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‘Earth to Echo’ is one of those little films that actually captures your imagination and is entertaining without the usual superheroes or mass explosions that seem to saturate movie theaters. The film is about a group of friends who want to go on one last adventure before they all move away and decide to find out what’s behind the strange occurrences that is messing up their cell phones. It’s being touted as ‘E.T’ meets ‘Stand by Me’ with a little ‘Super 8’ mixed in. One of the reasons the film works can be easily attributed to the young lead actors of the film. ScienceFiction.com was fortunate to be able to speak to Teo Halm (Alex), Reese Hartwig (Munch), Brian “Astro” Bradley (Tuck) and Ella Wahlestedt (Emma) as they revealed their favorite moments, hardships and their real life friendships while filming the movie.
In order to get a more realistic feel that the four actors were friends in front of the camera, the filmmakers, director David Green and producer Andrew Panay, had the kids just hang out together to help form a bond that would translate through the big screen:
Ella Wahlestedt (EW): We had a week before we actually started filming. We ended up doing a week of rehearsals with a coach and then we also went to Universal City Walk and we did the Indoor Skydiving there which was really fun. We also went bowling and ate some Italian food and bonded over that a little bit prior to filming.
Brian “Astro” Bradley (BB): (after someone asked if their phones were taken away to remove distractions from their bonding time…) Did they take our phones? Everyone keeps saying that. I don’t remember them taking away my phone.
Teo Helm (TH): I would not let them take my phone! (everyone laughs) I can say we’re really good friends now and were, especially when we started because it was for all of us our first big production and we had a collective nervousness and I think that definitely helped us bond.
Surprisingly, Green, allowed quite a bit of improve and input from the cast to bring out a more natural and believable tone to the film:
TH: [Writer] Henry [Gayden] and Dave [Green] did a really good job at keeping the script kind of natural and they were not afraid to doubt themselves and ask if lines didn’t sound natural. They were open to suggestions. It was a calm set and we weren’t afraid to voice our opinions.
Reese Hartwing (RH): Most kid/child star films, most of the time you just have to be a kid, so the less acting and the more being a kid you are, the more natural and real it seems. It worked out like that for the movie which really helped.
EW: With movies you have more freedom. We talked to the director and he was open to suggestions. If something didn’t sound natural, he was open to changing it. We talked to Henry too. Kudos to them. They were awesome to work with.
Of course, the “star” of the film is the alien, Echo. Since he wasn’t at this press conference, the teens were asked what it was like working with him:
TH: We had to be careful. The Legacy Effect, the crew who made him, had to harness him. I was the one that held him most of the time when we used the animatronic one and I’m really clumsy myself and they always say “Teo, if you drop that you’re fired.” When you are looking at the cute little guy it’s easier to act when he’s actually in your hand, the animatronic one, rather than when you are using CGI.
While there were a lot of fun times filming the movie, the cast were asked what were some of the challenges of filming:
TH: The heat! Since most of the movie took place at night, our characters were geared up to wear heavy clothes so we ranged from wearing 3 layers to Reese having to wear 8 layers of clothing and we had parkas and ski hoodies and stuff. It was fine until we had the day we had to shoot inside the construction site. It was 115 degrees. We were shooting in Santa Clarita. We couldn’t have AC because of the shots. It was so hot!
RH: I got heat stroke one time. We were working!
EW: Definitely the CGI. Pretending something is there when it really isn’t, just because it’s left to our imagination, it makes our jobs as actors harder, but it is ultimately our job.
BB (jokingly): For me, one of the main challenges was waking up early. The other is the motto on the set, on any movie set, is hurry up and wait. I’m young and I like moving around and playing and being active all the time and they call you to the set and you have to sit there for 30 minutes until they get the camera ready… other than that, there was really no other challenges. It was pretty much fun.
The cast were also asked if they could be any of the four characters in the film, who would they be?
RH: I definitely grew with Munch on making sure he was on our side not trying to eat us or invade us. Always got to ask that question first. I do like his aspect of always being prepared and always being ready for anything. He takes it to the next level. He’s super loyal and very innocent.
TH: I’m not my character! I’m the polar opposite. Alex is shy and never wants to talk about stuff and I’m super talkative and never want to shut up. I’m Tuck’s character. I like to film everything. I’m tech savvy and stuff like that.
BB: I’m sorta like Tuck. I don’t go so hard on filming and spy glasses. I used to film little comedy skits with my friends and put them on YouTube but I lost my camera…. And he’s very ambitious and he’s from New York and I’m from New York too.
Of course, since the film is about four kids helping to bring an alien back to his ship so he can go home, the question of whether any of them believed in extraterrestrial life?
RH: The thing to remember is that we all live in the Matix so it really doesn’t matter. (laughs) Other than that, it definitely is a possibility if the universe is infinite. There’s a chance. Maybe.
Lastly, the teens were asked what they hoped audiences would take away from the film:
EW: It’s a very family friendly movie. I think anyone can see it. It appeals to younger kids with Echo being so cute and cuddly you just want to hug him but it’s also nostalgic to the older adults in bringing back the 80s movie genre. I think it is appealing to all ages which is really unique. And it involves technology which is so evident in our lives today. I mean…YouTube, Twitter, Instagram… it plays a huge role in our society.
RH: Another thing is that friendship and teamwork can be powerful enough to find an alien, save it, help find a space ship… like, that’s the main thing.