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A year ago, Skyline did not appear on a single "most anticipated" film list for 2010. There was zero online buzz about the project, no casting rumors and no script leaks. For a science fiction film of this visual effects scale, that may sound unlikely, but it gets even stranger. One year ago, even the idea for Skyline did not exist.
Meet the Brothers Strause, Greg and Colin, the special effects wizards whose company, Hydraulx, has been responsible for visual effects in blockbusters like 300, The Day After Tomorrow and Avatar. As they lead a tour of their Santa Monica office, men and women are hard at work on computer stations, modeling, animating and rendering all sorts of fantastic creatures, vehicles and locations. Skyline, begun as an independently funded alien invasion film, shot entirely in Greg's apartment, now has over 900 visual effects shots and the race is on to have everything completed for the November release.
"We came up with this idea about two weeks before Thanksgiving," says Colin of the project's humble beginnings late last year. "We shot basically a teaser test on Thanksgiving day. We kind of had a concept for it and one of the reasons we called our production company Black Monday was because there was this sh--y meeting and we were just kind of tired of the whole process and everything. Literally, at that Monday lunch, we said, You know? We should just do our own thing. One of our agents at CAA worked on 'Paranormal Activity' and he said, "You guys should try an independent. Something you guys can actually control. Do your own shit and don't have anyone else tell you what to do. It'll be pretty liberating."
From there, the brothers turned to friends and writers Joshua Cordes and Liam O'Donnell, who expanded on the high concept premise: alien invaders have come to Earth and use a brilliant blue light as a sort of siren song. Once you look at it, you're drawn to it and the second you step outside your house, you're sucked up into one of their harvest ships.
"It's not like it's just attacking one city," explains Colin. "Pretty much, by Act Two, 99.9% of everyone is gone. There's an interesting scale to it where it's not like it's a little battle and you can fight back. It's basically that you're wiped out. How do these people survive the next day or so if 99% of the world is gone? And it's such a simplistic way that everyone is taken that everything stays untouched. It's not like cities are destroyed or anything. It's like everyone is literally vacuumed off."
Planning for a February shoot for no reason other than to keep themselves on a deadline, the brothers moved forward with no studio support, pulling together a small cast that would shoot for 42 days on a miniscule budget.
"The whole crew, everyone, did deferrals," says Colin. "Everyone believed in the project. It wasn't just a job and just a paycheck. Me and Greg literally made eight bucks an hour. That's the DGA minimum for doing the film. When we were doing casting, it would just be the five of us in the room. We liked someone, that was it. Normally you'd have to go to the studio and then have to get their head of casting people through. Then you need to get all the junior executives to approve. Then the co-president, who has to go to the chairman. It's just f--king amazing how many assholes it takes to get a single decision made."
Among Skyline's principal actors are Eric Balfour, Scottie Thompson, David Zayas, Donald Faison and Brittany Daniel, each of whom was brought in to the Hydraulx office to meet with the brothers and to be among the first to see the VFX test footage for the project. Together, the actors play a group of friends who become trapped in an apartment building when the alien invasion strikes.
"I play a woman named Candice," explains Brittany. "I'm this self-absorbed L.A. socialite girl. Through the movie, she really has a comeuppance. She realizes that the world doesn't revolve around her. She doesn't exactly save the day, but she's one of the people that takes part. I live in the building, so I'm able to help all of us get out when we need to get out. And kind of kick a little ass."
"I play Oliver," adds David, who the brothers explain had his part tailor written after they saw his role on Dexter. "He's the concierge of the building and he works in the building. He guides them in when there's a party and everything. After the event happens, he's one of the sole survivors of the people that live and work in the building. He kind of joins up with the rest of them and tries to escape."
"I play Greg and Colin Strauss, pretty much," says Donald of his character, Terry. "I am a special effects genius and everybody pretty much works for me. When it all goes down, being that I'm Gregg and Colin Strauss, of course I'm the leader."
Beginning a roll of the film's finished footage was a scene called "First Contact" where Eric and Donald's characters, Jarrod and Terry, are standing on the roof of their apartment building, looking out over Los Angeles. In the distance, there's a thick haze and, though it, bursts of lightning begin to strike. Then, through the haze, alien ships start to emerge, shining their blue beams on the buildings below. Jarrod and Terry are horrified as they make out what's happening; thousands of people are being lifted from the streets and pulled into the ships. Panicked, they run for the door, which a woman opens. She unwittingly looks into the light and her eyes go black and blue, with veins pulsating across her face. She wants to move into the light, but Terry and Jarrod pull her back inside and to safety, for the moment.
The next scene, "Garage Attack" has the group together and trying to escape the building through the parking garage. There's a tension between some of the couples, refusing to ride in the same car as one another. The group passes another, older couple, also loading up their van, and offer to work together, but the husband wants nothing to do with them. The garage door opens and the first car tries to get out, only to be smashed by a tremendous Godzilla-scale beast. It lifts the car and crushes it, devouring the people inside (or at least it seems to. I'll keep it vague, as it appeared to be a spoiler-heavy moment).
Following that, "DB Sequence" showcases a smaller squid-like alien creature and it's means of attack. Seemingly still in the garage, the group is attacked and someone is pulled towards the beast, which quickly decapitates the body, vaporizes the flesh and feasting on the exposed brain.
"It's technically PG-13, but just because there's no blood," explains Greg. "It's all in the way that they atomize flesh and tissue. It's more that sort of style. What they do is not an inherently gorey thing. They're literally snatching people and decapitating them. It's that sort of style of action. It's not creatures cutting people in half, but it's still some kind of creepy ass shit."
The final scene, "Aero Battle" (which falls less than halfway through the film, according to the brothers), has everyone upstairs and able to watch a news broadcast of the attack. A squadron of Airforce fighters are launched to intercept the alien vessels. As the planes approach, the alien ships let off squid-like drones that nearly wipe out the US forces. One plane, though, moments before its destruction, fires a nuclear missile that hits its target, unleashing a tremendous atomic blast.
"Most of the biggest set pieces are all after that," Greg offers with a smile.
Confident in their work, the brothers firmly believe that Skyline is going to, if not change the way movies are made altogether, at least change their own career path.
"We're not going to make another studio movie," says Colin. "We're going to always do this."
Indeed, plans are already underway for a Skyline sequel, continuing threads set up in the first film and further exploring the motives of the aliens, something that the brothers enigmatically hint wonâ€™t end up so black and white. A 40-page treatment is already done with plans to shoot in the spring of 2011. For the next few weeks, though, the focus is entirely finishing the first Skyline, which is set to hit theaters on November 12.
Source: Silas Lesnick