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Monarch: Legacy of Monsters Director Matt Shakman on Exploring the World of Godzilla and Kong from New Eyes

Fans of classic movie monsters like Universal’s King Kong and the Toho Studios Godzilla are likely to have been quite thrilled with how those monsters have become more prominent over the past decade as Legendary Pictures has created a whole new Monsterverse surrounding them, both in film and in comics.

Now, Legendary Pictures has teamed with Apple TV+ for the new ten-episode series, Monarch: Legacy of Monsters, which looks at the enigmatic company that seems to be heavenly involved with keeping Godzilla and other “MUTOs” (Massive Unidentified Terrestrial Organisms) at bay. The series tells the origins of Monarch through multiple time periods, the first one taking place after Godzilla and the Titans destroyed San Francisco, as seen in Gareth Edwards’ 2014 Godzilla movie. The other one takes place in the ‘50s where Army officer Lee Shaw (Wyatt Russell) is hired to guide Japanese science Dr. Keiko Miura (Mari Yamamoto) on an explorative journey in the Philippines where they encounter the earliest MUTOs. In the present day, a group of Keiko’s relatives (Ren WatabeAnna Sawai) seek out Shaw (played in the present-day by Kurt Russell) to learn the secrets of their mother’s early explorations.

Matt Shakman, the Emmy nominated director and exec. producer of Marvel Television’s WandaVision, was brought on board to direct the first two episodes of Monarch: Legacy of Monsters, which slowly introduces us to these new characters in this familiar world.

Above the Line got to chat with Shakman for quite a brief interview about his work on Monarch.

Matt Shakman

Above the Line: I’ll start with what might be the most obvious question, which probably answers itself: what got you interested in directing a series in the world of Godzilla? I guess anyone who loves Godzilla would not say “no” to doing anything in that world. 

Matt Shakman: I love Godzilla, and yes, who doesn’t love Godzilla? I’d loved Godzilla since I was a kiddo. I have very fond memories of watching the original Toho movie with my dad, on the couch in Ventura, California. That is definitely one of the big reasons, but the script and the approach that Matt Fraction and Chris Black, who created the show, the way they’re framing this world was so surprising and fresh to me, that the idea of this multigenerational family drama and mystery set against the world of monsters, it was impossible to turn down. As a filmmaker, it just has so many different challenges, from the drama to the large-scale action to jumping around from continent to continent, that it really was just a joy to make.

ATL: Did you actually end up shooting in Tokyo or Japan, or even at TohoStudios?

Shakman: Yes, we did not shoot all of it there, but we did shoot in Tokyo, and we did visit Toho, which is an incredible studio and the history there is amazing and standing under the big Seven Samurai Kurosawa mural. We did shoot in Tokyo for several weeks, and that is special, as a Godzilla fan, to realize that you’re making a Godzilla project in Tokyo, that you’re a part of that continuity. That’s definitely one for the bucket list. We shot in British Columbia, in Vancouver, kind of on glaciers and in deserts. We shot in the jungles of Hawaii, so we went to a lot of places to try to bring this world to life.

Wyatt Russell, Mari Yamamoto in Monarch: Legacy of Monsters (Legendary/Apple TV+)

ATL: It makes references to Gareth EdwardsGodzilla movie, too, so were they any concerns about jumping into that world that’s already been set-up, maybe not so much for Monarch?

Shakman: I think Gareth Edwards is a fantastic filmmaker. I love his Godzilla movie, Rogue One, I think The Creator is gorgeous. He’s a brilliant filmmaker, and yes, I wanted to honor what he had created. I mean, we were specifically trying to say, “Hey, if you’re watching that movie, imagine jumping to the other side of the bridge. There’s a whole world of stories that can be told, based on what’s happening in this event,” so we were trying to match his continuity, his choreography, but then say, “Hey, there’s a million stories that launch from this one traumatic event, and we happen to be following Kate.” Trying to honor his work. Also, Jordan Vogt Roberts, who’s a great filmmaker, Kong: Skull Island, we open the first episode on Skull Island, honoring what he did there with John Goodman. It’s a project that honors a lot of the past, because it is about the past. It’s about legacy. It’s about how things are passed down, but it was also about creating something totally new and fresh. I think, as a director, that was super exciting to be able to create our own style, to see the monsters from the human point of view, to be down on the street level with them. But at the same time to try to honor what those other folks had created

ATL: Did Chris and Matt have the scripts for all ten episodes already, or did you just get the scripts for the first two episodes and know where things were going?

Shakman: Chris and Matt had been working so hard on this for many years longer than I have been involved. They had worked out this beautiful, complicated, elegant tapestry. When I came in, we did know where this was all headed. We knew exactly where it was all going, so they had worked it all out like a beautiful puzzle

ATL: I’m always interested in these series when there are multiple directors. I think with WandaVision, you were able to direct the entire series if I remember it right.

Shakman: I did, yes.

ATL:  How did it work in this case, where you have other directors. Did you have sets which they had to shoot on with the same actors, but had you finished your two episodes first before they start doing the rest of the series?

Shakman: I shot Episodes One and Two at the same time, and finished those, and then the next director came in to do three and four. I had already had a chance to set up a look , a tone, a style, a methodology, how we were going to approach things and to have those conversations with the next filmmaker coming in, to say, “This is the lay of the land. This is the tone and the style that we’re going for.” And then, of course, that filmmaker can bring his or her own special perspective to it as well. But at least they understand how the show is being constructed. That’s how this project was made. I have worked on Game of Thrones, where we have directors all working at the same time. In that case, it was like what you’re talking about where actors were flying from Iceland to Spain and Spain to Ireland, and everyone was making it all at the same time. But no, this was done as a proper sort of pilot first and then episodes after.

A scene from Monarch: Legacy of Monsters with Kurt Russell (L) and Kiersey Clemons (Legendary/Apple TV+)

ATL:  Were you fully involved with casting the actor and getting Kurt and Wyatt Russell to play the same character, which was kind of genius? I’m sure that’s something they might do again, since it felt so good.

Shakman: Yes, absolutely. That was another thing that was hugely exciting. I love Kurt Russell. I love Wyatt — I think Wyatt’s a great actor, and I admire his work so much. But who doesn’t love Escape from New York and The Thing and all these amazing movies that I grew up loving. They had been offered father-son stuff before, but they had not ever been offered the idea of creating one character and playing it in two different time periods. It’s always super fun to watch them have this father-son experiences, this joint family project, and to borrow from what each other does. They’re very different actors and to create this character that could meet in the middle, that was fun. I don’t know that they’ll ever do it again, I mean, outside of Monarch, which I did think was pretty special.

ATL: I got to see The Marvels last night, including Teyonnah, who you worked with on WandaVision, but also the work of your Emmy-nominated VFX Supe Tara DeMarco, who did the VFX for WandaVision. Do you think you might work with her again on Fantastic Four?

Shakman: I loved her, she’s amazing and super talented. She is not my visual effects supervisor on Fantastic Four, but she’s super-talented, and she has been busy finishing up The Marvels, which she’s done a great job on. I have not seen the finished version, but I have seen some of the shots and obviously trailers and stuff and can tell she’s been doing some amazing work.

The first two episodes of Monarch: Legacy of Monsters are now streaming on Apple TV+ with new episodes airing every Wednesday.

Edward Douglas
Edward Douglas
Edward Douglas has written about movies for print and the internet for over 20 years, specializing in box office analysis, reviews, and interviews. Currently, he writes features for Below the Line and Above the Line, acting as Associate Editor for the former and Interim Editor for the latter.
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