Interview: Director Abe Forsythe on Little Monsters

A school trip takes a turn for the bloody when zombies come crashing in.

We sat down with director Abe Forsythe to discuss his new film Little Monsters, starring Lupita Nyong’o, Josh Gad and Alexander England.

Where did this project start for you?

This project began when my son went to kindergarten. He has some health conditions, some of which are some severe food allergies, and he had never been out of my care until he had been to kindergarten. It was a big deal for me to untrust his care to somebody else, and he got very lucky with his teacher, who didn’t only look out for his health needs but also opened up his world for the first time. And one day, I found myself in a school excursion with him, his teacher and 25 other kids, and an idea came to me: what if we found ourselves in a zombie apocalypse? How would we protect these children? And how do we stop their brains from being corrupted by the world around them? And from that, the movie just flowed out of me. And if a zombie apocalypse were to break out, I am okay with my son’s kindergarten teacher looking out for him.

The dynamic between the cast was great. What was it like to work with them?

Working with the cast was pretty special on this. They each approach things in very different ways, but they all end up in the same place. Lupita Nyong’o who plays Miss Caroline, Alexander England who plays Dave, and Josh Gad who plays Teddy McGiggle, they have very different characters, who find themselves in situations they weren’t expecting, and the depth they bring to their characters amongst the outrageous things that happen around them was a real joy to witness.

The role of Miss Caroline is very different for Lupita, did you always have her in mind?

Lupita was just an unrealistic swing that we took, and she was the ultimate person I wanted for this role. Because I would feel okay with my son in a zombie apocalypse if Lupita was his kindergarten teacher. It was something we never thought would actually happen, but when the script was put in front of her she just connected with a bunch of things that were very important to me in this movie. This isn’t a zombie movie, it’s a movie that has zombies in it. And Miss Caroline teaches the kids, and the audience, a lot through the movie. Lupita was in my mind the only actor who was able to do that in a truthful, grounded and strong way.

The wardrobe in the film is quite striking — Lupita’s yellow dress, Josh’s green suit. What was the thought process behind that?

The wardrobe is very consciously designed in a way which makes it very pop-y and fun, but also says a lot about the characters and how they change. Miss Caroline, she wears a bright yellow dress that represents the sun, and the kids school uniforms are blue, representing the sky. And that sunny uniform that she wears gets splattered with blood and is broken down as the movie progresses. For the Teddy McGiggle character, the same thing happens to his bright green polkadot suit, in that it gets progressively disheveled the more dangerous he becomes as a character. Wardrobe is a great way of being able to make interesting statements and to give you a key into who the characters are that are wearing the clothes.

Lupita’s ukulele cover of ‘Shake It Off’ is such a fun take on the song. How easy was it to license a track by Taylor Swift?

At the end of my son’s end of school performance, a ukulele band came out and they started playing ‘Shake It Off’ in the ukulele. I had never heard the song before, and if I had heard it, I had never registered it until I heard 20 kids in a ukulele orchestra playing it, it was like the most profound thing that I had ever heard. And when I went home, I wrote it into the script. I couldn’t imagine making the movie without that song, and it was one of the things Lupita connected to too. We tried for a good 6–8 months to get the rights to ‘Shake It Off’, we tried approaching Taylor directly, her management, the label, everyone, and we just couldn’t get anywhere. When lupita was cast in the movie, I told her we were having difficulty with ‘Shake It Off’, and she couldn’t comprehend making that movie without that song. And she said ‘I met Taylor once, I will write her a letter!’ and I asked, ‘What are you going to say to her?’ and she just said ‘I’m just not going to give her the option of turning us down.’ She sent Taylor an email, and 24 hours later, we had the rights to shake it off.

Finally, the zombie genre doesn’t seem to be going away any time soon. Why are we so interested in zombies?

It feels like we have reached saturation point with zombies. That was an appealing thing to me, using zombies, because I didn’t feel like I needed to explain them. All you need to know is if they are fast or slow. So the fact that zombies are just part of our culture gave me the license to just get on with the story. I don’t know why we are so fascinated with them, but it’s very easy to come up with a metaphor for what a zombie could be. And zombie films give you a fun way to explore whatever that metaphor is.

And there is a real truth to how the film approaches the world of kids. Could you have made this film pre becoming a father?

Not only could I have not made this movie before becoming a dad, I could not have conceived this movie before being a dad. It’s specifically what this movie is about, and the lesson of this movie for me is all tied to my experience of being a father. And it has been a great thing to share with audiences. What my son has taught me, I have since discovered, is something that many people have experienced in different ways. He has taught me something that is universal and really beautiful about the human condition. And what this movie does is to try to remind people of everything a child can teach us about the world, and maybe if we were looking at the world through the eyes of a child, we would be living in a very different world.

LITTLE MONSTERS is out on DVD and Blu-Ray February 10th!

UK & IE Distribution arm of Altitude Film Entertainment. Coming soon: @rocksthefilm, @DavidALifeFilm, Calm With Horses & more!