Cult Projections: Dale, tell me a little about Killervision, your first feature; what did that cost, and how was it received?
Dale: Killervision is a supernatural thriller about a young man who acquires a brain injury following a traumatic car accident. Through his injury he begins to see images of his friends getting murdered while watching B-grade movies and when they start happening in real life he has to find the identity of the murderer before he becomes the next victim.
It was an amazing experience being on set. Everyone involved put in so much time and energy and the whole process taught me a lot about not only making the film, but also how to get it out into the wide world. Its budget was bigger than that of Beckoning the Butcher as we were shooting for a solid month and needed a lot more locations and prosthetics for the special effects. It's been very well received! I recently spoke with the head of Silverline, our sales agent in Los Angeles regarding worldwide distribution.
CP: Damien, how long have you and Dale known each other? Did you attend any kind of tertiary acting school? Stage?
Damien: I have known Dale since 2008 when I auditioned for one of his short films Closure. I studied at BAPA (Ballarat Academy of Performing Arts), I have studied in Los Angeles, and throughout numerous acting schools in Melbourne.
CP: Dale, what movies made you want to become a filmmaker? What found footage movies have really impressed you?
Dale: Since I was a kid I've really loved big action/sci-fi spectacles like The Terminator or The Matrix. The idea of being involved in creating something as cool as someone dodging bullets or chasing a motorbike in a truck was definitely appealing. Although it sounds cliché, during film school I was exposed to classics like Citizen Kane and Fight Club and it helped to foster my passion for amazing storytelling. Although I'd still love to do the bullet-dodging motorbike one day, that little kid inside now gets crazy excited over great character development and dialogue.
In terms of found footage, I really loved movies like The Tunnel, The Poughkeepsie Tapes, and the first Paranormal Activity. All of them had amazing atmospheres and used the locations/characters in interesting ways to build the scares.
CP: How did you find and secure the amazing farmhouse location for Beckoning The Butcher? Where exactly is it? How big was the principal shoot crew?
Dale: Damien secured the farmhouse from his connections deep in country Kerang. When I wrote the original script in June 2012, we actually had another house nearby in mind. We changed location about a month before principal photography due to possible snake hazards (the original house was surrounded by very tall grass). Originally there were a lot more rooms to play with, so when we changed locations it was a challenge working the script into the new house but we got there! The principal shoot pretty much had no crew. For the found footage segments it was just the actors and myself with mainly Damien holding the camera while acting. I felt this really helped build up the atmosphere for everyone as we truly felt alone, plus the actors had complete free reign to act out the scenes without Damien needing to worry about getting a boom or light in shot. We also had the incredibly talented Teaghan Barnard and her team come down to do makeup for the special effect shots on the weekends. However, when we shot the interview segments a month later, we had Jonathan Burton and Alex Joseski behind the camera and lighting, and Reece Russel on sound. Both shoots had very different vibes. The found footage felt more relaxed and was just like six friends hanging out most of the time, whereas the interviews, while still fun, felt more like a traditional set where it was a race against time to set everything up. Everyone involved put in so much and it was a blast to work with them all.
CP: Dale, apparently you shot the movie very quickly. What was your shooting ratio like? How many takes would you get Damien to do, and the other actors when they were operating the cameras, before you were happy with the footage? It must have been time consuming because it wouldn’t have been easy to have a video-split for each camera, or was it?
Dale: I feel that we stormed through a lot of the found footage shoot because we didn't have to wait for lights or sound to be set up. Because most of the shoot took place at night we could discuss the scenes were going to shoot in the afternoon, then just rock up to the set once the sun had set, do a block through and then smash it out without having to do too many takes. It was pretty funny, because I couldn't actually see what the actors were doing or what the cameras were seeing. I had to hide way out of shot in another room of the house when the action was taking place, so once we all thought the take was amazing, we'd take the SD card out of the camera and watch it back on a laptop. I was pretty much always pleased with what Damien and the guys were doing when they had the camera so our shooting ratio would have been around 1.5:1. The only thing we had to watch out for was the wiring on the roof. Because the house had no electricity or running water, the roof was covered with extension cords, which went to a generator outside. The same was with the interview scenes as we didn't have much camera movement during the interviews and I had worked with the actors before they had arrived in Kerang. I also used every second of cutaways we shot in the final edit.
CP: All the performances are naturalistic and convincing. Tell me a little about the audition process; how easily did you find the individual actors, what were their backgrounds (ie short films, stage, TV)?
Dale: The audition process was a lot of fun. We did a few exercises with the actors to not only see how they could deliver the dialogue, but to see what they could bring to the characters from their own personalities. We were really blown away by the auditions and the amount of talent that showed up. The actors who secured the roles had a lot of experience under their belt in films, stage and TV, so not only did they all bring a lot of talent, but we gelled really well.
CP: Do you believe in the supernatural and/or the occult at all? What’s the scariest movie you’ve each seen?
Dale: I don't really believe in the occult or supernatural but there's always that little voice in the back of my mind that says it could be real. However, I've convinced myself there's always a logical explanation. I'm way more scared of spiders, so while the actors were afraid while summoning a ghost in a 100-year-old farm house, I'd run out of the house screaming if I saw a tiny daddy long legs. The scariest movie I think I've seen is probably a French film called Martyrs. Although I felt it went a bit “gross-out film” in the end, it succeeded in that it really grossed me out.
Damien: I actually don't believe in the supernatural. I had a crazy experience when I was on set though, I went out of the house to do my business, and it felt like there was a man behind me and he jumped onto my back making me run back into the house screaming and terrified. The scariest movies I have seen would probably be Ju-On: The Grudge, Shutter, Paranormal Activity - due to sudden loud sounds that startled me, and the anticipation, and long drawn out pauses - rather than believing in the supernatural. Also parts of The Hills Have Eyes I found more disturbing, than scary, so I can’t really put the finger on just one film.
CP: What about the other actors, were they fans of horror movies?
Dale: I'm not too sure, but I don't think so. I think the guys might have seen and enjoyed a few horrors, but I don't think they are major horror buffs.
CP: Dale, what are the most important elements in a horror movie? What do you see other horror movies failing to do?
Dale: I feel that the majorly important aspect is to build an atmosphere and to have likeable characters, and just like any film genre, that comes from a great script and great acting. You can have all the amazing blood, gore and special effects in a horror movie, but if people really care about the characters (and can logically understand why the characters are doing what they do) the scares feel more real and hit closer to home. In researching Butcher I watched some horror films where the characters would just do really stupid and annoying things in order for the production to throw more blood out there or to have the actress get naked and I found that to be more frustrating than enjoyable.
CP: Damien, did it concern you at all that Beckoning the Butcher might be just another mediocre effort in a glut of found footage flicks, or did you know from the start that Dale’s concept and his deliverance could push the movie to the top of the pile?
Damien: As soon as I read the first draft of the script, I knew that this would be a dealmaker. Dale has once again delivered a high standard of writing. It shows that I couldn't sleep without looking in the cupboard before the lights went out in my room.
CP: Dale, some would say making a found footage movie is a piece of piss, but the reality is, it’s a tricky one to get right, because you have to justify every camera shot and movement, and even more importantly, you have to justify why someone scared out of their wits would even bother to keep shooting. Tell me a little about how you approached this in terms of the screenplay and then when it came to shoot.
Dale: It's a really tough thing to justify. A lot of the material that inspired Butcher came from people uploading themselves performing rituals like The Midnight Game or One-Man Hide and Seek onto YouTube, so I decided to write the lead character as an aspiring internet celebrity with his own channel who tests these rituals. I wrote Damien's character and developed it with him so that he'd be the kind of guy who would document these things to feed his agenda for his channel. When people start to die, I feel that this changes a little and it's more about documenting these strange events to provide a logical explanation or to stop others from suffering the same fate.
CP: Damien, distribution costs aside, can you tell me how much the movie cost in the end?
Damien: The total cost of the film was $3,000.
CP: Dale, how did you decide on what cameras you were going to use? Did that small camera really have night vision or was that something you invented for the sake of the narrative?
Dale: I really wanted to have multiple cameras to cut between during the found footage segments, whether that came down to phones or security footage, just because I feel that it's a good tool to use for building the atmosphere. That old camera really had the night vision capabilities and I've always loved how eerie everything looks through its lens so I just had to write it in!
CP: Is there an ongoing future for the found footage genre? Most of them deal with the supernatural; I’m surprised there haven’t been more “snuff” related movies, but most likely because they would be a much harder sell. Do you think there are still taboos in the horror genre? Should they remain, or do horror filmmakers need to keep pushing the envelope?
Dale: I think that there are always new ways to shock people, and I'm all for doing it. I think there's a lot to play with in terms of medical taboos (like The Human Centipede) or sexual taboos (like A Serbian Film) and although it's not everyone's cup of tea, there's definitely a market out there for it. Some people enjoy watching the envelope being pushed and so long as it's justified in the storytelling and it's told in an interesting way (not just a solid 90 minutes of people getting abused), then I say bring on the blood! As for found footage, as long as it's understood that it's just a tool and not relied upon too heavily as a gimmick, I think that there is still a future for it.
CP: Which horror directors and/or movies of recent years have really impressed you?
Dale: I'm a big fan of James Wan's work. I'm in love with the editing and the writing of the first Saw movie, and really enjoyed Insidious and The Conjuring. Can't wait to see how Insidious: Chapter 2 plays out.
Damien: I am actually not too massive on the whole horror genre. I appreciate people that do a great job on a small budget. I liked Greg Mclean’s work in Wolf Creek. I am a fan of Christopher Nolan; I love EPIC!!! I love his big productions.
CP: Dale, it’s early days, but what’s next on the cards? Another horror movie I hope!
Dale: It's still very early days, but there has been some discussion between Damien and myself about possibly tackling a brutal action movie. Although there may not be horror elements, there will definitely be tension and blood. Lots and lots of blood.