Crawl, the natural disaster/gators gone amok horror-thriller blend was released this weekend and I thought it was an absolute blast! I was also fortunate enough to talk with two of the producers behind the film who helped unleash Crawl, Craig Flores and Sam Raimi. Below I talk with both about how the project got started, bringing the creatures to life, and whether they think alligators or hurricanes are scarier! *Potential Spoilers for Crawl ahead*
Craig Flores: We really wanted to engineer an audience centered fun summer experience for everyone so I’m happy that it’s coming out that way. The early reactions are looking quite nice.
Jacob Davison: It’s definitely a crowd movie. Lots of screams, jumps, laughs.
CF: Fantastic! Exactly like Sam Raimi and I planned!
JD: All right. First off, how did you become involved in the project?
CF: I first got the screenplay from the Rassmussen brothers, Michael and Shawn as a spec script. So, I developed it a little bit with them and then I sent it and attached Alex Aja. Alex and I had been looking for a project to do together. I’m a big fan of High Tension and I love Piranha which was fun and really knows what it is and has a good time with it. And I like his other movies like [The 9th Life of] Louis Drax and Horns as well. I sent him this, he called me immediately and said “You had me at the logline.” Then Alex developed it and did a few rounds with the Rassmussen brothers, ultimately, I’d like to say finished the script. Did some writing on it on his own and really opened up the movie. The original screenplay was very much confined to the crawlspace. Because I think Shawn and Michael when they crafted it and the concept which is the best thing they were writing in this world of people doing inexpensive horror movies under a certain price and they had to be very contained.
When Alex got it, you had these huge factors of the hurricane and basically, it’s a natural disaster home invasion. But in the early drafts you weren’t seeing any of that. So, Alex opened it up to the whole community. I mean her [Haley Keller], her neighborhood there that she’s seeing with the gas station and the looters and the fun parts. And then after that we attached Sam Raimi, who we always loved and admired and he’s one of our directing heroes and producing heroes. I sent it to him on a Thursday morning at 10 a and he called me by 4 pm saying “Hey, I loved it! Why don’t you come over to my house and let’s talk about it.” From there we went out with it set it up at Paramount where Wyck Godfrey the president of the motion picture group was a huge champion of it. Which we really felt good about because I believe he is from the south originally so he’s very familiar with hurricanes.
JD: And probably gators, too.
CF: And alligators! Yeah, I’m pretty sure Wyck is from Louisiana so he definitely was familiar with them. So, that’s kind of how I became involved with the project. I’ve been a producer on it from the beginning.
JD: And I did want to ask about that because it is a very simple concept. What would you say is the appeal of Crawl?
CF: Well, I like it when concepts are very simple but executed at an A-Plus precision way to scare audiences. Listen, I think movie going audiences have always, or at least I have and I start with myself as an audience member, had an obsession with creatures in the water movies. Right?
JD: Oh yes.
CF: I’m a producer who grew up with JAWS and movies like that. I think anytime you don’t see below the water and your legs are dangling, it’s always fear inducing. Plus, the appeal of it- it’s a horror-thriller. It has the home invasion element which I think is a shared fear of home invasion. Except our unique take on it is that there are two home invasions going on. One with the natural disaster, the hurricane invading her house. Literally everything you love and own is being taken over by water. And the second home invasion is by these animals themselves. Which I find terrifying. A lot of people I know, whether or not you’re from Florida have that fear as well. Just like how people who are in the middle of the country are afraid of sharks. even if there are no sharks in Kansas people are definitely afraid of them.
JD: Understandable. And I wanted to ask about that, how were the gator FX handled? Was it entirely CG, CG and live animals?
CF: We did a mixture of both CG and some practical, I would call them mechanical/animatronic gators as well. Everything has a little touch of CG on it, but we tried to do as many things as practical as possible. The reason we decided to go heavier on some CG aspects of the movie is because an animatronic cannot move as whippingly fast as a true alligator. I don’t know if you’ve grown up watching those National Geographic films where you see them floating slowly through the water and where the antelope is getting some water from the edge of the river and then all of a sudden at enormous speed.
Almost like going from a dead stop to enormous speed, they whip up and grab it and pull it in. No animatronic, no human operated alligator that we’ve built could move that fast, so those scenes are where we really needed it to really accentuate those jump scares you saw. Our company Rodeo FX I think did an amazing job because I’ve watched it with people and they’ve asked me to point out when we’ve used practical and when the CG is in full effect.
JD: How was the set established? How was the house and crawlspace set up with the flooding water?
CF: We built all the homes on set and the neighborhood on set. We had these huge I think 80 meter by 100 meter, you can call them makeshift soundstages. What we did was we internally put in these temporary water tank around them and then built the structures including the crawlspace and the house. Like a full neighborhood, it was amazing actually. Then we flooded those temporary tanks and I think at any one point we had about 4 million gallons of water circulating among 5 different tanks.
That was the basic set-up. In one of the smaller soundstages we would build the crawlspace with all the beautiful details that it has the mud and the dirt and all of it. We’d put a temporary tank around it and then flood it with water. We could raise it and lower it on a daily basis and it was an environment for our actors to live in, which was not easy so mine, Alex’s, and Sam’s love for our actors is great for enduring all of that. Not easy.
JD: Definitely looked intense. One last question, which do you think is scarier: the hurricane or the gators?
CF: It depends on whether you have a fear of drowning, then you think the hurricane is the scariest thing. Or whether you have a fear of being eaten alive by a wild animal. For me… I think I’ll go with the alligator. (Laughter)
JD: After seeing what those gators can do, I’d definitely be more afraid of them, too!
CF: I am one of those people who, like, I sit there with my 10-year-old son when we watch the nature movies and I see the alligators and what they do and the crocodiles and saltwater crocs and it just terrifies me. For me, it’s that.
JD: Understandably so!
CF: What about you?
JD: Uh… Like I said, I’m definitely more afraid of the gators just seeing what they can do with those big jaws of theirs. Snapping tails. They are pretty frightening!
Jacob Davison: I just talked with Craig Flores, so starting off, how did you get involved with the project?
Sam Raimi: A friend of mine, one of the producers on the film, Lauren Selig showed me the script and said they needed a little help getting this movie made. So, I read the script and I said it was really promising and of course I was always a fan of Alexandre Aja. I tried to get him to direct a movie I was producing years ago but he was busy working with Wes Craven. So, I thought this could be a great combination to the script which was so promising. So, I met Craig Flores and I really liked him. I met Alexandre and we really hit it off and then we started working on the picture together starting with working on the next draft of the film. Working on casting. Meanwhile, we brought the picture to Paramount where we were able to secure the financing and distribution. Then we went to Serbia to start shooting the film.
JD: Yeah, I was going to ask about that. What was it like shooting in Serbia?
SR: It was great! I had no idea what it would be like. They have very advanced film crews there and the American dollar went really far so we could get a big budgeted look than the 14 million dollars we spent on the film. I think it looks like a 30-million-dollar film, personally. Everyone was very professional and the city of Belgrade was beautiful. In our time off it was lovely to see the cafes and squares that the city had. It was really lovely shooting the film. Then we edited the film back her in the Paramount studios lot in Hollywood.
JD: Taking a step back, what was it about the premise of the movie that appealed to you?
SR: That was the coolest part! The premise, the idea that… it was a return to the creature films of years ago but without the implausibility of them. Because there’s so much flooding that’s been happening in the southern United States, I don’t mean to make light of it, but it happens so frequently now and there are so many alligators in Florida. I think they outnumber the people. The population of Florida. Actually, when I read what the writers have written it seems very likely that alligators would seek the high ground during flooding, could actually find refuge inside a house and we’ve always ready about these people who end up trapped in their houses during these floods I thought “What a great combination of ideas that seems really plausible for a great, non-stop tension fun filmgoing experience for the audience.” That’s what it was.
JD: I see. Actually, on that note would you say the movie has a bit of an environmental message?
SR: I never got it while reading the script and it was never really our intention when making the movie, actually. It was just to give the audience a rocking good time over the summer.
JD: And I jumped out of my seat.
SR: Oh, great! Thank you for that.
JD: What would you say it is about alligators that makes them so scary?
SR: Oh my God! They are just… killing machines. They’ve evolved over I guess millions of years and they can swim, they can crawl, and they are ferocious and fast. So much faster in the water than you’d think. Of course, on the land under certain circumstances you can beat them but they are just like dinosaurs that we happen to be living with Nowadays. Ferocious dinosaurs. I can’t think of anything that isn’t scary about alligators!
JD: That’s true. I wanted to ask, I talked with Craig a little bit about it, how did you bring the gators in Crawl to life? What special FX were used?
SR: Well, I know Alex was very interested in filming actual alligators. But we didn’t actually do that. He had some prosthetics made and we used some of them. Some on set puppets, animatronics, but also the use of CGI. So, I think it was a combination of things that Alex employed to bring the gators to life.
JD: I’d like to ask you a bit about the casting process. What was that like?
SR: It wasn’t difficult. Alex is very personable and he really knows what he wants. So, a lot of actors wanted to work with him. I thought that the difficult part would be actors would be hesitant to work in a water set for weeks and weeks on end. [Laughter] Maybe they were, but they hid it well form the director and producers. They were all so game. Kaya [Scodelario] and Barry [Pepper] and Ross [Anderson] are so gung-ho to get into the water and do everything that Alex needed. It was wonderful. I think that Alex is really an actor’s director besides being a great tension director. So, I think it was very easy to get a great cast. We had guidance from the head of Paramount Studios, Wyck Godfrey. He recommended different people and together, it was really Alex and Wyck that determined the cast.
JD: And Alex is known for his intense movies. Was anything considered too much or cut form the final version?
SR: Yeah. It was some of the attacks which were too vicious. And Alex thought that it was realistic but there was no need to show as much as he had created. He I think used a subtle hand not to overwhelm the audience. But just give them a really good thrill ride with some scares and a few moments of “Oh my God, no!” Without taking it too far.
JD: Last question: which do you think is scarier, alligators or hurricanes?
SR: Wow. I would say Alligators. I kind of get excited, I love being around a tornado. I’ve never actually been in a hurricane, probably can’t answer that question, but we’ve got tornadoes in Michigan. There’s a bit of fun that happens. Negative ions charge in the air, the sky turns like purple, the lightning is, no pun intended, electric and it’s kind of thrilling in a weird way when no one’s harmed. Alligators are just absolutely terrifying to me.
JD: Understandable. Craig Flores also chose Alligators. And I did, too! Those things are just, like you said, killing machines.
Crawl was released in theaters Friday, July 12th.