The following questions and answers are excerpted from a conversation that followed the NBR screening of Save Yourselves!
What inspired you to tell a story in this specific genre, which is perhaps best described as a “sci-fi rom-com,” whatever that means!
Eleanor Wilson: That’s actually what the log-line for the film has always said! We started with the premise of, “wouldn’t it be funny if a couple went upstate to be off the grid for a week, and then aliens attacked?” And it always sort of leant itself to a genre mash up. But to be more specific, we wanted the comedy side of it to really feel like a classic rom-com.
Alex Huston: Exactly— for the characters to feel like real people, and not hokey or over the top.
EW: We always thought of it as being just this like normal rom-com movie that gets highjacked. There’s a point in the movie where they’re playing cards and they make out, and they think they’ve solved all their problems… and we sort of talked about that as the moment where the characters think that their movie ends! They’ve sorted through their problems and everything is fine… and then this additional layer gets introduced that throws everything into chaos. So, yeah, it was always the mash up of the two genres that was most exciting to us.
AH: We had some people who would read the early drafts of the script and say, “aww… I wish they could just have a nice weekend together up state; I wish there weren’t aliens in it.” And we thought that was really funny, because we were always focused on establishing it as a rom-com, because we love rom-coms, and then we wanted to inject this other genre. It was always a package deal from the start. That was what was appealing about the movie to us.
I don’t think if we had more money we would have done many things very differently.
What is a “Texas switch,” and more generally, how did you approach the practical visual effects in the film?
AH: You would recognize it as one of those scenes where a stunt performer does something like a triple flip, and they fall out of camera, and then the actor pops up in a close-up… that’s a Texas Switch. And you can also do it with quick camera moves. For instance, we had the alien fly out of the frame and then we whip-pan to the door, and there was another poof already on the door. So it’s just a little trick that allows you to switch out one actor for another. Or in this case, an alien.
EW: All of the practical effects are partly internal mechanisms and puppetry, and then so much of it is planning for the edit really carefully, because it’s just moments like that where you can’t get the entire move in one shot, so you have to get creative by doing these little techniques that somehow work out. And then when it’s cut together quickly, it sells I think.
AH: We did a lot of fun tricks, and that was part of the appeal. We were making this creature movie, which, even though it’s set this year or last year, we wanted it to feel like a classic movie. And we wanted to do all those tricks we’ve been watching our whole lives, and reading about, so we really dove into that. It made the effects in the movie feel like they were connected to the characters, and it made it feel like it was all one thing, as opposed to some CG alien that you can kinda tell it’s not really in the room. So that tactile aesthetic was pretty important to us. And it’s also so much fun! We got to do forced perspective shots, and projected backgrounds (no green screen), and then we added a layer of visual effects on top of everything else, because we didn’t want it to feel stale or hokey, I guess. We didn’t want it to be silly– we wanted it to be funny, but not stupid, if that makes sense.
EW: I don’t think if we had more money we would have done many things very differently. Because how we did it is just how we wanted to do it, regardless of budget. One of the huge benefits of capturing things in-camera, even though it does require a lot more preparation and a lot more front-loading of the work, it makes post-production so much easier. Which is definitely not how things are normally done on-set these days.
What did you learn about each other as directors?
AH: Eleanor has incredible character instincts and can see things way ahead of time, in terms of logistics, or the way the story is going to unfold. Like, if this happens now, we have to change that scene that’s coming up three scenes from now. It’s like a chess brain as opposed to my checkers brain. I was very appreciative of that. Now Eleanor… what’s something nice about me?
EW: Alex is very good at identifying what’s an important thing to stick to, and what’s a thing we can let go of. It’s a constant negotiation when you’re on-set making an indie film. I mean, we didn’t have to make any major concessions, but you know, in the moment there are tons of little things, like, “oh, this prop isn’t what we thought it was going to be,” and small things happen all day long that aren’t quite what you had in mind originally. And it’s just knowing the difference between the things that are important and that you have to fight for, and which are the things you just have to chill out about and let it happen… And Alex is very good at making that distinction, whereas I sort of get a little bit like, “everything is important!!”
AH: Having two people as the director is really helpful. Because your job as the director, mostly, is to communicate. To tell people yes or no or worry about it or don’t worry about it… and having another person to bounce that off of is huge. We also had a great script supervisor who made sure we didn’t forget jokes we had written into the script! You’re so busy with everything, and then the script supervisor chimes in and tells you you’re totally forgetting to shoot this funny reaction you had in the script… and then that reaction ends up in the trailer and totally sells the movie. You need all these people to make it work.