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Marina Antunes [Celluloid 07.17.14] thriller

The nuclear apocalypse has long been a fascination and many a movie have dealt with the lead up or the aftermath of the event. In the case of Hungarian director Peter Engert's movie, Aftermath deals with the events immediately after a number of bombs go off in the US. We follow a group of individuals who are thrown together by chance as they try to survive the first month post nuclear attack in a cramped cellar. The one room thriller is effective and includes a solid performance from relative new comer C.J. Thomason alongside veterans Edward Furlong and Andre Royo.

I recently had a chance to speak with Engert and he spoke candidly about the troubled production, working with the Furlong and his future project.

Aftermath is available in theatres, VOD and iTunes on Friday, July 18.

Congratulations on the movie.

Thank you. On behalf of myself and the entire cast and crew thank you.

I noticed that you didn't just direct Aftermath, you also produced it. What was it about the story and script that appealed to you so much that you decided to jump on not only as director but also as a producer?

A couple of months before we started to shoot Aftermath I directed another movie with some of the producers from Aftermath and some of the investors that worked with me on my film joined the financing team on Aftermath but initially I was not involved as the director.

One day before shooting was scheduled to start, they had a problem with the director they had in place and they called me and asked that I take over the project.

So you really didn't have much of a choice.

More like they had no choice! [Laughs]

We'd already worked together and they knew me. I'm from Hungary and I have my own way of setting up my sets, my shooting schedule and everything, I don't really want to run into any technical problems that can be avoided and they knew that they could trust me and I trusted them since I'd worked with them before. We worked together famously well.

So I joined pre-production literally four days before principal photography started on Aftermath.

Wow. That must be difficult especially when you have your own method of setting things up in pre-production to make sure everything runs smoothly...

Eventually the cinematographers changed as well and Scott Winig came a day after I started work on the film. We literally spent hours and hours before crew call to do all of the so called pre-production work so technically we knew how the day was going to go. I had no time to rehearse and work with the actors but that's exactly why, I believe, the frustration of everyone worked well for the scenes. Their only choice is to keep shooting, keep shooting. I even shot rehearsals.

I shot Ed Furlong when he wasn't even aware that we were filming. He's a very unpredictable and a brilliant actor when he wants to. [Laughs] It was a challenge.

Having done producing, directing, writing and even acting, do you prefer one role over another?

Well I prefer directing. I came from Hungary in 1998 and I didn't speak a word of English and I chose the easiest way to get into film: learning how to write [laughs] which is obviously the most difficult but I wrote over 30 screenplays before my first film was shot but I enjoyed the challenge. I have co-writers and I make my own way to be heard. I love writing but directing is really how I prefer to express myself.

Did you always want to be a director?

I was involved with the theatre in Hungary and I thought that directing was my calling and what I wanted to do but back then it was very difficult to get into film in a post-communist country. It seemed easier to come here, learn English and somehow get into film school which I didn't even finish because I found it too slow. I ended up doing it on my own, joining seminars and workshops in New York and LA. I learned everything that way.

Working on a small budget like this and with your background - do find your approach particularly good for indie filmmaking?

It's difficult because I knew I wanted to focus on the actors and trying to introduce the story from the character's point of view. I think that's your only way in indie and low budget movies because you don't really have money for anything else so the best way to handle this is to cast the best people. They don't necessarily need to be high paid actors. It's not about the money it's about the dedication.

In my other movies, I've worked with actors who are dedicated to method acting and they've produced brilliant scenes.

I wanted to approach Aftermath in a horror/sci-fi style - though some people have even called it a drama - sort of way. Regardless of the genre it's always about the characters and I knew the characters had to be at the center of this story.

You mention actors and I thought CJs performance was really good. He's not an actor I've seen in a lot of movies but he did a great job of carrying the central lead performance.

I have a weird way of working on scenes. I like to push the actors. Sometimes I actually cause arguments and as soon as I see that the actors are reaching a certain point, I say "Use it now. Action" and we started to shoot and they had no choice. They didn't deliver the lines but psychologically and emotionally they were there and they were arguing from the previously conversation which had nothing to do with the scene. But it worked and CJ was really really great because he knew why I was doing it. CJ is really great. I believe this is the third time that we've worked together in either movies I've directed or produced and he's really good.

I was really impressed with his performance.

You mentioned earlier how it was hard to classify this and one of the things that surprised me doing a little background reading on the movie is that a lot of people have called this a zombie movie. I'm not quite sure where that came from because I didn't see any zombies...

I think that anyone that calls this a zombie movie didn't see the movie because once you see the movie - they say that it has zombie elements to it but again that's one of the great compliments we get because you realize that these humans, these refugees, they act like zombies because they're thirsty and hungry. They have these animalistic instincts and they have basic needs that haven't been met.

I'm glad that they get the feeling that they're watching a zombie movie but clearly the outsiders are very human.

I love one room, one location thrillers and seeing how characters react to each other when they're in this enclosed space. Did you shoot on location or on a set and how did that affect the look and feel of the movie?

We shot in sequence. We shot it in the order of the screen play. We spent three weeks in a studio and then one week on location. In the studio it was linear so for make-up and special effects and for the actors, I drew out everyone's character arch. We were comfortable working there because we were able to move the walls but once we got to the location, we shot three film days in one shooting day so it was a totally different emotional presence and energy. Plus it was rainy and muddy and the weather really didn't cooperate so there were a lot of issues that we had to overcome and hopefully we succeeded and those issues don't show.

You talked before about trying to get the emotion. For the most part all of the characters are in all of the scenes. Was it difficult to manage that many different actors and their individual needs?

It was in the beginning because all of these actors are very different in ages, in the way they approach their characters, the way they deliver lines. Like Eddie would never give you the same line which obviously causes a little problem for somebody who expects a specific line. Some people might say that's unprofessional but I don't see it that way. I think it creates an unpredictability that I love.

I have to approach Eddie Furlong and CJ Thomason in completely different ways. CJ was very easy to work with. Eddie… I never knew what he was going to do. But that was also great. I think you have to love what you have and again, I came in so late and I didn't cast any of these guys.

I really loved working with Andre Royo because he delivers everything the way you want it. You ask him for something and he gets it there every single time. That set the bar big time. But he's Andre Royo. He's a brilliant actor.

I love the exterior shots after the event happens. Those shots have a very distinct look. How did you come up with the look of the landscape after the fallout?

We had no time to be inspired by anything beyond the screenplay and the location. Huge credit goes to Scott our cinematographer. We spent nearly every single hour together creating the mood and feel of it. We were using these filters that gave us this look but the location was already set. There were specific aspects to the location and we naturally got that smoky look in the background. That's not CGI. We were lucky to have that. I couldn't have done this without Scott. He was very supportive and we became very good friends and I think we understood each other and understood the weakness of the project and where we had to step in and he delivered an awesome look.

It's gorgeous.

You have your next project lined up. A horror movie called "The Show." Is there anything you can tell us about that?

I like to pick a topic that's a problem of society. Aftermath explores whether we're ready for nuclear war and how we would react and The Show is about an FBI agent who investigates a website that is offering ten million dollars for the most gruesome and creative execution caught on video. I'm not doing this for the gore, that's not what I'm focusing on. I'm tired of watching the news and everything that is in the center of the new is negative and often about death and this is a response to that.

I love horror but it has to have a message. If it doesn’t have something to say, I don't see the point of making it.

That sounds promising. One of the reasons I don't watch the news anymore is that it tends to be so fatalistic.

That's what I think. And I think I can see myself in the horror genre but I always have to have a message and that's what I learned from my father too. He wasn't a fan of genre at all but he always said that as long as you have a message after taking people through a nightmare, then you're doing something good. Everything bad that happens to us could actually lead to something good.

Since we're talking about horror movies, what would you say are your favourite horror movies?

You know, that would probably be an interesting question for my wife because I watch movies with a notebook so I'm not fun at all. Sometimes I stop the movie in the middle of scene because I need to make a note. That being said, I love psychological horror and I love the Japanese horror movies. It doesn't even matter how bad it is. I like when they emotionally shake you up a little bit and stays with you. I can't really point out one movie but I do like something that stays with you and haunts you if you will. In a good way.

There's another movie I want to make called Paternoster an elevator in Europe that's not familiar here in America. It's an open elevator that is constantly moving and it has two cabins, one going up and one going down. This movie is about a woman who is haunted by a boy's soul who she aborted years before and that leads her to a mystery in a small town hospital. I want to talk about abortion but I don't want to mention abortion. That's what I like about the horror genre, that you can talk about things indirectly.

That's really the best type of horror. Not the movies that are just shocking, it needs to have some sort of substance. Those are the ones that tend to be most affecting and most memorable in the long term.


Aftermath is available in theatres, VOD and iTunes on Friday, July 18.

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Sandra Fluke (6 years ago) Reply

What’s truly horrific is Engert’s first film. “Loving the Bad Man” is a piece of evangelical garbage that should have been called “Todd Akin Presents, Loving the Rapist.” Stephen Baldwin rapes some girl. For some reason, they're able to tell her at the hospital that she is pregnant, but he refuses to abort the rape-fetus, Jesus wants her to keep it. Not only that, but she visits the rapist in prison, forgives him… Then she tells them they have a boy to raise together as soon as he gets out! Que happy music!

The film had clearly been inspired by that section of Leviticus that says if a single woman is raped, she is obligated to marry the rapist. Engert is a hardcore misogynist, akin to Rick Santorum. He’s in the same crowd that says birth control is murder, and was likely elated by the Hobby Lobby ruling.

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