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Monday
Aug172015

BORN AGAIN: THE BRYN TILLY INTERVIEW

A fascination for the macabre courses through the veins of Bryn Tilly. Between penning horror short stories and overseeing the popular website Cult Projections, the Sydney-based New Zealand expat has been shipping his film, the vampire-themed short Umbra, to genre festivals worldwide. The surreal work has impressed fest organisers; having wowed Australian audiences at underground showings in Sydney, Melbourne, Perth and Brisbane, the global rollout starts August 27 when it screens in London’s Film4 Frightfest, followed by a prestigious slot at SITGES 2015 in October.

SCREEN-SPACE sat down with the director and good friend (pictured, below) to recount his film’s journey from its no-budget origins in chilly Wellington to the horror industry mecca on Spain's sunny Catalan coast…

You are open about Umbra's past, and that this edit is a reworked, condensed version of footage shot in 93 under the title Penumbra. What brought about the resurrection?

After Penumbra was completed I shelved the film, only bringing out the VHS copy when I was drunkenly nostalgic and feeling a little tragic. There was some great imagery and genuinely atmospheric moments in the film. I began wondering if there was a way of salvaging those moments, of re-harnessing that vision. In early 2014, I invited my friend, editor Michael O’Rourke, to help bring it back to life. We judiciously cut it from half an hour down to just over five minutes, removing virtually all the dialogue and many elaborately shot scenes, yet still managed to keep the overall narrative arc. We treated the image, adding film scratches and grain, intending it to look like a lost Euro-horror from the late 70s/early 80s. My brother, Miles and I composed a new score. And I shortened the title from Penumbra (meaning “half-shadow”) to Umbra, which was perfect as it means “shadow”, but also “phantom” or “spectre”. The new film had finally captured the atmosphere and tone I had originally envisioned.

Were there key technical issues that had to be addressed when working with footage shot 22 years ago?

I had to locate the original master tape, since all I had was a steadily deteriorating VHS copy. After unearthing the U-matic master cut - yes, it was shot on three-quarter inch U-matic videotape, an almost forgotten format! - I had the footage digitized; thankfully I managed to find a service that still had a U-matic player. Although the tape appeared to be in okay condition and “baking” wasn’t required, the digitized footage did reveal weathering had occurred. Michael and I decided that the lo-fi look could work in the film’s favour, especially with the recent trend of retro-designed horror movies.

How hard was it for the happily married 40-something father of 2015 to reconnect with such darkness? Describe the experience of revisiting a vision created by a much younger version of yourself...

I’ve been a fan of dark horror and science fiction tales since I was a boy. Doctor Who’s The Ark in Space on TV in 1975 left a strong impression. Then there were the rather nihilistic and genuinely nightmarish experiences of The Omen and Alien on VHS when I was around ten or eleven, all dealing with birth/death/rebirth. When I wrote Penumbra, it was intended as a dark and macabre vampire tale. I wanted Umbra to be tenebrous, but I wanted it to be very dreamlike, surreal, invoking a kind of fever dream. Essentially the older me favoured a more subtle, expressionist approach, and it was a joy to see that Umbra reflected my truer influences as a filmmaker, even though most of my favourite vampire films now are the same ones I had when I shot Penumbra. (Pictured, above and below; scenes from Umbra)  

You open with a Poe quote that addresses the line between the present and the beyond. How does the film represent your beliefs in the afterlife and the mythology of immortality?

 I’m an atheist and a skeptic, but I’m a diehard horror romantic, especially when it comes to the supernatural. I want to believe. I love the essence of vampirism, the dual curse/gift of immortality, the sensualism and the fragility. What I especially love about the Poe quote is its ambiguity; it’s not just about the reality of life and death, it’s about the powerful fabric of dreams and nightmares.

Some imagery recalls Neil Jordan's Interview with the Vampire. You’ve mentioned Alien, The Omen, Doctor Who; what other authors/artists/filmmakers influenced you?

 Certainly Anne Rice’s Interview with the Vampire and The Vampire Lestat were big influences back in 1993. There was a cutaway in the original that showed a bookcase with Interview on it. Murnau’s creepy 1922 classic Nosferatu and Herzog’s haunting 1979 remake were inspirations. Whilst editing Umbra, the works referenced most were David Lynch’s Lost Highway and Dario Argento’s Suspiria and Inferno. I love their oneiric application, the dreamlike atmosphere and nightmare logic. Less obviously, French extremist Gaspar Noe influenced me, with his a penchant for pushing the camera into the darker corners.

It features a rich, vividly ambient soundscape. Describe the intent and intricacies of its construction...

 I had co-composed an original soundtrack for the 1993 production but I knew the new film needed new music. I wanted it to have a lush, dreamy vibe, but at the same time capture an ominous and menacing tone; reminiscent of the stuff Trent Reznor has been doing for movies. Miles and I have been collaborating on electronic music together for more than ten years. We took a brooding techno track we had already recorded and put it through a time-stretch software program, which slows the music down. We singled out the best sections, and then Michael and I layered those pieces into the film along with a few of the original sound design cues.

And Umbra's own re-emergence, it's own rebirth? What is its point-of-difference that has seen become a 2015 horror festival favourite?

 It is a narrative short with no dialogue, relying on stylised, almost iconic imagery. The pronounced ambient soundscape is an invisible character, intensifying the mood. Most significantly, the look of the film is a aesthetically lo-fi in a world saturated with High Definition. This grungy aspect enhances the nightmare edge, pulling the viewer into a mysterious yet strangely inviting place. Umbra looks and feels different than many of its contemporaries, but surreptitiously bridges the present and the past. It has a curious history, as a vampire film brought back from the dead. It has been reborn.

Umbra teaser trailer from Cult Projections on Vimeo.

Friday
May222015

BIRDMAN: THE JON HEWITT INTERVIEW

When veteran producer Anthony I Ginnane sought a like-minded filmmaker to helm the reboot of his 1982 shocker, Turkey Shoot, Jon Hewitt must have been near the top of his wish list. A country lad who cites Russ Meyer, Abel Ferrara and the Aussie biker classic Stone as key influences, Hewitt has forged a bloody, sweat-stained reputation as a fearless auteur over three decades in the Australian indie sector; his films include the notorious ‘video nasty’, Bloodlust (1992; co-directed with fellow ‘underground icon’, Richard Wolstencroft); the grisly procedural, Redball (1999); a seedy romantic thriller, darklovestory (2006); the psychological drama, Acolytes (2008), with a memorable serial killer turn by Joel Edgerton; and the Kings Cross odyssey, X (2011). Turkey Shoot, his fifth feature collaboration with actress/writer wife Belinda McClory, allows Hewitt to cast his acutely critical eye over the modern media landscape; it stars Dominic Purcell (pictured, below; with co-star Robert Taylor). Having debuted to sellout crowds at the 2014 Melbourne International Film Festival, Hewitt spoke to SCREEN-SPACE as his violent reimagining launches on home entertainment platforms…

How favourably did the original film lend itself to an update? What elements still held relevance in 2015 and what had to be jettisoned?

We're more reinvention than remake. Apart from a few in-jokes, character names and the title, the reboot's similarity to the original is most found in its broad themes, verve and spirit. We're a neo-exploitation film that tries to deliver to its target audience while having a bit of social and political meat on its bones. The original plays as very camp in 2015, but in 1980 it resonated as outrageous, political and satirical – so we were trying for a bit of that.

Was the incredible 'life cycle' of the original film - pilloried Ozploitation shocker to Tarantino-lauded cult classic - ever a monkey on your back?

No, that sort of thing really helped in getting the reboot into production, and is also very useful in terms of selling the film internationally and marketing it into various territories. Some fans might be disappointed that the reboot is not a literal blow for blow retelling, or is not more of a knowing and outrageous homage to schlock in the style of something like Hobo With a Shotgun, but we reckon they'll come around...eventually. (pictured, right; Hewitt)

You satirise modern media in a similar manner to that employed by Paul Verhoeven in the original Robocop film; there are also clear nods to films such as Schwarzennegger's Running Man. What were some inspirations (films, books, modern politics) that were factored into the re-conceptualizing of Turkey Shoot?

We can only aspire to the effectiveness of those movies! Running Man was the obvious foundation influence for Jon, as Logan’s Run was for Belinda. We don't believe the reboot is set in a dystopian future; the world is like that right now. The news media and YouTube currently have the franchise for live death on television, but packaged entertainment is getting closer, if it's not doing it already. The constant state of war we're in now was a major factor. We believe wars aren't fought for the sovereignty of countries or ideologies anymore. They're fought to produce content for the key media corporations.

Your films have tackled B-movie subject matter but in a ‘real world’, intellectually engaging way - serial killer mindplay in Acolytes; prostitution in X. Did Turkey Shoot 'free you up' somewhat? Did it feel like a more no-holds-barred approach to genre cinema for you?

Yes, it was certainly and opportunity to return to a Bloodlust-style exploitation logistic where stuff like cheesiness and schlock are important elements in the aesthetic and can be gleefully mined and underlined.

Lead actor Dominic Purcell (pictured, above) applies a very stoic, Charles Bronson-like stillness to your hero, which is at odds with the legendarily OTT work of Steve Railsback in the original. Tell us about creating the character with your lead actor.

Dom's a big guy – six two and built like a buff brick shithouse – so his screen presence resonates with physicality and menace. He doesn't have to say or do anything to make you believe he can kick your arse, so we played on that a lot. Dom's a very fine classically trained actor who can deliver in the dialogue department, but his ego and confidence is such that he's also cool not to say too much. We wanted our hero to be a presence so if we've gotten anywhere near Bronson, then we're stoked.

Finally, working with Anthony I Ginnane (pictured, right), a producer who possesses an often under-valued sense of showmanship in everything he does. What does he bring to a production after all his years in the game? What do you think is his greatest contribution to Australian cinema?

The reboot of Turkey Shoot was Tony's 67th production, almost all of them feature films. That's an extraordinary CV. And he's made the great bulk of his movies in the real world where soft money* is a minor, if any, part of the financial structure. That makes him very different from most other Australian producers. He also works incredibly hard, and once he's committed to a project he just won't let go – he literally wills it into production. Yes, he's criminally undervalued in Australia because he chooses to work mainly in the realm of genre, but a lot of his films still resonate and continue to influence filmmaking down-under. (*industry term for 'government supplied production funds')

Jon Hewitt’s Turkey Shoot is available on DVD, Blu-ray and digital download in Australia through Potential Films. Check local schedules for release dates in international territories.

Monday
Mar302015

SHORT CUTS: HORROR HEAVIES PACT ON ANTHOLOGY PROJECT

They are two of Australia’s genre giants. With the 9th edition of his iconic screamfest due later this year, Dr Dean Bertram is the founder and programming director of A Night of Horror/Fantastic Planet Film Festival (ANOH/FP); producer Enzo Tedeschi, CEO of the recently-launched Deadhouse Films, reinvigorated found-footage horror with the global 2011 hit, The Tunnel. Now, the long time friends are pairing on a feature film initiative that will ensure the worlds best horror short films are seen by a bigger audience than ever before…

Set to be unveiled at the 2015 event will be a feature-length anthology film, comprised of the finalists from a new category in which all submissions must, in some way, reflect the theme of ‘blood.’ “That isn't that much of a stretch in a horror film, of course,” Bertram (pictured, above) concedes. “We don't expect the films to necessarily be about blood, just for blood to appear or to be referenced somewhere.”

The idea emerged as the 2014 festival drew to a close. “Enzo pitched me the idea and I thought it was just fantastic,” says Bertram, talking to SCREEN-SPACE from the US. “There's a renaissance in horror anthology filmmaking taking place at the moment: think The ABCs of Death and VHS series, for example.” The concept was particularly appropriate given Bertram’s dedication to fledgling talent. “To open the doors to include emerging filmmakers in the project fits A Night of Horror's mandate perfectly,” he says. 

“I'm personally a fan of anthologies,” says Tedeschi (pictured, right), during a break from a sound mix session in Sydney’s north, “and I thought it could be a valuable way of helping filmmakers leverage their short into something more 'valuable', for lack of a better word. “ Tedeschi was also aware that many fine short films never find the audience they deserve and hopes the project helps to redress the imbalance. “With the (high) quality of films screening at the festival each year, it seemed like a natural approach to pitch the idea to Dean for A Night of Horror. When I was getting started with making short films, a guaranteed festival berth and a feature film credit would have been a big incentive for me to contribute to a project like this.”

The pair are being cagey about the structure that their as-yet-untitled co-production will adopt. When asked for insight into the narrative device that will bind the collection of shorts, Tedeschi says, “We're keeping that under wraps for now,” although he does concede that they may be influenced by the submissions. Bertram acknowledges that, “Enzo has come up with a fantastic wrap-around device to connect the films, but we're keeping it secret at the moment.“

Both men are energetic multi-hyphenates, each with several projects in various stages of development. Tedeschi is in the final stages of post-production on his highly-anticipated sci-fi series, Airlock; Bertram is in pre-production as producer on Virgin Forest, the latest feature from festival alumni Kerry Prior (The Revenant, 2009; pictured, left, with Bertram and ANOH/FP co-director, Lisa Mitchell). Their shared vision stems from a mutual admiration for each other’s talent and career achievements to date.

“The reason I was so enthused to collaborate had as much to do with Enzo's fantastic pitch as having the chance to produce something with him,” says Bertram. “He always has his finger dead-on the pulse of the genre zeitgeist and its audience. And he understands alternative and unique models of production and distribution better than anyone in the country.” The emergence of Deadhouse Films, which will take distribution rights on the project, was also crucial to Bertram’s involvement. “(It has) really filled a massive hole in the Australian industry for a boutique genre production and distribution company. I can see it bringing a sea-change to independent genre film distribution,” he says.

For Tedeschi, his experiences as an audience member at A Night of Horror for much of the past decade was evidence enough. “I've always found the festival program a wonderful mix of established filmmakers and fresh takes on the genre. Dean goes out of his way to find the gems, and we should be able to attract some of this for the anthology as a result. I'm very much looking forward to going over the submissions with him. It's going to be a blast!”

Further information on how to submit your short film can be found here.

Monday
Jan122015

DUST DEVIL: THE DANE MILLERD INTERVIEW

The legend of the Jingra makes for an ominous bigscreen villain in Dane Millerd’s There’s Something in The Pillaga. The writer/director’s found-footage thriller tells the story of two blokish mates who, with digital camera and two local lasses in tow, head deep into the scrubland of western New South Wales on a lark. But they soon learn that the stories of a bipedal bush beast, the infamous ‘Yowie’ as told of since ancient Aboriginal times, may be based upon a terrifying reality.

“Impending doom is a strong and often neglected tool in filmmaking,” says Millerd (pictured, above), a journo-turned-filmmaker who, as a boy growing up in the regional hub of Gunnedah, was familiar with the tall tales told of the Jingra. “I wanted to make the film as illusive and under the radar as the many sightings I have recorded and reported in my research. ‘Less is more’ works for me, especially with creature features.”

Fittingly, the inspiration for the film came from a fearful recounting of a real life incident, in which Millerd’s cousin ventured into Pillaga State Forest in search of a hermit-like character, only to have her night turn into one of regret and terror (albeit at the hands of cruel, prank-playing mates). The vastness of the region lends itself to irrational fears (“It is dry, lonely and desolate and no place for the unprepared,” says Millerd), as well as fostering such supernatural entities as The Pillaga Princess, a forlorn woman who wanders the forest; ‘Hairy Mary’, a former prostitute who became a denizen of the bush night; and, of course, the enigmatic Yowie. “I wanted audiences to fear the unknown and I think that is what has been achieved,” says the director.

The key protagonist in the film is rough’n’tumble lad Jay, played with a boorish but disarming charm by Brendan Byrne (pictured, above right). He is a vivid outback archetype with which Millerd is very familiar. “Having spent years in the country, I had met many alpha males that were similar to (Jay),” Millerd says, citing his upbringing as fertile ground for inspiration. “There are also Chopper Read, (Wolf Creek villain) Mick Taylor and Romper Stomper inspirations that created the ‘Jay’ we see on screen.”

He is also quick to praise Byrne (pictured, left; with co-lead Leoni Leaver), a part-time actor who doubles as one of the film industry’s most respected armourers; in addition to his acting duties, his company Shadow Wolves Productions oversaw firearms management onset. “Brendan’s interpretation certainly left his own mark on the character,” says Millerd, who allowed his key cast members (Fay Beck, Rebecca Callander, Craig Hawley, Leoni Leaver) plenty of rehearsal time and creative freedom during the shoot. “I trusted them and they were allowed plenty of leverage. It needed to be that way as the film lent itself to loads of improvisation. That said, there was a script and certain things still needed to be done and followed and the actors followed it to the letter.”

The barren bushland setting, hand-held camera work and found-footage premise has drawn inevitable comparison to The Blair Witch Project, as well as the naysayers who bleat that the genre is in its death throes. “Yeah I’ve heard the cries,” shrugs Millerd, who knows the detractors will be silenced when they see the finished film. “I call this ‘stolen footage’ and when you see it you’ll know it’s a new genre. We avoided a lot of to-camera stuff, excessive titling in the intro (and) other obvious clichés." The filming technique was fine-tuned during downtime on the production, which was shot for a total of 20 days over nearly three years. "We put lots of time into locations and rehearsals so by the time we got out there, we had it sorted. (With) Paul Denham, my co-producer and DOP shooting it, I knew it would be great.” (pictured, right; Millerd, second from left, on location with cast and crew)

Millerd was determined that, second only to a tangible sense of menace and steady stream of convincing shocks, the people of the region knew that There’s Something in The Pillaga would represent them, their wilderness and its otherworldly inhabitants with due respect. “The locals were more than supportive,” he says. “In fact, it was a pre-requisite that locals worked on set, as we wanted them to feel a part of it. In the end we got a better product as a result.“

There's Something in The Pillaga had its regional premiere in Gunnedah and will be touring New South Wales in the weeks ahead. For full screening details, visit the website here.

Thursday
Nov202014

DR. DEAN'S WOMEN OF HORROR

As festival programmer of the 2014 A Night of Horror/Fantastic Planet Film Festival, Dr Dean Bertram highlights an emerging trend amongst the modern horror narrative – the strong female protagonist. The days of the screeching ‘final girl’, destined to survive because of her virtuous nature and moral fortitude, are fading into the anachronistic ether if the films of the 2014 event are any indication. Bertram’s favoured female horror lead could be the Devil’s descendant, an avenging rape victim or a mysterious young newlywed; even the ‘final girl’ archetypes that populate his programme travel unfamiliar and frightening fresh paths. SCREEN-SPACE profiles a selection of the women who carry the torch (and knife and gun and axe…) for their gender in Bertram's modern horror compendium, which starts tonight in Sydney's inner city…

ROSE LESLIE as BEA in HONEYMOON
The casting of Scottish actress Rose Leslie (pictured, above) suggested that Bea, the effervescent new wife of Harry Treadaway’s Paul in Leigh Janiak’s tummy-tightening study in paranoia and sexual politics, was going to be no damsel-in-distress. Having established her ballsy, take-no-crap acting credentials as ‘Ygritte’ in Game of Thrones, her transformation in this ‘Stepford Wives-meets-Body Snatchers’ shocker is subtle and disturbing; working from a smarter-than-usual script, she deconstructs gender expectations as they exist in both the real world and the traditional ‘cabin-in-the-woods’ setting of Janiak’s shattering debut. “Her talent and charisma are so natural and authentic,” the director told Under the Radar. “We really walked through every little bit of the script tracing where Bea is, internally, every beat along the way.”
HONEYMOON screens Saturday, November 29. Tickets available here.

PAULIE ROJAS as JORDYN in ANOTHER
When asked how the striking Paulie Rojas (pictured, right) was cast in his fever-dream demonic possession opus Another, multi-hyphenate auteur Jason Bognacki told Grolsch Film Works, “We were looking for someone who looked fragile to the touch but who could transform into a forceful, demonic presence.” Nailed it. As the part-time pharmacy employee whose hellish lineage awakens a potent evil within, Jordyns’ tormented physical and emotional arc makes the sort of acting demands only the horror genre can. Bognacki manipulates his leading lady’s doe-eyed beauty into a fierce, brutal weapon of force; Rojas gives a fearless, forceful rendering of power and passion.
ANOTHER screens Saturday, November 22. Tickets available here.

ASHLEY C WILLIAMS as JULIA in JULIA
As the ‘middle part’ of the original Human Centipede, Ashley C Williams didn’t have much scope to create a meaningful female character. The imbalance is redressed in Matthew A Brown’s brutal revenge odyssey, in which Williams’ titular victim emerges from her milquetoast dental hygenist cocoon and carves her way through the douche-bag attackers that drugged and raped her. The director cites Takashi Miike’s Audition as an influence; the Japanese great’s eye for modern noir imagery and niche sexual taboos courses through the veins of his gruesome vision. Not-so-subtle undertones of Sapphic sisterhood are exploited, with Williams locking Australian Tahyna Tozzi in several dark embraces.
JULIA screens Wednesday, November 26. Tickets available here.

SARAH JEAVONS as SAM in INNER DEMON
Australian-based Canadian director Ursula Dabrowsky plucked first-time actress Sarah Jeavons (pictured, right) from obscurity to play Sam Durelle, a protagonist who morphs from the traditional shrieking ‘final girl’ victim into a fearlessly malevolent force of her own. “She had the look I wanted and I had a gut feeling about her, but I needed to know if she could act,” the director told Festivals’ Launch Pad webpage. “It’s always exciting for a director to cast an unknown and then see them blossom in front of your very eyes.” Jeavon’s bloody, bold Sam embodies the ‘New Feminine Hero’ perhaps better than any other; a pretty, petite blond destined for the meatgrinder in a more conventional work, the actress explodes in a third-act fury of defiance that defines Dabrowsky’s non-conformist take on women in horror.
INNER DEMON screens Friday, November 21. Tickets available here.  

ALYSA KING as KYLIE in BERKSHIRE COUNTY
Granted, Audrey Cumming’s feature debut is positively dripping in overplayed horror tropes – the surly babysitter finding her inner warrior while fending off home invaders in a remote mansion (see last years’ You’re Next, for example). But the film has hit big with festival audiences who have responded to Alysa King’s portrayal of the put-upon au pair Kylie, the actress (pictured, right) finding deeper layers and more recognisably human traits in her character just as the film begins to ramp up the tension. King has that ‘everygirl’ essence which has made memorable the great slasher film babysitters of generations past – Carol Kane in When a Stranger Calls; Jocelin Donahue in The House of the Devil; and, of course, Jamie Lee Curtis in Halloween.
BERKSHIRE COUNTY screens Thursday, November 27. Tickets available here.