'Earth to Echo' aims to revive an '80s movie genre

Jim Slotek, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 12:21 PM ET

Kids encounter a cute, stranded alien, and gain its trust. Meanwhile, sinister government types want to “study” it.

Earth to Echo wears its bloodlines openly – up to and including a poster with a glowing hand and extended finger. And at age 13, star Teo Halm is more than familiar with the kids-with-a-secret genre.

“Even though it was before my generation, I grew up watching ET over and over,” the young up-and-comer says. “And when I was cast in this movie, I’d just seen Stand by Me, which was pretty coincidental. I loved Super 8. We were trying to capture the tone of all those throwback movies.”

Of course, these are different times. Earth to Echo takes place on the last night before a suburban subdivision is about to be torn down to accommodate a superhighway. And four friends, Alex (Halm), techno-geek Munch (Reese Hartwig), wannabe filmmaker Tuck (kid-rapper Astro) and their gal-pal Emma (Ella Wahlestedt) decide to check out whatever’s making all the smart-phones in town go crazy.

Much of the exchange between them consists of onscreen texts, and even some of the on-the-run footage is shot on their smart-phones. Thirtysomething director Dave Green (the online series Zombie Roadkill) admits the kids often doubled as translators for the scriptwriters.

“A lot of the time on the set I would defer to the kids. I wanted to create an environment for them to feel free to criticize my old man ideas,” Green says with a laugh.

“Dave and the writer Henry (Gayden) were super cool about us putting in our opinions,” Halm says. “Say there was a line that we as kids would never say, we’d say, ‘Uh, I don’t think we’d say that.’ Y’know, straight up.

“Like if we were meeting up with each other, it would say, ‘Hey man, how’s it going?’ which is way too formal. We’d change it to ‘S’up, bro?’ Stuff like that.”

“They took the Shakespeare right out of it,” Green adds, wryly.

Of course, it all comes down to the alien. Unlike ET, Earth to Echo shows its cards right on the poster. Echo is partly robotic and owl-like – kind of like Bubo in the original Clash of the Titans (for those old enough to remember such things).

Green hints that the “reveal” is something he’d rather have saved as a surprise.

“We spend a great deal of the movie without seeing this character. And there’s a lot of anxiety about whether he’s going to be scary or vicious. Obviously he’s not. The poster definitely shows you what he looks like, but we had a screening last night, and having seen the poster, people still went ‘Awwww’ when they saw him.”

“He may look cute, but he’s pretty bad-ass. He does take a truck apart,” Halm adds.

The first concepts of Echo, Green says, were “baby owls, frogs, tarsier monkeys. I gave a bunch of animal references to some creature illustrators and they came back scary or wormlike. But then there was Ross Tran, a student at Arts Centre (College of Design in Pasadena), a friend of a friend, who was 19. He did these fast pencil sketches. And his very first illustration became the template we used.”

As with the characters in the film, Halm says Earth to Echo was a long goodbye. “We shot the scene in the spaceship on the last day, I was really emotional, so when I had to tear up, that was easy. Maybe two takes.

“It really felt that day like we were all moving on to the next chapter in our lives.”

Earth to Echo opens in theatres July 2.

Twitter: @jimslotek

Jim.slotek@sunmedia.ca

 


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