There are times when a film flat out rips off a more popular and better work, and there are times when it simply tries to pay tribute and capture the spirit of another film, or at least the period in which it was made. The first feature from director Dave Green (maker of the “Zombie Roadkill” series) is called EARTH TO ECHO, and it’s a surprisingly effectively movie that dares to tackle similar material to E.T and STAND BY ME to WALL-E, THE LAST MIMZY, and SUPER 8. It’s science fiction mixed with a road trip, and it focuses on the final days of a friendship among a group of young friends who meet an alien robot that needs their help.
Believe me, I had little faith that this film would be anything with talking about, but the power of an open mind prevailed, and I was unexpectedly moved by a great deal of the interpersonal stories, even when the sci-fi isn’t exactly pushing the boundaries. If you had told me this film was made in the heart of the 1980s, I’d have no trouble believing that, even though it’s set in the modern day. Oh, and it’s sort of a found footage film here, except that the film was never actually lost, and one of the kids edits it for our benefit.
Teo Halm is one of the young actors, and he plays Alex, and he’s very good at capturing the fear, enthusiasm and willingness to be taken into a potentially dangerous adventure. Plus, the kids next two films are with James Franco: as director and co-writer (in BUKOWSKI, and the famed writer in his years from childhood to high school), and as co-star in MEMORIA.
EARTH TO ECHO is bound to have detractors that think it’s too similar to this film and that film, and that’s fine. But every story was inspired to some other story; but the folks that made this one aren’t afraid to wear their influences on their sleeves and do something fun with it in the process. I should also mentioned that this film has had a rough road to release: it started life as a Disney property before Disney became the International House of Franchise, and got lost in the shuffle. Thankfully, Relativity Media picked it up for distribution. With all of that in mind, please enjoy my talk with Dave Green and Teo Halm…
Capone: Hi guys.
Dave Green: Hey, how are you?
Capone: Good. I’m Steve. Nice to meet you.
Teo Halm: How’s it going? Thanks so much for coming.
Capone: Oh, of course.
DG: I’m a huge fan of the site. I’ve been reading since I was Teo’s age or younger.
Capone: Thanks a lot. How old are you? You must not be that old.
TH: He’s 15.
DG: I’m 31. I think that’s about right.
Capone: The site has been around for about 16-17 years. I’ve been there for 15-16.
TH: That’s awesome.
DG: I’m a big fan.
Capone: Thank you. Walk me through the timeline of this, because I know the film has changed hands a few times, and it’s been around a little bit. Teo, you look a lot older than you did in the movie, and I know the title changed at least once. The print we saw just said ECHO on it, and then no credits.
DG: Yeah. So, we shot the movie... It’s weird because when you look at the whole scheme of the movie, it’s got the same timeline as a normal like visual effects movie. But for a movie like this, it’s smaller, and you look at the calendar like, “Wait a second.” But yeah, we shot the movie in...
TH: Summer of 2012.
DG: Summer of 2012, and then we cut the movie. Visual effects took a while. The movie was financed by Disney. As you know, their slate is very much Disney IP driven, and every movie they make is a Marvel movie or a Pixar movie.
Capone: STAR WARS movie.
DG: Yeah, exactly.
TH: It didn’t really follow…
DG: Their release schedule, yeah.
TH: And even just, like you said, the type of movies that they release now. So, they put it up for sale, if you would, and Relativity ended up buying it. And in that period, before Disney sold it, there was a long period of waiting—that was like seven months.
Capone: Was it finished at that point? Did you get the effects done?
DG: No, no. It was about 75 percent done.
TH: Plus there were re-shoots that we did after Relativity got it. And so once Relativity got it, we did some re-shoots, and they had a different idea of what it was than Disney did. So there were some post-production stuff that had to be changed.
DG: Well, yeah. Honestly, the structure of the movie was very much the same and when Relativity got it, they added this truck scene in the middle of the movie, and then the scene at the end of the movie when the kids get back together a year later. It was cool, because it was a luxury that a lot of movies don’t get. When Henry Gayden, who’s the writer, and I looked at it, we’re like, “Oh, this is an ending that we could have written, but under any other circumstance couldn’t have gotten, because most movies don’t have the luxury of going back a year later and seeing these kids have grown up and that there’s a history to their friendship, and the fact that they’ve ebbed and flowed apart, and come back together.”
Capone: I don’t want spoil the end of the film, but that truck scene, was that put in there to foreshadow what happens at the end of the film?
TH: It’s more actiony; it put some thrill in there.
Capone: But it makes you realize that they’re able to take themselves apart, and put themselves back together.
DG: Exactly. It was a cool way to get a little bit of spectacle on that, and to also to showcase, “This is what Echo can really do when he’s at full power.”
TH: Yeah, he’s a cute little guy, but that shows like how badass he is. He’s definitely got some cool stuff. We showed that in the trailers and the released clips, but there’s a lot of cool stuff in there, so people will be excited to see all that, for sure.
DG: We were super excited because Relativity is very much fired up about the movie.
TH: They did an amazing job.
Capone: As someone who grew up in the ‘80s, I feel that running through this. That there are bits of E.T. and other things that I saw in that era, and that took me back, because I didn’t really think I’d feel that way again. Just seeing kids on bikes. This is a question for the writer, I guess, but was that something that was in your mind? The norm today is more about slightly bigger and scarier things, even films that are geared toward younger people. And while this is not aimed at little kids, it does capture that spirit of the ‘80s.
DG: That’s so cool to hear. Thank you so much. When Henry and I were first chatting about the movie, obviously there are all these movies that we grew up watching and loving, and the kids on bikes is an immediate touch point.
Capone: Tell me some of the influences.
DG: Henry has different influences than I do, just because he’s just a lot more versed in ‘80s cinema than I am. But the movies that I grew up on and loved and went into the soup of what this movie were GOONIES and E.T., and there are flavors of STAND BY ME. Those are the things that we wanted to have similar feelings. For Henry, FLIGHT OF THE NAVIGATOR and EXPLORERS. To be honest, I’ve still not seen those two, and I think I should probably watch those before this movie comes out, but I think more than anything, it was a spirit that we hadn’t seen in a really long time. Growing up when we did, those movies had a huge impact in our lives, in our hearts, and I think it’s a tonal thing that has gone away, to be honest, and when I go to the movies, and when I was growing up watching movies, it was a spirit of adventure and a spirit of fun. The movies that I love going to see are, they’re popcorn movies. You have an opportunity to laugh, to cry, to be thrilled, and be taken on a ride, and I think that kind of tone in recent years has kind of gone the way of a much darker path.
Capone: When you see something like SUPER 8, I think in J.J. Abrams’ head he was aiming at the same audience you were, but his is way scarier than this.
DG: Yeah, absolutely.
Capone: Teo, did they show you any of these films? Had you seen any of these films going into this?
TH: Right when I was cast for this movie, before we went in and started coaching for the movie and started going over the script, they asked me to watch E.T. again, GOONIES, and STAND BY ME. So I watched all of those, and after reading the script, I felt that our movie embodied the same themes and the same tone of those, the same experiences, but it had completely new aspects being modern, and completely taking into consideration all the futuristic aspects of modern-day technology.
DG: What made me laugh when we were making it was, he would be trying on his costume, his helmet, or the bike. As the foster kid, he’s got all this vintage gear, and he’s got the older, cooler bike.
TH: My flashlight was actually...
DG: Yeah, it’s like a headlight. Teio would constantly say to me, “I’m Elliot.” I’m like, “Ha ha, man. That’s hysterical. Not exactly, but okay.”
Capone: The whole set up of them having to move out of this town, and there’s also a shot when they start coming out of the woods into that secret base—these are all right out of CLOSE ENCOUNTERS. The whole idea of they’re completely uprooting a community. They do that in CLOSE ENCOUNTERS. They pretend there’s some toxic gas. When they kids are they’re coming out of the woods and going through the little trailers, I thought, “This is what CLOSE ENCOUNTERS would be like if kids had invaded instead of Richard Dreyfuss. Why was found footage the way to go with this? I guess it isn’t found footage; it’s never lost.
DG: Yeah, it’s never lost.
Capone: They call it POV, right?
TH: Right, right, it’s from our perspective. We film everything. We document it.
DG: Yeah, and I would say the movies that we talked about growing up on, and loving, I think why those movies, in addition to some production design and some plot points and tonal vibe, I’d say part of the reason those movies are being called up in our minds is because when we look back at those movies, they were stories that were told from kids’ perspectives. Intimately the camera would stay with our kids or the GOONIES. They wouldn’t ever cut to the adult perspective, and see what that’s like--cut to our bad guy or whatever. They were very intimately told from the perspective of our kids, and that was something we really wanted to capture, an authenticity and a first-person experience, a lot like we had back then.
So for us, it’s just part of putting the audience in the kids’ shoes, and making them feel like the adventure was happening to them. It was a natural fit for us, and I’m the old man here, you should be answering, but this generation films everything, puts everything online. If they were to discover something in the woods, they would be documenting it themselves and sharing it themselves. Something that tonally my producers, Andrew Panay, Adam Blum, and I talked about was, “Hey, we’ve seen ‘found footage’ movies where they're called found footage because everyone dies.” The footage is cut together by Paramount Pictures, you know?
Capone: We just did a thing with Bobcat Goldthwait, and he has a found footage bigfoot movie.
DG: I hear it’s awesome.
Capone: Yeah, it is. But he said, “The whole idea behind found footage is really creepy, because it’s basically, ‘We’re sorry your whole family has died, but we really think there’s a good picture here.’”
TH: The whole theme of the movie is to bring the audience on a journey with us. And what helps with that is not only the way it was shot, and how it never cuts to the bad guys. It just stayed with us, the main characters, the kids who were filming it. Also the fact, most of it, even though we had the basis for each scene and each shot, even though we have scripts, Dave and our writer Henry gave us a lot of freedom to say what we think, what we would say. Because I would feel totally comfortable if I saw a line, if I would never say that, I’d be like, “Dave, that’s not realistic.”
DG: I wanted to give them the freedom to tell me, “Hey man, you’re doing this wrong. I would never say this line. I would never shoot the screen this way.” And for Astro who’s holding the camera, who’s the kid documenting a lot of the movie, in part of the blocking of the scenes I’d walk through with the DP, I’d walk through with Astro, and he’d be like, “Well, yeah, maybe I’d do this.” There were pieces of it that I definitely wanted to be as good a listener as I could stand being, just in blocking and listening to the kids and hearing what they would say.
TH: We had a lot of opinions on what happened, and I don’t think I’m going to have the luxury of that a lot in this business, but it definitely was very nice, and I hope the audience will see that.
Capone: Well, you’ve already got a couple of other things done, right? You’ve got these Franco films.
TH: Yeah, I did two indies with Franco.
Capone: What do you learn from that guy? I know he’s directing one of them.
TH: Dave’s worked with him before. Yeah, he’s a great director. He has such a like artistic mind. Just bring on set with him, it changes your perspective on the business, because we were doing those films for the art, not for any profit or anything. Being on a set like that, where you didn’t have production pushing down on you, breathing down your back, I think it was really cool. Dave was always pushing for us if production wanted something that wasn’t realistic.
Capone: These are very atypical experiences. When you make a regular movie, you’re going to be so disappointed.
TH: Yeah, I know. It’s unique.
Capone: Dave, are you still involved with this Dwayne Johnson project LORE [IDW graphic novel, written by Ashley Wood and T.P. Louise]?
DG: Yeah, we’re working on it.
Capone: Do you have a date you’re going to start on that?
DG: We’re not sure yet.
Capone: He seems a little busy lately.
DG: Yeah, he’s the busiest actor in America, but we got to meet recently, and he’s super awesome. I’m very excited about it.
TH: You better give me a cameo.
DG: And I need to get Teo a cameo in it. I’m excited. We’re just plowing ahead.
Capone: Guys, thank you so much. It’s really great to meet you. Best of luck with this.