411mania.com Interviews: Enormous Director BenDavid Grabinski
Posted by Jeffrey Harris on 03.21.2014
411mania.com speaks with the director of the sci-fi web TV pilot Enormous, BenDavid Grabinski. Grabinski talks about his experience in expanding the comic featuring giant monsters taking over the earth into a high-end webseries.
Recently, 411mania.com got the chance to speak with writer-director BenDavid Grabinski, the director behind the new Machina web pilot, Enormous. The pilot is based on the comic of the same name created by Tim Daniel and Mehdi Cheggour. The world of Enormous is set after a cataclysmic event in which giant monsters have taken over the earth, and the human race as we know it is becoming extinct. Machinima will be testing the reception of the pilot before seeing if it will become an ongoing webseries. In the new 10-minute pilot, a group of survivors on a dangerous mission have to deal with nefarious humans and also a giant monster. Here's what BenDavid Grabinski had to say about working on the show:
Jeffrey Harris: So in this story, gigantic monsters have overrun the planet, and humans are going the way of the planet. So at what point does the pilot take place in this story?
BenDavid Grabinski: Well that's the interesting thing. The pilot takes place a year after E-Day. We had a little bit more explanation of E-Day, but I cut it out because we're trying to give as little explanation as possible. But basically, we're a year after the world as we know it has ended, and monsters have taken over the earth. Instead of dealing with the inception point of when that happened, the world ending, we're jumping past that it to the point where everyone knows the world they live in and it sucks. And we're following some people who have a specific job in the middle of it. The comic details more of the initial stages and the world going to s***. And to me, the idea of this series is that we're jumping into that later and kind of throwing the audience in the deep end, they're sort of orientated into world and the characters as they go along.
Jeffrey Harris: This project and undertaking was originally announced as a transmedia event in 2012 that would encompass a webseries, a TV series, and a movie by director Andre Overdal and producer Adrian Askarieh. At what point did you come in to be the director of the webseries?
BenDavid Grabinski: Basically about 10 minutes ago. What happened was, I got a call on Halloween 2013 from Adrian, and he got me up to speed on what they've done and what his vision for the project was. He found a comic at New York Comic-Con a year before, it must've been 2012 then, and he fell in love with it. And he had this really grand plan that he wanted to do with it. Before I came onboard, he partnered with Machinima, and they were really excited about turning it into a series on their YouTube channel. And basically, there had been a director before me for a little bit, but I believe he had some sort of scheduling issues. He had obligations to some other project that he was on. He came to me and was like, "Hey, here's this thing. We have a script. Here's the comic. Here's our vision for it, and it needs to be done in about three months." I came in, and it was a really exciting opportunity because they really believed in me and my ability to execute this, and I really loved it. And I basically just jumped in and immediately got to work. We pulled it off, and I'm really proud of it, but we had to make it over three holidays over the winter. Come in and cast 11 people, figure out logistics, budget, put together a giant crew that could design a monster—it was 87 days from the day I got the job to the day I turned in the finished pilot.
Jeffrey Harris: What would you say is the scope of the pilot and the potential webseries? And how much do we get to see of the Enormous monsters?
BenDavid Grabinski: We're trying to—there's not really a lot I want to say in terms of narrative plans and stuff like that. But the idea is that you will see a very large amount of monsters and a variety of monsters over the course of the first season of this show. The idea is that some of them are much scarier and more destructive than anything that was showed in the first 10 minutes. The idea of the series was you'd be following this group, this search and rescue team on their adventures, and needless to say, things will go terribly wrong for them. It will get very dramatic both in terms of human interaction and monster interaction.
Jeffrey Harris: What can you tell me about the creature effects and how the monsters were made for this show? Were they made using CG or animatronic work?
BenDavid Grabinski: I designed the monsters with concept artists I'd been working with on some feature stuff. And this company, Incessant Rain Studios, built a model and over the course of six weeks, we had to get down what the shots were and go through that process. In terms of future episodes, it's a little open. Personally, I'm just a giant fan of animatronic effects in visual effects, but a lot of stuff you work backwards both for time and logistics. One of my favorite things in the world is doing a hybrid of both. We're trying to shoot as many physical, real things as possible and adding effects to it as opposed to doing something that's completely computer generated. The hybrid element of that is something I find more interesting and more believable. But there's a lot of considerations involved.
Jeffrey Harris: If the pilot is successful and it does go to a webseries, is there an idea where you want to take this story next and where things will go next?
BenDavid Grabinski: Yeah, there are. There's some very drastic things that are going to happen to these characters, and this not a world where all of them will make it to the end of the season. And also, we're going to be learning some more details of what this virus is and the nature of this monster-filled world that should be pretty f***ed up. A lot of it will also be based on how many episodes we plan on doing. If we go forward, the idea is 10 episodes per season and to take it from there. But we'll be staying with these guys [the search and rescue team] instead of cutting away to the larger world. We're self-contained to their POV in this apocalyptic setting.
Jeffrey Harris: Are any of the characters from the graphic novel in this piece?
BenDavid Grabinski: Ellen is straight from the graphic novel. The rest of them are basically—they're basically written in the script that they evolve and change based on casting. I'm really a big fan of letting things evolve based on what actors bring to the table and sort of collaborate with the people. There's characters in the pilot that were written for different age groups and different personalities, but I ended up falling in love with some different takes and ideas that the actors had and working it out from there. The thing that was really fun was that Tim Daniel, the writer of the comic, was onset the whole time. He's the nicest guy in the entire world. And it's been really interesting because sometimes when you do a Scott Pilgrim or 300 and you adapt something basically verbatim—we're basically doing an interpretation of it, and he was extremely supportive of me making my own thing. And the thing we both decided that we thought would be fun is having both of these be their own separate entities that also are complimentary of each other. Ellen is a character who is really important him, and she's pretty consistent with what he has in the book. But the rest of team are basically a separate creation.
Jeffrey Harris: Do you have a favorite monster for the piece?
BenDavid Grabinski: Well, there's only one in the pilot, and I like him a lot. The eye beneath the mouth was one of my favorite ideas in terms of the execution of him. But in terms of the book, there's a lot that are pretty great, and I don't know—some of the best ones in the book, I don't know how to do unless we're doing a $200 million movie because they are so elaborate and layered and have so many types of skin and surface material. I mean that's the great thing about comics is that you don't have a budget. You can do whatever the hell you want. If you took one issue of Enormous and turned it into a webseries, I think the budget would be bigger than a summer blockbuster.
Jeffrey Harris: Now my understanding is that the plan was to take this into a big sort of transmedia event that would include a TV series and possibly a found footage-style movie, similar to Cloverfield. Do you know if that's still the plan and have you had any conversations with the producers on that?
BenDavid Grabinski: The plan is to do some very big things that we're in the early stages of talking about, and Adrian Askarieh and Josh are producing this together. Personally, I'm not much of a found footage guy. I do like Cloverfield and Chronicle, but I believe our approach to this is to have it be more of a classically shot and traditional piece. In terms of anything I plan on doing for Enormous, I plan on taking I'd say a Jurassic Park approach to it as opposed to anything. The thing I liked about Cloverfield is the specificity of staying just with this fly-night group of people and seeing it from their point of view. And that's the thing that's really important to me and I love so much about that is seeing everything from their POV. [The view of the monster] is basically from the human angle. So you are seeing everything from their perspective.
Thank you to BenDavid Grabinski for taking the time to speak with us. Enormous is now available for viewing on Machinima's YouTube pilot, and you the pilot in the above video player.