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Arrow Video FrightFest October 2020 interview: Liam O’Donnell dives deep into the making of ‘Skylin3s’

The writer/director teases what to expect from the festival’s closing film.

Liam O'Donnell
Credit: Mirabelle Pictures Productions

Arrow Video FrightFest 2020 kicks off tonight and for the next five days, horror fans have plenty of films to keep them occupied.

Closing the festival is writer/director Liam O’Donnell’s ‘Skylin3s’, the third instalment of his ‘Skyline’ franchise and it’s sure to be a real crowd pleaser. Whether you’ve seen the first two or not, you’ll be able to enjoy this film as a standalone feature and be wowed by the jaw-dropping effects.

I spoke to Liam ahead of the World Premiere of ‘Skylin3s’ to find out what fans can expect, talk about his kick-ass lead Lindsey Morgan (‘The 100’) and discuss what might be next for the franchise…

Where does the story in ‘Skylin3s’ pick up from?

If you remember ‘Beyond Skyline’ flashes 10 years into the future at the very end and we see the beginning of this space battle where Lindsey Morgan’s character Rose is leading the humans and hybrid aliens and an alien ship that’s been converted to humans. At the beginning of ‘Skylin3s’ we go into that space battle, which is narrated by the great James Cosmo. I try to make each movie be standalone. We kind open on a narration where he recaps everything that happened in the first two films, and brings us to that battle. Rose is put into an impossible situation where one of the other ships on the human fleet gets caught into a dead spin and it’s caught right between her and her shot to destroy the Harvester’s Armada vessel. Even though she ends up saving humanity in that battle, she kills a lot of her own men and her own crew in the process. That creates a traumatic touchstone for her character. Then we actually flash forward five years after that. It picks up from the end of ‘Beyond Skyline’ but then creates sort of an entirely new reality after that.

Skylin3s
Credit: Mirabelle Pictures Productions

You mentioned about how each film can be stand alone. Was your reason for doing that to pull in a wider audience?

For sure, it’s a wider audience. To me, some of my favorite sequels that I saw growing up were like that, like ‘The Road Warrior’, I think I saw that before ‘Mad Max’. Even ‘Terminator 2’ I believe I saw before ‘Terminator’. Each movie is going to hopefully outlast anything else and it could just be accessed on streaming or HBO or something, many years down the line. If some kids clicking on it, I want them to be able to have it all work on its own terms. That’s how most people will see every movie is on streaming or on some type of personal device. It has to work as a standalone. I think it’s also because this is such an unlikely franchise. It’s not like they’re massive hits that everybody knows. It’s not like Star Wars, where it’s like, ‘well, of course that’s what happened in Part V. That’s what happened in Part VII’. You can’t take anything for granted.

You’ve created such a rich world with this franchise and the visual effects and costumes are jaw-dropping at times. How did you bring this world to life?

Oh, thank you. It was a really awesome experience on ‘Skylin3s’. Each film was done in in a different part of the world and it just so happened that this one is a very European film. We filmed in Vilnius, Lithuania. We prepped the film in Belgium. We had an entire team from Spain that did costumes and creatures; they took our suits from ‘Beyond Skyline’ and refurbished them and created new bits. I think by doing that, you get such like a rich new team of collaborators each time and it brings different things to each film, whereas obviously, ‘Beyond Skyline’ was in Los Angeles, Toronto, and Indonesia. What is also great about doing that is they really took the movie seriously. I have a funny relationship with (the films).

Obviously, I write the scripts and they’re pretty intense, and they’re earnest, and they have a big heart on their sleeve, but at the same time, I have a sense of humor about everything. Everyone else was reading and they committed so much to it, that it was quite touching. They just went all out. You don’t get opportunities to make these type of movies very often. Especially like Fito, from Kreat FX, who did the creatures who was like, ‘I’ve been trying to make an alien’s movie my whole life!’ He really dug his teeth into it and I’m the same way to be honest with you, I always wanted to do something like this. You get that energy from your collaborators and the expectations blow me away. The big cavern sets that they built in Lithuania, I had no idea they were gonna be as big as they were. You look at them on the plans but then you walk out into it and you go ‘oh wow!’

My challenge was, ‘okay, we have this. How do we reuse it and recalibrate it almost every day so it’s always evolving and I’m making the most of this opportunity’. Even in ‘Beyond Skyline’ we never had sets on that scale. Anything that was really big set wise was pretty much green screen. I really wanted to do less of that in this movie. I’m very proud of the fact that the way we shot and organised this one, there was about five to 600 less shots than ‘Beyond Skyline’ because so much of it could be on camera.

The casting for this film is fantastic too. Lindsey Morgan is such a kick-ass strong lead. How did she get involved with the franchise and what was she like to work with?

I really can’t say enough great things about her and I’m very, very proud of her performance. I’m glad to hear that. There’s certain actors you just see, and you respond to chemically and she was one of them. She reminded me of Frank Grillo in a lot of ways, that was why I cast her in ‘Beyond Skyline’ to start with. I think each movie takes on the personality of its lead to that extent, and from a writing standpoint, you want to build this around what you see this person’s strengths being and what you as the audience wants to see them do. What I think Lindsey is really, really good is she has so much authenticity and intensity, and you want to see her try really hard. I think that’s what Frank does too. It’s almost like competency; you can tell that they’re very capable, very physical and very smart, and you want to push them to the limits, and see them overcome.

What I really loved about her, and the reason why I think I just wanted to do this movie after that one day shoot on ‘Beyond Skyline’ is that she has great sense of humour and it’s understated. She could crack jokes with a guy in an eight foot tall, full latex alien suit and I believed it. Th fact that she’s committing to that and willing to go out on that limb, makes the visual effect of the guy in the suit become a character and it comes to life. I was really happy and loved her commitment overall to the film. Like her powers, that was something we did on set and we wanted to make sure that her powers weren’t an unlimited thing; it was like human stamina, human strength. The way she’s playing it in each scene tells you how much energy she has. When she’s really pushing hard, we know she’s low and she’s gonna need a refill soon, and she’s on the verge of death but when it’s easy, it’s early on. There was little things like that and little thought that she put out into each and every scene in this performance. It was an exhausting thing for her to film because every single day she was either crying or screaming or fighting something (laughs). She really was a rock for me and delivered something I’m just really proud of.

Skylin3s
Credit: Mirabelle Pictures Productions

That’s something that audiences forget is just how physical these kinds of roles are for the actors. What did you do to help them get through these gruelling scenes?

They are grueling, and, you know, a lot of it is luck. When you do these interviews and stuff on the blockbusters they’re like, ‘well, I trained with the greatest people for three months’. In an indie movie, we wouldn’t have the money to pay people to train for three months. There’s no money and then all sudden there’s money and it’s go, go, go shoot. Our prep time is always very truncated. The only way that can do it this way is hiring actors that are incredibly physically gifted, which we did with Lindsey and obviously, Daniel Bernhardt is a longtime martial arts star. We really lucked out with Jonathan Howard, who played Leon, because even though he hadn’t done a lot of onscreen fighting, he had been training Muay Thai for a decade plus so he could pick it up really quickly.

You have to hire great stunt team and we had Real Deal Stunts out of Berlin, who did our action design. They shot a splinter unit. They were great at training the actors as soon as they did get to Lithuania. A lot of those action scenes are grueling but they’re so much fun. We had such an intense schedule. Almost every beat that you see in the movie, there wasn’t a ton of cut action. We used everything that we did. You have to get actors that are going to be great at doing it on such a small lead up time and you have to have great choreography and stunt supervisors who can bring everybody through it.

You can tell from the bloopers at the end just how much fun the cast had…

You gotta keep a good sense of humor when you’re making something like this. We did that at the end of ‘Beyond Skyline’ and I really loved it as sort of like, a curtain call. Certain people love it and certain people are like, ‘well, why are you doing that? You’re breaking the mood’.  My brother was an actor and I would go to see his plays. I always loved at the end of the play, everyone came out and bowed and smiled, and we’d clap for them. It’s that sort of energy. You can see in those moments how much work each department did, because that’s the dailies that we’re working with. I feel like it’s a nice little tradition that we developed to show you how much actual work goes into making a film.

That’s exactly what I thought with the bloopers. You could see just how much was actually sets and costumes, and it made me realise I couldn’t differentiate from the sets and the green screen…

That even goes down to the colour grade. It’s just a very base grade in the bloopers so you can see that some of the stuff that’s really popping was due to our very gifted colorist Scott Golding. I feel like it’s a nice kind of a tribute to everybody and like you said, the costumes. In ‘Beyond Skyline’, we had different stilts (for the guys in the costumes) and they fell over all the time, but we fixed them in this one so the bloopers were not quite as physically painful looking. There was just a couple of different stumbles here and there.

Skylin3s
Credit: Mirabelle Pictures Productions

That’s much better for health and safety isn’t it?

Yes! Although I’ve been told that the suit is like a big pillow so when they fall over, don’t feel bad, it doesn’t really hurt at all (laughs).

I obviously don’t want to give anything away but I feel like there’s more story to be told in this franchise. Is that something you’re thinking about?

Yeah. It always comes up. It came up at the end of the first one and we did a big treatment and that sat around for three years. When we finished ‘Beyond Skyline’, it came up and we had a little bit longer of a post, actually a lot longer – almost double the amount of time –  so I had a pitch kind of ready to go for what ‘Skylin3s’ was in post for that. This one has been such a truncated post but I do have a treatment that is in progress for what the next one might look like. Without giving anything away, I think there’s a really fun possibility of where we could go, and different characters that we could see.

‘Skylin3s’ is closing Arrow Video FrightFest this weekend. How does that feel?

It’s an incredible honor. Obviously, it’s been difficult for everybody not having the physical theater experience for events. When we talked to Ian (Rattrray), and when they talked about what this virtual version would mean, they were talking about the different dates and they said, ‘do you want to open it?’ I literally have just finished this version that you saw three or four days ago so I was like, ‘well listen… that’s very, very nice of you for the opening but if there’s actually more time, we’re doing okay, now but what if something goes wrong? Can you give us like the last possible slot?’ and they were like, ‘great, yeah, you can be the closing film’. I do think it’s a pretty good ending for this movie. I’m not trying to toot my own horn but I think people will leave somewhat happy. I was trying to tell them it wasn’t a bummer ending. I felt like we do deliver everything that this thing’s worth as far as we left every penny of the budget up on the screen there for the ending. I’m quite proud of the film and I really hope people can have fun with it.

‘Skylin3s’ closes Arrow Video FrightFest on Sunday 25th November 2020 at 8pm. For more information and tickets, please visit www.frightfest.co.uk.

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