Wasp-Men From Mars is going to be a big undertaking for a short film. So why do I want to make it? Today I’m going to talk about the origins of the film and why I’m doing it.
I belong to a filmmaking co-op in SF called Scary Cow. I’ve crewed on multiple short films and even made one of my own. Three times a year, Scary Cow holds a film festival at the Castro Theatre to show their members’ films. At the start of the program there used to be some 50’s-era film clips that had been redubbed to have some teenagers talking about the festival. After watching that footage at a showing maybe two years ago, I turned to another member and said, “Someone should make a 50’s monster movie.” Somehow, my brain made that leap from 50’s teens to 50’s monsters.
In the days following that declaration, I thought about the idea and soon the title “Wasp-Men From Mars” popped into my head. I explored the idea for about a week. I knew it needed teenagers, because those types of movies had teenagers. I thought of a love triangle but pretty much stopped there. It was too ambitious and I hadn’t made my first short yet.
Flashforward to earlier this year. My first short is in post and I’m tyring to think of the next one. I wasted four months at the end of 2013 working on a screenplay about death and the absence of the afterlife that was completely bloodless. Wasp-Men From Mars kept coming back into my mind. It was big, too big. We needed monster costumes. It needed to be out in the woods and at night. It needed to be period and a working car from that period. Red flags each and every one of them. I had only one short under my belt and jumping into something like this would be stupid.
And whipped up an awesome screenplay in only two weeks and decided to be stupid and go with it.
Why? Because it’s the kind of sci-fi that I love. I’m not talking about the original rubber monster movies, though those are fun to watch. I’m talking about the movies and TV shows that sprung from them. The ones that focus a lot on interpersonal relationships in the middle of a bunch of sci-fi/horror craziness. Ripley and Newt in Aliens. Val, Earl, and Rhonda in Tremors. Gary, Andy and the rest of the crew in The World’s End. Buffy and the Scoobies. The Doctor and his companions. Yes, these kinds of relationships can be found in earlier sci-fi/horror films and shows, but there’s something different in these more modern films and I’m not sure that I quite articulate it as well as I would like. The focus has shifted to be more on how these external forces — monsters or whatever — affect the relationships of the characters and the characters themselves than how the characters deal with the monsters. You can see that when you compare the original Doctor Who series to the modern one: the companions’ lives and relationships with the Doctor are more of a focus, where earlier they were assistants who helped him out. I’m going to do a series of articles on the inspirations for Wasp-Men From Mars that will explore this in more depth.
But back to why I’m making this movie. I want to create a story in the vein of those films and shows that I mention above, but is its own thing. I want to make a story where there are three teenagers who are dealing with teenager issues, especially their sexuality, in the middle of a monster invasion. I love how the danger of genre films make the emotions bigger and, to me at least, more honest. Sure, the story could be played as straight drama, but the actions and emotions of the characters would be different and I want to see how it plays out in this situation.
And I’m not just throwing aliens into the mix willy-nilly; there is a thematic connection between the Wasp-Men and the teens. It plays out in what I refer to as the “Tremors scene.”
The love triangle itself was inspired by Rebel Without a Cause, but I played around with it to, again, bring a more modern sensibility to it. I don’t want to spoil how I do that, but 50’s films wouldn’t have been so blatent about this topic. I love Suzie, James, and Timmy, and I love making them confront these issues and putting them through the sci-fi/horror wringer.
The movie is not going to be a recreation of films of the period, where I’m going to insert scratches or other things to make it look “authentic” like Grindhouse did. I have no interest in doing that. Again, it’s a film that’s inspired by those earlier sci-fi films, but not a Xerox. It’s going to be fun, scary, overdramatic, and at its heart, very sincere.
And it’s going to have Wasp-Men. I hope the audience enjoys it.