FANGORIA Posted by Tony Timpone Jun 16, 2011
You won’t find the genre’s busiest screenwriting duo typing away in some bungalow in Malibu, but in a quiet town in Australia. Meet co-writer Shayne Armstrong and co-writer/director S.P. Krause, whose debut effort 18 (see exclusive pics here), marks just the tip of a deadly iceberg filled with upcoming fright flicks from this Aussie duo. Part one of our chat with the boys (pictured below; Krause on left) looks at the their haunted house movie 18, while in part two tomorrow the filmmakers spill the beans on 6 MIRANDA DRIVE—their movie for WOLF CREEK director Greg McLean and Lionsgate—and several other upcoming projects. All accompanied by exclusive pics and artwork, natch.
FANGORIA: How long have you guys been writing for?
KRAUSE: We’re originally from the same small, flat, isolated country town—the kind of place where’s there’s shit-all to do and if you’re of a creative bent you start making your own entertainment. So, after we’d watched every movie in town on VHS six times over, we started writing and making unwatchable shorts together in high school. We separated for a while and went to different towns for our college years and then swung back to work together in Brisbane in our 20s. Around 1997 we decided to pull our finger out and write the kind of films we’d hire from a video store on a Friday night, and that was when things started to change for us. A simple epiphany but a good one.
FANG: Are you life-long horror fans?
KRAUSE: The crappy shorts we made at high school were all ripoffs of genre films we liked. Just down the road from our small town shithole was another shithole even smaller and shittier called Chinchilla. George Miller (the talented George Miller, not the other one) was raised there and it’s no surprise at all that something as brutal as MAD MAX came out of the guy. We’re similarly inspired by the horrible place we’re from, and we’ll be mining that vein for many years to come. We’re happiest writing horror and have never seen it as some place to kick start a career, so we can really make the sci-fi trilogy we came up with in primary school. We do write crime and sci-fi, but they’re still primarily horror films. We’ll be happily writing, making and watching horror films until they unplug the machine.
FANG: There seems to be a huge horror production base in Australia. Is it easy or hard to get these movies financed?
KRAUSE: I don’t know if there’s anything harder than getting a movie financed. There’s decent support to score development funding for screenplays and lots of properties find cash for this, but it’s a big leap from there to production in any genre. What horror films (sometimes) have going for them is they can be made for smaller amounts of cash and that helps our mostly useless Australian producer find the pitiful amount of money required. Horror guys are used to thinking up scenarios that lend themselves to austere staging, limited cast and locations, so we’re ahead in that way and any advantage in the near impossible hope to fund a feature film with someone else’s money is priceless.
FANG: Why’d you guys put your own cash into 18?
KRAUSE: We would have taken anyone else’s money but nobody was offering any. I’ve noticed that many low-budget indie films are financed by the wealthy parents of rich little shits, but that wasn’t going to happen in our case. Neither of us knows any rich people or at least none that like us enough to give us their money. We had no choice but to use our own cash. Shayne and I work as writers, so we squirreled away what we’re making there to invest in the film and our other producing partners, Charles Mitchell and Lachlan Madsen, also threw in their money so we could get through the first block of shooting. In truth we preferred to do it this way. When we take on a writing commission, creative veto goes to the guy laying down the cash. They’re the bosses. We wanted a vacation from other people controlling the creative, and right or wrong, it’ll be the sum of our creative and business decisions that will make 18 work or fail. We also wanted to dodge distributors telling us who we could or couldn’t cast and avoid their input in the script. If we’re going to make something with an infinitesimal budget, without fees and all the difficulties that go with being foolishly ambitious with a microscopic amount of cash, we wanted the satisfaction of creatively leading the project. Then there’s the question of ownership. Our goal was to own something outright, a piece of a film that could be around for a long time. It’s my belief that this is one of the only ways to make money from filmmaking and thus make it self-sustaining. If you own what you make, maybe there’s a chance of making something out of the backend. We’re also going to hold onto the film after it’s done and go through the adventure of selling it ourselves. Of course, if someone appears with a large amount of cash and wants us sidelined, than we’ll only be too happy to accept. Our main motivation has always been to raise the budget for our next film from the sale of 18, and if that can be found without us getting too deeply involved, then we’ll sideline ourselves. But until that happens, we’ll see you at the markets!
FANG: What separates the film from other haunted house/ghost movies?
KRAUSE: We’re huge crime fiction fans, and what we like about the haunted house subgenre is that usually some kind of crime has been committed to cause the haunting or create the ghosts. We thought we could amp up this part of the story and do something as smart and as effective as JENNIFER 8. We also didn’t want to make anything coy. Aussie films are so often timid and dishonest when it comes to genre. We wanted to be upfront with the haunting so there would be nothing ambiguous about it. The house in 18 is haunted and the audience will tweak to this within minutes—though the main character will lag behind for reasons of suspense. We have a female lead as many ghost stories do, but the audience will never think that events in the film are happening inside her head, and it’s really the story of the mental disintegration of a f**ked up chick. We hate that kind of shit! You get what you pay for with 18. Ghosts and plenty of them.
FANG: How did you get DAYBREAKERS FX chief Steve Boyle involved?
KRAUSE: We’re based in the same city, and we knew of Steve’s excellent work. We got him drunk several times, and he agreed to do the movie. Steve reduced his fee for 18, and in exchange we’re producing a dark and clever little short that he wrote called MULLET GUT, which Steve is also directing. Production on the short has begun.
FANG: What kind of stuff is he doing for your movie?
KRAUSE: Steve has designed our three demonic teen ghosts. He was a one-man band during the shoot, applying the makeup and squirting blood all over the place. Without Steve we didn’t have a movie and he has delivered in spades for us.
FANG: Discuss your production strategy, i.e. your separate shooting spurts.
KRAUSE: We scrounged enough cash for a four-week shoot in February, and two of those weeks were Steve’s effects for the film. We knew we’d run out of dough at the end of the four weeks and would have to find the same amount again for another block of shooting. To find the dough, we went and wrote movies and TV shows for other people and once again squirreled our fees to find the budget for the next four-week shoot, which we’re kicking off in mid-August. Shooting this way has suited us. We like to take our time, so eight weeks is better than the usual four to six that Oz films get. Even though we’re making it for a laughable budget, we’re still doing all we can to make it look like a real movie and we need time for that. Shooting this way we can also cut what we’ve done and see how it’s working. If something looks or sounds like shit, we’ll rewrite, reshoot or adjust in the next block to avoid the same problems. We get to see where the strengths of the project are, play those up while dealing with weaknesses. Peter Jackson made BAD TASTE over two years of Sundays, and Christopher Nolan shot his first film, FOLLOWING, over a year, so we’re in well traveled territory.
Australian co-writer Shayne Armstrong and co-writer/director S.P. Krause are so busy, they divide their work between two companies: Armstrong Krause (for writing gigs) and Rarer Monsters (producing assignments). Yesterday Krause told us about their violent ghost opus 18 (see here), and today we get the skinny from partner Armstrong on a clutch of other ambitious scare pictures, including BAIT 3D and the latest from the director of WOLF CREEK!
FANGORIA: What can you say about your Greg Mclean project, 6 MIRANDA DRIVE?
SHAYNE ARMSTRONG: It’s in preproduction now, so we can’t say much more than that it’s a creepy little supernatural horror story based on a series of actual events (everyone says that these days, but in this case there’s definite truth in it—well, as far as being able to verify anything supernatural is a “truth”). Beyond that, we can say that it’s a project that Greg McLean is keen to make as terrifying as possible. He almost single-handedly made world travelers (and a few Aussies) shit-scared of the Australian outback with WOLF CREEK, so now he’s going to do that to ordinary suburbia for people the world over. He’s very much an equal-opportunity scaremeister in that regard.
FANG: What’s it like collaborating with him?
ARMSTRONG: It was a joy frankly. We’d admired WOLF CREEK and Greg’s ascendance to the upper echelons of Oz horror for a couple of years, and we were determined to work with him as we are with all top Australian genre filmmakers (we literally have a list and we’re crossing names off slowly but surely). As most horror filmmakers and fans know, the vast majority of horror guys are some of the nicest, well-balanced and honorable guys you’ll meet. Greg McLean is no exception and in fact he’s a poster boy for fandom and an ambassador for the genre. We get along very well. To be honest, it was a bit of a tap-dance for us to land the job, and we met with him three times before he offered us the chance to write something for him [6 MIRANDA DRIVE], but once the ball got rolling, Greg gave us a lot of creative space and freedom and was only remotely dogmatic when it came to getting down details he knew he really wanted in the script (most of which came from his brief that the story had to replicate true events that inspired the story and individual scenes). When Greg works with us, it’s truly collaborative; he gives very specific notes on the stuff we write, and when he rewrites our stuff or introduces any new material, he seeks our input and opinion. He’s very upfront with everything that he’s doing and wants to do—very inclusive and consultative—and that’s not always been our experience with directors. We hope to do more with him in the future. We’re proud men and are loathe to beg, but he hasn’t yet picked up on our not-so-subtle hints to throw us a WOLF CREEK sequel or prequel. We’re working on him.
FANG: What did you do on BAIT 3D and what can you tell us about the plot?
ARMSTRONG: We wrote two drafts. One was a page one rewrite of the early script and the other was a redraft of a redraft of our rewrite (welcome to the movie business!). As happens, several other drafts and writers have come onboard since, but there’s still a lot of the key elements we introduced to the screenplay in the script—including the two main human villains and the carpark rescue subplot, which is a major structural element. Again, because it’s not yet released, all we can and would want to disclose about the plot is that it’s about a small coastal community that’s struck by a tsunami and in the ensuing devastation, a group of characters are trapped in a flooded supermarket with several huge and hungry sharks. For years, we dreamed about one day optioning and making THE MIST, but we were beaten to that of course. But BAIT 3D is kind of JAWS meets THE MIST, so that’s some consolation.
FANG: Was it tough to come up with an original shark movie?
ARMSTRONG: Because it was a commissioned rewrite, the basic high-concept core of “sharks in a supermarket” wasn’t our premise, so the idea of coming up with something original concept-wise wasn’t within our control or even our concern. Our challenge was to come up with characters, subplots and lots of movie moments that fleshed out the basic concept to a cool, scary and cinematic ride. One of our favorite things in watching or writing horror is to examine how people behave in high stakes situations—what turns people from their “normal” state into their new status as heroes, scumbags, cowards or screaming wrecks—so we brought that perspective to characters, scenes and situations.
FANG: What is A MURDER OF CROWS about? Horror?
ARMSTRONG: There’s an element of horror in all the writing we do, whether it’s explicit onscreen or something tonal. But primarily, A MURDER OF CROWS is a Western—albeit a Gothic Western with supernatural elements and some truly demented characters and gruesome violence. Set in the Australian goldfields at the turn of last century, it follows the arrival of a stranger—a Chinese drifter known only as The Celestial—to a chaotic mining town ruled by a cruel mining magnate, his Lady Macbeth-esque wife and his three monstrous sons (they’re each aberrant in their own way—physically, mentally or sexually). The Celestial is framed for several related murders, and in the process must not only escape the forces of the law, but protect the blind daughter of the woman he came to town to find from the killers (the girl is the only “witness” to the murders and knows who the real killers are). And we haven’t even mentioned the creepy, preternaturally smart murder of crows that attend the Celestial like pets. Or servants.
FANG: How did you get involved with the horror manga THE DREAMING? What’s the logline on that?
ARMSTRONG: Like we said, we try to plug into all aspects of the genre filmmaking community in Australia, and we’ve long known Michael Favelle of Odin’s Eye Entertainment, who has long championed genre film in Australia. This might seem like an odd statement, but here in Oz, there’s a whole long-running debate of what constitutes national cinema and worthy stories blah, blah, blah—and genre films had long been the unwelcome sibling of “worthy” cinema in Australia. Maybe that’s for another interview. Anyway, Michael knew our work and our dedication to horror and contacted us to pitch for the adaptation of TokyoPop’s horror manga THE DREAMING. He had us at “It’s kind of like PICNIC AT HANGING ROCK meets THE SHINING.” Needless to say, we won the pitch. The basic story is about an all-girls boarding school in the isolated Australian wilderness where an otherworldly presence has over time claimed the lives and souls of several students whenever twins show up at the school. Well, lo and behold, our protags—twin sisters—arrive and reignite a curse that’s tied to an incursion into our world that occurred long before white people ever set foot upon the continent that would become known as Australia.
FANG: You also have a remake of the Norwegian film NEXT DOOR in the works. What appealed to you about the original and how faithful will your version be?
ARMSTRONG: We’re not often truly shocked and disturbed by horror films, but we were by NEXT DOOR. The type of film that is and some of its tropes aren’t even that original per se (what is in a lot of films these days, though?), but the overall execution was brilliant. It’s a film that blends horror, erotica and psychological thriller well and literally left us thinking and talking about the film for days. That’s not to say we wouldn’t change things, and we’ve been given the scope to do just that. We’ll be faithful to the premise and the set-up and mostly to the tone, but our brief is to make it work structurally and pacing-wise for a slightly more mainstream and commercial audience. Don’t worry, that doesn’t mean toning or watering anything down, and in fact, director Justin Molotnikov isn’t at all shy about ramping up the erotica and violence as long as its organic to the story and the themes he wants to explore in the film.
FANG: What is your original screenplay BLACK ECHOES about?
ARMSTRONG: We’re huge fans of siege horror and the more claustrophobic the better. BLACK ECHOES is a horror-action film that’s kind of like THE DESCENT meets ALIENS. It’s a creature feature that follows a small group of international tourists who are literally taken off the beaten path to an isolated village deep in the Vietnamese jungles. Nearby are some ancient, crumbling ruins of temples and vine-covered statues of scaled, taloned things neither monster nor god. They’re there because they’ve been promised a Viet Cong tunnel crawl experience that makes Cu Chi seem like a kids’ playground. Tighter. More claustrophobic. Scarier. Well, they get their money’s worth—and then some… To say anymore will ruin a lot of the surprises, so I won’t.
FANG: What’s the scoop on your low-budget vampire film?
ARMSTRONG: No title just yet; coming up with titles for a vampire film that’s not obvious or done to death is probably the hardest thing about writing the subgenre. Again, it’s a collaboration. We’re writing and producing with a talented director called Tony D’Aquino (he wrote and directed one of the best episodes of the Australian horror anthology TWO TWISTED). Tony pitched us three concepts he wanted us to write with him, and they were all cool, but one was so damned good it made us feel envious that we hadn’t thought of it ourselves. Right up our alley. It’s siege-horror and goes into the dynamics and psychology of a group of ordinary citizens hurled into a dark and terrifying situation. Again, it’s an embryonic project and one that will kick all kinds of arse because of its many twists and turns even within its small mise en scene, so we don’t want to give too much away. But it deals with a small group of concerned citizens who take a suspected child molester hostage after several children have disappeared from the neighborhood and aim to beat and torture a confession out of him. Of course, the hostage, the fates of the children and even the good neighbors they thought they all were are not as they seem.
FANG: Do you have directorial aspirations too, like Krause?
ARMSTRONG: I’ll never say never, but it’s not something I feel compelled to do like I do writing. Shane Krause has always been a hyphenate at heart and directing is a passion and compulsion of his. I’m a sicko who feels completely happy and content when I’ve been locked away in my writing room and come out with a piece of work that affects people on some level. So, I think if I was to sidestep from screenwriting it would more likely to be into another field of writing, like comics or graphic novels (my other real passion) or prose novels. Having said that, I get very shitty when I see someone execute or direct our work in a way I think sucks. At the moment, I’m very content to see our work handled by directors we respect and trust or, obviously, by Shane K. himself. If there was a small, personal project or something that really grabbed me by the cortex and screamed at me to direct it, I might just do it so you never know, I might find something I could dip my feet in the pool with. See? I already sound like a bloody dilettante.
FANG: What are your goals right now, besides getting some needed sleep?
ARMSTRONG: A few weeks ago we were at an industry party where one of the Spierig Brothers, Peter, introduced us to a colleague of his as “Australia’s busiest and most prolific genre writers.” That’s great that we have that rep. Our goals, apart from maintaining that rep, are several but simple: to reach the top of the horror pyramid in Australia (all considerations of profile and box office aside, we’re lagging sadly behind Everett De Roche’s amazing output and contribution to the genre as are the rest of our comparatively slacker brethren); to break into the United States film industry where we know our pitching and writing talents can best be put to use; and to maintain a balance of writing cool commissioned projects for others and writing and, wherever possible, making our own spec projects. As Shane K. said, we’re horror guys for life and, even though we write in other genres—sci-fi, crime, kids animation, thriller—that’s where our black hearts lie.