Kaare Andrews (link: www.kaareandrews.com) is a fan-favorite among comic fans for his offbeat work on such books as Spider-Man: Reign and his current run on Astonishing X-Men with Warren Ellis.
But he’s poised to reach a new audience with his feature directing debut, Altitude, which premieres this week on DVD and Blu-Ray. Starring Jessica Lowndes (90210) and Julianna Guill (Friday the 13th), it’s the tale of a plane trip that takes a strange and very surreal turn. We called up Andrews in Canada to talk about his film and comics work in a special two-part interview that features an exclusive look at his storyboards and concept art.
Newsarama: Kaare, how did the film come about?
Kaare Andrews: Well, over my short film career I’d directed a bunch of short films and music videos and PSAs and whatnot, also a live action TV pilot for Cartoon called Siblings, but I hadn’t yet helmed a feature. It was the thing I was chasing and I had a about five opportunities offered to me but each one fell apart along the way, either the money went away or there were script issues, etc... or the company had changed priorities or whatever.
Anyways, I was friends with (the producer of Altitude) Ian Birkett, and his brother was a writer and they had a script and we decided to team up. So we decided to spend a day at a small airfield outside of Vancouver and shoot this fake trailer for no money, you know, like Machete, to raise some money and it immediately got interest.
After we were finished we actually got offers to buy the movie, even though all we had was this little fake trailer! One of the companies that liked the concept trailer piece was Arclight Films. They brought us to Foundation Features, who got TeleFilm involved and all together we cobbled up our budget.
Nrama: From the look of the film, it’s mostly inside this closed environment. Were you able to focus on effects with your budget?
Andrews: Well, when we initially imagined the movie, we envisioned it as a cool, little micro-budget thing of $100,000 or so, what we could get together. We were going to shoot it in a black warehouse, old school Twilight Zone style, using smoke and fans for the storm and I would probably do the VFX myself. Very stylized and very cheap.
But we would up with an opportunity to get a real budget- about $1.5M cash, $2M in tax credits, etc… And once that happened, we knew there would be greater expectations from the audience. We had to raise our game in terms of effects and our cast.
So, while shooting in a black warehouse is fine for a micro-budget, really kind of cool actually, it wouldn’t have worked for a bigger movie. So, instead we wound up with a giant green screen stage and a CG storm.
The problem is that a small plane is all windows. So every camera angle becomes an effects shot, because behind every actor is a window and behind every window is a CG storm. We ended up with something like 600 effects shots, which is insane for a production of this size. But even then, we didn’t have a very big VFX budget at all. It was relatively tiny.
Nrama: What’s the story for Altitude?
Andrews: Altitude is the story of a young pilot who secretly gets her pilot’s license without telling her overprotective father, and takes her friends out on a trip to a concert. In the course of the flight, everything goes wrong, from the equipment malfunctioning, to being locked in a crazy supernatural storm, to being hunted by an evil supernatural force in the skies. One by one, they deal with the situation, and either successfully or not, as things resolve themselves.Nrama: So the trailer indicates that there’s some evil sky-tentacles, which might be a Cthulhu reference or…um, this isn’t one of those Japanese hentai monsters, is it?
Andrews: [laughs] No, no penis-tentacles here.
Nrama: Thank god.
Andrews: They’re just straight-up tentacles. Lovecraft was a visual touchstone, but as far as storytelling, we leaned more toward old-school Twilight Zone or Amazing Stories or more in line with that genre. But the Lovecraft stuff was definitely in the back of my mind when I designed the look of the creature, and the tentacles.Nrama: I’ve always associated your art style with stories that are very dynamic and expansive, but here you’re dealing with a situation that’s very claustrophobic and intimate and dark. I’m curious about the challenges – and appeal – of those different types of storytelling for you.
Andrews: It was really hard! [laughs] It was really challenging. Basically, our set was the size of a minivan – our actors couldn’t even stand up. We shot in the fuselage of an actual salvage plane – we were able to cut it up a bit, but the entire movie was basically in a minivan. We could pop the windows out a little and a couple small panels in the ceiling and the tail came off. But that’s it.
I had very specific designs to take the plane apart very logically to help with shooting but we just didn’t have the money. In fact, every time I wanted a shot in front of the pilot, we had to cheat her back a full seat row and use a double of the yoke and hope no one noticed. It was the hardest thing I’ve ever shot.
You hear filmmakers bitch about how challenging it is to shoot coverage of a dinner table. Trying not to break the axis and keep the eyelines straight. So imagine that, your entire movie is a dinner scene, with two of your five actors seated in the opposite direction as the other three. I mean, seriously… what were we thinking? Lots of looking over shoulders!
But you’re right – I do have a natural inclination to make things very big and dynamic, and that resulted in a lot of questions about where to put the camera, what angle to shoot this scene from, that sort of thing.
There was one sequence where I got to flex some of those muscles – a sequence where a character has to go outside to fix the tail of the plane, and this was an opportunity to move the camera around and go big. It’s kind of a ridiculous sequence when you think about it, but I think the movie really needed to open up and have this huge action sequence to break up all the sitting around.But mostly, the question was “how do I keep this visually interesting inside a confined space with limited characters?” The fun was figuring out how to do it – where to place the camera in a tube. You can’t fit a dolly in there. You could barely fit our cameramen in there!
Nrama: How involved were you in developing the story?
Andrews: Well, the story was already written when I read it. I had some input and feedback, but it was about to try to work out the issues and kinks before shooting. It was Paul’s script, and he had developed it with his brother before I came on board.
Nrama: You’ve been working on the X-Men book with Warren Ellis – has there been any overlap working on the film and the book?
Andrews: There was some unintended overlap– I was actually supposed to start Astonishing earlier, but just as I was about to start, the film was greenlit. So I asked Marvel to let me take some time off to do the film and then come back to do the comic. Thankfully, they agreed.
So while my involvement with the book was pushed back. Phil Jimenez jumped in and drew a brand new arc with Warren. I went back to the book after most of the post-production on the film was done, and am just finishing up now.
Nrama: I know Warren’s deeply involved in film – there’s his own scripts, and the film of Red – did you coordinate with him about the film any?
Andrews: Not really – Warren and I have traded emailed about the comic, but nothing film-related. But it’s funny – I have a film with Gale Anne Hurd, who’s producing The Walking Dead, and it’s an action script that I wrote myself, and we just took it out to studios and wound up talking with a lot of people who were involved with Red. So it’s like he’s everywhere I go, keeping an eye on me!
Nrama: When you’re working with Warren, how are his scripts tailored to your art style?
Andrews: I don’t know! There doesn’t seem to be anything specific. When we started, he asked me if there was anything I wanted to or didn’t want to draw. I was like, “do whatever you want! You’re the driver of this bus!”
But the great thing about Warren is that he’s so great with character and dialogue – he writes a full script, but there’s definitely a lot of room to play around, and I take advantage of that.
If you look at the edition of Astonishing X-Men with the script in the back, you can see he writes a very tight script and I just have fun and push around within those confines. I try to never go against the narrative, but I try to make it as interesting to draw as possible.
Warren’s a great writer, and he attracts a lot of top artists to his work because of it. I don’t know that we are the perfect match for each other, in fact, everything that can go wrong kind of has with this project, but it’s an amazing experience I really wanted and am blessed to have it. And to be honest, I’d love to direct something he’s written for film some day – take the collaboration to another medium.
Next: More on Altitude, and Andrews responds to the reaction toward his Astonishing X-Men art.