Going against the grain With (PFX): An Interview with “Harbinger Down” Filmmakers Alec Gillis And Tom Woodruff Jr.

Courtesy of "Harbinger Down"
Courtesy of “Harbinger Down”

By: Adrienne Vaught

Edited By : Colleen Page

Harbinger Down (2015) is the exciting and refreshing Sci-Fi thriller that is set to chill you to your very bones! In this epic tale we find ourselves trapped in an icy world with a terrifying monster. Marooned in the Bearing Sea a group of grad students dredge up the bottom of the sea and a lot more than they bargained for! Just who and how will they survive?This is totally a practical effects (PFX) film only absolutely no CGI.


I had the extreme pleasure of speaking with the creators of Harbinger Down (2015) Alec Gillis and Tom Woodruff Jr. Alec explained that the inspiration for this film came directly from the fans of Practical Effects (PFX) and is his and Tom’s love letter to Aliens, The Thing and especially to the fans. Having done some films where in the final cut much of their work had been replaced by CGI to say the least was heart breaking for everyone who had worked so hard. Tom and Alec through the platform of Kickstarter and the support of fans and those who believe in the work they do were able to show the world (and Hollywood) that you don’t always need CGI.

Why no CGI?

Alec Gillis: What the human mind knows is this: Instinctively we know what is real and what is computer generated no matter how advanced the graphics become. What CGI will never do that PFX can is move through space and time. This enriches the emotional response of the audience more effectually drawing them into the story. The impact on all the senses is more intense.

This is what these two brilliant PFX artists know and believe with a deep passion. Having been at the forefront of this creative process in the heyday of the 1980’s on movies such as Aliens, The Terminator, The Monster Squad, Predator and many others; they probably know what they are talking about. What Hollywood doesn’t grasp is that there is a world of people out there that defy the demographics and crave just exactly what Alec and Tom provide in the creative and tactile world of their company Amalgamated Dynamics Inc. (ADI). The same people who love Avatar will love and appreciate Harbinger Down and Fire City: Interpreter of Signs. There are equal amounts of; on the edge of your seat drama and thrilling realistic monster action.

What would make me want to see this movie?

AG: It has everything a great Sci-Fi monster thriller should have not just a series of effects but a story that the effects move forward. You become invested in what happens to these characters, plus you get the thrill that only a PFX monster can provide because it is a real character.

Alec described Harbinger Down and City on Fire: Interpreter of Signs (another incredible PFX film by ADI) as comfort food for the PFX enthusiast and the start of a renaissance for this genre of film.

 Why do you make these films?

AG: For the JOY of it. Isn’t that the only reason there should be?

Exactly right!

When I spoke with Tom Woodruff Jr. I was able to ask him some deeply personal questions.

What is the most satisfying part of making these films?

Tom Woodruff Jr: Being able to throw myself 100 percent into the creative process and watching it come to life. I never think about the next project while I am in the midst of a current project. I am fully present and give my all to the one I am in at the moment.

Since you are in the “scare” business what scares you?

TW: I used to answer this somewhat glibly when asked this question in the past. However, it is a reasonable and valid question. I find that as I move through life what scares me is not being able to continue what I feel so passionately about and have made my life’s work. That someday I will feel like I have said all there is to say. So far I can’t see that happening.

That brings me to my next question: What stories and worlds do you still want to explore?

TW: I love the idea of going back into history… Lots of good ideas there…

A question just for me. What was Halloween like at your house?

TW: Like nothing I could ever even of imagined when I was a little boy and first fell in love with monsters in the movies.

Both Alec and Tom are very grateful to the fans of PFX and to Kickstarter for the ability to tell the stories that may never have been able to be told otherwise and the ability to do it their way. And for my part and many others who love PFX we are profoundly grateful. Thank you Alec Gillis, Tom Woodruff Jr. and the Team at Amalgamated Design Inc. for keeping it real and keeping us on the edge of our seats! [TAOMR]