On September 6th, 2017 I was lucky enough to be invited onto the set of “Godzilla: King of the Monsters” in Atlanta, Georgia. (See right – Photo taken on the set of the Monarch Arctic Base.) Unlike the set visit for Kong: Skull Island, this was a solo trip. Included in this piece are audio interviews with O’Shea Jackson Jr., who plays Chief Warrant Officer Barnes, along with Producer Alex Garcia and Executive Producer/co-writer Zach Shields.
I do want to stress that there ARE plot points and spoilers in this piece and I would suggest that if you are wanting to go into the movie with the freshest mind possible, turn back now. Wait until the movie comes out on the 31st of May and then come back and check out this piece.
**Both audio interviews have edits (some obvious and some not) for the sake of flow.**
The set visit began with watching O’Shea Jackson Jr. and the rest of G-Team aboard the mock Osprey aircraft. Giant screens on either side had a cloud effect on both sides as hydraulics moved the Osprey (really just a tube set with windows meant to look like the Osprey). If you’ve seen that shot online from Mike Dougherty’s Twitter account (see below), that is the Osprey from the set. Below are my notes from watching filming.
Shake test wth O’shea jr. Big blue screen. Orange x’s. Set on hydraulics. Part of airplane. Looks like set from Rodan scene in Mexico. Soldiers flying away in storm caused by Rodan bursting out of volcano. Large led screens have cloud effect on them on loop. They are mounted high up and surround the set.
Osprey crashes into water. Prior to this, Oshea radios for mid air evac. Flying away from Isla de Mona.
INTERVIEW: O’Shea Jackson Jr. (Chief Warrant Officer Barnes)
This interview took place between setups during filming on the Osprey. Topics covered are his character, getting the part, his history of being a Godzilla fan, and his influences.
*correction: I state in the interview that Zone Fighter is considered to be canon. This is more of a grey area because Zone Fighter’s canonicity is still up in the air, though Japanese publications still like to include the show when mentioning the later Showa era movies and monsters.*
Click the image below to download the audio file.
Total Runtime 21:04
I’m going to preface this section by saying that right now, these notes will make NO SENSE WHATSOEVER. They’re recorded as I saw them and I was trying to get as much information as I could without being able to take photos. These are aimed squarely at those who are fans of set design and/or curious about every single possible detail in the film. Until you have seen the movie, ignore these and come back to them later if you so desire.
Click the images to download the audio files.
Total Runtime: 16:35
INTERVIEW: Producer Alex Garcia and co-writer and Executive Producer Zach Shields
In the last interview of the day, I was driven by van into an offsite “art room”-for lack of a better term-with Alex and Zach. It was a big room with concept art hung around the room-a lot of it really awesome looking! A couple of maquettes were in the room as well. A sort of Smaug-styled early King Ghidorah and on the other side of the room, a sort of feathered, eagle-faced version of Rodan. Topics include a quick rundown of the film, changes in the design and the Monsterverse after Godzilla vs. Kong.
*correction: When discussing the Godzilla Marvel comic series, I mistakenly state that Godzilla battled the Helicarrier when I meant the Behemoth airship.*
Click the image below to download the audio file.
INTERVIEW: Mike Dougherty
This interview took place in Mike’s trailer during a quick break from filming. Due to audio issues, it had to be transcribed. Topics covered are how he got the job, Easter eggs, and his love for the franchise.
Interview transcribed by Jeremy Williams with editing by Chris Mirjahangir.
Chris Mirjahangir: Alright, so first question is, how did you get the call? Because you were doing writing first, but how did you get the call to even be a writer?
Mike Dougherty: No, they asked me to direct it first.
Mirjahangir: Oh ok, that was announced later then.
Dougherty: Yeah, it was just announced later.
Dougherty: Yeah I had finished Krampus, it was I think March 2016, somewhere in there, Spring. Gareth had just departed the project and Legendary had asked if I would be interested in taking over, and I very quickly said yes.
Mirjahangir: So, you’re a fan straight from the get-go.
Dougherty: From the beginning, I mean I have been watching Godzilla since I was born, that was mid 70’s, and so he was really just coming into his own in America, so I grew up on a very steady diet of the original movies coupled with the Hanna-Barbera cartoon. So every Saturday morning I started with the Godzilla cartoon. And then my local station piggybacked the old movies after the cartoon. And then that was followed by old black and white monster movies, followed by kung fu movies. So Saturday was a very potent education as far as Godzilla goes.
Mirjahangir: So basically the whole Showa era.
Dougherty: Yeah completely, and then I just grew up with him from there, and continued watching them into the Millennium (Series), you know.
Mirjahangir: Was it one of those things like you’re a fan of and then your friends are like what the hell are you watching that for?
Dougherty: No, my friends, I mean I would get my friends into it. I mean the entertainment options were way more limited back then than they are now. So watching Godzilla movies on a Saturday afternoon was a great way to spend the day and so I just sort of preached the gospel of Godzilla and brought my friends into it. And I also I grew up with one of my first toys was the old Shogun Warriors Godzilla.
Mirjahangir: I have one of those.
Dougherty: Which is why I have the Rodan behind you.
(Mike points to the Shogun Warriors Rodan toy on his desk)
But, so he was just everything.
Mirjahangir: Yeah I remember the Shogun (Godzilla) one and how the fist would fly off.
Mirjahangir: While you’re playing with it and it would punch you in the face.
Dougherty: Yeah exactly, yeah it was one of my favorites.
Mirjahangir: Were there other Toho monsters that you wanted to bring in, or was it always these Godzilla, then Rodan, Mothra, and King Ghidorah?
Dougherty: Well, they’re the kind of the crown jewels.
Mirjahangir: Yeah the big five (MechaGodzilla included but not in the film).
Dougherty: Yeah, you know it’s like, it’s the Batman, Superman, Wonder Woman of the Godzilla universe. And I have a love for many of the other creatures too. I love Mechagodzilla, for example. But these are the ones that just make sense; these are the ones that everybody wants to see on the big screen. They’re the icons of that universe.
Mirjahangir: Were there other ones that you were kind of trying to eek in a little bit?
Dougherty: I wanted to sneak in some Easter egg references to others, but even that is a complicated rights issue.
Mirjahangir: Yeah Toho can kind of be very…
Dougherty: They’re just, just very… they’re rightfully very protective of their characters.
Mirjahangir: So for this film, are you going to include any of the cues? Not like a full suite.
Dougherty: I would like to, that’s also under discussion and consideration. I would love to, I think the music and the character go hand in hand. It’s like, you don’t make a Jaws movie without the Jaws theme, you don’t make a Star Wars or Bond film without those themes. So fingers crossed we can at the very least have a tip of the hat.
Mirjahangir: Do you own the soundtracks?
Dougherty: No, well I own some of them, but yeah it’s still always going to be a complicated rights issue.
Mirjahangir: Yeah, but it’s one that when it comes in at the right time, that’s where you have the audience.
Mirjahangir: That’s fanboy tears, that’s everything.
Dougherty: Yeah, there will be plenty of fanboy tears, I promise you.
Mirjahangir: When you were picking them (the monsters to be in the film), you have Rodan, Mothra, King Ghidorah. Were you deciding like this one is gonna be an ally with Godzilla, or are they all gonna be enemies?
Dougherty: I mean, I think the lines are all pretty clearly drawn, the only rogue… the wildcard is Rodan. He’s the one that I think his loyalties can sometimes falter. Um, but I think we even acknowledge that fact. You know Mothra for the most part is an ally, King Ghidorah for the most part is always the antagonist. So we pretty much stick to what I think is expected of them.
Mirjahangir: So you did tweet out a picture of the Oxygen Destroyer.
Mirjahangir: Does that come to play in the film, or is that just like…
Mirjahangir: Alright I was like alright, cuz I thought you were just like paying homage to it or something.
Dougherty: It, it plays a role.
Mirjahangir: Ok, yeah.
Dougherty: Definitively… yes.
Mirjahangir: So now practical effects.
Mirjahangir: I saw you had Tom Woodruff, who I’ve seen around Monsterpalooza and everything. He’s part of it. Did you reach out to other people at Toho like Shinichi Wakasa to bring in?
Dougherty: It was, it’s not just Tom, it was a team effort. We had Tom Woodruff, we also had his former colleagues at Legacy Effects. Which was previously Stan Winston’s company. We also had two of my creature designers from Krampus onboard, Miguel Ortega and Tran Ma. It was, I pretty much grabbed the most talented creature designers I knew and sort of assembled a new team and everyone sort of had a crack at a different creature. So Tom and A.D.I., they cracked Rodan… for the most part. Legacy took on Ghidorah and Mothra.
Mirjahangir: What guidelines did you give them?
Dougherty: To look at the original creatures and distill those silhouettes and those key traits into something more modern, but while still also turning to… The two biggest influences were the original designs and nature. So if you’re taking a crack at Rodan, you don’t want to just look at dinosaurs and Pteradons, you want to look at vultures and eagles and the hawks and other birds of prey. Because what we know about flying dinosaurs now is different than we knew back in the 60’s. We now know that dinosaurs and birds are very closely related. So it only makes sense that Rodan might have certain bird-like traits, or body language, for example. Ghidorah, you know we want to create an iconic Asian style dragon, but the scales of that creature can’t look like Godzilla’s; they can’t just be the scales from the old movies. So I had them look at scales from every different kind of reptile imaginable. You know, alligators and cobras and monitor lizards, Komodo dragons, so it was really fun. That was like one of my favorite parts of the process, trying to distill the look of these iconic creatures that we know and love into something that we would believe now. Mothra being the biggest challenge, because you can’t just take a moth and blow it up and call it Mothra. It’s like there are distinct traits that she has, but there are also so many different varieties of moths out there. It was a matter of looking at all of them across the board and trying to figure out, ok, what bits and pieces can we take from all these different kinds of moths to create something that is beautiful and elegant and feminine, but also intimidating and powerful.
Mirjahangir: Did you keep their sounds and roars?
Mirjahangir: Did you bring Eric Aadahl back from the first one?
Dougherty: Yeah, but Eric and his partner Ethan actually. E squared is their company.
Dougherty: So they worked on the first film and same rules applied, I sent them every variation of King Ghidorah’s roar, every variation of Rodan.
Dougherty: Same thing with Mothra and said, ok this is where you start, so then I want the same musicality, the same melody, and essence of these roars translated and updated to something more contemporary. There are so many variations.
Dougherty: And emotional states, so yeah it will be an ongoing process. But I had them even for our previz animation, they layered in certain sounds, and then on set at the soundboard where I was playing different roars depending on the creature that was.
Mirjahangir: So you have Godzilla fighting Kong in the next one.
Dougherty: I don’t. *laughs*
Mirjahangir: No well I’m just saying in the Monsterverse you know, generally.
Mirjahangir: Is it fair to say that one of the enemies or at least a few of them may perish in this film?
Dougherty: Maybe. *laughs*
Mirjahangir: Good enough, that’s fine.
Dougherty: No spoilers. *laughing*
Mirjahangir: Yeah alright, so with Thomas Tull being a massive Godzilla fan… how active was he with helping shape the story and picking the monsters and everything?
Dougherty: I’ve known Thomas for a very long time now, we’ve done three movies going on four movies together now. So he’s a very close collaborator and every chance we had, we would get together and pow wow and kick ideas around. But he was also really respectful in letting me go off and have my time to shape the story and the characters. And then do a proper presentation, a pitch presentation with the artwork and everything else. But yeah, I mean we still text back and forth.
Mirjahangir: Does he um… I mean how big of a fan would you say he is, does he have a big collection?
Dougherty: Yeah, he’s a very big fan, I mean he dreamt of doing a Godzilla film and a Kong film probably as long as I have.
Dougherty: And so fate happened to bring us together, and here we are.
Mirjahangir: So you have Haruo Nakajima and Yoshimitsu Banno who passed away this year.
Mirjahangir: Will you have any sort of homages or anything in like the end credits or…
Dougherty: We’ll see. I’d like to. I think it’s appropriate.
Mirjahangir: How long did it take you to kind of compose the story, crack the story, whatever it is?
Dougherty: It was a process. I mean, I started with like a one-two page treatment. It was very rough, just the basic beats and a very rough sketch of the characters. And then from there we did a writer’s room. My writing partner Zack Shields and I ran a writer’s room. We brought in a group of other writers and then continued to build on that treatment. And then it took about a full year to really to get the script in place and into a proper shape. And then um, you know it’s an ongoing process, we’re still, we’re everyday adding lines. Even in the scene we’re shooting today. Always looking for any opportunity to just make it a little bit better if possible. So the writing process never ends, it’s, you know, you write it once on the page, you write it again when you shoot it, and the again in post. So it’s an ongoing process. But it took about a year to get just the script together.
Mirjahangir: And then you had Max Borenstein working on it for a little bit, is he still active?
Dougherty: He was working on an old draft of the script. And then we pretty much started over from scratch.
Mirjahangir: So what year did you begin everything? You said 2015?
Dougherty: Spring 2016.
Mirjahangir: So the monsters, you know, Rodan, Mothra, they all kind of had their own sort of personalities.
Mirjahangir: You know Rodan, if you look at Ghidorah (1964 film) he’s kind of a prankster and stuff. Will those kind of continue on? Not from those original personalities, but they’ll be individual, they’re not just monsters smashing stuff?
Dougherty: Yeah, no it’s very important to me. I always refer to them as characters, you know. So whether it’s the previz animators or even how the actors think of them. They are characters, that is why they’re on the call sheet. You know, so they have to have distinct personalities and traits and quirks. You know, I think Ghidorah is gonna have a very cruel personality, but there is a sense of humor and mischief. It’s not a comedy by any means, but there’s a certain sense of curiosity. Because in my mind he’s like Rip van Winkle. You know, he wakes up and he doesn’t recognize any of this world. You know, so he’s never seen a jet before, he’s never seen a tank, a ship, human beings with guns. And so there is a certain part of our world that he is curious about and puzzled by. You know, so that has to come across. You know, it’s like Rodan is a very protective, almost divine presence, you know. So it’s important to me that they’re not just treated as monsters. They are just very large animals with a distinct thought process.
Mirjahangir: So no Mothra twins or anything, kind of got rid of that?
Dougherty: There might.
Mirjahangir: Ok, I saw two identical twins kids there, two boys and I’m like hmm.
Mirjahangir: On the set, but I guess one of them is the stunt kid.
Dougherty: Oh, one’s the stunt kid, yeah, yeah.
Mirjahangir: I saw them sitting together and was like, wait a minute.
Dougherty: I’m not gonna turn the Mothra twins to boys, yeah, I would never do that.
Mirjahangir: Ok, so do you see really far ahead down the line, like thinking, ok this probably won’t make it. But this would be really good for an extended cut?
Dougherty: No, not yet, I mean that all depends on where the dust settles with the cut. You just never know, like something that you think could be in the movie ends up on the cutting room floor and vice versa.
Mirjahangir: Yeah, but then it would be just like if I could have a request? Just pile on the deleted scenes. Kong got like four minutes.
Dougherty: Well you know fingers crossed that we don’t really have many.
Mirjahangir: In updating them (the monsters), assuming you went everything Showa and just kind of ignored the 90’s for design or whatever you wanted to.
Dougherty: No, we looked at everything.
Dougherty: Looked at everything across the board. I mean there’s good and bad things about every era.
Mirjahangir: What would you say is the bad thing about say the 90’s versions?
Dougherty: I’m not gonna say anything bad. There are positive aspects of every era. There are bits and pieces of influences that we looked at and carefully thought about including. And what you’ll see is hopefully something that you’ll enjoy and pays proper tribute to the character.