taking Earth to start with because we knew we could make it within the restrictions we had but we also know that if we had some extra leeway to stretch our legs we can showcase some truly amazing projects and a fresh style of filmmaking. We have the 2 sequels for Taking Earth – Leaving Earth and Saving Earth as well as a myriad of other projects. We hope to get in a boardroom with some top execs and green light one of our most prized projects beyond Taking Earth. We have a 8 story film franchise, that has the most complex and ground breaking objectives in it. It sounds like a long life for any franchise but a thread is interwoven between films through different genres and storyline patterns that will intrigue any movie buff or studio looking for a fresh start that will generate a cult following. We have the music, the stories plotted out and baring in mind I am a child of the movies and have watched many movies, there are scenes that I have never seen on film in our big story. We developed a spy movie for our star Ronan Quarmby that is very different and exciting as well as ideas we have developed for TV.
Who in the movie-making industry would you say are your biggest influences?
GH: Steven Spielberg and George Lucas. 1. Steven Spielberg – I can write a book on the inspiration from this hugely talented man. His films sparked off every urge in me to be a film maker. From my earliest age I studied at the film school of Steven Spielberg’s filmography. His story telling ability and then the escapism that he has given me, opened my eyes to breaking new ground and showing life and imagination in film. From recreating dinosaurs, thrilling us with the scenes from Jaws, breaking box office records with ticket sales from ET which still stand up today and the list goes on. His collaboration with John Williams over the years has taught me that the score is just as important as the visuals. Schindlers List, Amistad and even the recent Bridge of Spies are accounts of true life events that stand up to the real life events. His cinematic style still captures the heart of every audience member and if there are a thousand places to put the camera and move it in some way but only one perfect way, his movies are a study of that perfection. 2. George Lucas – Not only did he pioneer so many things in the industry, Star Wars was a franchise that took the world by storm. His vision and insight into the supernatural world that he created in his mind is still one of the great cinematic breakthroughs in history. I stood in line to watch the first showing of The Force Awakens with the rest of the hard core fans and looked around seeing people of ages from 12 till 80, dressed up in costume, wearing t-shirts, quoting lines and wielding light-sabers. This came from a film that was born in 1977 and even though the franchise has now changed hands, it started with Mr Lucas. His pioneering of On line editing, special effects through Industrial Light and Magic, Sound through Skywalker sound and even animation, makes George Lucas a leading power house in so many fields of film and is testament to his great vision and scope. The list still continues as we see new titans arising and taking the reigns in the industry, JJ Abrams the obvious leader of our modern day brat pack.
We’d like to thank the very gracious Mr. Humphreys for his time, and commend him on his dedication to the art of filmmaking. We wish him the best of luck and look forward to many more great contributions to cinema. Look for Taking Earth, coming later this year.