For director Dave Green, Earth to Echo represents an opportunity to tap into his childhood filmgoing experiences, most notably Steven Spielberg's Amblin' Entertainment films from the 1980s and the efforts of the late John Hughes. The film, which opens on Wednesday July 2, is officially described as capturing "all the mystery that appeases the looming anxiety of their relocation."
“The movie,” says Green, who makes his feature directorial debut on it following a number of short films and music videos, ”is really about this group of kids and how they have to say goodbye to each other. There’s something bittersweet about the fact they’re spending their last night together. But is goodbye really goodbye? In our movie, it’s not. It’s a beginning.”
GEEK EXCHANGE: The film definitely has the vibe of ‘80s Amblin Films.
DAVE GREEN: Thank you very much. The producer, Andrew Panay, told me that they had this idea for a movie about these kids who go out in the middle of nowhere where they discover something and document their whole adventure. So I called Henry Gayden, who is the writer, and had worked on a bunch of short films with me. We were ‘80s babies and grew up watching Amblin films, John Hughes movies and even early Tim Burton movies, all of which had a sense of adventure and fun, with scares and heart. What kind of captured me right away was that these were movies that hadn’t been seen or done in a long time in terms of the way they made you feel tonally. So that was something that I was immediately excited by, and it fit into Andrew’s one-sentence pitch. So we started developing the story from there, and Henry would come to me with ideas and say, “This is Alex, this is Tuck, this is Munch, they live in this neighborhood called Mulberry Woods…”, and he’d bring me one piece at a time and we’d bounce it back and forth with Andrew, and within a month’s time we had a full pitch.
We shot this little one minute video that kind of gave a sense of the tone and shooting style, and what the movie would end up feeling like. Part of the aim was not to present the kids as super polished movie kids. We wanted them to feel authentic, and we wanted them to talk the way they actually talk, which either means they’re actually talking to each other or texting each other. That was the starting place.
You guys have put a twist on the “found footage” genre, haven’t you?
Found footage, just by definition, means that the footage was found because someone died when they were making the film. So what we asked ourselves was, if the people who shot it didn’t die, then who put the movie together? We decided that the kids put it together, and the kids made it – the kid who shot it not only shot it, but he cut it and he added music and voiceover, and could also jump through time and he could manipulate the footage. And if he was embarrassed by the way he appeared in a scene, he could just say, “Skip.” That approach kind of let us give the movie a narrator in this 13-year-old filmmaker, which cracked the seal on what “found footage” could be. That got us really excited.
And that sort of creativity is a better reflection of kids today anyway.
For sure, because at 31 years old I’m not running around with my video camera shooting everything, but I do remember being 13 and doing that. I was shooting everything, and right now everyone is filming everything and posting it on Instagram and YouTube, and from what I’m told no one even watches TV anymore. They just watch YouTube where they are self-generating content and sharing content and watching each other’s content. They are the group that is shooting the most, and putting the most video together now.
It would seem that in a film like this, much of it will rise and fall on the believability of Echo as a character. So let’s talk about him.
I would say outside of the marketing, the movie is all about these four kids who are being forced to actually go their separate ways and move out of their neighborhoods at the beginning of the movie. The night in which the movie takes place in is their last night together as friends, and on this night, when they’re basically being forced to separate from each other, they find this little being who is in need of their help. At first they don’t think it’s friendly; they think they’ve found something that is dangerous, but as they get to know this thing a little bit more, and as they learn how to communicate with it, they think, “Oh, this thing needs our help to kind of get put back in its nest.” That’s the way I kind of characterize the relationship between the kids and Echo in the movie. This could have been about a bunch of kids who were on their last adventure together and they find a baby bird that’s fallen out of its nest. It would have been the same story emotionally. But of course Echo is from another planet and he is a very special creature; he’s a one of a kind thing on this planet for us.
In terms of the way we made him move and tick and feel as a character, a lot of my reference for the animators was to say, “Hey, look at this video of a baby bird. I want you to look at this video of a kitten, or this video of a baby hamster, because in watching that stuff, there’s an unpredictability to the way those things think and move, and sometimes you know exactly what they’re thinking. Like if they’re scared, they run away, but sometimes they’re just breathing and taking the world in, and the reason they feel completely alive is that you don’t always know what they’re thinking. Because this movie takes place in the “real world” and because it was filmed in this natural style, I really wanted the character of Echo to not feel like a cartoon. I wanted the audience to not always know exactly what was going on in his head, so of course there are moments where he reacts and there are expressions that are easy to understand, but I wanted him to feel like an organic baby animal that had feelings of fear and all that.
Is there something in Echo’s personality that appeals to each of the kids, or is he just this helpless creature and these kids are the ones saying we have to help it?
I would say a little bit of both. The movie, not to spoil anything for those who have not seen it, but I would say Echo’s presence here and for the kids, or here amongst the kids, and what he kind of ends up teaching the kids in their own lives and what to carry with them, is that even though they might be forced to move apart from one another, and even though they might be forced to go in separate directions, that doesn’t mean they can’t continue to be in touch with one another. The reason that he’s here and in our story, is that he’s able to communicate with these kids and bridge the gap between languages and to show the kids that even though I’m going to be in outer space and you’re going to be here at home, that doesn’t mean we can’t stay in touch. The same message carries through to the kids.
We wanted to create an empowering story for kids, not only where at the beginning of the movie they honestly feel very small in their worlds and they feel powerless against their parents and forces larger than them, and then at the end of the movie they feel empowered both as a group and in their ability to rise up above what they’ve been told they couldn’t do. Technology is a big part of that in the movie, because it allows the kids to communicate with each other, it allows them to communicate with Echo while he’s here, and to communicate with Echo when he’s not here.
How empowered do you feel having made the film?
I’m excited, I feel empowered. I feel really good. What I think I’m the most proud of is that when kids get to see the movie, and when I’ve gotten to see families and kids watch it, they’ll see something in it that they have really been latching on to in a personal way. Whether it’s the technology in the movie or the friendships or the story of Echo, it’s been so cool for me. The whole reason I’m here and want to make movies is really just to serve the audience and make them feel like they’ve gone on a great adventure.
Images: Relativity Media