Your new movie Attack
of the Unknown - in a few words, what is it about?
of the Unknown is basically SWAT meets Assault on Precinct 13, with
a little bit of I Come in Peace/Dark Angel tossed into the mix. A hard
drinking and hard living SWAT team takes down a cartel boss then literally
the next day has to fight aliens alongside the boss. Talk about a rough
couple of days, right?
attackers seem to be a recurring motive in your movies - any explanation
for that, and what makes them such attractive villains?
kid who grew up with Aliens, Predator, and a number of other modern
classics from that era, I think it's sort of hardwired into me now. Of
course it's not all I'm into – I love John Woo, Ridley and Tony Scott,
true crime stories and more - but I definitely find extraterrestrials
entertaining, and simply put, there's literally a vast array of
storytelling avenues you can take with them, since – for lack of better
words – it's unknown what aliens really are, should they exist.
were your sources of inspiration when writing Attack
of the Unknown?
could really say it's a culmination of growing up on 80's and 90's action
films. There's a lot of near parody-worthy machismo and oneliners. It
isn't a deliberate throwback like my previous sci-fi movie Crossbreed was, but the influence from that era was definitely
of the Unknown is based on a concept by the film's producers
Michael and Sonny Mahal - so what was your collaboration with them like
when conceiving the movie?
They provided the initial set up – an alien
invasion where various utilities etc are incapacitated, and then I added
the characters and elements to drive the story on top of it. For he alien
villains, I used the plot of a short story I wrote as a teenager about an
alien species that discovers human blood is a miracle cure to a disease
ravaging their planet, and inserted that as the motivation for the
invasion. That story was called, quite unspectacularly, “Blood is the
Cure”. The first version of the script was structured more like a
Transformers movie and had a different protagonist (who ended up being
shaped into the “Dallas” character in the final movie). There was
potential but it wasn't where it needed to be yet. It needed tightening
SWAT team we follow in the final film were there in this draft as
mercenaries but were very supporting characters. Richard Grieco's
character was present in a different form, as a recently retired cop who
was kind of a loner. At this point the script was called “Extinction
Event” which the Mahal Brothers eventually renamed Attack
of the Unknown. Like
I said, there was potential, but it wasn't quite right. It needed to be
lean and mean and a lot tighter, which is what led to the Assault on
Precinct 13-style structure with a majority of the action taking place in
a jail of some sort.
that we needed a reason for the main characters to be there. I reworked a
police stakeout scene from an unproduced script of mine I had the rights
to which was cancelled a week before it was to have gone into production
(which is an interview unto itself for another time). I updated this scene
to include Richard's character and the mercenary characters but changed
them to be a cohesive police unit tasked with arresting and
transporting/guarding a Cartel boss to a county lockup in order to escape
death threats. Once I nailed this, the rest of the writing process was
pretty organic. There were more bits that came from my old short story and
some parts that came from resources we had available, but all in all it
was a pretty straightforward process.
What can you tell us about Attack
of the Unknown's approach to science fiction?
It's not meant to be high art or anything, but a rollicking good time.
It's a police action movie with science fiction and horror elements
stirred into its genetic makeup. I didn't want to re-invent the wheel or
anything, but for the viewer to have fun. Of course, you have to make the
viewer believe the world the movie takes place in could exist, so I gave
the characters a sort of meta sense of humor and a lot of heart, which
hopefully comes through.
just have to talk about Attack
of the Unknown's wonderfully retro aliens for a bit, and to what
extent were you involved in their creation?
was a loose description in the script – basically that they're the more
real, horrific version of the alien grays people have reported to see for
years. I figured that could make them tangible, like the reason we've been
seeing these same creatures over the years is because they were here
harvesting blood. I was actually on my honeymoon when the designs came
back, in the middle of the Mediterranean Ocean. I gave the thumbs up
pretty quickly! Designer Vincent Guastini has done some great work over
the years, including but not limited to the creature effects in Dogma, so
he got it and fit right in.
A few words
about your overall directorial approach to your story at hand?
From past features I've found that you tend to get the best results when
you make people feel involved, whether or not their input necessarily ends
up in the final product or not. Some things ultimately work and some
things don't, but if you at least gave it a shot, people are generally
happy. This was a big crew and a HUGE cast, so this approach was
necessary. I've been tougher on previous sets, but it really just made
sense to approach this one as a team effort. I encourage a lot of
improvisation from the actors (as long as it makes sense).
have to give tremendous props to director of photography Michael Su and
his team. Funny story - Michael and I worked together almost a decade ago
on an Insane Clown Posse music video and forgot we knew each other. Okay
that wasn't too terribly funny. Anyway, Su is able to easily adapt to the
style of different directors. I have a particular camera style which he
really understood well. He easily slid into my (in his words) “Tony
Scott by way of Michael Bay”-vibe and kept his crew running quickly.
Sonny and Michael Mahal have used him on each of their recent productions,
and with good reason. I could really go on and on and I don't want to make
it look like I'm playing favorites. Stunt coordinator Jason McNeil is a
friend who I've had on a number of films going back to House of Manson (as
an actor). Composer Scott Glasgow is a fantastic musician who I click with
really well who I've wanted to find a good project to work on with and
thankfully Michael and Sonny allowed me to bring him on. 1st assistant director Adam Werth and 2nd AD Tamara Rhoads should really be on every
movie just as make-up department head Katie Jacobs should also be –
really everyone who worked on this movie did a fantastic collaborative job
on it. Sonny and Michael assembled a great crew – some from my past
features, some from theirs, some entirely new - and it shows.
talk about Attack of
the Unknown's key cast, and why exactly these people?
Richard Grieco was there early on, once we had a script we felt was ready.
I love how much pathos he was able to bring to the character, sort of a
matured, world-weary version of some of the cop roles he's known for.
Douglas Tait (Hellboy 2019, etc), Jolene Andersen (Agents of
Hellraiser Revelations), Gerardo De Pablos, Clay Trimble, Paul Gunn and
numerous others came from audition tapes. With each one there was usually
something interesting about their performance I'd hone in on and build the
character from, usually something non-verbal. For instance in Jolene's
audition, she did the read twice, but it was some nervous pacing between
reads that really nailed it and showed me who the character could be with
LaSardo we were familiar with and was the obvious choice for his character
once we narrowed it down. Tara Reid, of course, has appeared in numerous
movies the Mahal brothers have produced. Johnny Huang, who plays the
podcasting gamer Dallas Zhang and has some of my favorite bits in the
movie, I took a character from the first draft and tailored to him. Each
actor had something interesting about them that stands out. None of them
really look like the next one. I like to have that sort of variety in a
cast and thankfully they all had great chemistry. There's a scene where
Richard and Doug are having a heart-to-heart discussion at a bar – they
didn't know each other before that day but you'd think they did! For me,
at least, this is a reason I like to encourage actors to improvise – it
tends to loosen them up and create chemistry.
can you tell us about the shoot as such, and the on-set atmosphere?
just had FUN. The somewhat lighter tone of the movie really helped drive
things and when the scenes
took a dramatic turn (as they do – you have to have a balance) we had
plenty of “HELL YES” moments when an actor really nailed a scene or
those amazing unexpected things happened on camera that always end up
you can tell us about audience and critical reception of Attack
of the Unknown?
I don't know about the audiences yet, but so far there are a
number of critics who seem to really get what we were going for here. This
isn't supposed to be a think piece, it's supposed to be fun! I think
people need that right now.
Any future projects you'd like
Under normal circumstances yes –
but Covid-19 put a number of projects I was in talks for or about to sign
onto earlier this year on hold. Some of them are starting to come back
around again, but nothing yet is to the point where I can really discuss
it yet. It'll be interesting to see as the months go by what movies go and
what movies stay on hold as the world works itself out.
Your/your movie's website, Facebook, whatever
Feeling lucky ?
any of my partnershops yourself
for more, better results ?
The links below
will take you
Unless I'm promoting a movie I
don't put much on Facebook these days but you can hit up
facebook.com/brandonslagle2. If you want
endless cat photos look up brandonslagle on Instagram. Attack
of the Unknown's Facebook
Anything else you're dying to mention and I have
merely forgotten to ask?
I hope everyone can be back to making movies soon! I'm hoping there's a
real creative outburst once everything resumes production fully. It could
end up being quite an exciting time!
Thanks for the interview!