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Marina Antunes [Film Festival 05.03.10] movie news interview horror thriller vampires

Last week I had the opportunity to chat with Michael and Peter Spierig, the duo best known as The Spierig Brothers and the team responsible for the zombie film Undead and most recently, the vampire actioner Daybreakers (review).

During our conversation we had the chance to discuss their influences, their choice to use practical effects and the project(s) in their future and no, neither of them are Captain Blood.

Read on for all of the details.

Daybreakers makes it's DVD debut on May 11th.

Thanks so much for taking the time to speak with me today.

Peter Spierig: No problem.

You started your careers with short films and commercials, were you always interested in making films or did you see something that made you think – we want to do that?

PS: We always loved movies. Growing up in Australia it's hard to assume that you're ever going to get to do it for a living, it seems so out of reach. We always loved movies and I never assumed, because we don't really have anybody in our family that's worked in the film industry or that's particularly creative. As we got older we just really fell in love with it and it just kind of evolved. We said “This is what we want to do, we want to make movies” and eventually we kind of threw out our own money into our first feature film because nobody was really giving us a chance to make a film so we decided to bite the bullet and put our money into this low budget zombie film we made called Undead and everything just sort of jump started from there.

In the past you've talked about some of your influences: early Peter Jackson, Sam Raimi and Stuart Gordon. Is there another filmmaker or artists that influenced your work that may surprise your fans?

PS: One of my favourites that I've loved for years is and as I get older I respect him even more, is David Cronenberg. He's one of my all time favourites. Consistently good and always does something different. His last few films have been particularly interesting. I'm a big fan of his. We're certainly big fans of Aussie filmmakers like Peter Weir, George Miller. Those guys are big influences on us.

Speaking specifically of Daybreakers, where did story idea come from?

PS: Michael and I were talking about, this was back in 2003/2004, doing another horror film and there hasn't been any good vampire projects out for quite a while. It would be great to do something because the genre is pretty sparse at the moment and it's kind of funny how it all pans out when you release a film because vampires being probably one of the biggest if not the biggest sort of mister genre around at the moment. We were thinking about this idea of a world of vampires but it's not the kind of post apocalyptic world where everyone is running around in brown clothes and hiding in the shadows and all that kind of stuff. This was going to be a vampire society that was functioning and exists as society does today more or less but they're vampires instead of humans. We liked the idea of bleeding resources dry and the vampirism being kind of... there's a very clear parallel between what's going on in the vampire world and what's going on in our world today and how our resources are being exploited. We really felt that was an interesting take on the genre and we both got really excited about it and spent a good two years writing it.

Did you feel any pressure, either from external sources or even from yourselves, to conform to the vampire mythos or that you bring something new to the canon?

PS: We kind of said that we would conform to most of the popular culture perception of vampires but we basically removed the religious elements from our film and made it more about a disease... things like that. You have to, to some degree, follow the mythology and at the same time you want to add something new. That can get tricky too because you do something new and people can get kind of grumpy about it. It just depends. Twilight gets a lot of flack for what they've changed about the vampire mythology. We've done a few things in our film where people have been really excited and other aren't. You just have to try and find a balance.

When you writer, do you write together or do you write separately and then compare notes?

PS: We spend a lot of time planning. We start with bullet point ideas of what the story could be and then we start to break down the characters. We do this together. We go to a pin board and start to pin up the scenes to get a sense of how the story structure is flowing. Before we even write a page of the script we have a very detailed plan of where we've got to go, what the characters are going to be doing and what each has to be about so that then we can go off and write the scenes separately. Then at the end of the day I'll read what Mike's written and he'll read what I've written and then we kind of assess each others work and come up with a best solution. It's a long process but I think it's a really effective one because you're critiquing each others work and you have someone to bounce [ideas] off the whole time.

Is that more or less difficult considering you guys are siblings?


Michael Spierig: It seems to be less difficult because we've got such similar ideas and influences having grown up together. We see a lot of things in the same perspective so there's not a lot of arguing. It's pretty smooth pretty much the whole way.

When you were ready to film, how tight was your script? Was there room for the actors to manoeuvre or was everything pretty much set in stone?

MS: The action sequences were pretty much set in stone. Our budget wasn't massive and you have to commit to say “That's it. That's what we're doing. That's all we can afford to do” and that way everyone stays on a clear path. When it came to the actors we had about a two week rehearsal period where we didn't actually just run lines but we actually sat down and had a lot of table reads and discussion on what flows the best. That's kind of the way it evolved a little bit. It's interesting because the script didn't change much but lines changed, bits of dialogue changed and then as we started shooting, elements of the script had to get removed because we started running out of money. That's why on the DVD there's really no deleted scenes because we really didn't have any when we shot because it was such a refined shoot in order to get it all done on time and on budget.

About this cast. I know Ethan Hawke signed on first. Was he was someone you had searched out specifically or was it a case of lucky circumstances?

PS: He was absolutely someone that we wanted to get. It's funny. When we wrote the script we said we'd really like an Ethan Hawke type never actually assuming that we'd get him. We went for broke, we sent him the script and he responded really well. We went out and met him and he said I'm in which, to his credit, is pretty risky. It's pretty risky for an actor to say yes to a couple of guys who have only made one low budget zombie movie so we give Ethan a lot of credit for saying yes.

Once he said yes it really opened the flood gates for us to get other actors of his calibre like Willem Dafoe, Sam Neill and all those other fantastic people.

How was life on set? I presume there were more than a handful of jokes flying around...

PS: It's one of those things where you're doing a bloody movie and there are body parts and things laying around on the floor. It's very hard to take that stuff too seriously. I think if we were to try and do an accurate portrayal of that kind of stuff we'd probably all have a slightly serious tone about it but there was a log of laughing. You have to otherwise if you take it too seriously, then maybe the audience will take it too seriously and we are in a B genre.

You mention blood and body parts... in some instances, you chose to use traditional effects. Is there a reason for that?

PS: Yeah. I sort of feel like if we can put an actor in a suit, into a make-up effect, then you can have that actor interacting with the other performers and there's something tactile about it. It's real. It's not always the best solution but we really wanted to try and keep our digital effects, certainly our creature digital effects, to an absolute minimum. I think the best combination is when you can combine the practical with the digital and get something that looks quite extraordinary.

I'm curious about your experience with the film's premiere at TIFF's Midnight Madness correct?

PS: Yes.

How did that play out for you?

PS: It was our second time at TIFF and it was fantastic. Our first film screened at Midnight Madness and we just had an absolute ball. It was the best screening we'd ever had of the film. The audience is... they're just very savvy, genre people and that love that stuff. Daybreakers went down fantastically well. It's such a big theatre too. You have this audience of, I don't know, 1,300 people or whatever it is, and if the film works, you'll know about it and if a film doesn't work you'll know about it too. It's great fun.

Could you talk a little about your current project Captain Blood?

PS: That's a project that's probably not going to be our next. There's something else we've been working on for quite a while. A script of ours that could be the next thing we do. There's another project that I'm hoping, fingers crossed, will be announced sometime soon. I'm being cryptic because everything is at a point where things are either going to happen or they're not going to happen but everything is looking very positive. We're looking at other projects other than Captain Blood at this stage.

Any plans to move away from genre filmmaking?

PS: Yeah, absolutely. The projects that we're working on are not horror films. There's something that we're working on right now that's actually a PG film. Now that I think about it, both of the projects that we're working on right now are PG or PG-13 type projects.

MS: But we'll turn them into R rated movies.

That's always a bonus.


Thank you again for your time today and best of luck with everything.

PS: Thank you.

MS: Thank you.

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