Interview with Liam O’Donnell

Alien invasion movies aren’t known to have an abundance of Silat-driven action, but writer-director Liam O’Donnell aims to change that with his newly released film “Beyond Skyline“. The sequel to the 2010 sci-fi thriller “Skyline”, the film ropes in the talent of “The Purge” star Frank Grillo along with Iko Uwais and Yayan Ruhian of “The Raid” films to bring down the invading alien menace!

Melding spectacular special FX designed by Hydraulx visual effects, the film is now available on Video on Demand (VOD), just in time for the holidays, courtesy of M45 Productions, XYZ Films, and North Hollywood Films (the production company of Canadian Karate champ Cody Hackman).

Today, Liam sits down with KFK to share a behind-the-scenes look at the making of “Beyond Skyline”, the film’s origins which began with its 2010 predecessor, and the process of making the sequel with his tremendously talented trio of action stars!

Hi Liam, thank you so much for the opportunity of this interview. Hope you’re doing well?

Hi Brad, I’m doing great, thanks.

Awesome. Well, why don’t we start out with how the “Skyline” franchise began with its first film, which you co-wrote and produced with Greg and Colin Strause in 2010?

Sure. Well, the first “Skyline” came about very quickly back in 2009. I had worked with Greg and Colin for about four years by that point at their visual effects company, Hydraulx. We had just done a music video for 50 Cent, and we had a couple of RED cameras from that video, so we experimented a little with them and we filmed a proof of concept for another movie that we didn’t end up doing, but it was a really great learning experience for what eventually became “Skyline”.

Liam and Iko rehearse for the next shot

Liam and Iko rehearse for the next shot

At the time, movies like “Cloverfield” and “Paranormal Activity” had just come out and been big hits, and we decided we wanted to do something that would be like a cinematic version of a found footage movie. We didn’t want to do a found footage movie, but we liked the idea of doing a movie about an alien invasion that all takes place in one location, so it had a similar feel to found footage. So, the first “Skyline” came out of that idea. It was a really fast turnaround – we shot that original proof-of-concept around November (Thanksgiving) 2009, and “Skyline” was in theaters on November 12th, 2010. “Beyond Skyline” ended up being the exact opposite experience, where we had seven years between each film.

Interesting. On that note, what can you share about how “Beyond Skyline” came about?

We’d actually already written the treatment for “Beyond Skyline” when we were making the first film, and it had the same concept of a cop bailing his son out of jail on the day of the alien invasion. It wove in and out with the first act of the original film because we still had it so fresh in our heads. When I finished the first draft of the script in 2013, it had a really big first act, and even in our first edit of the film, we were touching upon a lot of moments from the first film where it overlaps with the sequel. Because we spent so much time with the film in development and going back and forth with different financiers, Greg and Colin had moved on from directing again, so I asked them since I had already written the sequel if I could go ahead and direct, and they said, “Yeah, go for it”.

When it came to casting for the film, I had been keen on Frank Grillo for several years and had actually written the role of the cop, Mark, with him in mind. He really liked the script and when he came on board, his schedule was crazy; he’d just finished “The Purge: Anarchy”, he had a movie with Blumhouse Productions coming up, he was also doing “The Purge: Election Year” and “Captain America: Civil War”, so we went full speed ahead into production, even though our alien suits weren’t even ready!

Liam directing the dynamic sci-fi action thriller Beyond Skyline

Liam directing the dynamic sci-fi action thriller Beyond Skyline

Putting the pedal to the metal! What can you share about the experience of making the film with Frank Grillo, as well as Iko Uwais and Yayan Ruhian of “The Raid” films?

It was a lot of good fortune. When Iko and Yayan first came aboard, I called Frank up and said, “You guys have to fight each other!” (Both laugh) So I wrote it into the script that their characters have a confrontation at first before they team up to fight the aliens. Iko’s character doesn’t appear until midway into the film, but he has such innate charisma as an action star that he can just show up and carry every scene he’s in without it feeling jarring.

Absolutely, as anyone who’s seen “The Raid” films will agree! On that topic, “Beyond Skyline” brings a great deal of martial arts action to the premise of the film. What can you share about the process of incorporating martial arts action into an alien invasion film?

Well, the tone of the film was always written as a very late 80’s, early 90’s action movie, and we really benefited from having our lead actors be very well-versed in martial arts, so it fit really well with the tone that’s established at the beginning of the film. I never really saw it as a shift in tone to bring the martial arts into this type film because martial arts isn’t a tone, it’s a type of action. The Marvel movies and TV shows have completely co-opted martial arts, and I’ve never watched them and thought it’s weird that they’re blasting lasers at one point and going into an awesome kung fu fight the next. It’s different types of action that complement each other really well, and so I knew it’d be no different in a movie like “Beyond Skyline”. I’ve also written another martial arts/sci-fi movie that’s in a similar vein called “The Last Savage” and it’s post-apocalyptic “Tarzan” meets “Mad Max” gladiator that’ll also push the limits of sci-fi, martial arts and crazy visual effects.

Liam with Callan Mulvey on the set of Beyond Skyline

Liam with Callan Mulvey on the set of Beyond Skyline

Sounds riveting and we’re definitely looking forward to seeing it! So, what are some of the memorable experiences you’d like to share in making “Beyond Skyline” with Frank Grillo, Iko Uwais, and Yayan Ruhian?

One of my favourite memories of making the film was when Iko and Yayan came on a location scout, and we went up to the top of this waterfall outside of Jakarta. I told them this was where we wanted to shoot a fight scene in the film, and they just kind of took their shoes off and started fighting full speed. Then they turned to me and asked what I thought of the fight choreography they were coming up with, and I thought, “They’re asking me? Well, it’s the best!” (Both laugh)

The first day of the shoot was that scene, and it started raining midway through the day, so we couldn’t really finish the beginning of it which was a standoff before the fight, because of continuity. So, we had to basically skip ahead a little to the fight itself. So Iko and Frank start doing their fight, and it has Frank launch Iko into this mud puddle. He made this huge splash, and I couldn’t help myself, I lift both of my arms into the air and say “Yes!” It was really at that moment that I kind of said to myself, “Wow, I’m really making a martial arts film!”

Liam guides Iko and Frank through their upcoming fight scene

Liam guides Iko and Frank through their upcoming fight scene

We also had a few obstacles to overcome. It was raining a lot in Indonesia at the time, and two days after that, the river by the set went up about eight feet overnight, so I had to scout for another location. It ended up being a blessing though, because the new location actually saved a lot of money in terms of visual effects. We also got rained out at lunchtime two days in a row when we were shooting the climax of the film in the temple and we only had four days there. So, on the second time we were rained out, we called the day at lunch, then we called everyone back at midnight and shot until the afternoon the next day.

Frank also pulled his hamstring during a fight scene. I’d written his character as more of a brawler, but Iko and Yayan worked a lot of kicks into his fight choreography. So, in one scene, Frank’s character does a back kick on a guy attacking him from behind, but during one take, the stunt guy he was supposed to kick didn’t get in place in time, so he ended up pulling his hamstring because his leg just flew into the air without hitting anything. We still had about thirty days left, so we had to shut down that part of the film, and shifted to some of the scenes with him in the alien ship, which kind of worked out, because his character has an injured leg there anyway. After that, we went back to finish that fight, and I made sure it was more punch-centric choreography there!

Liam and Iko rehearse for the next shot

Liam and Iko rehearse for the next shot

Ouch! glad you were able to work around Frank’s injury.

Yeah, we were able to get through it, but I don’t think he’ll let me release the footage of that! (Both laugh)

Thanks Liam for sharing your behind the scenes stories in the making of “Beyond Skyline.

Pleasure to speak with you guys at Kung Fu Kingdom!

“Beyond Skyline” is now available via iTunes, Amazon and VOD while DVD/Blu-ray releases on 8th January 2018. Share your thoughts or impressions on the movie in the comments below, join in the conversation on Facebook and follow us on Twitter (Love kung fu of the non-alien breed too? Then check out our previous movie reviews)!

Brad Curran

From the earliest days of childhood, Brad Curran was utterly fascinated by martial arts, his passion only growing stronger after spending time living in the melting pot of Asian cultures that is Hawaii. His early exposure developed into a lifelong passion and fascination with all forms of martial arts and tremendous passion for action and martial arts films. He would go on to take a number of different martial arts forms, including Shaolin Ch'uan fa, Taekwondo, Shotokan Karate and remains a devoted student, avid and eager to continue his martial arts studies. Brad is also an aspiring writer and deeply desires to share his love for martial arts and martial arts movies with the world!

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