You’d think that the need for difficult SFX work would be daunting to ultra-low-budget filmmakers and would lead them to work in intimate, less spectacular genres than kaiju eiga.
Well, not everyone takes the easier route. Check out this new feature-length giant monster flick from Germany.
Nagira (Germany-2009; dir. Florian Schröder)
1986 — A mysterious meteorite crashes on Earth. High-level scientists find traces of extraterrestrial life on the rocks and set about deciphering the genetic material. Years later, the breakthrough occurs — and the lab burns down to its foundations. The leader of the team is murdered shortly afterwards in hospital. Investigators set their sights on a billionaire arms mogul after a towering monster appears, leaving an entire neighborhood in rubble. Even the Army with its tanks and missiles doesn’t stand a chance. But rescue comes from faraway Japan in the form of a professor who arrives in Germany with his assistant to work with the Crisis Team toward finding a solution to the monstrous problem. It turns out, however, that there is a traitor in the ranks of the Crisis Staff. Someone seems to be putting the destructive force of the monster to profitable use for themselves … With a budget of only 3400€ director and screenwriter Florian Schröder has produced an affectionate homage to B movies and the Japanese monster films of the 70s.
As you can see from the pictures above, Nagira is a strange monster if ever there was one — a chimera concocted of a number of different critters. Kaiju Search-Robot Avery spoke to the director Florian Schröder on behalf of Undead Backbrain.
Kaiju Search-Robot Avery: First of all is Nagira made of a piranha and a crab?
Florian Schröder: The Monster is made of a piranha, a snake, a crab, some modeling compound, some wire and hot glue.
Avery: Was it dead already before you guys started the mutation process?
FS: Yes. I bought everything on eBay, except for the crab. That came from a Chinese grocery store. But it was dead, too. I had to buy three packages of different crustaceans, until I had all the bits I needed. The girl in the store thought I was a great fan of seafood…
Avery: The SFX are achieved through stop-motion animation, I believe. That technique is rather difficult and takes considerable time. How often did the creature prop have to be replaced?
FS: There were problems. I created the SFX in a special room I made just for this purpose, and shot the monster in front of a green screen. The monster wasn’t able to stand by itself, so I had to build a framework for it. But then the framework threw a shadow onto the green screen. Believe me, it was really annoying work, because the wire broke often, the crab components crumbled and I had to work with non-professional lighting equipment. But finally it got done.
Avery: How many FX shots in all were there?
FS: Nearly 7000.
Avery: That’s a lot! Didn’t your mother tell you not to play with your food?
FS: Yes, she did. But she also told me to become a teacher. And I didn’t do that either.
Avery: Surely mucking around with dead things for so long is a health hazard? How did you deal with that?
FS: All the biological matter was preserved in formaldehyde. There wasn’t really a problem with smell or decay. Do you know Gunther von Hagens? [an anatomist who invented the plastination technique for preserving biological tissue specimens – ed.] Something similar, just with a fish.
Avery: So who designed the creature and what in the hell were they thinking?
FS: I did the movie completely alone except for a camera man and of course the actors. I built everything I needed: the creature, the giant robot, costumes and all the stuff.
FS: In Germany it is not as easy as it seems to be in the USA to get money for an unususal movie project. You have to break down barriers to get financing. But the money for German films nearly all comes from national sponsorship. And believe me, nobody in Germany will support a monster movie. So I spent my own money and was able to do the movie my way. My money — my movie. I like the monster films, but I wouldn’t say that I was a fan. What I liked was the visual style and the designs and I wanted to give my stamp to this theme.
Florian Schröder hails from a small town called Ulm in Southern Germany. He has worked in the areas of design, music and cinema for over ten years and Nagira is his debut full-length movie. Previously he has been involved in making some short films and music clips.
FS: What I wanted people to see is that it is possible to make a movie yourself with little money and just the will to do it. Of course under those circumstance you won’t be able to create a Hollywood-type blockbuster, but you’ll move a small step closer to becoming a real filmmaker. A “real” film with a “real” team, a “real” set and “real” budget … I think it will prove impossible to do it in a big way if you can’t do it the smaller way. And I wanted to show that a trashy monster movie can still entertain an audience.
Avery: What is your goal for the film?
FS: First of all, the goal was to finish this project… I had times in which I thought that it would be impossible. If you see the stop-motion effects, you’ll think first it looks cheap. But it took two months and tons of nerve to do it like that. I wanted to use only the kind of SFX that were used in the 70s, to give Nagira a B-movie flavour.
Avery: Can you name some influences and inspirations — in terms of other directors, FX artists, and other films that might have influenced the making of this film?
FS: In the end I was influenced by all the trashy monster movies of the 1960s and ’70s — all the B-movies and the Grindhouse material I could get in my fingers here in Germany. Almost nobody knows about that stuff here. Everybody wants to be cool and pretend to have a knowledge of all these movies. But if you don’t order DVDs and VHSs via eBay or through US mail-order, you won’t know about them at all. They are not shown on TV and are mostly not distributed locally. They think they can watch Tarantino and then will know all about B-movies. The actual king of fantasy movies for me is Guillermo del Toro and his right hand man, Mike Mignola.
Avery: Do you ever plan to make any other giant monster films? Any other new films you’re working on now?
FS: No, definitely not. But like James Bond said: “Never say never”. I think the next “science fiction thing” I’ll do will be just a music video. Not a 80-minute extravaganza like Nagira. I would have a heart attack….
Kruder: Christian Peters
Frenz: Henry Braun
Oberst Schöndorf: Dirk Linke
Gefreiter Becker: Sven Clos
Von Klünkin: Janina Fahrner
Professor Kurosawa: Günther Lü-Matheis
Osato: Paul Magiera
Maranzano: Gun Aydemir
Philipp La Croix: Christian Hageleit
Avery: Were there any particular difficulties in casting?
FS: We needed a Japanese professor in the movie. He knows how to handle the creature. But I couldn’t find a Japanese actor in the two-month of preparation we had for the production. So I took a 28-year old Chinese friend (Günther Lü-Matheis), gave him grey hair on his temples and an eye patch. Problem solved. But the guy wasn’t an actor. However, I am. So I wrote the character of Osato (Professor Kurosawa’s assistant) for myself. Osato deals with the army, protects him.
Above: Günther Lü-Matheis as Professor Kurosawa
Above: Janina Fahrner as Von Klünkin
- The title of the movie is just “Nagira”.
- The production company is called Uptothesky.
- The World Premiere will take place on 14 November 2009.
- The length of the movie is nearly 80 minutes.
- The budget was 3400 € (about US$5000).
- Najira will be released on DVD in the middle of next year, but before that it will be submitted to all the film festivals in Germany, Austria and Switzerland.
- While it is doing the festival circuit, English subtitles will be added, the Making-of material will be edited into a documentary and a director’s commentary recorded for the DVD.
- DVD distribution for Germany, Austria and Switzerland will be handled by Groove Attack, a big distributor for independant music and films. Distribution in the USA and other countries is still being sought.
The movie is a guerilla project by director Florian Schröder. He wanted to demonstrate that it is possible to produce a movie as a solo project and with nearly no money. Something similar to what Robert Rodriguez did in the 1990s with El Mariachi — but in the vein of a monster movie and a homage to the Grindhouse and B-Movies of the 1970s. (Daniel Schneider)
Gallery (where there are some additional images, including an alternative poster):