Interviews: Director Victor Mathieu Talks The Monster Project

TMS: So, in the process of making this movie what gave you the idea for The Monster Project?

VM: I grew up reading RL Stine's Goosebumps books, and played a game that I was just crazy about growing up called Escape From Horrorland, also a Goosebumps video game released by Dreamworks Interactive, so I was always a big fan of monsters and that kind of creative, atmospheric world of horror. So eventually, I'd seen a, about six-seven years ago, a film called Hamilton, which was like a vampire film, and I kinda started thinking about how cool an idea it would be for a movie if I made a film about filmmakers who wanted to interview a family of vampires, and then my love for a variety of monsters kicked in and I said "how cool would it be if I did a film about filmmakers who want to interview multiple types of monsters?" And that's how I came about, I originally, I'd been trying for awhile to make a movie called Carnevil, which was my first attempt at making a feature, but it was too expensive to complete funding on it, so that's how I decided to move on to the new idea that was more affordable to make and that's how The Monster Project came about.

TMS: What kind of early reactions are you getting from it?

VM: The reaction from it is actually overwhelmingly positive, and I think that we've gotten way more traction than we were expecting, I mean we were always hoping that it would do well, that people would love it, but I think the past couple, three days, it's been rated as the number one, top trailer on IMDB and it's really picked up in terms of popularity. So we're really pleased and, I think, overwhelmed right now with the response that it's getting. It feels good to know that the fact that I was banking, that people would want to watch a movie that had three monsters, that's what I was banking from the get go, the fact that it's panning out to be true, is really rewarding for all of us that were in the process of making the film.

TMS: For myself, I'm a huge connoisseur of the found footage genre, I watch everything that comes out because I've always loved them. There's been a few that have kinda changed the genre, Chronicle, being number one, they were very smart...

VM: I love that movie.

TMS: ...about the way they did it, using his powers to control the camera. Obviously, the Blair Witch kinda kicked off the modern trend of this, and then, of course, Cloverfield, which also changed the way we make these movies. And, I'll be honest with you, I think that The Monster Project does the same thing, in a way. How long did it take you to evolve this and come up with another idea that would change the found footage genre in some way?

VM: I appreciate you putting it that way. First of all, you just listed my top three found footage films, so you're spot on. In terms of coming up with the idea and writing it, it was actually pretty fast. I think, from coming up with the idea, initially, the day after I came up with the idea, we started shooting a bunch of videos for it to try and pitch it to investors the next day after I came up with the idea, then we launched a Kickstarter campaign, so, the process of raising the funding, that took, I think, two and a half years, was the hardest part. Then shooting the film took us fifteen days and post-production took us just over a year, so, in terms of coming up with the idea and writing it, it was quite quick and easy. We did do, I think, two re-writes on it before shooting, but that was the easier part of getting the film made, the rest was harder.

TMS: When did your love for horror begin? Is this a genre that you're totally into?

VM: It is! To be honest with you, I've always loved horror. I'm from France originally, and my grandmother used to read this story to me called The Goat of Monsieur Sequin. In French, it's pretty dark, it ends up with a pretty dark twist in the end, it doesn’t end well, which is kinda similar to the ending in The Monster Project, I kinda like that. So I grew up kind of around that and I was always just kind of fascinated with the fact that I was terrified looking at the book cover and yet I still dared myself to look at it, so this kind of fascination with loving and hating being scared was just really strange and interesting to me. But it wasn't until I was in maybe in college, in my first year of college, when I discovered Evil Dead 2, I don't know why it took me so long to discover it, but Evil Dead 2, I fell in love with that movie. I can't tell you how many times I've watched it, definitely over 200 times, it's crazy the amount of times I've watched it and studied  and watched that film very closely. I'm a huge fan of it, and you can probably pick up on some inspiration from it, especially from the POV cameras and stuff like that.

TMS: So, I guess this question kinda goes along with that, what, they don't have to be horror directors, what directors have influenced you in making films?

VM: Tim Burton, Sam Raimi, James Cameron, and Spielberg, those are my four top favorite directors. Now, Tim Burton-wise, there's not much inspiration from Tim Burton in The Monster Project, but some projects that I'm working on or contemplating to write are heavily inspired by Tim Burton or are kind of in that realm of creating a very dark and sinister world, but more on a musical side, so I do have a lot of inspiration from him. But in terms of Sam Raimi, Evil Dead, it's kind of what peaked my love of horror. Spielberg is just an amazing director, he was behind, I mean, Dreamworks Interactive released that game that I fell in love with as a kid, Escape From Horrorland, so that was partly thanks to him. And then James Cameron is a huge inspiration to me just because of how crazy he gets in terms of how intricate his movies are to make...

TMS: And he's such a master of technology and, you know, advancing stuff, which is really cool.

VM: Yeah, but for me it's always just, you know, I love watching the behind the scenes, kinda the making of, for example, Alien, it's just incredible just watching all that he went through to make those films, just how amazing the films really are is an inspiration.

TMS: So now, I ask this question a lot, but I always like to throw it out there because I always get different answers, that are always very, very unique answers, if you had a choice to remake a genre movie, what movie would you like to remake?

VM: Oh, god.

TMS: It's always a hard one, but..

VM: It's hard for me to say because it's already, it's just been announced by someone that I admire is gonna remake it, but Pet Semetary. I was a huge fan of the book growing up and I feel like the film, no offense to people are fans of it, but the book was so scary to me and so amazing and it is my favorite book of all time, that I thought that the movie undervalued the book and so, I wish I could make that movie because I think there's incredible potential to make something really, really cool out of it and I always felt that the cemetery in the movie is just not portrayed the way I had imagined.

TMS: In The Monster Project, there's obviously some CGI work, you can tell in some of the areas where like the demon was revealing itself.  But, that werewolf, there were some excellent transformation scenes which were obviously partly CGI, but I wanted to bring up the practical effects work on that werewolf. Dude. Some of those werewolves, you're thinking this is probably a lower budget feature, but that werewolf looked absolutely killer. So how did that work for you, blending the CGI with the practical, and is that really hard for them to do?

VM: Sure, so for the skin walker, which is heavily inspired by the werewolf lore, of course, kinda blended them a little bit. I just want to bring up, Jim Beinke, who's the special effects designer on the film, we met two and a half years before filming began, maybe three years, and he was in love with the script and was so excited about, I mean, the skinwalker was his baby. I mean, I had the look that I wanted for it but he put his own twist to it and I can't thank him enough for what he created here. And also, the actor who portrayed the skin walker Steven Flores also did a phenomenal job, just the amount of difficult things he had to go through to portray him was crazy, but in terms of the special effects, Jim had quite a large team that helped him throughout the process. I think we started doing prosthetics two years in advance on Steven,  molds and etcetera, it took awhile. In terms of the blending of the visual effects and practical effects, we realized in post-production that the transformation aspect of, from human, there were three stages of transformation, so from the transformation aspect of the regular to the full beast, I personally felt that it wasn’t fully clear and people who watched the film were a little bit confused as to how that thing, where that big beast came from, so I just had to clarify that in a CGI shot of him transforming. If not, I mean, the skinwalker is practically all practical effects, if we did anything to it, it was just adding eye glare in one or two scenes just so you could see his eyes when he's further away, but that's it, he's all practical and Jim Beinke is responsible for that magic behind it.

TMS: I was blown away, you know usually, you see these werewolf effects now and they're over CGI'd and I always fall back on The Howling and An American Werewolf in London, because that was just straight practical, obviously, because it was in the 80s, but it still looks phenomenal and the textures are there and it looks great, and I was very much reminded of that with this. I was like "holy shit, that looks killer!" So, yeah, very impressed with that too. Now, if you could make a sequel, what creatures would you like to feature in the next movie?

VM: I think it'd be quite, you'd see the same types of creatures as in this film, not the same people, but the same types of creatures that were in this film, and I'd like to probably introduce another one or two types of creatures. I don't want to talk about it too much because I have my ideas and it might be a little early at this stage, and I'm hoping this movie does well enough that we get to make a sequel because there's, spoiler alert, a character that does survive in the end, and I think that I have some very cool ideas for what to do with him in the sequel.

TMS: Where can people see the movie, that's one thing people are going to ask me, where can they see it?

VM: So, it's playing here in Los Angeles Film Center on 2nd Street in Santa Monica, so it's playing there from Friday, August 18th until August 24th at 10pm every night,  and it's also going to be released on video on demand also starting August 18th so you can find it anywhere, it'll  be very easy to find. But I strongly recommend, however, for people to go see it in theaters because we did put a lot of work into the sound, and it sounds phenomenal in theaters, so I highly recommend it.

TMS: It's the best way to see a movie, you know?

VM: Yes, it is and this one is very sound design oriented, so it's worth going to the theater.

TMS:  It looks great. Wrapping up, what words of inspiration would you give to an upcoming filmmaker, being that you were one yourself at one point. What would you say to someone who's coming up now?

VM: I would say, don't give up, just keep going until the job is done. And if you feel that you're crazy, that' s probably a good thing, that's how I felt for the longest time, I felt crazy and I felt like I was one of the only ones who had those feelings. Of course, my core team who believed in it, but I did feel like I was crazy because I was leading this project and you don't know how it's gonna turn out and you hope for the best, and you just dive into it. It took us awhile from start to finish, so there were some times when we were feeling really down and thought wow is this movie even going to come out? So I think it's don't give up and if you believe, if you think that you have a really good gut feeling that the story that you're thinking about is worth telling, then go for it and if you lose inspiration, find a way to get it back.

TMS: Thanks so much for talking to us!

VM: Fantastic, thank you so much. I'm really glad that you liked the film.
Thank you so much for your positive remarks, I appreciate it.