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Tuesday
Mar132018

LIVING SPACE: THE STEVEN SPIEL INTERVIEW

What begins as a cheeky nod to slasher film tropes ascends to all-out supernatural terror in Living Space, the accomplished feature debut of Melbourne-based writer/director Steven Spiel. A double-helix narrative that turns back on and into itself with increasingly skilful dexterity, Living Space reps a rare Australian foray into the horror of Nazi imagery set against a stylistically European landscape; the authentic aesthetic helped the film find favour at the recent European Film Market in Berlin, the first stop on a global sales roll-out that includes the all-important Marche du Film in Cannes in May. SCREEN-SPACE spoke with Spiel ahead of his film’s World Premiere, held in Sydney over the weekend as part of the Monster Fest ‘Travelling Sideshow’ program…

SCREEN-SPACE: Before the narrative amps up into some truly nightmarish moments, you have a lot of fun with the target audience’s appreciation of familiar horror set-ups…  

SPIEL: Brad (Leigh Scully) and Ashley (Georgia Chara) play a young American couple travelling through the heartland of Germany when their car breaks down in the middle of the countryside, forcing them to find protection in an abandoned property nearby. But, once inside, they find it is the home of a dead Nazi and his deceased family. So they go through a far amount of torment from that point on. It goes deeper and we use a great deal more psychological elements to flesh out the story, but that’s a basic outline.

SCREEN-SPACE: As the chilling ‘Officer’, actor Andy McPhee brings to life a truly memorable screen villain. What inspired the creation of such evil personified?

SPIEL: When I set out to write the film, I thought hard about whom the antagonist should be. I am really quite fearful of military iconography, that sort of grand authority figures, and the most frightening of all those types are the German SS officers of World War 2. So I threw all the familiar aspects of that imagery into the mix and the villain and the narrative grew from there. We use war footage in the film, because I wanted to acknowledge that we understood and were deeply respectful of the horrors of that period. But this is not any type of political statement at all; we just set out to make a solidly entertaining horror film. (Pictured, right; Andy McPhee, as Officer, with Georgia Chara in Living Space).

SCREEN-SPACE: Is horror a passion of yours, or was there one-eye on the genre’s international sales potential when you were deciding on your debut feature?

SPIEL: Well, it’s both actually. I’ve always been very passionate about horror. It’s a genre I have always enjoyed watching and I think when anyone sets out to make a film they should strive to make a movie that they would also like to watch. The characters, the arc have to be something that I would find intriguing. It is as crucial to the writing of the story as it is to the watching of the finished film.

SCREEN-SPACE: I’m assuming the indie-horror budget didn’t stretch to shooting in Germany…

SPIEL: We shot in Geelong, in Victoria, over a 12-day period. We got the whole cast and crew accommodated in Geelong, somehow. All the aerial footage, the countryside, everything that you see in the film is regional Victoria doubling as Germany. I worked very closely with our cinematographer, Branco Grabovic, and the post-production colouring team, both researching the look and feel of the German landscape and applying that knowledge to the final colour grading on the film. Being an independent film, we couldn’t get everyone over to Germany, which would’ve been ideal (laughs) but I think we executed it pretty well. (Pictured, left; cinematographer Branco Grabovic, left, with his director)

SCREEN-SPACE: You’ve stated that you don’t really want Living Space labelled ‘Nazi-exploitation’, despite your clever use of the iconography. What are the genre films and filmmakers that have influenced the story and mood of Living Space?

SPIEL: One that immediately springs to mind is Christopher Smith’s Triangle, with Melissa George. It’s a fascinating film that is both structurally complex and very entertaining. I’d also say Scorsese’s Shutter Island. These are films that explore the darker corners of psychology, unfold as engrossing mysteries, and end with a twist of some kind. All of my short films have that twist in the end, some sort of development that catches audiences off guard, and they have all informed what I’ve done in Living Space.

LIVING SPACE will screen in Brisbane, Melbourne, Adelaide and Geelong as part of the 2018 Monster Fest Travelling Sideshow. For venues, dates and session times, check the official Monster Fest website.

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