The best word to describe Liam O’Donnell as a filmmaker is “determined.” In 2010 he helped write and produce a small-scale science fiction film about an alien invasion of Los Angeles titled SKYLINE. It was met with indifference from critics and audiences alike at the time. Most other filmmakers would have taken that defeat and moved on to other things.
Liam O’Donnell is not most filmmakers though. He truly believed that his stories set in the world of SKYLINE had merit and he was determined to prove it.
Cut to 2017 and O’Donnell had another film set in that world ready to launch. It’s title: BEYOND SKYLINE. This time, with Liam himself in the director’s chair, the focus was on pure action mixed with quality sci-fi effects work, both practical and digital. To go along with this new leaner action-oriented narrative, O’Donnell cast beloved genre actors and martial artists like Frank Grillo (CAPTAIN AMERICA: THE WINTER SOLDIER), Iko Uwais (THE RAID), and Yanyan Ruhian (JOHN WICK CHAPTER 3: PARABELLUM) to fill out his cast. The reaction this time was much different. BEYOND SKYLINE was a hit with critics and audiences alike who loved the now international flavor of the series and its hardcore action edge mixed with fun sci-fi story elements.
Well, O’Donnell is back again with a third installment of the series. This one, titled SKYLINES (aka SKYLIN3S), keeps the international flavor, intense action, fun sci-fi flavor, and beautiful effects work but ups the ambition of the story to new heights.
Here is the film’s official synopsis:
When a virus threatens to turn earth-dwelling friendly alien hybrids against humans, Captain Rose Corley (Lindsey Morgan, THE 100) must lead a team of elite soldiers on a mission to the alien’s world in order to save what’s left of humanity.
SKYLINES continues the impressive casting seen in the previous installment as well. Morgan is joined by Jonathan Howard (THOR: THE DARK WORLD), Rhona Mitra (DOOMSDAY), James Cosmo (GAME OF THRONES), Alexander Siddig (STAR TREK: DEEP SPACE NINE), and Daniel Bernhardt (JOHN WICK CHAPTER 1).
I had the opportunity recently to sit down with Liam O’Donnell to talk all things SKYLINES!
What inspired you to take the series in such a different direction from the first film in the second and now through SKYLINES?
It is just sort of what excites me, I guess. When we were making BEYOND SKYLINE, we had such a crew of badasses like Iko Uwais, Frank Grillo, and Yayan Ruhian that I was like, “Oh, an international team of badasses. Hmmm.” Even some of the stunt guys who were in rubber suits in that movie were really incredible martial artists. So I thought, “Ah, an international team taking the fight to the alien planet would be a cool movie. I don’t know how to get there, but that’s a cool movie.”
Then, once we did the last day shoot with Rose, Lindsey Morgan’s character, and we’re leaping forward 10 years in time, that was moment where I was like, “Oh, that idea plus in this world, now I’ve got a movie.” And I just had this space adventure itch that I’ve wanted to scratch.
The first film I got to work on was ALIENS VS. PREDATOR: REQUIEM back when I was around 24 years old as basically a consultant for directors Greg and Collin Strause on hydraulics and worked with them on their pitch for that film. I helped them so much to get the movie that they were generous enough to bring me up on set to work with the pre-vis artists on action scenes and creatively shaping the different set pieces and stuff.
It just made so much sense, to me, to do another space marine movie there, but for some reason, no one wanted to make it. I felt like I wanted to get there somehow, and I figured out a way with SKYLINES, and luckily, we got financed.
So that brings up a great question. What were some of trials and tribulations you went through to try to make SKYLINES happen?
It’s a total uphill battle and at the same time, it would be absolutely impossible without the IP. If I wanted to do an original project and just call this thing a different name and base it off something else, it would be a 0% chance. As is, it’s a very narrow margin, but some of the challenges are, to get it made, we had to make it a UK co-production. So, it went from being set in post-apocalyptic Los Angeles to being set in post-apocalyptic London, and then obviously crunching and crunching the schedule down and cutting different set pieces and consolidating things together. Which ended up being for the best because the movie is, I think, kind of bursting at the seams with idea as it. But you couldn’t quite tell in the script because it was pretty lean, like 95 pages.
But to get it made, I definitely would, if he were in in this interview right now, I’d defer to my producer, Matthew Chausse, because he’s definitely a wizard when it comes to foreign sales, financing, and getting these things on board. But it just 100% wouldn’t be possible without the “Skyline” brand, and just the fact that the first film had such an international awareness, made so much money overseas, that allowed us to get the second one going. And I didn’t think we were really going to get a third one done because the BEYOND SKYLINE was supposed to have this big release in China first. And so, that was supposed to kick off the whole theatrical portion worldwide. And we were then having Vertical do our release domestically. That ended up not happening, getting through the red tape of a release in China was too much. But Vertical really believed in the movie, and they pushed us on Blu-ray and DVD, and we doubled expectations, and we sold really, really well. So, the fact that that one was kind of saved on home video and Blu-ray and VOD, and then a Netflix deal afterwards, that helped us get the third one made.
I’ve spoken to many people who have discovered the series through Netflix, and sometimes they were even surprised that there was a movie before BEYOND SKYLINE. It’s interesting how that works in the world of streaming.
We try to make them stand alone for that very reason. That was definitely a choice in BEYOND SKYLINE to try to make it like THE ROAD WARRIOR in that, yeah, you could see MAD MAX, but the sequel should be able work on its own.
Those choices and compromises to get these films made, in the end strengthen and focus the work because as you said, the film is just bursting with ideas.
Yeah, I think the London and the UK influence especially helped because that really unlocked the labor and brought in an even more international cast and having that really kind of exposition heavy first reel of the movie. But it’s James Cosmo, Alexander Siddig, and Rhona Mitra delivering all of that to you, and grounding the movie is like, it’s our “cheat code” to get into this movie.
And then having Jonathan Howard, who has this great Northern accent, which is a totally different flavor, but still within the world of our post-apocalyptic Britain. I really, really loved working with all of them. And I agree, I think just having a European flavor in general because we filmed it Lithuania, we have a French GP, we had a Belgian production designer, it makes SKYLINES more distinct.
I completely agree. Speaking of the teams you worked with on this film, could you talk a little bit about how you got involved with the Reel Deal Action team?
Yeah. They came recommended to us by Daniel Bernhardt’s agent. We looked at their reel, and we’re like, “Oh, yeah, hell, yeah.” And we were over in Belgium doing prep, and Matthew and I took a train to Berlin, and they were actually filming the pitch for NOBODY, the Bob Odenkirk film. So, we got to watch them working with Bob and say hello to him. And we’re like, “Okay, these guys seem really cool.” And then, from the experience of working on the second one, we obviously got a taste for martial arts and action filmmaking.
But our schedule was much tighter on part three, and so I never worked with the second unit. Our second unit in BEYOND SKYLINE was mainly inserts and stuff. It was slides and syringes, it wasn’t any action. So that was a harrowing… another one of those things that felt like a compromise that I think ended up working really well and that’s due to the REEL DEAL team. Because it was like, “Okay, well, the main unit is going to shoot Lindsay’s side of the fight, and the second unit is going to shoot over onto the stuntman. And they’re like, “You’re giving me an ulcer. Is this all going to work? Is this all going to cut together?” But luckily it did, and I felt like we got better with figuring it out as we went.
But pretty much everything with the actors in it is the main unit, and everything when you’re kind of going the other direction over them to a creature would be over a stunt double BY the second unit. So that’s how it kind of would work together. And then some days the second unit day would be on a Saturday and the main unit wouldn’t be there like for Yayan’s fights, so I got to go there and work with the guys and have a blast. So, it ended up working out really well.
The REEL DEAL guys are just really talented independent filmmakers. They can do it all. They’re really, really gritty and I ended up casting Chay-Lee Yoon, from their group, as the role of “Zhi”, and he had never really done something like this… He’s been in a ton of movies, but to have an English speaking part, because they’re based out of Germany, that’s their natural language, to then just kind of step into this movie because the original actor had to drop out. So, he had to kind of step in at the last moment. I was really proud of him. And he worked really hard with Daniel Bernhardt behind the scenes on the action. But that’s why those guys are all going to be successful because they’re such hard workers.
Chay-Lee Yoon feels like such a fresh face. He’s done a lot movies before but here because he is in a prominent English language role for the first time, it feels like a discovery.
I saw it the same way too. He’s young and a good-looking guy, which you totally believe that he’s hooking up with Ieva Andrejevaite’s character “Alexi”. I loved adding in that little thing that you don’t normally see, that the science guy on the ship is actually hooking up with this badass blonde warrior. So that was a fun little touch, and I thought he sold that. Ieva was our only real Lithuanian local hire in a main role, and she was just perfect for Alexi. Those two had a lot of great chemistry and that was fun to do a different spin on the romance angle.
The casting in the film is really strong.
That’s great to hear, yeah. I mean, I mean I only worked with Lindsey Morgan for one day on BEYOND SKYLINE I just really believed in her ability to lead this film. I felt the same way about her as I did Frank Grillo. I felt like they’re very similar, authentic presences and tough. They feel physically capable, and they’re not afraid to work really, really hard, which is, I think, what I always respond to in heroes. I want people that bust their ass.
And then you have Jonathan Howard, he was kind of a late miracle where we had another person that ended up not working out scheduling-wise. And he has the same agent as Daniel Bernhardt. And he said, “You got to see this Jonathan guy.” And to have a guy kind of step in last minute like that and be able to do all of his own stunts. I mean he had a stunt double but he ended up not really having to do anything for Jonathan.
There’s something I absolutely loved about BEYOND SKYLINE that I was thrilled to see return here and that’s the blooper reel over the end credits. What led to you doing that? At a glance, it seems at odds with tone of the films but it actually works very well.
Well, one, it was the fact that bloopers on the second one were so good that once we started cutting it together, it was like, well, these are just hysterical because the creatures were falling over all the time and stuff like that. So, I think it probably started there and it was a little bit of I wanted to do… something a little like the “curtain call” end credits from the original PREDATOR, you know?
I feel like if you did the curtain call for PREDATOR in a modern movie, people would be weirded out. Every actor just turns and smiles at the camera after they’ve been brutally murdered on the screen. I felt like the blooper were a way to get away with that. People really responded to it in the BEYOND SKYLINE and I think there’s a couple of meanings to it. One is that it’s, unfortunately, the death of physical media, even though we’re lucky enough to have Blu-rays and DVDs. Whatever’s going to be in the movie is what most people are going to see. And so, there’s no special features on Netflix, right?
So if you see it on Netflix, you’re getting best special feature at the credits, I’m going to put it into the movie so that you can enjoy that look into how much work was done on the movie. You can see, wow, that is a beautifully built set. But then, wow, that whole wall was the green screen and, that guy, those eyes they’re not there, they’re just these LEDs, and that’s not there. Oh, they had to imagine that. Oh, they’re falling over there. You get to see the base color before we actually get in there and hand adjust the colors on every single frame of the movie.
So to me, it’s kind of a tribute to the whole crew in a fun way. Just to give that the feeling of what everybody had when they were making it. I showed it to all the cast to get their okay, and everyone was just like, “Ah, man, I just miss making this movie. I miss everybody so much.” That was everybody’s same exact reaction, and that made me really happy.
It has you leaving the films on such a positive note.
That’s how plays are. My brother is an actor, so I grew up going to plays all the time. I always loved the curtain call. I loved when people came up, and then would be like, “Oh, I love the scarecrow in this rendition of WIZARD OF OZ, and I’m going to clap really hard when he does his bow.” I’ve seen some people that get upset by it, and I’m just like, “Do you realize this is all made by humans, and it’s make believe?” IT IS okay to acknowledge that.
I certainly appreciate it. I love seeing the “behind the scenes” stuff, and the lightheartedness of it. Because you are right, it is a curtain call. It’s a moment for you to sit back say, “Look at how much fun they had, but look at all the work that went into this… “
Yeah. That was important to me. We thanked everybody in the credits from the cast and crew from of all three films. I didn’t want anyone to feel left out or unappreciated. Because we just wouldn’t be there for each one without them, everybody had to put the work each time in order for this thing to kind of grow to where it has. So that’s my most emotional moment of the film. I’m just really, really proud of everybody that somehow we pulled this off.
As we wrap up, what’s next for you, Liam?
The next is hopefully this film, ABOMINATION, which is an arctic survival creature horror film in World War II setting. It’s kind of a darker, existential dread, horror story but still has some of that adventure and creature work that I love doing. And building an alien planet on sound stages just kind of gave me some insight on how to build an arctic set movie as well.
And then, THE LAST SAVAGE is still the one that… That’s my “white whale” that I’m chasing. That’s the post-apocalyptic martial arts gladiator film set in Indonesia after a cataclysm that Derek Kolstad, screenwriter of the “John Wick” movies did the latest draft of with me. So hopefully, when SKYLINES comes out, people like it, and I can convince money people that I could do that movie for the budget I’m asking for. Then, of course, there’s always another chapter of “Skyline” saga, if the audience is there to support it. I’d be more than happy to come back and continue making these movies because they’re the most fun.
I eagerly await all of it. Liam, thanks so much for taking time to talk with me. I wish you nothing but success.
Thank you. Give my best to Eoin and everyone at TheActionElite.com.
Vertical Entertainment will release SKYLINES In Select Theaters, On Digital and VOD December 18, 2020.