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Q&A: “ALIEN OUTPOST” Director Jabbar Raisani

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For a filmmaker like Jabbar Raisani, a project like ALIEN OUTPOST is a no-brainer. With a background doing VFX for projects throughout Hollywood and Television, the technical side of the equation is almost a non-issue for Raisani, which allows him to spend his time developing as a director. Luckily, in doing so, Raisani creates a futuristic environment in ALIEN OUTPOST that’s as realistic as it is intense. FANGORIA caught up with Raisani on the eve of the film’s release to talk ALIEN OUTPOST, GAME OF THRONES and what’s next for the burgeoning filmmaker…

FANGORIA: So how exactly did you come aboard ALIEN OUTPOST?

JABBAR RAISANI: It started in 2011, specifically. Blake Clifton, the co-writer, and I were sharing ideas with what each other wanted to write and ALIEN OUTPOST is what stuck. I come from a military background: my father spent years in the Air Force and was there until he retired. Blake’s family also had a military background, so we thought, “We both come from military families, we both like the idea and we’re both huge fans of science fiction.” So we put two and two together and what came out of it was ALIEN OUTPOST.

FANGORIA: The film seems very informed by recent military documentaries; what influenced the visual approach to the film?

RAISANI: Well, I’d known Eddie Yang for years; we worked at the same VFX studio for IRON MAN and ever since we’ve kept in touch. He hired me to work on MAN OF STEEL a few years ago and I knew that I wanted to hire him to work on something as soon as I could. ALIEN OUTPOST was really my first chance to do that.

I spoke to a lot of people trying to get a sense about what war will look like in the future. If aliens were to attack, they’d decimate our science, so it’s not like we’re going to have flying cars and laser guns, and they would stop us from advancing. So I thought we should ground everything here in the real world and then introduce elements of the future here and there.

FANGORIA: How did you go about coming up with the design and culture of these aliens?

RAISANI: In terms of their look, design and movement, I always knew that I wanted a practical suit. I wanted a real guy in a suit, and we got Douglas Tait, who is a great creature performer. We also had Eddie Yang and Steve Wang, who worked on the original PREDATOR suit and formed Alliance Studios literally to create the suit for this film. So they created this massive creature, 7 feet tall, but I didn’t want it to be running or crawling around all over the base like a horror movie alien.

I wanted our aliens to be like a tank, and I said that from the outset. I wanted them to be big and slow, but I wanted them to be indestructible, and when they shoot, I wanted it to be horrific. So they have these laser guns that are giant and can do insane damage, but they take a while to charge up and shoot. But they don’t need to shoot back at them; everything about these aliens are big, slow and terrifying, so it’s like a mountain is walking at you.

FANGORIA: How did you put together these characters, considering the film is largely these military-type men?

RAISANI: Aside from my family’s military background, I did a lot of research into military lifestyle because I wanted to make these guys like actual characters as opposed to caricatures. They were all going to be military guys who were cut from the same cloth, but they all had to be different and unique. That became something really interesting in casting as well, because it’s not easy to have guys who could read off the page and then make it their own. I had to make sure the actors weren’t too overblown or monotonous; they really needed to have the right personality.

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FANGORIA: Considering your background in VFX, how much of the aliens did you know you were going to do digitally in addition to what you achieved practically?

RAISANI: We knew we needed a CGI face for the aliens, since we knew we couldn’t afford an animatronic face even though the suit came with a working mandible that had two sets of teeth, like a shark. But the eyes didn’t move and the forehead didn’t move, so we knew that we’d have to augment those shots. We also knew the light based energy in the film couldn’t be done on set as well.

So we knew we had to augment that material, but there were also certain shots where traversing the terrain would have been too dangerous because the actors couldn’t find their balance. Also, any scenes where there are multiple Heavies in one shot was shot with one heavy and then we green screened the same heavy in multiple places with the same lighting. And there are also shots where the Heavy is in close proximity to the actors, we sometimes swapped him out to make him look bigger so he could be 14 feet tall instead of 7 feet tall.

FANGORIA: As a director, was there anything specifically you wanted to get right outside of the realm of VFX?

RAISANI: Well, those interview scenes have some of the most intense, emotional performances from the actors. There’s nothing on screen and nothing to distract the viewers; that’s why we chose to do just a black background and just the actors themselves. There’s nowhere to hide the performance from the audience, and those are the scenes that took some time to get right because there’s no base or set or props. It’s just the performances, and it’s my favorite part of the movie. It was also the first stuff that we shot because it really let every actor get in tune with their character.

Blake and I actually wrote a series of questions about the characters in those scenes that we had the actors answer in character, and they don’t even appear in the movie. We just had them do this so they could get a better grip on their character as opposed to what their character is supposed to do in a given scene and what was scripted. And if they knew more about who their character was, they could deliver a better performance in their scene

FANGORIA: If ALIEN OUTPOST is a success, will there be more stories to tell within this universe?

RAISANI: Absolutely. Blake and I mapped out this universe from the beginning to the end, and there’s 2 films after ALIEN OUTPOST that would take us to the end of the story. So we have two movies that would continue this story and we also have an idea for a prequel that would go through the invasion and lead us to where ALIEN OUTPOST begins.

FANGORIA: You’re also one of the VFX supervisors for GAME OF THRONES. Now that the last two episodes of the last season are coming to IMAX, how do you feel about people being able to see your work on the biggest screens possible?

RAISANI: Well, I wouldn’t want to say specifically what happens in those episodes for the people who haven’t seen them, but the 9th episode, which Neil Marshall directed, has some visual sequences that will blow people away and I’m excited to see it on IMAX as much as anyone else. I was a huge fan of the books before I even worked on the show.

FANGORIA: Do you have anything else you’re working on at the moment?

RAISANI: I do! Blake and I are working on some stuff right now, and I also have optioned a series of books called the Jack Sigler series by Jeremy Robinson, and I’m adapting the first book called PULSE.

ALIEN OUTPOST, directed by Jabbar Raisani, is now in select theaters, VOD and iTunes from IFC Midnight.

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About the author
Ken W. Hanley
Ken W. Hanley is the Managing Web Editor for FANGORIA and STARLOG, as well as the former Web Editor for Diabolique Magazine and a contributing writer to YouWonCannes.com. He’s a graduate from Montclair State University, where he received an award for Excellence in Screenwriting. He’s currently working on screenplays, his debut novel "THE I IN EVIL", and various other projects, and can be followed on Twitter: @movieguyiguess.
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