Filmed in the stunning scenery of County Donegal, Grabbersreturns to its spiritual home at the Galway Fleadh Film Festival on Tuesday 10th July, but two weeks before that director Jon Wright hosted a screening at the Edinburgh International Film Festival where an enthusiastic crowd greeted him, writer Kevin Lehane and stars Richard Coyle and Ruth Bradley. Geek Chocolate accosted Jon in the bar afterwards to congratulate him and learn a little bit about the film. Beware minor spoilers on the last page!
Geek Chocolate – Hello, Jon, and welcome to Edinburgh. Is this your first time at the Festival?
Jon Wright – No, I had a short film at the Festival many moons ago, The Routine.
GC – Is this your first feature?
JW – No, my second. The first was a low budget horror comedy called Tormented about a bullied schoolboy who comes back from the dead to avenge himself on his tormentors. It got quite a good release. It was targeted at kids.
GC – It was Kevin who brought the script for Grabbers. Was it something you collaborated on, or did he bring it to you?
JW – No, it was something that was brought. It was a script that was found by the producers, and they brought it to me thinking it would be my cup of tea. We worked on it a lot, in as much as there was a lot of work to do getting it to work for the money we had. In terms of the actual concept and the principle of the script, it was a case of “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.”
Jon at the Sundance Festival
GC – How much budget, if I can ask, did you have?
JW – I don’t think it’s a secret, it was £3.5 million.
GC – Which is not much these days, but it was well spent, particularly with the actual physical presence of the monster was really convincing. Wisely it’s kept in the shadows, kept in the dark, which always helps.
JW – It’s not much for a big monster movie. I had a meeting with John Landis who wanted to be an executive producer on the film, and I wanted him to be an executive producer, but unfortunately John and I were the only ones that wanted that to happen, but he gave me some very good advice, which I think was very astute advice, which was don’t show all of your monster, keep your monster in shadow. And the problem with computer generated monsters is that people think that it’s stronger or better to reveal them, but I think the monster lives in your subconscious. It’s better to keep it in the dark and reveal it at the last moment when the chips are down, play your hand without playing the joker. I suppose that’s an eighties style, very slow burn.
GC – You mentioned the eighties, you mentioned John Landis, what would you say are your influences in horror?
JW – Well, I was weaned on Spielberg, Joe Dante, John Landis, the movie brats from the seventies era, I suppose, those were the filmmakers that made me want to be a filmmaker. There are a lot of contemporary movies that I love, but it’s what stings you first that is embedded in your mind for the rest of your life.
Ruth and Richard in Edinburgh
GC – Ruth, who plays Lisa, when she’s drunk, she is very good at being drunk.
JW – Isn’t she? Did you suspect that she was actually drunk?
GC – No, I guessed she was acting. Was she drinking? JW – It’s a long, involved story, and you should really ask her, but we had a drunken rehearsal. We shot on the Monday, and the Saturday night we went out and we drank in all the pubs in Belfast, we drank way, way too much, and then we went to Richard’s hotel room and we videotaped scenes from the movie. I took me over an hour to turn the videocamera on. I just didn’t know what the power switch was for some reason. And we videotaped it, and the following morning when we all had terrible, terrible hangovers, Richard elected not to watch the video, and I very warily showed it to Ruth, thinking it might actually torpedo her entire performance, but what happened, she found a lot of use in it. You never see yourself drunk.
GC – Despite the subject matter, it is a magnificent advertisement for Ireland, those sunsets, those wide horizons, it is gorgeous.
JW – Yes, I agree. I think the Donegal tourist board will be very pleased with the magic we’ve worked with the beaches that they have.
GC – How long ago was it filmed?
JW – January of 2010.
GC – It’s taken a while. Was it post production or arranging distribution?
JW – It was post production. It took us a year to finish it, then we went to Sundance this year. There has been a lot of discussion with distributors about marketing. What is the right way to sell Grabbers?
GC – You mentioned Joe Dante earlier. He was at the Edinburgh Film Festival a few years ago with Roger Corman, and he was talking about how he got Gremlins off the back of The Howling, and he made the film and presented it to the studio, who were horrified, they didn’t know whether to market it as a comedy or a horror, and it was Steven Spielberg who was executive producer who said, don’t change a frame, release it as it is and let it find its audience.
JW – It’s funny how you get these relationships like George Lucas and Francis Ford Coppola, Neill Blomkamp and Peter Jackson. Often these elder directors can be a stopgap between yourself and the money men. GC – Interesting you mentioned Peter Jackson, because I would have preferred The Hobbit to have been directed by Guillermo del Toro rather than Jackson, and as he was preparing to potentially direct that, he took his focus off At The Mountains of Madness, which we now won’t see, because the design of your creature, that’s straight out of HP Lovecraft. It’s a brilliant representation. The motion of it as it rolls, it’s very effective.
JW – Of course. I could talk about the monster and the thinking behind the monster for a very long time. How long is a piece of string? I could bore even you with it. We thought it through. Everything was thought through from top to bottom and everything that the monster does belongs to a much wider ecology of how it lives on its home planet.
Recommended defence against aliens
GC – Which will be in the DVD commentary, no doubt?
JW – I don’t know if it will, actually, because you kind of wonder how many people will actually watch that bit of the DVD. Maybe eight or nine people will be sufficiently fascinated to get to the end of that bit. I have a document, which Kevin and I collaborated on and I wrote, which is entitled The Ecology of the Grabber, and it’s quite surreal, ridiculous really. We worked out the other primitives on the planet, and how it feeds its children.
GC – Fascinating. When I was watching the early scenes particularly, they reminded me of, not new, but old Doctor Who, the styling of it.
JW – Jon Pertwee?
GC – The Earth era, which was Jon Pertwee, yes, and I felt Quatermass in there as well.
JW – That would be unconscious, because I haven’t seen that stuff for so long.
GC – That’s because you’re so youthful.
JW – Quatermass, particularly the television version, I remember that version.
GC – I have only ever seen Quatermass and the Pit. I’ve seen all three films, but that’s the only television version I’ve seen, with André Morell.
JW – It was an excellent television version. It was a metaphor for hippies.
Trouble on the beach
GC – That’s where he was played by John Mills, that was the final series. I’ve only ever seen the first episode, and it’s not available on DVD in Britain.
JW – Is it not? Because that had a big influence on me as a kid. It just traumatised me, for whatever reason. It was one of those things, a bit like when I saw The Man Who Fell To Earth as a very impressionable teenager, it just went to my head, I hadn’t seen anything that weird in all my life. It had sex and it had aliens.
GC – And it had David Bowie.
JW – I think that the films that really work for me, I realise with hindsight, are the films that combine sex and violence and either magic, so Excalibur was a big influence on me, or anything with aliens. The fact that you could have these films that were deeply engaging, but they also had adult stuff in them as well, you get a bit in the background, it was actually quite irreverant.
GC – What are the plans for distribution?
JW – The current picture is, it goes to Galway in July, it opens the Galway film festival, then it goes on theatrical release in Ireland for a couple of months, hopefully it does well, we’ll see, I hope the Irish people take it to their hearts
GC – I think a home crowd will be receptive.
JW – I think they’ll love it. Going on the Irish people that I know who have seen it, probably about twenty of them, they were the most vociferous fans of Grabbers, absolutely, they have no issues with the characters. Some English people were a little worried that maybe Paddy felt a tiny bit stereotypical, but the Irish people have no concerns about it. They’ve said “I’ve met Paddy, I know exactly who that fellow is.” So it’s interesting, we’ll see. And then it’s being released in the UK theatrically later in the year. It’s kind of a pattern a bit like Monsters, where they’re looking at festivals, and if the reviews are good, okay, we’ll get that territory released, we’ll see how that goes. So we’ll see. We’re in the lap of the gods really.
GC – Excellent. And again, I was here for the premiere of Monsters, fantastic film.
JW – Yeah, I love Monsters. GC – Watching the opening shot where we arrive at Erin Island, coincidentally I saw Jaws on the big screen last night, and the painting, even the colour scheme, it is Amity Island, isn’t it?
JW – Yeah, that’s our little Amity Island. We play umpteen others.
GC – I caught Close Encounters of the Third Kind, the soundtrack has bits of Alien in it, a flavour.
JW – Jerry Goldsmith, yes. I wouldn’t say it has bits of Alien in it.
GC – The scene with the JCB, Aliens.
JW – What Lisa says before, yes.
GC – The scene when she goes downstairs and the grabbers are all there, one of them swinging from the lightshade, that’s Dory’s Tavern from Gremlins. Did I miss any?
JW – There is one big one you’ve missed. Steven Spielberg, 1982.