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FrightFest Halloween Digital Edition 2020 Interview with Director Liam O’Donnell, Skylin3s, Beyond Skyline

FrightFest Halloween Digital Edition 2020 Interview with Director Liam O’Donnell, Skylin3s, Beyond Skyline

In Skyline (2010) the alien invasion began… in Beyond Skyline (2017) the earth fought back… and in Skylin3s – the highly anticipated third instalment of the hit sci-fi franchise – an elite team of soldiers head to the alien’s home planet on a final desperate mission to save humanity.

In anticipation of Skylin3s’ world premiere closing FrightFest Halloween Digital Edition 2020 on the 25th October, Attack from Planet B discussed with Liam O’Donnell his desire to create an Aliens-esque “international team of badasses” space movie, filmmaking during a global pandemic, Skylin3s strong ensemble cast – including Lindsey Morgan, Jonathan Howard, Daniel Bernhardt, Rhona Mitra, Alexander Siddig, James Cosmo and Yayan Ruhian – and VFX!


Ken Wynne: Hi Liam. Thanks again for taking the time to answer a few questions. It really is appreciated.

Liam O’Donnell: Yeah, no problem. We talked back for Beyond Skyline, right?

Ken: Yeah! It was just shortly after the UK DVD release. You must be beyond excited for Skylin3s’ world premiere closing FrightFest this year?

Liam: I am very excited. I just found out we are opening the Trieste festival in Italy too. We’re the opening film. It’s like, that is pretty cool. It’s definitely… They were hiding us last time. They didn’t know what to make of Beyond Skyline! [laughs] So, it feels quite nice, yeah.

FrightFest Halloween Digital Edition 2020 Interview with Director Liam O’Donnell, Skylin3s, Beyond Skyline

Ken: The experience that I had when watching Skylin3s was one of familiarity. It felt is very reminiscent of James Cameron’s Aliens – even down to the title…

Liam: Of course, yeah!

Ken: …but instead of the Colonial Marine’s expedition of LV-426, we have the Resistance’s expedition of Cobalt 1 and I loved every minute of it! I was just wondering if that was intentional or coincidental?

Liam: I mean, that is why it was even called Skylin3s. If we are going to do this, I’m going to lean all the way in, you know? So, it was something that I’ve wanted to do – a version of [Aliens] – since the first film I worked on, which was AVPR [Aliens vs. Predator: Requiem] as a consultant when I was like 24 years old. And I just couldn’t understand why that wasn’t a cooler concept, you know? [laughs] I remember talking to the brothers [Colin and Greg Strause] like, we should go back and pitch them this, and they were like “we won’t get the job if we do that!” That was their older savvier approach.

But part of me just always wanted to do ‘a bunch of badasses on a mission to an alien planet’ movie, and that kind of [planted] a seed of an idea that started actually during the production of Beyond Skyline. Just seeing all of the cool crew that we had brought together – the stunt guys and watching Frank [Grillo] and Iko [Uwais] practice their fight – I was just like, “an international team of badasses!” [laughs] That was going through my head. I didn’t know how to get there though, because obviously Beyond Skyline is set pretty much current day, right after the invasion, and it goes a few days beyond the first story [Skyline].

So it wasn’t until we did the wrap-around – we came up with the wrap-around with Lindsey Morgan in Beyond Skyline last. People were asking when we finished the initial cut of the movie, “what happened to Rose?” They wanted to know more about this peculiar character that is kind of this saviour of humanity, but we didn’t really tell people that she was going to grow up and she was going to be ok. They just thought, “is she just going to keep growing and die in a week?” So we created the wrap-around to kind of show that she has stabilised and become this sort of leader – another soft of James Cameron-esque, John Connor type character in the future. Once I had that and we filmed that – the last possible thing on Beyond Skyline – I was really inspired and I thought we had a really cool character to build a movie around, that was giving me a gateway towards this space movie that I had always been dreaming of since the beginning of my career.

Ken: The SFX and VFX in Skylin3s – and the entire series – feels like a labour of love; especially in the creature design. As a visual effects consultant [eariler in your career] – working on Aliens vs. Predator: Requiem – how involved were you in terms of the visual aesthetic?

Liam: Well, you know, I’ve always been sort of working with visual effects – I’ve just been very lucky to collaborate with visualists from the beginning. So, I was never an actual [VFX] artist but I can definitely speak the language and loved developing the concepts, the visuals and the design. And that has been pretty hands-on for me from the beginning but definitely a lot more once you become the director.

But it is all sort of built on top of each other too because like you said it is a labour of love, and we have to make use of the things that work. So, like the ‘Tanker’ alien design, which is the big beastie that ‘Pilots’ ride in and – not to give anything away – but others can ride in too. That was a home run design from the first movie that was done by Amalgamated Dynamics – Tom Woodruff and Alec Gillis, who obviously we met on AVPR. So there is a legacy all the way back to that. They did some of the initial creature design in Skyline, and we just kept them going all the way because it is just a home run. We gave it a little bit of a new paint job and everything for Skylin3s, but if it’s not broke I don’t fix it! [laughs]

And then for the suit designs in Beyond Skyline, that was just a two-fold thing of budget, you know, I knew we couldn’t have fully CG creatures onscreen as long as we did. And I felt like I wanted to work with suits again. I really enjoyed that part in AVPR and I just felt like I could make the creatures a little bit more heroic. I mean, the design definitely has some Predator influence, so if you squint really hard you can kind of see an AVP movie within these movies.

FrightFest Halloween Digital Edition 2020 Interview with Director Liam O’Donnell, Skylin3s, Beyond Skyline

Ken: Like Beyond Skyline before it, Skylin3s relies on a strong ensemble cast; perfectly suited for the sci-fi genre. Were there any challenges in casting for this movie? Lindsey Morgan and Yayan Ruhian reprising their roles for example?

Liam: Yeah, I mean… I give a lot of credit to my producer Matthew Chausse for the casting of Beyond Skyline and Skylin3s because he has great taste and always helps steer me in the right direction. But Lindsey was the person I championed for Beyond Skyline and then, obviously, I was so inspired that I wanted to build the sequel around her. And that is a challenge in itself! There are not many franchises that you could pull that off with and I’m really proud just with that. I’m thankful to our foreign sales team at Highland Film Group, XYZ Films, and Matthew and all the investors that rallied around a first-time lead like that, you know? That in itself was pretty awesome.

But from there we didn’t really have anyone returning initially – we didn’t have even Yayan until it was like, ok, how do we build this team? I think the first person cast outside of Lindsey was Daniel Bernhardt just because, I mean if you take a look at him… [laughs] If you had written that character, Col. Owens, and then you look at Daniel Bernhardt, you are like “yep!” That is pretty much perfectly…exactly who he is! But then once I met him, that kind of changed the group dynamic because he is tall! His is like a 6’3 mountain of a man, so then I realised that we needed a bigger Leon than I was thinking at the time. Like, he couldn’t just be a similar height to Rose. He would need to have some height on him – for Owens to have this younger brother and stand toe-to-toe with him.

So Leon was actually one of the more difficult roles to cast. Not to get too into it but we had a couple of different people that had scheduling difficulties and didn’t work out, and we were really, really lucky that Daniel’s agent is also Jonathan Howard’s agent, and he kind of turned me onto him at the very last minute. But as soon as we skyped with him, I was like woah, he’s really got like a younger Christian Bale sort of vibe and he is incredibly funny. So he is kind of, to me, our team MVP because he totally was really generous and supportive of Lindsey. As the lead, he is letting her and helping her carry the whole movie, but he also picks his own spots to help insert a little bit of levity and a little bit of humour into the movie, as well as emotion. So really – and Lindsey would say the same thing – the movie wouldn’t be the same without him. He really brought everything up to the next level.

The other cast member that were incredible ones that all sort of poured in at the last minute were obviously Rhona Mitra, Alexander Siddig and James Cosmo. Three legendary genre actors who can do it all and just made me sort of pinch myself that they were down to come in and play in this pretty crazy sci-fi world. Especially I’d say for Alexander. It was such an exposition-heavy role, especially in the first act, and he completely grounds everything and sells you on the big ask of the movie, right? If you watch all three movies, all of a sudden this one starts and its a completely new genre again, and you have entirely new world-building – this huge new mission – and without General Radford I don’t think we’d not pull it off.

Ken: Yeah, I believe I said this with Beyond Skyline as well, but you can watch Skylin3s as its own standalone film and it would still work.

Liam: I forgot to follow-up on Yayan! So, just quickly, the Yayan thing was we kind of were getting close to production and I felt like we didn’t have enough chaos and energy in it – and obviously, Iko was unavailable. Frank? That wasn’t going to happen. So, we reached out and we found Yayan was available…so we could recast him, or we could do something really fucking crazy! [laughs] Then Matthew and I was like, fuck it! Let’s bring him in, he is perfect because we had Dr. Mal’s warehouse, we had hybrid technologies, so that was sort of a late addition to the movie, but it is a really is a nice wild card up our sleeve and a good, sort of fun fan moment for the third act.

FrightFest Halloween Digital Edition 2020 Interview with Director Liam O’Donnell, Skylin3s, Beyond Skyline

Ken: How did the current pandemic affect the making of Skylin3s, and what challenges did you face during production?

Liam: It was challenging but at the same time we were very fortunate. This is a UK co-production so I was in London locking the edit in February. That was supposed to be our last few editorial days to lock so that we would be in VFX for the next six months or whatever. And I flew back like March 3rd, and I think the NBA and everything shut down a week later. So, we just kind of made it right under the radar, and all of the VFX, sound, music were pretty much all done remotely from that point on. A couple of great pieces of technology like Frame.io, cineSync and of course Zoom was kind of my day-to-day. Every day I’d wake up and see new shots on the server, make notes, tag people and I just kind of worked as a VFX supervisor on this one because I created my own VFX company for this movie. I enjoyed that to some extent. I don’t really like looking at spreadsheets until my eyes blur, but being able to have more control definitely helped and I do think just having control over something in general during a pandemic helped my mental health…quite a bit! [laughs] I have three children and my fourth was born August 13th, so it was an eventful summer in general, but it was very nice to have this project to kind of obsess over. I couldn’t fix the work but I could fix a couple of VFX shots and feel better about myself.

Ken: Congratulations.

Liam: Thank you.

Ken: Did you have any further ideas that you were hoping to include in Skylin3s, but couldn’t due to the time constraints? I’m conscious that the film itself was completed with only a few days to spare before its FrightFest debut this weekend.

Liam: I actually QC’d the movie yesterday and found a bunch of problems that we’ll fix but the FrightFest audience probably won’t notice these boom shadows in the background that I happened to see yesterday. I mean, we definitely had a bunch of deleted scenes. If I had my druthers, could some of the action scenes go on longer? Sure. We shot way more stuff in Cobalt Cavern. The end fight was longer but we pretty much used all of it. But the biggest plotline in the movie that didn’t make it was that Dr. Mal actually gave Rose a sample of the virus, and she was trying to scan it on the ship in the Med Lab, but it didn’t really come together in a super satisfying way. So it was a good cut just for pacing. I had Rose just constantly in the script taking the air out of the mission, and asking all the right questions because I was worried about her not appearing smart enough if she was going to go along with everything. I think it would have just made the viewer ask too many questions, so by decreasing that and making it the refusal of the call and finally acceptance to go on the mission, it just kind of cleaned up the pacing and made the movie a more fun watch.

FrightFest Halloween Digital Edition 2020 Interview with Director Liam O’Donnell, Skylin3s, Beyond Skyline

Ken: Skylin3s expands upon the mythos established in Skyline, but rather than bring closure to the franchise – hopefully this is not too much of a spoiler – it sets the audience up for another potential sequel. Do you see yourself in the director’s chair for Skyline 4?

Liam: Well, listen… In the second film – the first cut we did – they just walked off into the sunset. And when we test screened it audiences were like “what the hell was that!” [laughs] Like, once you are in a sequel there is some expectation for a setup. So I learnt my lesson on that and I kind of felt like, with each film – Beyond Skyline and Skylin3s – I included a setup but at the same time I’d be satisfied if there weren’t another because I feel like they end in the right place and at the right tone. So, yeah! It is definitely something I would love to return to, whether as the director, producer, writer. It is definitely my baby. I love playing with these characters, I love this world, and I really love this cast! I think if you don’t smile at the end of this one, I don’t know what to say about you, but it makes me smile thinking about the possibilities of what the fourth one could be. I would definitely love to do that.

Ken: It’s the end of one story arc, and the potential to move forward.

Liam: Yeah, and if it never happens you can imagine your own story, so that was at least my lesson. Once you are making a sequel, audiences say they want closure but they don’t really!

Ken: [laughs] Finally, can you tell us about your next projects?

Liam: Yeah, there is a project that we’re working on right now with Vertical Entertainment that is an arctic-set survival horror-adventure. I don’t know if I should say the title yet, but that is something that we will probably be going back to Lithuania to film. It’s something I am really excited about – a little bit more of a mature film for me, but I still get to play with creatures in horror, and I thought something about filming a movie set on an alien planet would lend itself as a good experience for maybe something set in the arctic.

Ken: Liam O’Donnell, thank you again. It is always a pleasure speaking with you.

Liam: Thank you. I’m glad you enjoyed the movie. It really made my day.

Skylin3s FrightFest tickets are available from watch.eventive.org/frightfestoctober2020


Ken Wynne

Ken Wynne is the EIC for Attack from Planet B - writing about cult cinema and alternative music for over a decade.