This interview with producer Alex Garcia took place on December 2nd, 2015 in a huge tent where tables were adorned with concept art for the film. There were a few variations of Kong ranging from an older, more battle scarred version to a more orangutan style, to the Kong that's in the film. The Skullcrawlers are more serpentine in appearance. The water buffalo from the trailer is shown off in the concept art along with a beautiful shot of Kong (here, a thinner version) facing down a group of helicopters at sunset which looks very similar to the finished shot in the trailers. Alex gives the presentation first before taking questions. Interview transcribed by Noah Percival.
Note the interview goes into spoiler territory - just a head's up! Enjoy!
- Chris Mirjahangir
Alex: It is pretty distinct from the other movies in that we're not actually taking Kong off of the island and one of the things that got us really excited about Jordan's take was as we were working toward grounding Kong in a similar way to what we aspire to do with Godzilla, Jordan came in with this idea of setting the movie in the early 1970's at the dawn of the Landsat program. The Landsat program is a real program that was formed to start utilizing satellites to map the surface of the earth. It's the first time we ever did that and in that mapping they discover a previously uncharted island that is surrounded by weather patterns, storm systems, it's incredibly difficult to reach, and incredibly difficult to even ascertain its existence because of the storm systems and weather abnormalities and all of that. It's an entirely unique ecosystem. A team of people come together to go and survey this island. We will discover through the course of the movie that some of them may have had more knowledge than others. They may have actually understood that something was there if even they didn't know exactly what.
The movie essentially becomes thematically about the collision of the modern world and myth. Science is now debunking all myth but what if some myth actually was true? It essentially becomes a survival gauntlet. It's an adventure movie at its core about this group of people who are confronted with the seemingly impossible on this island and have to survive it.
We open on the aftermath of a World War II dog fight. Pilot crash-lands on this island. US pilot you know crawling, stands up, sees another plane crash. It's the plane he's been fighting with. Japanese pilot starts running at him. They get into a death duel running through the jungle. You know two mortal enemies going to kill each other until they're interrupted by this seemingly impossible much larger force that literally, they're on a cliff face here, that literally plants his hands down and comes up and everything of their world the warring factions, the whole war, all of that is instantly nullified by this guy.
We cut out of that and come into the 70's and the beginning of that program. You know one of the things we liked about that period is you got people coming out of the haze of another conflict Vietnam. You have a team of people brought together. Some of them are military. Military force is brought alone although seemingly just for assistance through the survey but we come to understand that maybe there was some suspicion that there may be something there that you would need military force for. You have these various characters who coming out of a war that is now ending have the opportunity to go on this mission that for people who maybe aren't ready to go home yet from a war seems like a respite from having to go back to real life. So they go to the island. You know playing with some of the iconography of the fogbank. Again this is all just concept. It's a pretty substantial expedition that goes and we love too the idea of our Kong is larger. He is in the range of 80 feet or so and one of the other things we liked about a modern time period is that it gives you formidable weaponry and formidable transport, but without all the technological conveniences we have today, and you have personalities that are much more relateable. That they are coming out of a very specific conflict that gives us the thematic carry over.
Unlike Godzilla we meet Kong pretty quickly in our movie. They start the survey. They're coming over the island and very quickly and they're dropping these seismic survey instruments that function almost like charges. They land, and rumble, and create waves that they then measure, and they disturb the peace quite frankly. The sheriff of the island Kong rises up and has a whole confrontation with the choppers. Everybody is stranded. We have two separate groups of people who are stranded and trying to figure out how to get to the other side of the island where refueling choppers are coming and they can in theory get off. They have a very short window because that storm is completely unpredictable. There's one window in it but if that window closes it may be inaccessible for months or years they don't know. So trek through the island.
We do play with natives. We're trying to do something fresh with the natives that hasn't been done before. Jordan had some really clever ideas working with the art team. Again, this is all conceptual and representative it's not gonna look exactly like this, but using language and pattern as something that they almost use also as camouflage and giving their design aesthetic a purpose so that it actually functions as language within their society.
When they get to this village they meet that guy the World War II pilot Marlow who is still on the island. He's basically our source of information of what's been going on, of this civilization, of the function of Kong on the island because there are other things on the island that Kong patrols and sort of protects from over taking it.
Reporter: He's played by John C. Reilly?
Alex: John C. Reilly plays him, yes. I should say you know Sam Jackson is playing Packard who is the colonel who leads the helicopter squadron which is one of the most illustrious squadrons out of the war. He's never lost a man which is why when Kong bangs down those choppers to him it's soul crushing. He's a guy who we establish is not ready to go home. So when this mission opportunity comes up he basically convinces his guys to come with him on this last hurrah and then looses many of them after they've survived the war; they're excited to go home this guy interrupts their opportunity to go home. He now has a vendetta against Kong and he's splintered off from the rest of this group. This group is lead by Conrad who's played by Tom Hiddleston. Weaver who's played by Brie Larson. Conrad is a tracker out of the war. British tracker S.A.S. who's brought in by who we will come to discover are a team of Monarch operatives, which is the organization in Godzilla, who are kind of a shadowy presence in the movie who sort of jumpstart this expedition. It's a Landsat expedition officially but John Goodman who plays the guy from Monarch is sort of pulling the strings in the background. We come to realize obviously that they knew much more than they lead on initially.
Brie Larson plays a photographer who sort of convinces her way onto the expedition because she believes that there's something else going on. She thinks it's some military thing related to probably the war. She has conspiratorial notions of it. She has no suspicion that it's what it actually ends up becoming, but when she hears there's an expedition going with military support she weasels her way onto it in order to get a story and gets the story of a life time obviously.
Marlow has built a boat and we establish that he actually became very good friends with the Japanese pilot who we meet at the very beginning. They bonded and before we come into the current day portion of the movie his good friend Gunpei had been killed by another creature on the island. They had built a boat together but they never actually got to get it upriver because Gunpei was killed. So with the help of the team that comes in they build the boat they get it working, it's built out of parts of their planes that had crashed, and they start getting it up the river.
Meanwhile Packard and his group go through the island. We start seeing different environmental dangers. It's a bamboo forest they go through and we're with them in the bamboo and they're hacking their way through it and then we discover that actually in and amongst the bamboo are these giant daddy longleg-like spiders whose legs look like bamboo and they are hiding in it camouflaged. The guys inadvertently start chopping their legs, and the spiders start attacking, and there's a big gunfight with them. This is our version of a stick creature which one of the soldiers ends up coming upon. You know various wonder and awe beats.
Not everything on the island is deadly. We're trying to give the island a character that feels really grounded and believable, but again within this unique somewhat fantastical ecosystem. We also get a little bit of Kong's daily life. You know the guy's got to eat and It's not easy to do so.
Reporter: He's partial to seafood?
Alex: Yeah, sushi! These are just some of the various crash sites after the guys are all down 'cause it's a fairly big squadron of helicopters and then they start uniting in the various areas where they've crashed and they start heading upriver. Packard along the way is becoming increasingly intent on killing Kong.
Meanwhile our other group that goes through the village Conrad, Weaver, and Marlow start realizing slowly that Kong actually has purpose on the island and is not something that should just be taken out. So eventually those two will collide. This is a cool sequence. This is the Bone Yard when they basically come through once the groups connect and they start going further into the island. For what they believe is to save one of Packard's guys who is still down. They need to go to one part of the island to get off but Packard says "I still have a guy, we gotta get him, I'm not leaving him on the island." He convinces everyone to go with him. They go through this incredibly dangerous area which is littered with the remains of past conflicts and all of the brutality that exists on the island. They of course encounter a creature through it and coming out of it they discover that actually Packard's guy is long dead and Packard knows it. He's just taking them because he wants to kill Kong. He is absolutely committed to killing this thing because it's taken out his men and this is the war he's not going to lose.
Playing with some of this iconography of Kong again, our Kong is much bigger than previous Kongs, but we're still gonna have that connection with him. The idea is not for him to be so large that we're not having a real connection with him. Packard basically sets a trap for Kong and ends up pulling him in. Kong is downed not taken out but he's downed. When Kong is downed we establish that there is a larger threat that could rise up. That's been sort of kept down because as long as Kong is roaming it's not going to come up. One thing leads to another and we have a fairly large battle at the end of the movie.
We're not doing the sort of traditional damsel in distress thing with this movie, but again we're honoring a lot of those foundations, but we're not doing that same bit. The idea is for Kong to be quite noble. Again, big adventure movie keeping Kong as that really noble iconic force, but one who is difficult to understand as he's been in previous movies.
Reporter: So even though it's set in the same universe as Godzilla (2014) the key difference seems to be Kong is a protagonist not an antagonist in this film. He's not considered to be as fearful.
Alex: Correct, and also I think Godzilla comes up into our world and starts wreaking havoc because he can't move without wreaking havoc. Whereas with Kong we are really invading his environment. What becomes clear is that maybe he was protecting his environment. Maybe he was being defensive and not offensive when he took down these choppers, but when it first happens they don't realize it 'cause they don't realize they're causing problems when they come on and start dropping these charges. And it's set in the same universe, but...
Reporter: Godzilla (2014) is a sci-fi disaster film and this seems more like an adventure survivor film.
Alex: Exactly, and this is also set before Godzilla (2014), so Godzilla has not emerged into the modern world. So this is very much just Kong: Skull Island.
Reporter: Aside from the presence of Monarch did you have to consider the events of the first Godzilla movie?
Alex: I think you know we wanted to be careful that we didn't conflict or directly negate anything that's in that movie. They're in the same timeline essentially, but beyond making sure we weren't causing inconsistencies between the two, no. We were careful about not conflicting with it.
Reporter: So we won't see the bones of Godzilla's ancestors?
Alex: No. Kong and other things that we will reintroduce to Skull Island, but they are unique to this movie.
Reporter: How will you size him up to fight Godzilla in 2020? Because that's like a big fan question. How's that going to go?
Alex: You'll have to see it! I'm not gonna give it that easy! I mean look he is bigger. There are a number of reasons for that. He's still not Godzilla sized but this is a bigger Kong, and remember this movie is set in the seventies and Godzilla is set in the 2000's so there's a lot of time to go before he'll be ready to face off.
Reporter: This is also Universal (reporter flub), so how did Warner Brothers come into the picture?
Alex: You know honestly as we were developing this movie and it became clear that Monarch was a heavy part of the movie, it just was the natural place for the movie to be, frankly. Obviously as we've announced we're planning to have all of this come together.
Reporter: In the press release that you put out it kind of alluded to other Toho monsters. Do you see possibly doing spin offs like a Rodan solo movie or something?
Alex: I wouldn't go there necessarily yet, but we have talked to Toho about having the use of some of the other classic characters that are specific to Godzilla and perhaps beyond as the two converge, there may be an opportunity for that.
Reporter: Are you guys also looking at like decade by decade, in film by film like the X-Men movies?
Alex: No, not necessarily, I mean I think it's whatever is right for the movie, the story, and whatever feels exciting. These characters have been around a long time and we want to do something fresh with them, but again we want it to feel very organic to who the characters are, and why we all love them, and why they survived as long as they have. So things just gotta feel right for the movie.
We have a pretty detailed idea for where we want it all to go but the idea is not to be just playing with eras. To give it a different backdrop. This just felt right. Particularly because how are you going to make a movie in the modern world? You could do it, there's ways to do it, but it felt very organic to us that this program was actually mapping the earth at this time and it's completely believable that we could have found something. In, by the way, a time when we thought we already knew everything! As we do now but we thought we knew everything then! So to find a place that had never been found before it felt like one of the last opportunities where you could credibly do that and have a team of people go to a place that may as well be Mars.
Reporter: The species that we're seeing on Skull Island, are they all pretty much made from scratch? Like he doesn't fight a T-Rex he fights other giant lizards that you guys created.
Alex: Yes. They'll be Easter eggs in there and allusions to things, but they are all unique to this movie and to Skull Island.
Reporter: Can you talk a little bit more about developing this new mythology, especially in terms of the previous movies that have come before and how you wanted to separate this?
Alex: It's what I said earlier which is that these are really iconic, famed, beloved characters and we wanted to tell them in a new way that feels fresh to audiences but again feels really organic to the character. That was our aspiration with Godzilla which was to make a movie that would really honor the foundations of Honda's Godzilla (1954), and frankly even of the Godzillas that came later. The good parts of it which was the joy fans get out of seeing Godzilla take on formidable foes often for our benefit. So the idea of setting that in a world where it's still Kong, it feels like Kong, but it's a new story within Skull Island that stuff is exciting. To tell the same story didn't feel right. We'd rather take the character and tell a story that seems as if it could have happened in a distant cousin of those other time lines. But that is very much within the universe of, especially tonally, that we set up for Godzilla.
Reporter: In going towards Godzilla vs. Kong it seems like the nice thing about that is while there is a movie King Kong vs. Godzilla (1962), it's a terrible movie and every Godzilla fan would admit that. So there's a lot of room for improvement there. You're not remaking a masterpiece in any way.
***I did catch up with this reporter later and set them straight on how Godzilla fans love the film etc. -Chris***
Alex: The idea is not to remake that movie.
Reporter: But even the idea hasn't been done right yet.
Alex: Right and also you know, if you can establish these characters in a way that feels compelling with the technology we have today with very distinct backdrops they're coming, where they're each established credibly in their own right, it should feel right for them to come together so hopefully we'll pull it off.
Reporter: I know Peter Jackson developed and refined a lot of his technology for making his movie in 2005, will you guys benefit from that in any way?
Alex: We're using cutting edge stuff. When Peter made his movie, he helped to push other cutting edge technologies. I mean I think a lot of movies have benefited from it. It's cumulative knowledge. There will be some of the same techniques and there will be a lot of very different techniques, and also remember Peter's Kong is twenty-five feet. Our Kong is significantly bigger than Peter's so that begs different techniques to realize it.
Reporter: How long have you wanted to do this movie and to bring them both together?
Alex: You know, we want to make a great King Kong movie just like we tried to make a great Godzilla movie and when you think about hopefully pulling that off and the idea of them coming together is super compelling because we're all fans and that can be a great movie. I hope we're all going to go see it! It's not been driving the process because we need this movie to be great in order to establish Kong and then ideally that becomes a step in the near future.
Reporter: I think the designs you have going on for Skull Island look really cool! Is the door still open to explore more of Skull Island in the future?
Alex: Could be, sure! If we pull off this island feeling like a really distinct and unique place, absolutely it could be revisited later in the time line for sure.
Reporter: Is there anything else you can tell us about the island like in terms of are there different climate zones and geography?
Alex: We're shooting this movie here, we're shooting in Australia, and we're shooting in Vietnam. The idea is for it to feel like an incredibly unique yet incredible real place. Which is why we're shooting in Vietnam frankly because the landscapes there are so unique and they haven't been seen on film very often. Frankly some of what we're shooting has never been seen on film. So we'll of course be doing some enhancement of the island itself, but the idea is for it to feel like a really unique place. Will there be differing areas that the team goes through? Of course absolutely, but the island itself is a big character.
Reporter: Keeping in mind that this is part of an expanded universe, was it important for you guys to kind of develop a story that leads into other movies?
Alex: I mean, look you always want to keep the doors open and hopefully when you're telling these kinds of mythologies there are just like some of the genre films we all grew up loving, there are those doorways that open that you never go down but your mind's like "Oh shit there might be a whole other world through that door!" We're trying to keep a lot of that open but it's not driving the central story that this movie needs to work. So yes of course we think about those possibilities and we get excited about those ideas and how it could all weave together later, but it can't drive the central narrative of the movie. So we'll play with some of those ideas and there will be suggestions for things but we won't go down all those hallways.
Reporter: So the story in this one is very much specific to this King Kong movie. Like the characters in this might not end up in the other ones or have descendants?
Alex: Correct. They might but they might not.
Reporter: What are the actors playing against?
Alex: Depends on the scene because again we have so many varying sizes creatures and stuff. Obviously with Kong it's Jordan really explaining to them what the scene's going to be. The effects have certain elements that they use, but ultimately that's why we went after the cast we did. Because we needed actors that would be able to pull that off and that had the same kind of awe about the possibility of these kind of wondrous things they would see on the island. So thankfully we were very fortunate to assemble the cast we did because for them it's effortless. For me it would be a big problem but for them it's effortless.
Reporter: For the actors is it a real ensemble piece or is it a few that we follow around for the bulk of the runtime?
Alex: I mean it's pretty much an ensemble piece in that we have these two big groups. Tom Hiddleston's character is a very central character to the movie. Sam Jackson's character is extremely central especially as he becomes really hell-bent on taking out this creature who if we pull our jobs off right as an audience we will come to really respect, and love, and want to keep around. But yet you will hopefully understand why he is so hell-bent on taking it out because he is heartbroken over the fact - devastated - over the fact that he lost some of his squad to this thing. So those guys are pretty central but all around them, I mean John Goodman's character is incredibly important, John C. Reilly's character is incredibly important. You know they all have their moments as they go through the film and Brie Larson's character also.
Reporter: So Jordan specifically brought in the whole 1970's thing?
Alex: Yeah we knew the tone and direction we were heading toward but that was the idea that helped to just lock it in that grounded that way we were hoping to establish again like we did with Godzilla.
Alex Garcia is an American producer, an executive producer for Godzilla (2014), producer for Kong: Skull Island (2017), and Executive Vice President at Legendary Entertainment. Other projects he has contributed to include Krampus (2015) and the 2004 TV series House.
||Toho Kingdom/Roundtable reporters
Back to interviews