Interview with Liam O'Donnell director of SKYLIN3S
By James Whittington, Sunday 25th October 2020

FrightFest Digital Edition 2 concludes tonight with an out-of-this-world premiere, SKYLIN3S. Here its writer and director Liam O'Donnell talks about this and the other entries in this sci-fi series.

HC: You've been involved with the Skyline series of movies from the start, where did the initial idea come from?

LD: Initially the idea just came from, we were sort of do it ourselves film makers and I had been living in the building we ended up shooting in. We had already been illegally shooting on the rooftop helipad for a pitch that we were developing and when Greg's (Greg Strause, director of Skyline) unit on the top floor and he walked in and saw this big, expansive view of LA and thought "How could we come up with a story with this view in a compelling way?", a sort of one location movie. We knew the whole building; we knew the different places we could create fresh locations within that compound. That was really reverse engineering, we had the location now let's build the movie around it.

HC: We're now onto the third movie, have you always planned for this to be a trilogy?

LD: No, and I think that's why it was such a different process from the second film it was obviously no longer reverse engineering it was limited to your imagination of what you can make within your budget. There were so many lessons I learned from making Beyond Skyline that were then synthesized into SKYLIN3S how to really make things on set and in stages and how to avoid green screen as much as possible. How to reuse sets, as my original plan for Beyond Skyline was like, I was going to build the subway tunnel and then redress the subway tunnel into the ship tunnel then I was going to redress the ship tunnel into the bunker tunnel. But no one will ever believe me that would work but it's kind of is what we did in SKYLIN3S. It's all the same, low budget ethos that's been driving through all these movies to get as much as we can out of the opportunity.

HC: It looks anything but low budget, it looks incredible and the effects are superb. How long did they take?

LD: Fairly short compared to scope and how much work they are and its big credit mainly to LypSync in the UK who was our main vendor who did everything with our space battles, a lot of our tentacles, they created the "Shadows" which are our new creatures. Then we had some other companies that filled in the blanks but that was all driven by them. We sort of locked the cut in February and we just finished in October, the effects didn't really start until March. So, the whole pandemic has been VFX, VFX, VFX and unsurmountable at it seemed at times I'm really proud of how it all came out.

HC: Did the fight scenes take long to rehearse?

LD: Yeah, but compared to a big budget movie not long at all, we had 35 Main Unit days and we had nine Action Unit days and because Lindsey Morgan who plays Rose is in every single scene so on Main Unit we'd shoot her side of the fight then the Action Unit would come and shoot over her stunt double onto the alien creature onto her side of the fight. That's the sort of tricky stuff you have to plan out to make sure it all comes together and works smoothly. When I hear how long fights take on bigger budget movies, I get jealous. We're still two or three times bigger than some of the action movies that get made in this space, so I definitely don't take that for granted. But its still key as we have so many moving parts, we have so many creatures its just a higher degree if difficulty and so you kind of just have to high a higher caliber of actors such as Lindsey, obviously Daniel Bernhardt who plays Owens, is an experienced Martial Artist and action actor. We had roughly a month of prep with them whereas normally with these movies you have a three month build up. We had a really good stunt team, really good action designers and a really talented cast.

HC: When people make a low budget science fiction movie usually, they set it on Earth, you've done the opposite, were you deliberately challenging yourself?

LD: I did, you know I'm a masochist (laughs) I always try and bite off more than I can chew and somehow not manage to choke. I did feel like we had a really good plan and we had an amazing team on this one, a really great team of collaborators and its like each movie takes on different personalities, this one was a very European, we shot it in Lithuania, we had Belgian production designers, French DP, it was incredible. I think a lot of things that people are reacting to when they say the movie looks great its because how well we shot it and how rich the colour pallet is. It was such a convergence of styles. They all took it seriously; I find it hard to take myself too seriously, so I was always looking around at these people making this alien ship and they're really trying hard and I'd laugh and pinch myself because I can't believe this is actually happening.

HC: The creature designs are really cool, how the eyes react are amazing, how was that achieved?

LD: One of the great things about being a sequel is you have that basis, and you have the things that have worked and that you've tried before so our Tanker alien, it's still the same sort of Tanker alien we've given him a new paint job, we've given him a glow up, its still the same thing. I'm really glad you've pointed out the eyes, I basically had one artist do every single eye shot in this movie. He's a really talented visual effects artist and a talented film maker in his own right named Justin Martinez so he worked in my company and worked on every single eye shot. I had worked with him on a little movie I made about a year ago named Portals and he kind of was like a great visual effects artist and we watched Beyond Skyline and I was like this is the sort of general look but I want a little more heart a little bit more character.

HC: The film is tightly written but was it written with a cast in mind?

JD: Not particularly. It always helps when your lead is cast. I wrote Beyond Skyline with Frank Grillo in mind and luckily got Frank Grillo and one of the reasons why Lindsey was in the second one was because she was like the spiritual daughter to Frank Grillo. They have a very similar authenticity and graininess to them that I thought was perfect. It was like this woman can do everything; she was perfect. She's a sort of James Cameron composite heroine; she's a little bit Linda Hamilton, she's a little but Sigourney Weaver and she's obviously bringing her own experiences and her own personality to it so to me, once you have that so much of the writing becomes easier because you know what their strengths are and you want to design the story around putting them in a corner and see her fighting her way out and discover her inner strength in the most compelling way possible. The rest of the cast, I'd say now I was really surprised at the caliber of actors that we were able to get in some of these roles. I mean, James Cosmo! Are you kidding me?! That was just great. We have James Cosmo doing a "Lord of the Rings" narration, I had always wanted to do an opening narration like that. He did it on set, in front of the fire the night we were filming his first scene and then we did another pass of him in post, you can just read anything to him, he'll take a second and read out loud and it's like the most compelling thing you've ever heard in your life. Then you have Alexander Siddig as General Radford, that is one of the roles that could have gone in so many ways and he seemed an unexpected choice for it but he is so over qualified and brings so much to it and ends up having so much fun with it.

HC: Will there be a part 4?

LD: If people like it and they want it I'll be back! Its all about the audience, it's in the audience's hands but I have started working on a treatment and talking to my producer partner about. If people want it I would love to make it.

HC: Liam O'Donnell, thank you very much.

Related show tags: SKYLINE
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