Features | Written by Whitney Scott Bain 21/05/2013

Interview: Scott Stewart, Director of DARK SKIES

Scott Stewart began as a visual effects artist on such films as Mars Attacks!, Jurassic Park: The Lost World and Iron Man working his way up to directing Legion, Priest and his new science fiction thriller: Dark Skies.

Starburst: Were you always interested in sci-fi growing up?

Scott Stewart: Yes. I grew up in Northern California watching Night Gallery and the Bob Wilkins’ Creature Features on this huge 400lb. television. Bob Wilkins would show a lot of great films and sometimes have a guest actor or filmmaker on he’d interview after the movie. In 1979, my father owned an art gallery and we had an exhibit there featuring the talented Gahan Wilson’s work along with Bob Wilkins. My father told him that I was a fan of his and loved staying up late at night watching horror and science fiction movies, so he drew a picture for me with this little boy on a slide traveling down towards a giant frog’s open mouth signing it; “This is what happens to little boys who stay up too late watching movies.” Bob signed it saying, “Stay up late.” It’s one of my most prized possessions that hangs up in my office.

So, your family was very supportive of your dreams.

Definitely! When I was 13 years old, Industrial Light and Magic hosted a Brown Bag Day where they would invite people over, bring their bagged lunch and give them a tour. I would talk to all these great special effects people loving every minute of it. Years later, after studying writing and computers, I ended up getting a job at ILM working with the very same people that I talked to as a kid.

What inspired you to write Dark Skies?

I wanted to tell something more personal than my previous films. More nuts and bolts. A twist of the haunted house story. You read about these terrible stories about missing children and public opinion points towards the family or family member committing the crime, but what if it was more than that? What if it was a malevolent ghost or alien that actually did it and there was no concrete proof of the family’s innocence? The Grey’s in Dark Skies are like that. They are a force of nature creating chaos when they show up. They use our fears against us. I wanted to show that we are not in control.

The use of relatively unknown actors is key to the film’s believability, especially the UFO expert, Edwin Pollard played by J.K. Simmons.

Keri Russell, John Hamilton the whole cast was great to work with. With the Pollard role, I avoided casting the older British actors that are always so good in those parts. I wanted someone unusual, yet with a sense of authority. His character has this sense of menace about him combined with melancholy and resignation because he’s been through what the family has been through. His wall of newspaper clippings of missing persons shows that he’s not successful at trying to prevent the Grey’s from their mission. It’s futile to him.

The first time J.K. walked on the set he walked through it studying the room, the missing person clippings, the UFO stories, how the character lived so he got a great sense of how to play him right away. He is an amazing actor with so much range.

Jeff Higinbotham’s production design gives the picture a great Norman Rockwell/Americana look to it.

Joe’s the best! I’ve worked with Joe on several films and he found the right street so that it would look like Anywhere USA. We used 100% practical locations.

What do you have coming up?

I directed the pilot of Defiance on the Syfy channel. That got picked up for a second season. I also have a second show there and science based thriller that I’d like to do one day as a well as a TV pilot I’m writing.

So, with the ambiguous ending, is there a Dark Skies sequel in the works?

I’m not sure. We’ll see. The best thing about making a film like this, is that we can keep the budget on a low level. Certainly, there is more to tell and as Pollard says in the film, “Sometimes they come back.”

DARK SKIES is released on DVD/Blu-ray in the US on May 28th, and in the UK on August 12th.