Defying Genres: Nacho Vigalondo on Colossal
Making a monster movie without a big budget, breaking screenwriting rules and tropes, and why a film should be a conversation with the audience.
Talk about creative screenwriting: Spanish director and screenwriter Nacho Vigalondo (Timecrimes, Open Windows) has a new film that defies any kind of genre categorization. Part comedy, part action, part fantasy, part kaiju, Colossal stars Anne Hathaway, Jason Sudeikis and Dan Stevens in a most bizarre tale, all stemming from Vigalondo’s desire to make a monster movie on a budget.
Hathaway plays Gloria, an unemployed alcoholic whose boyfriend Tim (Stevens) has had enough of her irresponsible behavior. Let down one last time, he sends her packing from the apartment they share, and she returns to the small town she grew up in.
Seeking peace and quiet in which to start her life over, Gloria reconnects with Oscar (Sudeikis), a childhood friend who’s more than eager to help her get back on her feet. But even as Gloria is starting fresh, the media is filled with news of a strange creature terrorizing Seoul. Horrified and fascinated by what she’s witnessing, Gloria soon realizes that she is somehow connected to this monster that randomly appears on the other side of the globe. Even more troubling, she discovers she is not the only one with that kind of power.
Creative Screenwriting spoke with Vigalondo about Colossal, why he wrote it, and how despite its wild premise, it became the easiest movie he’s ever had to pitch.
Where did this story come from? Was it inspired by anything in particular?
The movie came from different places. Half of it just stems from my love of these types of films, and movies in general.
When I wrote the premise – a long time ago, maybe in 2007 – I was trying to find a way to make a genuine monster movie without having to need a big budget. So that’s how I came up with the device of two people fighting in the park in the morning, and at the same time, two creatures are having a fight on the other side of the world. That was the way to approach this kind of film, so that it could be affordable to a small filmmaker like me.
But it didn’t become a plausible concept that deserved to be written until I formed the characters. Once I formed the characters – and the reason why they were fighting with each other – that was when I realized there was a movie there.
Specifically, when I had the idea of having a female main character. The movie became about a man having a physical fight with a woman. Suddenly it became much scarier and much more exciting. The thematic stakes of the movie were getting bigger and bigger, and I realized that it was something that deserved to be made.
The film is hard to categorize. Does it belong to any specific genre?
When I’m making a film I don’t think about genre. What triggers me is a character or sequence of events being ‘cool’ – “Wouldn’t it be cool if this happened?” or “Wouldn’t it be cool if this character reacted this way to this event?” You’re not trying to define the movie in advance.
But I appreciate that people try to do it once the movie is made. I don’t try to define it as it’s much more exciting for me to hear others doing the same!
The film is quite humorous at the beginning, but then turns darker. And there’s definitely a sadness to the film, for both main characters. How did you want your audience to feel watching it…and them?
According to all of the screenwriting manuals, there are two ways to make a movie where a good character turns out to be evil. It’s either shown in the first act, or not until the third, as sort of a revelation. It’s strange to do it half way into the story, because it breaks the movie in two.
The way Oscar becomes something different feels more like real life to me. In real life, that’s how things happen. Half way into a relationship you might see another color. It’s not something you see right at the end or can see from the beginning.
So I wanted to try it this way, to feel how Oscar betrays the characters. It’s the same way he’s betraying the audience and the movie itself. It becomes equally exciting and scary, because I know that people will react in different ways. Some will react well and others with anger – both reactions are legitimate.
It’s a creative way to talk about issues like addiction and abuse. Was that your intent when you wrote the film? Is there any sort of social commentary to it?
In the same way I wanted to respect the monster movie genre, I was also trying to attack the tropes of the romantic comedy on some level. We’ve been raised watching those films, and we know that it’s all about persistence. If you fight enough, you will get the girl in the end. So you have to insist, and stop the wedding and chase her…and she’ll be afraid of you at the beginning but if you persist, something magical will happen and she’ll fall in love with you at the end. And I had a really specific need to make a comment on those films.
But in terms of social commentary, I don’t like the idea of a filmmaker holding the solution to a puzzle in his hand and showing it to the audience. I think it’s most beautiful when a movie has a conversation with its audience. I’m just the guy who made it – nothing else.
Why did you choose those particular creatures – a monster and a robot?
Well, they had to be the opposites of each other. They also had to represent their human counterparts, in a really basic way. They had to be related to each other, but naturally.
I wanted both of those creatures. The movie’s not trying to mock monster movies, so the monsters had to feel like legitimate kaiju characters.
In an age of reboots, sequels and superhero movies, was it a worry for you when it came to pitching such a creative idea for a film?
Well I have to confess something…this was the easiest movie for me to make. It sounds crazy, but the reason is quite simple – we had Anne Hathaway’s interest very early on. She wanted to be involved in the role even before we secured our financial partners. So when it came time to pitching the movie, it wasn’t this crazy-ass script and a Spanish weirdo with a moustache. It was the next Anne Hathaway project.
What is your writing process like?
I wish I could be one of those guys who writes for five hours every day. Or even three hours every day. I was never like that and my way of writing is insane, literally. I do nothing for four days and then have to do everything on the fifth day.
It takes time for me to get into it ,and I spend a lot of time just trying to figure things out in my head. I wish I had a more ordered life where I had a constant rhythm. I know people who are like that tend to live longer and age better…I wish I was one of them, but I’m not like that. I’m one to get frantic panic attacks when I get close to the deadline.
On that note, could you offer our readers any screenwriting advice?
Don’t be afraid to use your own life in your work. If you’re going to make a movie out of movies, you have to be aware that the movies you have seen are probably the same movies the next guy has also seen. If I tell you what my favorite movies over the last ten years have been, you’re not going to be surprised by my choices. Making a movie out of movies isn’t going to create something so different from those made by others who are watching the same movies at the same time during the same age.
But if you approach it from your own life experiences, you have the guarantee of being inspired by something that is unique. Your life has nothing to do with the next guy’s life. All lives are unique and all have experiences – like diamonds. You have a greater chance of doing something unique if you hold a mirror in front of you while writing.
Featured image: Anne Hathaway as Gloria in Colossal © 2015 Toy Fight Productions All Rights Reserved