As the sun knows; even the sky is not the limit…
That’s the mood being implied at least when it comes to the work of directors, Colin and Greg Strause, and Liam O’Donnell, with the Skyline sci-fi film saga. Having grown into sleeper hit status in the last ten years, the franchise continues onward with its third installment, Skylin3s, which will bow as the closing premiere for FrightFest in the U.K. this weekend.
Lindsey Morgan is reprising her cameo role from 2017’s Beyond Skyline, in the role of Captain Rose Corley, leader of the space-bound resistance against the alien invasion that ravaged Earth. O’Donnell, co-creator of the franchise and director of Beyond Skyline, is back at the helm for a story that sees Rose lead the resistance, joining human soldiers alongside the allied alien “Pilots” whose minds were previously snatched and corrupted in the second film.
Also entering the arena is actress Rhona Mitra (Doomsday, Underworld: Rise of the Lycans), as well as James Cosmo (Game of Thrones, Wonder Woman), Alexander Siddig, Daniel Bernhardt (The Matrix Reloaded, John Wick, Atomic Blonde), Jonathan Howard (World War Z) and Cha-Lee Yoon (Skyfall, Plan B, XXX: The Return of Xander Cage).
Oddly though, the cast also sees the return of Indonesian action star Yayan Ruhian (John Wick: Parabellum), as The Chief who previously met his grisly end in Beyond Skyline; Ruhian’s addition in any film also usually lends credence to some of his work as one of the best fight choreographers in his field, next to colleagues Cecep Arif Rahman and Beyond Skyline star Iko Uwais. For this, it’s even more interesting to learn now that Ruhian’s will not only bring some stark surprises to the table; In addition, his performance will also be at the behest of German stunt performance and independent action film troupe, Reel Deal Action, who’ve worked on a number of Hollywood IPs, as well as brought riveting martial arts spectacle to the table in independent hits like Plan B: Scheiss Auf Plan A, and James Mark’s 2018 dark crime thriller, On The Ropes.
Another interesting point to catch onto is how O’Donnell connotates this installment as the franchise’s first superhero movie, which is a timely mention in the wake of the ongoing fandom chatter over heroine archetypes and tropes, and the questions what works and what doesn’t when it comes to designing and writing female heroes. (Jessica Toomer’s most recent piece as SYFY Wire is an incredible read on this topic, and so I wholly recommend taking a gander.)
Unmistakably, the Skyline franchise deserve every ounce of praise it’s earned up to Beyond Skyline. While time will tell what the fans will think of the third chapter, the first look key art and stills making the rounds only add to the hype and excitement – topped off by the details and nuggets O’Donnell is now offering to the presses ahead of FrightFest.
Skylin3s is also gearing up for Italy’s Trieste Sci + Fiction Festival from October 29 to November 3, the 33rd Tokyo International Film Festival from October 31 to November 9, and for opening night in Texas for Other Worlds Austin on December 1.
As of prior to last year’s AFM, Vertical Entertainment has since acquired the feature film for distribution in North America, the U.K., Ireland, Australia and New Zealand, with release dates pending. Until then, enjoy the dialogue below, and also, click here to learn more about the FrightFest screening, and stay tuned for an official trailer.
Congratulations on completing your newest threequel with Skylin3s! How have you and yours been biding your time since then?
Well I just got back from two-and-a-half weeks in London finishing the film at Lipsync studios in Soho. I was bouncing back and forth from the DI and Mix and VFX right up until the last minute but I am very proud that we managed to finish it all in time. We ended up completing around 1200 VFX from March until October over the course of this pandemic. Everyone involved in the project has said the same thing, we’ve just been so grateful to have had this film to work on during this time. Personally it was a real blessing from start to finish. I loved making this movie.
Right now I am in quarantine at a hotel down the street from my house – looking forward to hugging all of my kids again real soon. My wife Phet and I just had our fourth child in August named Trent after my favorite alien in Beyond and SKYLIN3S of course.
Beyond Skyline was well received at festivals and upon its release. I know I loved the heck out of it. Still, was there any doubt regarding whether or not a third installment was possible?
Yeah I would say it was stronger than doubt, more like disbelief! I mean I have trouble thinking of another franchise that’s had a similar trajectory as ours where the first film is a very grounded invasion story that hints at more fantastical comic book direction towards the end. Second film is a kitchen sink genre mashing romp with everything from brain ripping body horror to martial arts madness and kaiju battles. And then the third jumps fifteen years into the future for a big space adventure on an alien planet. It’s kind of unbelievable in hindsight even for me and I was there for each one.
We had developed a treatment for Skylin3s after we shot the bookends with Lindsey Morgan in Beyond. Once I saw her strutting down the hallways with Trent, cracking jokes as well as commanding the room, I thought we had something special there. I was inspired to tell that story and build a movie around their dynamic. So the treatment was actually written a few months before Beyond’s release and everyone was excited about it but that still doesn’t guarantee anything.
Beyond was a very long process and hard movie to get made and make. So for it to turn out as well as it did and find an audience was enough for me in some ways. But Producer Matthew Chausse really encouraged me to start working on the script for part three, while we were doing the festival circuit for Beyond… Had to talk me into doing it to be honest. Then the craziest thing started happening with a lot of critics actually liking it and then it over-performed on digital and home video. It’s funny because I didn’t really like the Bluray/DVD cover with the Tanker Alien standing in front of a burning city but the distributor was like trust us people like aliens standing in front of burning cities. I got to hand it to them, because here we are.
How challenging was the writing process this time around?
Well I actually lost the first act of the script when my laptop was stolen on a train ride to the Trieste Science + Fiction festival. I am the idiot for not putting the bag under my legs and not backing it up but shit happens! Still had a great time at Trieste, which was the biggest audience we ever got to screen Beyond for. But it took me month to recover and start over after that but once I locked in, I really had a blast. It’s a completely new genre for me and the kind of story I always wanted to write since first working as a consultant on AVPR back in 2006.
The original seed for the idea of a team of badasses on a mission to the alien planet was inspired by just watching Iko and Frank and Yayan train together for Beyond. It was in this sweaty gym in Jogjakarta and we had a real international cast of amazing stunt performers and not everyone spoke English but they all became fast friends anyway, bonding over the work. And then like I said with how we ended up closing that movie on Lindsey’s character in the future it all kind of came together from there. I had so much fun creating this alien world and inhabiting with some new creatures as well as really digging in to who Rose was and what it would be like to be saddled with saving humanity.
The overall story was pretty locked in from the first draft on through to the edit aside from the typical fat and one major twist that I wasn’t really sure about. So I continued tweaking things as we were shooting and actually shot two ending scenes. On Beyond we had a couple of pick up shoots in post to clarify story points and consolidate scenes. On Skylin3s I had a better sense of when something would make the final edit or not and was kind of reshooting during production – getting alt lines in various scenes as we went. There’s a scene in the first act where Jonathan Howard’s Leon brings Rose to the General’s bunker in the back of a truck. There was no dialogue in that scene in the script but I had a feeling we were going to need something more there. So I wrote something that morning and to their credit Lindsey and Jonathan made it their own and that ended up being in the movie in place of two scripted scenes that took longer to get across the same information and emotion.
Lindsey looks incredible so far as the heroine for this franchise. Talk about what it is you feel she brings to the table for Rose in this universe.
I can’t say enough great things about Lindsey and her performance in the film. I think she’s the total package. She’s smart, tough, funny, vulnerable, physical, and just a lovely person to work with as well. She reminded me of Frank Grillo which is why I cast her in Beyond in the first place. I think they both share a sense of authenticity and intensity on screen that just makes me want to watch them and build movies around them. I love actors that are hard workers and I think audiences do too. I think that’s what Rose and Mark share as leads in each movie, they’re common sense, no bullshit ass kickers but they have big beating hearts beneath their armor.
With Rose we do have the first actual superhero in this franchise who can really take the aliens on in way no human could. Add that to the fact that she’s basically been humanity’s savior since the day she was born and you’ve got a pretty compelling lead to build a movie around. She’s constantly wrestling with this duality of supposedly being mankind’s savior while feeling some part of her is actually alien.
In Beyond we set up that Rose needs constant blood transfusions to slow her aging and replenish her powers. So we address all right up front and sort of lay the ground rules. I liked giving her powers limitations and making them something, like our actual human strength or stamina, she could run out of so it wouldn’t be an easy solution for every obstacle she faces.
Lindsey and I talked about it in each scene, the way she’s playing the power tells you how much she has left in the tank. Sometimes it’s effortless like your first warm up set at the gym and other times she’s really maxing out. There were quite a few takes where’d she almost pass out on her feet from the strain. If you watch the blooper reel that’s what she’s yelling at me for not calling out a cue sooner as she was holding a pose. I was having too much fun watching the scene! But her commitment made creating the VFX for her powers in post so much easier and really brought them life.
It was the same thing with her scenes with her alien brother Trent. Because Lindsey and our suit actor from both films, Jeremy Fitzgerald, played their scenes for real, suddenly this big foam latex alien suit comes to life and you believe he’s a real character. Those were the scenes we worked on the hardest in rewrites because we knew it was the heart of the film and for everything to work we had to buy in to Rose and Trent’s relationship. Their dynamic was one of the main inspirations for the movie so it was very gratifying to see it all come full circle.
Talk about working with Iko and Yayan on the last film, and what fans can expect on Skylin3s in terms of upping the ante for the style of action even further.
Working with Iko and Yayan was a dream come true and one hell of a lucky break. It totally changed the back half of Beyond and injected a bit of chaotic go-for-broke energy we needed for the sequel to break out and gain notice. Unfortunately, we weren’t able to bring Iko back for this installment due to scheduling but when I found out Yayan was available I thought fuck it, let’s bring the old Chief back. And he’s not a new character either! I figured enough time had passed that we’d have some advanced technologies to deal with his loss of limbs in Beyond. I think he serves a similar purpose in Skylin3s, injecting some unhinged chaos into the mix. And it’s really amazing that Yayan Ruhian and Rhona Mitra get to be badasses together on screen. It really made me so happy filming it.
While we still have the alien suits from Beyond as both good and bad alien characters in this, the suits do have their limitations in the speed of which the actors can move and fight. So I wanted to introduce a new threat so that some of our fights would feel faster and have a different dynamic. For our action design in SKYLIN3S, we collaborated with Reel Deal Action’s out of Berlin. They had a ton of great ideas and would send me tons of pre-viz for the fights that we’d hone and adjust and it just kept evolving as we shot each scene. We hired a bunch of parkour stunt men from all over Europe to play our new aliens who could really jump and run and flip all in camera with our actors. Then in post we’d use their performance as reference for the CG to replace in each shot. So it was actually an old school approach, no mo-cap or anything but it worked great both for our actors on set and our animators in post to dial in the creatures performances.
One of the first actors we cast was Daniel Bernhardt as Colonel Owens. I was a big Bernhardt fan from John Wick and The Matrix Reloaded. He’s just got a perfect look for this movie. He looks like a video game avatar come to life. Daniel has a long history with Reel Deal’s Can Aydin who shot our action unit so that was a really natural fit as Daniel has the most martial arts style fights in the movie. Cha-Lee Yoon was one of our stunt supervisors but we liked his look so much we ended up casting him as one of the crew in Zhi. Cha has been in so many big movies and starred in German films but he’d never really acted in this size of a role in English before. But I was really proud of how hard he worked at it and how cool his character came out. We cast Phong Giang as our main alien antagonist. He’d never been on the stilts before but could use them like nobody I’ve ever seen. In some shots he’s running and stopping and lifting things and it looks completely CG but that’s all him in camera.
One the difficulties of making an ambitious sci-fi action movie like this at this budget level is the lack of prep time. We don’t have the 3 months to train every actor and choreograph every scene beforehand. So you have to hire a great stunt and action team and luck out with hiring actors who are physical and can learn quickly. Thankfully we hit the jackpot with both. Jonathan Howard hadn’t really done a lot of on screen action but he’d been training in boxing and Muay Thai for years. So we were able to give him fairly complicated choreo that he’d lock into really quickly and just go for it. The same goes for Lindsey who was able to do some seriously impressive fighting and full on wire stunts for us in a really short amount of time.
From a craft standpoint, I wanted to make the set pieces a little more intricate with more moving parts and more cause and effect and intercutting. I didn’t really use a lot of slow motion in Beyond but I got more comfortable with it in Skylin3s, honing in on when to slow down and when to get really intimate or go insanely big.
I’m curious about your thoughts on theatrical exhibitors and the strides some of them made to enhance the moviegoing experience, only to find themselves in a deep debt bind due to the pandemic. Prior to, it seemed this franchise would’ve benefitted from these enhancements, and so to see just the basic theatrical experience being taken away kind of removes something special for films in general. Talk about how some of these shut downs have affected you. Also, what’s your message to moviegoers and festival patrons confined to home viewing?
I definitely miss the theatrical experience and my heart goes out to everyone who’s lost a job or a business, especially small business owners and theaters for that matter. I don’t really have any answers for this especially in the short term. We need to make moviegoing safe again, first and foremost. I am cautiously optimistic that even my four year old daughter who has only been to the theater a handful of times, keeps asking when we can go back to the “movie show”. That’s a reason to be hopeful for me. We’ve seen what life is like without theaters and I think for most of us, we miss it and that’s not going away, in fact it’s getting stronger the longer I’ve been away from it.
SKYLIN3S was always going to be a limited theatrical VOD release but missing the festival experience is what hurts the most. Flying around the world with Beyond and seeing it with rabid genre fans was just the greatest and most encouraging experience I’ve had as a filmmaker. But I’ve been very lucky in my career thus far. I feel much worse for any first time filmmakers who have worked so hard to break in only to have that victory lap taken away from them. So if you happen see and enjoy any new films this year, definitely reach out on twitter and tell the filmmakers you enjoyed it. You will make their day, trust me.
My only message for the festival audience is to keep doing what you’re doing. Your love and support fuels artists around the world and really this entire business. Hope you enjoy the adventure and hopefully I can come back next time.
Can you confirm what’s next on your plate for fans and how soon can we expect to see you safely on set?
I have a couple of projects I’ve been attached to the past couple of years like The Last Savage that I am still very passionate about. There’s an arctic set horror survival film I’ve been working on as well. I am also consulting on some upcoming Indonesian super hero films in the Bumilangit Cinematic Universe that kicked off with Joko Anwar’s Gundala. I was able to visit the pre-productions of Sri Asih and Virgo and the Sparklings back in March right before the pandemic really shut everything down but I was very excited by their vision and ambitions for the future. Right now I am finishing the treatment for the fourth Skyline because who knows? People do like big aliens in front of burning cities after all.
The world premiere of SKYLIN3S will close FrightFest Halloween Digital Edition 2020 on 25 October: https://bit.ly/3notjMI
SKYLIN3S will open Austin’s Outer World’s Digital Film Festival on 1 December: https://bit.ly/3jgj9dI