Interview:
Greg Graves

Chris Mirjahangir: Today I'm interviewing Greg Graves, director and producer of the Godzilla: Hertiage project, a fan film based around the King of the Monsters.

To prepare, I've worked with Noah Percival to prepare some questions. Now without further ado, I would like to ask my first question - Which era of Godzilla movies most influenced your film?


Greg Graves: We probably drew most of our influence from Gojira. We combined the continuity of both films and set the original appearance in 1954. The nuclear issue makes a strong resurgence in Godzilla: Heritage as do many other issues facing our society today. There's also an emphasis on Ishiro Honda's theme of people coming together to face a mutual threat. That's one of our favorite aspects about Mr. Honda's films and this will be evident in both the film and the world we've built around it.

To build the film's universe we looked heavily at the Showa era of films where many of the great monsters from the series were born. Godzilla himself is still very much a mystery in Heritage. While many of the monsters, known as "Superfauna" in the film universe, have been somewhat constants in the world - Godzilla only appears every few decades. Nobody knows why and even less about him.

Some lightly-touched upon elements of the original film have been added to or expanded on, specifically his meaning to the people of Odo Island and what he represents to them. There's a very important scene in the film that explores why they perform purification rituals and would send girls on rafts out into the sea as sacrifices.

A few classic Toho monsters appear in the film and many more exist in the film's universe. The world-building we've done gives some of them familiar origins, others new ones. Some origins come with new twists or different settings and in all cases but Godzilla's there are many members of each species. For example, the Kamacuras and Kumonga species were created by a failed weather control experiment like they were originally, but the event takes place in Indochina and is the catalyst for the Vietnam conflict, which is fought to exterminate them.

We took at look at the execution Shusuke Kaneko's films as well, specifically the Gamera trilogy. Often in these films the violence can be very timid or whitewashed, so it was important to us to portray the consequences of these beasts clashing in a populated area, both to the monsters themselves and the people who get caught in the middle. In Heritage you will see the fallout of this kind of event and it won't be pretty or pleasant for anyone.

Mirjahangir: Was there a specific interpretation of Godzilla that you wanted to emulate with your version of the character?

Graves: Godzilla has always been an intriguing and constantly evolving character, one of the aspects that make him so interesting. He's been used as a messenger for many different current or environmental issues over the last 61 years and while the nuclear issues is one we have brought back to the surface, we've tried to expand the character's original representation to encompass the problems we face in our modern world as well.



In Godzilla: Heritage, Godzilla represents 61 years of bad decision-making on the part of the human race. He and the other monsters are a constant reminder of crossing a line that shouldn't be crossed time and time again. The greatest fault of humanity is its inability to learn from its mistakes at more than a snail's pace. In this film Godzilla represents the ugly side of human nature. Despite our place as the dominant species on this planet and our capability for great achievement, he's a powerful enigma that's in place to remind us that there is always something that is more powerful and that there are consequences for our actions.

I think the audience is in for a very interesting new interpretation of Godzilla, especially when it becomes clear what his motivations are in the film.

Mirjahangir: Were there any influences beyond Godzilla for this project?

Graves: Aside from our look at the Gamera Trilogy, we're trying to give Godzilla: Heritage a very different feeling from what I think you'd normally see from a Toho Godzilla film. It won't feel as smooth or streamlined to the people watching. It will have a very "indy feel" to it.

Heritage will contain more adult content than I've personally seen in a giant monster film and not simply for the sake of having that content. We are very adamant about portraying normal people with everyday challenges and problems in an extraordinary world and situation. Many people watching will be able to relate personally to these challenges, or will know of people close to them who will. Loss and addiction are a couple of the ones that will be presented and will compliment our other commentaries and themes in the film.

Most importantly, we want the audience to have an emotional connection to these characters and feel invested in the story, so we're shooting the film in a way to help the audience feel as if they're in the same room or out in the street amid the destruction with these people. Audiences who are familiar with Alfonso Cuarón's Children of Men or Gareth Edwards' Monsters will have good examples of the way we're shooting Godzilla: Heritage.

Mirjahangir: What are some of the challenges that are unique to making a fan film?

Graves: The most challenging aspect is the budget. Great pains have been taken to make the best quality film we can with a very small budget. Right now Heritage is a $30,000 production, $10,500 I've invested out of my own pocket. If we make the minimum amount from the second Kickstarter that number will climb to $70,000 and ideally we'd love to end with more than that. The quality we're striving for, from the equipment, the effects and professional quality creature suits on top of many other production aspects quickly squeezes a small budget and has been the biggest challenge in producing Heritage.



Another challenge is the evolution of the production and the workload. Most people working on Heritage are working on it for discounted rates, or who are simply volunteering their time generously. With such a small budget and crew, many of us find ourselves taking up several different responsibilities at once. It can be very hard, time consuming and stressful. Part of the increase in budget is to help bring in more crew members to take some of the pressure off the crew we have and help make the rest of production move ahead more smoothly.

Adding to that, there have been a few personal tragedies that have occurred over the course of this past year. Regardless, everyone continues to come together as a team and perform exceptionally. We have a very talented group of men and women working on this film and I'm confident we can overcome the challenges we face.

We are also promoting this as a non-profit project. It's very important to let interested parties know that this is simply a labor of love, a passion project. One of our most frequently asked questions of when this project will be released on the internet for viewing or where it can be seen. We do not own the character and as such would never try to make any monetary gain off of Toho property or distribute this widely across the internet. Any copies of the film in any form are only for people who pledge to see it come to fruition. We are trying to make sure this is apparent in everything we release.

Mirjahangir: How long has the film been in production?

Graves: The project was conceived in 2009 and when I was able to secure a better income to fund the project in the early stages, we began developing it more heavily in the years since.

2014 was a big year for us. By then we had developed a fantastic story and script, had secured our core cast and crew and had our first prototype Godzilla suit made.

Promotion at Denver Comic Con and an established Facebook page really helped the project take off and after our initial Kickstarter failed, the second one secured us $19,500.

From there we upgraded our equipment, started building new suits complete with animatronics and begin filming.

Mirjahangir: How did you come up with the story?

Graves: Steve Martin has always been my favorite character from the series. Raymond Burr was a fantastic actor. The impact Godzilla: King of the Monsters had on me growing up was probably the most profound of any of the films. My family fell on some hard times in 2009 and as a result I had to give up on going to film school and help support them.

Things could get overwhelming and on a trip to unwind with a close friend and one of the film's cast/crew members, Tim Schiefer. I formulated the initial idea of a story that followed the grandson of Steve Martin living in a world populated with some of the classic Toho monsters. I discussed it with Tim, and he was very supportive of the idea.

From there I penning ideas for the story, the writing became a very cathartic experience for me and eventually I said "Well, hey…this would be a pretty fantastic film if we could shoot it." I started creating a world around it and Tim helped me flesh out the story over the next couple of years.

What we ended with was what I think is both a great tale about the personal challenges these characters descended from figures in the original film face and must overcome in a world filled with these god-like monsters and an interesting commentary on the nuclear issue and human nature.

Mirjahangir: What are the plans for the film after completion?

Graves: After the film is completed we'll start getting the digital copies, DVD/Blu-ray copies and other rewards out to our donors, then start looking for conventions that might be interested in playing it at their venues. We will not be releasing it online in any form, keeping with our stance on this being a non-profit project.

Mirjahangir: Where can fans donate to the Kickstarter?

Graves: Fans who are interested in donating to the Kickstarter can visit https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/129435952/godzilla-heritage-phase-2

They can also visit http://www.facebook.com/godzillaheritage for more information on the project as it moves forward, subscribe to us on YouTube at http://www.youtube.com/user/PerceptionChannel and follow us on Twitter @GHeritageMovie.

Mirjahangir: How did you meet your cast/crew?

Graves: I only knew two of the cast/crew members we had now when the project began. During pre-production we did a lot of networking to get everyone together.

Matt Frank steered me toward our concept artist Elden Ardiente, another friend steered me toward Rashaad Santiago and Christopher Bloomer. Those two guys pointed me in the direction of special and visual effects artists and one of our lead actors and we also began to look at talented local actors to cast. When Rashaad became unable to do the second round of creature suits, he pointed us in the direction of Chaz Vance to work on the new ones.

Our editor and director of photography Kyle Gilmore was an old friend who had been working on productions in Louisiana since film school and he approached me with an interest in working on the film after the first Kickstarter. Stewart Dugdale, our composer and sound designer approached us during the first Kickstarter as well.

A lot of research and networking later, a couple of guys turned into many talented people lending their experience and expertise to this project. It's been quite incredible working and learning from all of them so far.

Mirjahangir: How long did each suit take to design and what was the process?

Graves: Godzilla and Anguirus took some time. As the two main creatures in the film, they went through several design changes and alterations to perfect. The two final concepts we have for them are very different from what they started as. It took about a year and a half alone to get them right.

Thankfully, the great thing about working on concepts with Elden is how dialed in we are creatively. We always seem to be on the same page with the monsters we are trying to create. He's a fantastic artist and has a great mind for making monsters. The second round of concepts produced the perfect Anguirus design. Godzilla was close, and after a few more months of tweaking and polishing, we got him as well.

The toughest thing about coming up with re-imagined designs of these monsters was striking a balance between a classic look so they'd be familiar enough and making them seem naturalistic. That was a big thing for us when we were designing them. Obviously these things could never exist but we wanted to project a sense that they could both in their design and backstories.

Poor Anguirus has always been a bit of a punching bag in the past, except for maybe his debut film. Other than that it's never seemed he was anything more than a device to further the projection of strength of Godzlla and the other monsters. So, we're turning a few preconceived notions about Anguirus on their heads in this film. In Heritage his species is probably the most dangerous of all the Superfauna in the film's universe; regal, perfectly evolved killing machines. They have natural defenses all over their body, are very agile for their size and possess a level of intelligence that's greater than the rest of the monsters. We're keeping a pretty interesting twist with Anguirus under wraps at the moment, depending on how the Kickstarter does. I think the audience will very excited to see how that aspect of the story plays out when the time comes. Hopefully we can overshoot our goals to ensure it comes to fruition.

With Godzilla we wanted to again create something unique and yet familiar at the same time. A huge thing was making Godzilla seem more amphibious. Design-wise Godzilla has never seemed like a creature that would be at home in the sea to me, so we made an effort to design this Godzilla with that in mind. The skin pattern is different from the more traditional designs and many features of his body are built for mostly aquatic living. For example, he has a muscular tail with his spines combining into a longer, singular row at the end of it for propulsion, webbed feet and hands and spiked "rudders" going up his forearms to assist in navigation. He has plates going down the front of his body and his spines are swept back for aerodynamics underwater.



Rashaad Santiago built the first prototype suit which gave us a great idea of how to proceed after the first Kickstarter. When Rashaad was unable to work on the new suits we were recommended to Chaz Vance, a contestant on Jim Henson's Creature Shop Challenge. He brought in other creature artists from the show and they did a lot of research on how to make the second generation suits work. I'm not sure if I could do justice to the entire process he and his team developed, but I can tell you they refined to the designs a bit to work better for constructing the suits, that a lot more aspects of the monsters, such as the heads, claws and feet were molded and cast and that they are being built with more complex, radio-controlled animatronics in mind. They're also using a new type of latex-like material for the suits' skin that has never been utilized before in a creature effects capacity as far as anyone on the team knows. The material is very durable and easy to work with.

PERSON DETAILS

GREG GRAVES

Greg Graves is the director/producer of the feature-length fan film, Godzilla: Heritage. The film is currently awaiting the results of it's second-stage crowdfunding campaign on Kickstarter. The Heritage team has been developing the film for almost six years. The film will utilize traditional effects, including suitmation; augmented by modern visual effects.

Date: 06/8/2015
Interviewer: Chris Mirjahangir

 

Back to interviews