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The Monster

The Inner Beast (release)

The Inner Beast

Let me preface this by saying best. Interview. Ever. Okay, well, maybe not ever but I did have a freakin’ ball when I spoke to one-man-film-crew Mario Donelli about his flick Monsters. Besides being ridiculously talented and multi-skilled, the young Brit is hilarious.
Hi-bloody-larious! In particular, his analogies had me gut laughing like Mel Gibson during Schindler's List. Monsters is out across the globe in limited release, but if you have the opportunity to see this beautiful, naturalistic, sci-fi gem, I highly recommend it.

Jane Storm:Howdy Mario, it’s lovely to chat to you and may I start off by saying I adored Monsters. When I finally got the end and hit that realisation, I was rewinding to the start and watching those first few minutes over and over again trying to figure it out.
Mario Donelli: (Laughs) Well, thanks. That ’s great, lovely to hear that.

Jane Storm: So where are you speaking to me from at the moment?
Mario Donelli: Right now I’m in Rome, got here this morning. I arrived from the UK three days ago and have been to Milan and Sicilia and now here. It’s shame we couldn’t fit the Gold Coast in this time.

Jane Storm: Yes, well, there’s always next time. You have to come though, tourists go apeshit for our beaches.
Mario Donelli: I have been around there. I came eight years ago and did that annoying backpacker thing that British people do and I went up to Rome, Fraser Island and around Cairns. There’s actually a scene in the film that’s inspired by that trip – the one when they’re in the boat on the river. I went on one of those trips in North Italy where you go out on a boat to see a crocodile and the guy always warns you that you might not see one. Anyway, we were on the boat and we see this big ripple that started to get closer and closer, coming towards us. Then this corpse comes out of the water and it’s a giant pig that had rigor mortis and everything. We were all taking pictures when we realised that this crocodile had killed it and was holding it under the water so that we couldn’t see the crocodile just the pig. So this giant pig corpse kept circling around the boat. Strangely, I tried to reprise that kind of thing in the scene.

Jane Storm: (Laughs) That is an awesome story, I have a whole new understanding to that scene now. So, where did this story come from? I mean, have you always been dying to make a sci-fi film or had a fascination with B-movie aliens?
Mario Donelli: That’s fair to say. I’m actually an alien myself and this is the first wave - to slowly introduce the concept of alien life to human society before we take over. No, I just love sci-fi and B-movies and I really wanted to make a monster movie, but I didn’t want to do something that’s been done. I come from a background in computer programming and it was always my ambition to one day be a filmmaker. I was on holiday somewhere and I was watching these fishermen drag in a net and I started imagining an alien creature caught inside it. I started to wonder what would it be like if a giant, dead creature was part of everyday life? If Godzilla and Cloverfield were more like September 11, then I wanted ours to be like Afghanistan where it just becomes part of everyday life. I wanted to travel through that world.

Jane Storm: I understand that the only cast actors in this were your two leads, how do you go about finding Whitney and Scoot?
Mario Donelli: It’s a funny story. They were actually dating at the time. They had been going out four months and they made a pact and said `if we get through this movie, we will get married’. So it’s really my doing.

Jane Storm: (Laughs) No way. Maybe they can name a kid after you, Monster Jr perhaps?
Mario Donelli: Yeah, I should get a percentage of whatever their future children make or earn.

Jane Storm: Now, the question I’ve been dying to ask . . .everyone’s got to have a theme song right? What’ your theme song?
Mario Donelli: (Laughs) Oh, wow. You get an award for a brand new question. I have not had a new question in months. And that’s such an obvious one too! That’s fantastic, I’m stimulated. Well, the theme song for this film would have been Judy Garland’s original version of Over The Rainbow if we could have got that cleared. I wanted it to play over the trailer all scratchy because I have this whole The Wizard Of Oz theme going on where they were sort of following the brick road and the buildings looked like the Emerald City. But then I watched Baz Luhrman’s Australia and it had all of those themes so I scratched that.

Jane Storm: Bloody Baz. The film is very naturalistic, especially the interactions between characters. How much was scripted and how much was improvised?
Mario Donelli: I basically write it out, but it felt like it had two layers. One layer in black ink was what physically happens and then in blue ink what emotionally happens and then fold them together for the script. We were very opportunistic with locations and we would turn up somewhere and go `this is the scene we’re doing’ and leave it very much up to the actors. They knew what we wanted from the scene but neither knew what the other one was going to say. Besides Scoot and Whitney everyone else are non-actors and people we met on the journey. I would just tell them what’s going on and they do what they do. You can’t really give non-actors dialogue because it looks forced.

Jane Storm: I felt like there were a lot of really subtle and suspenseful moments that eventually build up to make a bigger impact, was that your intention?
Mario Donelli: It’s kind of like foreplay really.

Jane Storm: (Laughs) Well, that scene with the two aliens looks very much like foreplay.
Mario Donelli: (Laughs) I actually called that shot – I have labelled everything in the computer, given it names instead of numbers because it’s confusing - and that shot was called `creature orgasm’. I even made sure one tentacle went up and in too (laughs). When I was doing the sound with the German guys I was trying to say to them that I wanted the female alien in that scene louder and they said they were making it louder but it sounded quieter to me and then finally we worked out that they thought the one on the right was the female and I thought the one on the left was and then we had this big debate and I said the one on the right had to be the male because he walks away first.

Jane Storm: (Laughs) The characters were really authentic, especially the sleaziness of the photographer at the start. I could really compare that to a few in my office...
Mario Donelli: Well, the reason I wanted to do a photographer was something I thought I could relate to, being obsessed with something, documenting, filming, and your career. Scoot for his research followed around his friend Andrew Calder who is a photojournalist and asked him about his experiences.

Jane Storm: Now tell me about some of the bigger message about the media, terrorism, immigration, the environment, that are within Monsters?
Mario Donelli: Some of the themes that were brought up by the characters were sort of about us. Like with the media, us making the film that we’ve come to a poorer country to benefit for the sake of our film. All stories are only good when they’re about something else. They’re life lessons and ways of making a point about something that’s why we like stories because you want advice about something that hasn’t happened to you so if it does you can survive it. What’s true with monster movies, there were few I was really keen to get in there like the terrorism one, you have these fanatsical creatures and have to base it on real thing. Every element of the creature had to pull from the real world to justify it. Like the people who were living there and getting killed when they would come by for mating seasons and people would say, `why don’t you move?’ Well, it’s just like living in a hurricane damaged area. What people latch on to the most, says more about the person.

Jane Storm: Monsters seems to be getting an overwhelmingly positive response, is that gratifying?
Mario Donelli: I think it really divides people. You go to some film festivals and they will tell you what’s wrong with it, like you don’t know or you can fix it. I kind of feel like how people do that is human nature, like having a wedding and people saying the food was great but your wife is fat and I think you could do better. And fair enough too, people have paid their $10 to see the film, not to me but to whoever they pay it to, and they think they have the right to come up and say. It can be quite a shock, but I’m getting used to it.

Jane Storm: (Laughs) Really? That surprises me because I’ve been looking at some of the responses online and in forums and they mostly seem to be positive.
Mario Donelli: We get smashed on some of those forums. I wish they could post photos with the comment so then could relax and go `oh, it’s just you.’

Jane Storm: (Laughs) So who are the monsters? It seems like we, humans, are more so than the creatures in a lot of respects.
Mario Donelli: I’m happy for people to walk away from it with that opinion. I’m happy for people to say there are no monsters in this movie, creatures or humans. It’s a bit like doing a war film and calling it Evil, that doesn’t represent either side. So, how can an animal be a monster really? It’s just trying to survive.

Jane Storm: You’re involved in Monsters at every level, you do the visual effects, you wrote and directed it, you were the cinematographer, production designer, I mean obviously this is your baby, but why was it so important for you to be involved at every level?
Mario Donelli: It’s just easier. I like how a lot of art films are made by individuals. If someone writes a book on their own no one says they’re a control freak or can’t work in a team. Filmmaking for a long time has been an industrial process and now with all the technology and all the resources…it is like your baby. It’s like being a surrogate mother where this thing grows inside you and you have to hand over. More recently though I’ve realised it’s like being a victim of kidnapping. Like, they take it from you and ring you up and say `it won’t sleep, what food does it like’ and you’re like `too late, it’s yours now’.

Jane Storm: (Laughs) I read online that the budget was around $500, 000 is that right? And if so, how the heck did you do it?
Mario Donelli: I don’t know... it was below six figures. We had a micro budget and the exact figure depends on where you draw line.

Jane Storm: I understand the post-production process was quite intense, with you locked in your room for hours completing the special effects shots and so forth. Tell me about that.
Mario Donelli: Yeah, you do get a bit of cabin fever but I kind of enjoy it weirdly. I became nocturnal and end up working through the night. I liked it because I have this strange, post-apocalyptic fantasy about how I’m the last person on Earth and I live in central London and when I would go for a walk at 3am to have a break and you don’t see anyone, you could really imagine that. You could convince yourself that everyone has left the city then come back home, chuck on a B-movie and keep working.

Jane Storm: There seems to be a newfound subgenre of indie sci-fi films such as yours and things like District 9 and Moon etc, and audiences and critics have really responded well. What is it about the more understated branch of sci-fi that has become so popular?
Mario Donelli: I guess it’s more there was this gimmick factor, a race, an imaginary list of `oh my god, we’ve got computer graphics, what can we do now? Let’s do a disaster film, then destructive weather, giant armies, furry creatures’. I feel like we hit the end of the list, thank God, and now like `oh shit, we’ve done everything we can do’ and now there’s this generation of kids who grew up with that technology and who are making films and going `lets go back to the story’. Like the 70s and early 80s have some of my favourite films and they don’t have to freeze frame and race around in 360 degrees when a bullet goes through a window. Jurassic Park, which really started this whole love affair with CGI, said it best - "just because you could, doesn’t mean you should." It’s like being a gynaecologist, when you see it everyday it stops turning you on. The honeymoon is over with CGI I hope. Things are only special and weird and amazing for a short period of time, and then it becomes normal. CGI was amazing, but there’s more technologically amazing things and it’s missing the point of filmmaking.

Jane Storm: (Laughs) Oh my God, where do you keep coming up with these analogies?
Mario Donelli: (Laughs) I’ve no idea.

The Monster, 8 out of 10 [based on 456 votes]