While he’s been developing Phoenix Rising (the new take on the ’80s sci-fi series Captain Power and the Soldiers of the Future), producer Roger Lay, Jr. has been shepherding through production the family sci-fi adventure Aliens Ate My Homework (based on the novels by Bruce Coville), which is available now for streaming on Netflix, download, and on DVD.
In the film, when a tiny intergalactic starship crashes into the bedroom of 12-year-old Rod Allbright (Jayden Greig), it’s the start of an adventure for him and his cousin Elspeth (Lauren McNamara). They’re enlisted by the extraterrestrial Galactic Patrol, a group of extraterrestrial lawmen, to save the world from Total Planetary Disaster.
GEEK: Let’s start at the beginning. What attracted you to Aliens Ate My Homework, and how would you describe the evolution of this from, “Hey, that would be a great idea” to starting to bring the elements together?
ROGER LAY, JR.: I grew up with movies like The Goonies, The Last Starfighter, E.T., and Monster Squad (to name a few), so I had been looking for a project that could bring back those sensibilities and the sense of wonder all the great 80s “backyard adventure movies” had at their core. The films were very imaginative, but everything felt real thanks to the use of practical creatures and physical effects. Combined with young actors that were strongly connecting with those elements on camera, since they had them live on set informing their performance. Which is unlike most films today which force the actors to perform with a minimal number of elements on set, since everything is added in post via computer-generated images. When I decided it was time to make a movie in the same vein of those classics from my childhood, I also started thinking about the books I loved during that era and Bruce Coville’s name came to mind immediately. He’s written hundreds of books for children and his Aliens stories were some of my favorites growing up. It made perfect sense to revisit that body of work in order to find a story that could serve as the source material for the type of film I was looking to make.
My goal was to approach this film with the same sensibilities of that bygone era, and I feel like we’ve accomplished that with Aliens Ate My Homework. Aliens is a story about a kid, Rod Allbright, who has lost his father. As the film opens, Dad has apparently walked away on the family and, to make things worse, Rod is constantly being bullied in school and he doesn’t really fit in at home, school, or anywhere else. Suddenly he has an amazing opportunity to make a difference in the lives of these uniquely different beings from another world and, in the process, he realizes that we all have immense potential and we all have something to offer, if we believe in ourselves.
So is that the appeal of the subject?
Stories about the possibilities for life on other worlds will never go out of style. There’s so many different angles, ideologies, or approaches to exploring the subject matter or to speculate on it that we could continue to make these types of films for ages and still find fresh ideas. What’s unique about our film is that the aliens who make contact with our young hero all represent an important skill kids will need as they grow up and find their way in a larger world than their backyards or school playground. Every kid is trying to find himself at that young age, the pre-teen years, and Rod Allbright’s encounter with the members of the Galactic Patrol provides him with an opportunity to come out of his shell and, for the first time in his life, understand the significance of such skills as leadership, courage, empathy, compassion and that all-important lesson — “the needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few or the one.” His encounter with the Aliens opens up a whole world of possibilities and sets him on his heroes’ journey, which is a journey we plan to explore on subsequent films based on the other books in this series.
For an audience unfamiliar with the books, how would you describe the power of the film? What can they expect (and don’t say the unexpected!).
I see this film as a perfect gateway drug to get younger viewers hooked on the type of concepts and stories that more “grown-up” science fiction like Star Trek offers. Even though this is a backyard adventure movie about a boy who needs to find his way and confront some real-world issues like abandonment and bullying, the film introduces kids to larger concepts, including The Galactic Patrol – a committed group of representatives from many worlds who, just like Starfleet officers in Trek, are on a continuing mission of exploration, peace and understanding. For older viewers, the film is a perfect vehicle for a journey back to our childhoods and to revisit some of the themes that made the movies we grew up with in the 80s so influential. The Aliens Ate My Homework books have sold over 14-million copies worldwide, so a lot of people who are now in their 20s and 30s grew up reading them.
We’ll have more from our interview with Roger Lay, Jr. – and the film’s many connections to Star Trek – this week on GEEK!
Images: Universal 1440/Lay-Carnagey Entertainment