Ben Rock talks "Alien Raiders"
For my money, it's best to do as much as possible practically.
- Ben Rock
So what were the origins of "Alien Raiders"?
It was actually an idea of Dan Myrick's. His idea was to set something fantastic and grandiose like an alien invasion film in the most mundane place of all - a supermarket. The title at the time was actually "Supermarket".
Raw Feed is a partnership between Dan, Tony Krantz, and John Shiban and together they produced three films a few years back ("Believers", "Rest Stop", and "Sublime"), and Warner Brothers wanted a second round. Dan had pitched a few ideas to WB, and this was the one they wanted to go with. When I was brought on, Dan was up to his eyeballs in "The Objective", and there was a script but they needed a director to help guide the development of it. At that point I was primarily working with cowriter Julia Fair, and most of all we needed to simplify the script that existed - it was too huge to be filmed as-is - and we needed to clearly define the aliens themselves. We also had to do this quickly, as the WGA strike was about to begin.
You were able to land Carlos Bernard, a pretty recognizable face from "24". How did he end up agreeing to do the film?
Well, in part it was through the help of one of the Raw Feed execs, Tony Krantz, who was one of the original producers of 24. Also, by the time we met with Carlos, the WGA strike was in full swing, and he would be able to hop directly from the TV series to our film without a day off. We were actually able to get a lot of great people because we were shooting during the strike. As a result, we were able to also bring Mathew St. Patrick and Rockmond Dunbar onboard, as well as our DP, Walt Lloyd and a bunch of the camera crew from Lost. The strike really helped us out!
As for Carlos, he was truly one of my top choices for the role when I was brought on. The character had to be smart, believable as a scientist, kind of tortured, and although he had to look natural holding a gun we had to know he was miserable doing these things. Carlos brings that intensity, sadness, and immediacy to his roles and I thought he was perfect. When I met with him, it became clear that we were on the same page as far as the tone of the movie, which is important with a leading actor who sets the tone in almost every scene.
You've alluded to the fact that you weren't happy with the name. How did you end up with "Alien Raiders". Was it your first choice?
When we were shooting, it was "Supermarket," which I personally didn't care for. When we finished shooting, the title was changed to "inHuman," which I liked quite a bit, but "Alien Raiders" was the title WB wanted, and I made my feelings known to them at the time. I felt that tonally it wasn't a good fit, but WB was adamant about it.
Frankly, they had been so amazing to work with throughout the film, I didn't think it was much for them to ask. They'd really let me do my thing in terms of rewriting the script, casting, shooting, and editing. They hadn't really forced my hand at anything at all until the title, so I feel like it's a fair thing to ask even if I don't agree with it. All I could do was make my case, and after that the movie was in their hands. I think "inHuman," which was also their idea, will always be my first choice, though - I like the double meaning.
After seeing the film, it appears like you started out with a very detailed alien invasion story, but a lot of those details ended up being left out of the final project in favor of a leaner story. Was it hard to whittle the story down to just those essential elements?
Although the movie did start out bigger than what we made, it never went into much more detail about the invasion story as such. I admire movies like "Night of the Living Dead" or "The Signal" that just throw you into a world without explanation and you're giving exposition gradually and in small pieces. Julia and I made sure we had our backstory straight, so there was a consistency in all the information that's dropped throughout the film.
Having an FX background, I was really impressed by the carnage in the film. Was there ever talk of CGI, or was it practical all the way?
At our budget, an all-CGI monster would have been rather impractical or downright cheesy. We chose early to use CGI sparingly -- the finger growing back, some particle system stuff, veins growing under the skin, adding starfields in the sky, wire removal, stuff like that. And we chose to keep it all subtle. As a former SFX makeup artist, I wanted to figure out the best way to do this film with makeup effects, and our makeup crew worked very hard to make the gags work.
CGI is an amazing tool that can do a lot of things, but often it has the issue of "looks real/feels fake." For my money, it's best to do as much as possible practically.
Have you had a chance to see it with an audience of horror fans? How was the reaction?
WB graciously allowed me to mount a festival campaign with the movie, and we played about 18 film festivals between September and February. I went to as many of them as I could, so I got to see the movie with a bunch of different audiences and the reaction was really positive. A lot of the festivals we attended were genre festivals like Fantastic Fest in Austin, the International Horror and Sci Fi Film Festival in Phoenix, Shriekfest in LA, The Terror Film Festival in Philly, the Freakshow Horror Film Festival in Orlando, the New York City Horror Film Festival and the Boston Sci-Fi Marathon. Not only did we get a lot of great audiences, but we won some awards (Shriekfest, Shockerfest, HP Lovecraft Film Festival, Freak Show Horror Film Festival, Terror Film Festival, B-Movie Film Festival, International Horror and Sci-Fi Film Festival) and we got some press kicked up for the movie as well. The reviews, for the most part, have been very positive both from the genre world (Fangoria, Fearnet, Dread Central, etc.) and the non-genre world (The Onion, Empire Magazine, The Tampa Tribune). And that's all good, but as a huge, nerdy horror fan myself, nothing compared to watching it in a theater full of horror and Sci-Fi fans.
I don't see anything else on your IMDB. Do you have any projects currently in the hopper?
I do have some projects potentially in the works, but none of them are happening just yet. I don't like to talk about stuff until it's actually happening, lest I look like an ass if it doesn't happen.
You went to school with Eduardo Sanchez and Daniel Myrick, and did a lot of work on The Blair Witch Project and its spinoffs. Do you have any thoughts on "Book of Shadows"? It's a film I'm actually a fan of but I know there was a lot of bad blood involved for you guys.
There was no bad blood with me. Artisan hired me to make two TV specials, one for Showtime and one for Sci-Fi Channel (aka SyFy). I met Joe Berlinger back then and he was very helpful to me for my special. As for the film itself, I was never a big fan of the basic concept of it, but everyone from the studio to Berlinger were rolling the dice that they could make it work and it just didn't. A lot of times, like with the Saw franchise, it does, but for some reason this time it just didn't. I think everyone responsible for making the movie would tell you the same, but it was not for a lack of them working their asses off.
Do you have any thoughts on the idea of making a prequel that's been thrown around?
Yes, I think it would be unbelievably cool. I hope it happens. The best of all possible worlds would be for Ed and Dan to come back together to make the prequel, as Blair Witch is truly a combination of their individual sensibilities.
Finally, if you had one sentence to sell "Alien Raiders" to anyone considering giving it a try, what would you say?
"Carlos Bernard and Mathew St. Patrick kick alien ass! "
(alternate: If you like the trailer but think the title sounds too cheesy, check it out anyway!")
For more information on "Alien Raiders", check out the Official Site, and you can follow Ben Rock on Twitter. The film's available now in all major outlets, including Netflix!