Skyline was released at the end of last year to poor critical and audience reactions, but with the recent release of Battle: Los Angeles to theaters and Skyline on DVD/Blu-ray, I wanted to revisit this film. I invited Skyline producer and co-writer Liam O’Donnell to talk with about the film in a post-mortem interview, and this should be of interest to those that enjoyed the film or for anyone that wants to know what went wrong.

My interest in conducting this interview started after I left the Battle: Los Angeles screening. While Battle: Los Angeles is technically a better film with more experienced actors, I found myself having more fun with the creatures, cheesy acting, and insane ending of Skyline. Instead of thinking of this as a big budget sci-fi or disaster film, I enjoyed this in the same way I’d have fun with a cheesy 50’s sci-fi drive-in film.

While audience expectation may have been part of the problem, there were obvious issues with the script, pacing, and acting. During my interview with Liam O’Donnell, I found him to be refreshingly honest about the film’s shortcomings and what they could have done differently. If you have not already seen Skyline, be warned that there are spoilers.

Marketing Skyline

A big part of the excessive negative reaction I attribute to audience expectation. The marketing campaign never focused on the fact that this was a low budget independent film and showed it off like a big budget sci-fi summer movie. It makes sense that the reaction was so poor when your average viewer was expecting a big budget studio film. Liam agrees and says that he was very vocal in trying to get marketing to focus on the story of the movie being made, similar to Paranormal Activity:

 

Jonathan: Do you feel that the audience’s expectations were set too high because of the marketing, and that it contributed to the excessively negative reaction?

Liam: I’ll put a little disclaimer on this, because I feel like in a previous article where Josh [the co-writer] and I tried to defend the movie, people really thought we were whining. If you pay 10 dollars to see a movie, you have the right to say whatever you want about it. That’s the deal. So I don’t try to argue with people about whether they dislike or like the movie. It is what it is.

I completely agree with the expectation [part] and looking at this like Paranormal Activity. I was really very vocal in trying to fight for this during the promotional phase of the movie. I thought the story of the movie is how the movie was made. I always thought that was the most interesting part of it.

Early on, if you look at back at when we were at Comic Con, that was really being pushed as the narrative, and then it kind of started to go away and they started to focus on the visual money shots and that came to dominate the campaign.

When people’s expectations are an all out war and [the] last stand of humanity, they have every right to be disappointed because that is a bait and switch and that is not what the movie was. I completely understand that kind of reaction and it isn’t what I or the film makers wanted, but it kind of ended up dominating what the message was.

Jonathan: In this case it was a double edged sword, because the way the film was marketed filled theater seats on the first weekend, but once people watched it, they didn’t get what they were expecting. You had this appearance of a big budget summer movie.

Liam: You make those money shots and how can you not market them that way? I completely understand that, but you know, I thought we could have done a better job getting out the message about how cool it was about how the movie got made.

An Unconventional Script

Sci-films such as Independence Day and Battle: Los Angeles follow a pretty standard disaster film formula. While they play it safe, they are also more popular and receive more critical praise. Liam tried to break this cycle with Skyline, by changing around the formula for this type of film. Unfortunately, this caused audience confusion and resulted in an uneven film.

 

Jonathan: After watching both Skyline and Battle: Los Angeles, it was interesting to me that the films had almost the opposite problem. Battle: Los Angeles followed the disaster film formula very closely, while Skyline deviated from normal plot expectations too much.

Liam: I think my interesting observation is that one of the main reasons people don’t like Skyline, aside from the character issues, is the plotting. Battle: LA has a very conventional plot and is pretty straight forward. You know from the first 20 minutes what kind of movie it is and if that movie is for you.

What we tried to do was a little unconventional, but I don’t think Josh and I were… we were trying to subvert the structure in a lot of the genre conventions without having mastered them. It is a typical kind of thing you’ll see in screenwriting books: “don’t try to reinvent the wheel before you’ve got the thing rolling down the hill” and I think there’s not a big enough event in act II.

The big main event is taking place outside a window and our characters aren’t involved in it, so their big brush with death is not a big enough personal moment. So that moment there, and not having another thing to follow it up as an immediate threat is what sends the film a little out of rhythm and gets people lost and they don’t really know where they are in the act breaks.

And the ending, which was supposed to be an epilogue, goes on and on and you think “oh we’re into act 3 now” and then it ends. So I think there are some problems in the second half of Skyline because we were getting too far ahead of ourselves and trying to do something different.

Even like with the nuclear ship rebuilding, we said “I’ve never seen that happen. How do we do it?” That’s the kind of enthusiasm we had for the project and we really wanted to do something different, but I think if we could do it again, we could have a more disciplined approach so that people could stay more in rhythm with the storytelling and get more out of it.

R-rating and the MPAA

Most genre filmmakers and writers have a problem when it comes to ratings. Especially, when many movies are being made specifically for a PG-13 audience, I was curious about whether or not Skyline was changed to make it family friendly.

Jonathan: I know that the Romero “dead” films were an inspiration for the original draft. How much of the film changed from the draft and when did you know this was going to be a PG-13 film? Was it originally planned for an R-rating and did this require script revisions?

Liam: The original draft was written with an R-rating in mind. Once we took a look at the draft and we gave it to our foreign financing company, they thought it was a lot of great fun. Once [the characters] tried to escape the building, it goes crazy and there were these big creatures that were right up a thirteen year old’s alley and we looked at the script and we didn’t think that there were that  many [issues]- a couple of f words and a couple of different things.. the brain ripping out was much more played down in the original draft. It was kind of more a concept that grew as movie grew. That, as well as Jarrod changing into an alien… all that stuff kind of grew a little bit later.

So the original draft was definitely more of a stripped down even more simple straight forward kind of Night of the Living Dead with aliens kind of movie where it was very bleak and the ending was a tiny little thing where you just saw her eyes open on the ship so that it wasn’t the bleakest ending of all time.

So that was where we were after the first draft and there was some cool stuff in there like I think obviously having some swear words in those type of situations helps lend some credibility towards it. Especially the character Candice we really wanted her we had fun with some of her kind of cursing and how she was written to be unaccepting of the reality which ended up all kind of going away unfortunately. That stripped her character of that flavor and that was supposed to be her role, but due to editing that kind of got paired down.

That’s generally the big changes from the R-rated draft to PG-13. The irony, of course, is that in the re-writes we came up with more of the brain ripping idea, so we kind of ended up more with an R-rated story when we were aiming for PG-13.

Jonathan: I get the sense that with the brain ripping idea, this could have really been a more of a graphic sci-fi/horror film.

Liam: Unfortunately, we didn’t have the money to finish the shot, but the shots that I saw of the brain rip in the garage were so much fun than what made it into the movie because of the MPAA. Once you get that concept, you really want to see a couple of those…  There is that kind of internal frustration in the movie where it really wants to be gonzo R-rated sci-fi/horror, but it gets ankled a bit.

Jonathan: While listening to the Skyline commentary, I heard that there was a scene where a kid was going to have his brain ripped out, but it ended up getting cut.

Liam: Yes, in the older draft there was a different alien in the garage called the hoarder.  He was kind of like the drone but 4 times as big and the idea was to have him eat a whole family and the original idea was that the whole family got swallowed in and in the rewrite it was actually the kid that got his brain ripped out in front of his mom. It would have been fun, but I think some of the changes to a reaction to the director’s previous film where they mercilessly murdered children, so I respected them not wanting them to do necessarily the same thing.

 

That wraps up the first part of our interview. Stay tuned for Part II, where Liam and I discuss the film's creature concepts, acting, the ending, and possible sequel. Below we have a never-before-seen shot of the stun rig used in the film's ending.

 

>Continue Onto Part II...