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Adam Wingard Returns to the MonsterVerse with ‘Godzilla x Kong’

When “Godzilla x Kong: The New Empire” director Adam Wingard first set foot on the set of 2019’s “Godzilla: King of Monsters” in preparation for his MonsterVerse debut with “Godzilla vs. Kong” (2021), he didn’t know what to expect. “I felt very intimidated when I got hired on ‘Godzilla vs. Kong,'” Wingard told IndieWire’s Filmmaker Toolkit podcast.

“You do these indie movies, and you’re used to a certain size. So what does it mean when you get to the biggest level of movies where you’re over $100 million?” When Wingard arrived on the “King of Monsters” set in Atlanta, he was immediately struck by the size of the production: “The footprint was big, big, big.”

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Yet, as Wingard moved from the trailers to craft services and got deeper into the soundstage, he made an interesting discovery. “I kept getting closer and closer to set, and things started looking more and more familiar,” he said. “And ultimately, the actual set was just big enough to accommodate exactly what you’re used to on an indie movie. That was an amazing moment because I realized that it doesn’t matter if you’re doing a film for hundreds of millions of dollars or five million; at the end of the day, you’re just trying to get stuff in front of the camera, and you’re photographing it. All that stuff around the edge is white noise, because as a director you’re not managing that, you’re managing the people. So that was an interesting moment, and I felt completely relieved from that point on.”

Wingard’s indie sensibility intersecting with the resources of a massive studio production provides many of the key pleasures in “Godzilla x Kong: The New Empire,” a film that retains a personal, idiosyncratic sense of humor and attention to behavior that never get buried beneath the effects. Wingard said he directs his actors the same way as he would on an indie, but keeping things relaxed is sometimes easier said than done. “I try to create a loose environment, but there are sequences every week where you know that half of the set is going to be green screen,” the director said. “We try to always build at least some of the set, but there are a lot of days where [the actors] are reacting to monsters off-screen.”

GODZILLA X KONG: THE NEW EMPIRE, from left: Dan Stevens, Brian Tyree Henry, 2024. © Warner Bros. / Courtesy Everett Collection
‘Godzilla x Kong’©Warner Bros/Courtesy Everett Collection

To give the actors something to respond to, Wingard often found himself playing the roles of King Kong or Godzilla. “I have to give them a lot of sound cues, so we usually have a big PA system set up,” Wingard said. “Generally, I have a microphone, and I’m either just yelling ‘Roar!’ or I’m actually roaring into the microphone. Sometimes I have sound effects pre-prepared and I’ll play those to help them out.”

Wingard had to modify this approach when it came to Kaylee Hottle, who plays the deaf character Jia and is deaf herself. “Usually whenever you’re doing these sequences where they’re having to react to something imaginary, you’re giving them verbal cues, so we had to come up with a system where we had lights off screen flashing to Kaylee that somebody would hit whenever I was cueing the actors. Sometimes we had people on ladders waving to Kaylee so she would know when to look. Everybody had to be synchronized, and that gets a little complicated.”

For Wingard, a motivating factor in returning to the MonsterVerse was applying what he learned on his initial foray into big-budget, effects-driven filmmaking. “There’s no way to plan for the complexity of a movie like this,” he said. “I got to the end of ‘Godzilla vs. Kong,’ and I felt like I was just getting the swing of it. Not just in terms of the visual effects themselves, but the ins and outs of having the confidence to know what an eyeline for a monster should be from somebody on the ground level and everything in between. I came into this film knowing more about how to use the tools and with the desire to really push the visual effects and the animation.”

As for whether Wingard would return for a third Godzilla and Kong story, the director is clearly more enthusiastic than ever about the world and the filmmaking technology used to create it. “I know what I would like to do with the next one,” he said. “There’s definitely more ground to cover.”

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