“Earth to Echo” is something of an anomaly in Hollywood. A family friendly film that contains no swearing and a message of friendship and loyalty that may remind viewers of their favorite films from the ‘80s.
“I think on the exterior, I am usually pretty cynical, but at the core, I am pretty big optimist,” director Dave Green told FOX411. “This is a story about kid empowerment and it’s a story about kids feeling like they’re small in their world just like I felt, and every kid felt when they were that age.”
In “Earth to Echo,” a group of kids begin receiving strange, encrypted messages on their mobile phones and decide to investigate the cause. During their adventure, they befriend a very cute alien whom they name Echo all while documenting every moment of their saga on their mobile phones.
“When I was a kid, movies like ‘Ghostbusters’ were movies that I could really latch on to, because the heroes of that movie were using tech that looks really real. It looked like something I could build in my garage,” said Green. “I wanted to the entry point for this movie to be cell phones, because they’re something that everyone on earth has – mostly. If something were to contact us, and you were to go through the same experience and get a signal on your phone – what would you do?”
The idea for the film came from producer Andrew Panany, who drew his inspiration from family favorites like “E.T.,” “The Goonies” and “Stand By Me.” But instead of relying on nostalgia, Panay wanted to showcase the wealth of technology that’s readily available to the current generation.
“Kids today are doing a lot of their own filming and they’re videotaping and Vine-ing,” explained Panay. “There are all these social media outlets and ways of communicating which comes down to turning the camera around and shooting yourself and sending it off. It just makes sense.”
Green, who created his first short film at the age of ten, was also inspired by the wealth of accessible technology available to children.
“It’s amazing to me, because there’s such a difference between making films when I was 13 years old versus now,” said Green. “The kids who are in the movie have a very fluid relationship with the videos that they shoot and the videos that they cut. There’s no limit to what they can or can’t do.”
The protagonist of the film, Tuck, is the one who encourages his friends to search for the cause of the mysterious interference on their mobile phones–and is the main one recording their adventure on the fringes of the Nevada desert.
“I wanted to movie to feel like a document that had been shot by those kids,” said Green. “And if it ever felt too polished or too ‘Hollywood,’ I had failed. So we really wanted the movie to feel organic and real. Even though there was music added, we wanted it to feel like a real experience that those kids had gone on."
The filmmakers took great care in creating Echo, an adorable little alien who communicates with the kids through a series of pulsating lights and beeps.
“We were looking at things that had a lot of giant eyes and a little baby form,” explained Green. “In our discussions we were saying, if Echo has crashed, maybe his eyes have been cracked–how sad would that be and how much would that draw you in–just to see this little Mr. Magoo? He doesn’t know which direction to look, because his eyes are fractured.”
Green sent the production designers images of baby owls and Tarsier monkeys for inspiration. “We wanted to make sure that when the audience finally gets to see Echo, there’s a sigh of relief–and also there’s something that draws you in. You want to take care of this thing, it’s adorable.”
But some of the versions of Echo that the designers created weren’t exactly cuddly.
“There were some really weird ones,” admitted Green. “There was one that looked like a baby octopus mashed with ‘The Thing.’ It had tentacles, but, like, branches and 17 eyes–it was just really freaky. It was hard to understand how a person could connect to it. It was just covered in slime.”
While Echo may be cute, there’s no danger of the character being over-merchandised unlike his predecessor E.T., who in the early eighties found himself on everything from sheet sets to video games. But you might see a huggable version of Echo on store shelves soon–a dreamed realized for the film’s director.
“It’s my fantasy to have a movie where toys are made out of one of the characters,” laughed Green. “But there’s going to be an ‘Echo’ plushie, so I can retire now!”
“Earth to Echo” opens nationwide on July 2.