We got to interview the director of the hidden gem science fiction movie of the year Brandon Slagle did a fantastic making Attack of The Unknown look like a massive blockbuster production.
- How did you get involved with the Mahal brothers?
We were familiar with each other for a few years prior to shooting ATTACK OF THE UNKNOWN through mutual connections. When my movie “Crossbreed” was being shopped for distribution a few years ago, I sent them over a screener and we decided to figure out what we should work on together, which ultimately became AOTU.
They were impressed with the production value I was able to get out of Crossbreed’s incredibly modest budget, and I was refreshed to speak to producers who were actually eager to get something made.
Believe it or not, many aren’t.
- What were your first impressions on Attack of The Unknown?
Having just worked with alien characters in Crossbreed (and everything that comes along with that), I wasn’t necessarily seeking out more material that relates to extraterrestrials. I’m a crime thriller and action guy at heart. However, when Michael and Sonny said they wanted to do a science fiction movie about an alien invasion that knocks out the power in a major American city – it brought to mind a short story I wrote when I was 14 about a SWAT team facing off with alien invaders who harvested human blood for medicine and felt that would be a great driving force/motive for this story. Luckily, the brothers dug it, as well as the multi-genre vibe I was going for, and we were off to the races!
I believe there was only a span of about 5-6 months between when we decided what direction we were going and the first day of shooting.
- After getting everything in motion for production what was it like
getting some of the cast together?
Certain roles such as Grieco, Tara, LaSardo – those were straight offers and we didn’t audition anyone. The SWAT team that leads it came from auditions – and it was pretty exciting watching each one. I don’t so much look for the tone of the read or dialogue, but something interesting in their body language that embodies the character.
For instance, Jolene Andersen who plays Hannah – there was a nervous pacing she did between her two reads of the scene that read really well on camera. I knew right then and there THAT is who we needed in that role. Dialogue, etc can be rehearsed, but I like it when an actor brings in something unique about themselves that really defines the character and makes them come alive.
I’m usually pretty open to the actor’s interpretation of the character, and what the believe the character’s voice is. To me, at least, that helps with chemistry on set, especially with pieces like Attack where the leads are supposed to have known each other for decades but only just met in real life.
- Especially having the forever cool Richard Grieco and Tara Reid on board
must have been a thrill.
21 Jump Street and its spin-off, Booker, were a big deal when I was in 8th grade. I actually used to do my hair like Richard and Johnny Depp did from that era, a fact that I hid from Richard until we wrapped his character, just in case he didn’t take too well to it. Luckily, he got a kick out of it and a few of the cast came out with similar hair-idol secrets.
I actually think he’s due for a big comeback, whether in a Booker revamp or something similar. One review of AOTU likened him to “The Wrestler”-era Mickey Rourke, which I think is a tone he would do great with, the “man looking back at his life” character arc.
- This is a science-fiction epic, how was it like seeing the production
set designs being made?
Most of the movie was very gritty, David Ayer/Training Day-style Los Angeles. It was refreshing to shoot on the actual streets to ground the world the movie takes place in.
Many of the interiors were soundstages that we customized with set dressing and props (the jail, the night club, the warehouse the opening drug sting takes place, etc). However, the alien ship interior at the end of the movie, that set was almost completely transformed. That sequence was shot at Laurel Canyon Stages and has been featured in dozens of productions – from Firely/Serenity to the opening scene of my own Crossbreed.
I’m not a big fan of repeating myself whenever possible, and didn’t want the stage to look as it did in other productions, so the Production Designer and Art Department did a great job adding texture to the walls and gave the ship hallways within the stage a unique look and feel. We also had water dripping from the ceilings and plenty of smoke/atmosphere to make it feel lived in. This was all complimented by Director of Photography Michael Su’s lighting, which added that extra touch to make the ship feel organic.
- What were some of the science fiction movies that inspired your
direction of the film if there are any?
Alien, Aliens, and Predator 2 (yes, 2) have always been highly influential in terms of look and feel. Attack actually follows similar beats to Predator 2.
There’s a certain cinematography style – both in use of atmosphere and lenses – that you don’t see enough these days that gives the image a rich, incredibly cinematic look. There’s a ton of movies now that look very clean to me – maybe I’m getting old – but I miss that 90’s sense of gravitas and scale within each frame.
Beyond that, there aren’t necessarily many specific films that inspired me – it’s more taking pieces from various Directors I’ve admired. Tony Scott, David Fincher, I owe a ton to John Woo and other Asian filmmakers.
- If you could give some advice to filmmakers looking to start on their
first project, rather it is a screenplay or directing duties what would it
Enroll in business and/or marketing classes in lieu of film school, and spend as much time on sets as crew as you can. The most helpful thing you can possibly know is the business side, though. I cannot stress that enough. It helps you for the harsh realities you’ll face once you inevitably have to sell or license your work. This also applies for writers. The more you know about each department, the easier your time will be. Well, easy in film terms, which is still incredibly difficult.
Seriously, nothing can prepare you for that part of it, but it’s best to learn what you can before you take the filmmaking plunge.