Q&A with 'Earth to Echo' director and film star
By BY JOE FRIAR - SPECIAL TO THE ADVOCATE
July 2, 2014 at 2:02 a.m.
NASA seemed the appropriate place to sit down and meet with "Earth to Echo" director Dave Green and leading star Teo Halm.
We talked about the film's influences, shooting techniques and shooting scenes with an alien who is not always in the shot.
There are a lot of influences in the film from "E.T." to "The Goonies" and "Stand by Me." Did you feel there was a void of these types of films being made these days, and did that help you decide to make "Earth to Echo?"
Green: Yeah, I'd say a little bit. I remembered the kind of fun we had as kids growing up and watching those movies. They were my favorites growing up, and not just those Amblin movies you mentioned, but John Hughes movies like "Ferris Bueller's Day Off" and those fun adventure movies. Those movies were definitely in our hearts and minds when we were making this, but we also wanted to tell a story like that to this generation.
Was it difficult to write this from a teenage point of view?
Green: Shooting it from the kids' point of view made it pretty challenging. There's a formal language to shooting a scene the normal way with coverage, camera angles, everything story boarded, but this was more of an organic process where we would chill out. It was a really fun challenge that helped me collaborate with the actors, too.
Teo, was there anything in the script that you wanted to change because it didn't seem natural in terms of the way a teenager talks? Did you provide any input to Dave?
Halm: I'm really happy that things on set were the way they were with Dave and the writer, Henry Gayden. If there was ever anything that didn't sound, if you will, "natural," like what teens would say, we could just easily go up to Henry or Dave and say "You know, I would never say that." There weren't that many instances, but they made us feel comfortable enough to give our honest opinions and ideas, and I thought that was really cool.
What was it like shooting a film in the first-person, handheld camera style?
Halm: For me, when I first shot this movie, it was at the time my first big production. And up until then, I really didn't know what it was like to be on such a big production. It was so interactive. I was more than just an actor and on set for different things. So after I finished "Earth to Echo" and moved on to my next project, I was like, "Wait, don't you need me to hold the camera or do something else?" So it was kind of like that; it was funny.
Technology is a big part of the film. How did you come up with the idea to incorporate the iPhone into the plot?
Green: That's a really good question. I think that the original idea of the kids getting contacted via their cellphones came from Henry Gayden, the writer, and as we started developing the movie, we thought it was really kind of neat because it gives the kids a little bit of an ownership over what they're seeing and experiencing in the movie. There's a bit in the movie where our creature Echo, being the electronic alien that he is, can see through their cellphones, but he can't see through his own eyes because they were kind of cracked. So it was a deeper way of connecting the kids to Echo. I like that the movie uses technology in a positive way to empower the kids.
Was there anything in the character of Alex that was really you, Teo?
Halm: No, Alex and I have very different personalities. I'm very talkative and obnoxious, and Alex is very introverted and shy. I think it's because of his past. He was a foster child, and he grew up going from family to family, and so this being the first time in his life that he's actually had some good friends, I think that makes it even harder for it to be their last night together. While filming, we all became really good friends, and I think the friendship in the movie was realistic because it was also happening off camera.
Was it difficult to do scenes you had with Echo when you really didn't have him in front of you to interact with?
Halm: Yeah, there were some emotional scenes where I'd just be staring at the palm of my hand and pretending Echo was there, and Dave (Green) said "Do you have any pets?" And I said, "Yeah, I have my cat Minky." And he said, "Pretend Echo is your cat." And so for those emotional scenes where Echo wasn't there, I basically pretended that anything that was happening to Echo was happening to my cat. It sounds silly, but that's how it worked out.
Echo is a cute little guy, and he's got some pretty cool stuff up his sleeve and some pretty cool powers.