Coming to theatres in time for Fourth of July celebrations from director Dave Green and Relativity Media is the family film EARTH TO ECHO. The film tells the story of three young boys – Tuck, Munch and Alex who are very close. Their friendship is about to be cut short as the neighborhood is changing and families are having to move away.
Knowing their time is short; they decide to go on one last journey. Weird messages have been showing up on their cell phones and now the boys are going into the desert to find the source. Tuck, a young filmmaker, decides to capture this journey with his camera and document it for all to experience.
What they find profoundly changes them all!
I had the opportunity to talk with the films director to find out what drew him to the story and what he would like everyone to know about his film.
Hello Dave, I’m so glad I had this chance to talk.
Hello Jeri, thanks so much.
What attracted you to EARTH TO ECHO?
I would say a few things actually. One, it was a tone that I hadn’t seen in movies in a long time that I loved growing up with. It was a tone that was fun, action, suspense and a movie with a lot of heart. A lot of the movies I grew up on like GHOSTBUSTERS and BEETLEJUICE, those 80’s Amblin and even Tim Burton movies had that sense of fun. It’s a tone that I’ve always loved and every time I go to the movies I want to be swept up by with those feelings. When I met Andrew Panay, the producer of the film, he told me the pitch for the film and I thought it sounded fun. Even bigger than that for me is that I grew up in L.A. running around with a video camera running around in my parent’s back yard when I was 8 and onward. My best friends were the age of the kids in the movie also making our first film experimenting with the format. When we heard the idea and heard it was about kids documenting their own adventure, it was not difficult for me to feel that it was very personal point of view that I could easily connect to. Just like Tuck, who’s running around filming everything and documenting his world and adventures, I was doing the same thing making short films and having fun with that.
You mentioned growing up with the 80’s films; do you feel like there was something about the way films were made then that is missing in films now?
That’s a good question. I think perhaps so. I think there is so much innovation. Every weekend I’ll go see a new movie and every time I do I see something new and innovative in the form of visual effects that I’ve never seen before. We keep pushing the bar on visual affects but a lot of stories have become dominated by CGI. The average summer blockbuster has 90% CGI and 10% character development. I think something that we really focused on crafting with EARTH TO ECHO is we really wanted this film to start small and intimate and to grow and become larger in scope. We start in a kid’s bedroom and he’s bummed out because his friendships are being split apart and by the end we turn up the dial on the scope. If you look at our movie and look at the effects shot in it, there aren’t that many but we what we really tried to do is reconnect and have the audience connect with our hero characters and the feelings they are going through. Also, the feelings they are going through as friends being pulled apart. In a way we’ve flipped it a little and are 90% character development and 10% special effects. When that spectacle does come along it feels so much more powerful because you’ve spent so much time with these characters and you care for them and their well being. You are building on what you’ve seen to expand and go bigger.
How do think of the ‘found footage’ genre?
It’s interesting because when I look back at the experience of making the film I don’t think of it as a ‘found footage’ film because those are films where the footage has been ‘found’ because the people who did the documenting have died. All that’s left is the footage that a studio puts together and editing it all together what has happened. In our story, it’s not a giveaway and the kids don’t die at the end of the film. We felt early on that if these kids had documented their experience, who is to say they didn’t cut it and edit it themselves. While the movie is filmed in a raw handheld way, we don’t call it ‘found footage’ because it’s been assembled by Tuck, the main character. That allows us to think like a 13-year-old filmmaker would think. While there are certain restraints, like a 13-year-old not having access to a helicopter or dolly, I didn’t either. There are certain restraints there but it granted us the challenge and opportunity to be very creative with the format. We tried to be creative in cracking open how this format should be. We really wanted to take what we had seen before with the ‘found footage’ format and take it beyond that. It doesn’t necessarily have to be raw footage but have a narrative voice.
When you got the script and put it together did you find challenges or did you just jump into your “13-year-old self”?
To be honest it was tricky. Henry Gayden, the writer, did a good job cutting into the script points because in this format we treat the camera cutting like passages of time. So if the camera is in your hand then you cut and then its down on the ground you know a minute has passed by. Henry did a really good job at setting the template and there are even some jokes. There is one scene where something scares them and they scream running away and the next cut they are calmer and laughing. He had written those cut points into the script and that was helpful for me. I would say outside of that it was challenging because it was always a dance with the kids. It was very important for me that there performances stay as organic as possible and keep it as real as possible. I really didn’t want to push them into a box or make them feel like they could make mistakes on set. We really wanted them to have freedoms. What that meant was I had these very careful plans on how to shoot it but what ended up happening is that something would change and it all turned out for the better. It really kept the film feeling real which was the end goal.
When choosing your cast, was that what you also kept in mind? Keeping them as natural and “13-years-old” as possible?
Yes, absolutely, we were really careful to hire actors that were the age of the kids in the movie. Often times you see high school kids cast as middle school kids and it just feels wrong. Or you see people above the age of 18 playing high school. We didn’t want that. We wanted the kids to actually be going through a transition. At the end of the day that’s what it is about for me. It is a coming of age film because at the beginning these kids are having to say goodbye to each other and moving away from each other. At the end of the film there is a resolution to that conflict. The film also is over the course of one night and it’s very a very charged period of time in the lives of these kids. No matter what they have to grow up, they have to go through something, they have to be different people from where they started. It was something I anaologized to them as graduating junior high and going off to high school and some friends will be left behind, or someone moving from one neighborhood to the next and you are going to have to say goodbye to friends. Even with parents divorcing and realizing they won’t see one parent as much anymore. These are transitions that every single person has to go through and we wanted to acknlowedge those real feelings that kids and adults share in common. It was important that the kids are that age where they are teetering on being an adult and not. Honestly, it made eveyrone’s job easier because they were able to have the feelings of kids their age in the film.
I noticed that staying along the lines of ‘kid at heart’ that you hired a 19-year-old young man to create Echo?
Yes, absolutely. We went to a lot of creature effect houses and we weren’t getting exactly what we wanted. Some of the creatures didn’t feel loveable enough and because we don’t get to spent that much time with Echo we really wanted to be able to connect with him visually and emotionally almost immediately. All of the designs that came in were a little bit scary. A friend who was going to the Pasadena School of Design knew someone. I called Ross; he was a 19-year-old kid living in San Jose. I told him I am Dave Green and I’m directing a movie and he gave us a pencil sketch that was rough and yet we fell in love with it – we knew it was Echo and built it from there. Ross came down and worked out of my office the whole summer and he’s excited to see Echo posters all over time.
Now that you’ve put this all together, and I knew you had to be cool when I read you did a little number called ZOMBIE ROADKILL, what do you hope audiences walk away with after seeing the film?
Honestly, what makes me so happy when I get to watch the film with an audience of kids is I get to see the real ownership kids feel over this film. When the film is over and the lights come up, getting to see their excitement and their enthusiasm. Hopefully what comes through for kids and parents is it is a kid empowerment story. It’s a story that looks kids directly in the eye and says ‘you can do anything you set your mind too!’ We actually asked an audience what there favorite thing was about EARTH TO ECHO and an 8-year-old said, ‘I like this movie because it tells me I can do anything I set my mind to’. It hit me hard! At the beginning of the process it wasn’t something I had initially aspired to do but it came out and it actually helped us narrow in on what the film is about. It’s about kids who think they are small, thinking they can’t accomplish anything in the universe and by the end they feel absolutely empowered. I think that’s something that is evident and hopefully comes through in our story and comes through in the fact that these kids have shot and created this movie on their own. If it inspires kids and parents to go out on adventures and go out into the wild then I would absolutely be thrilled!!
Thanks you so much Dave, thrilled is the word to use when looking for something very family oriented to do this weekend. Grab up the kids and go on an adventure like no other, especially when it’s a tale of EARTH TO ECHO. The film opens July 2nd in theatres everywhere!