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Entries in Australian Film (4)

Friday
Apr062018

NEKROMANCER TEASES THRILLS AND GIGGLES IN FX-HEAVY FIRST PICS

“It’s like an Aussie Ghostbusters on acid,” boasted director Kiah Roache-Turner to his Facebook followers after the recent release of four images from his highly-anticipated film, Nekromancer. Co-written with brother Tristan, the sophomore effort is their follow-up to the low-budget/high-energy zombie splatter epic Wyrmwood: Road of The Dead (2014), which earned critical kudos and a global cult following.

During it’s late 2017 pre-production period, the brother’s sci-fi/horror/comedy mash-up had the international horror community buzzing when it was announced Italian actress Monica Bellucci (L’appartement, 1996; Malèna, 2000;  Irréversible, 2002; The Passion of the Christ, 2004) would headline the Australian production, opposite local talent Ben O’Toole (Hacksaw Ridge, 2016) and Tess Haubrich (Alien: Covenant, 2017). (Pictured, below; Bellucci, as 'Finnegan', in conflict with 'Luther', played by David Wenham)

Although the shoot and plot details have been kept under wraps, a synopsis accompanies Screen NSW’s funding approval page: “Howard North, electronics genius, is dragged into a conflict between The Tribe - a family of powerful demon hunters, and Asgaroth - an evil demon possessing the world’s internet, assisted by his devil-worshipping corporate acolytes. Molly, a Tribeswoman and warrior, is desperate to destroy the demon and is sure that Howard has the right stuff to become a true hero. They must learn to work together to exorcise the fiend from the web and blow him back to Hell.” (Pictured, below; co-stars, l-r, Bob Savea as 'Rangi', and Ben O'Toole as 'Howard')

The production shot at Sydney’s largest soundstage facility, Fox Studios, located in the inner city suburb of Moore Park, as well as at various locations around the Harbour city. The local sector was rife with genre film production at the time of Nekromancer’s principal photography; director Abe Forsythe’s zom-rom-com Little Monsters, which imported international names Lupita Nyong’o (Black Panther, 2018) and Josh Gad (Beauty and The Beast, 2017) to star opposite local talent, was also shooting at several Sydney locales. (Pictured, below; hero 'Howard' with, l-r, nekromancers 'Torquel', played by Tess Haubrich, and 'Molly', played by Caroline Ford)

DOP duties fell to the brother’s Wyrmwood lensman, Tim Nagle. Other key production duties were filled by top tier talent from the local sector, including line producer Sam Thompson; production designer Nicholas Dare (Down Under, 2016); composer Michael Lira (The Hunter, 2011); costume designer Xanthe Huebel (The Loved Ones, 2009; Ruben Guthrie, 2015); veteran casting director Nicki Barrett (Somersault, 2004; Australia, 2008; Mad Max Fury Road, 2015); concept artist Dane Hallett (Jupiter Ascending, 2015; Aquaman, 2018); and, 2nd unit director James Chappell (director of the acclaimed short, Proceeds of Crime, 2017).

Nekromancer is a co-production between Hopscotch Features and the Roache-Turner’s Guerilla Films outfit; financing was sourced via Entertainment One (eOne), Screen Australia and Create NSW; eOne will partner with Sierra/Affinity for the international sales market.

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.

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
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.