Fantastic Fest 2014 Interview: Kiah & Tristan Roache-Turner on ‘Wyrmwood’
The Australian zombie movie Wyrmwood got a lot of buzz at Fantastic Fest, where it premiered this week after four years of production. Brothers Kiah and Tristan Roache-Turner wrote and Kiah directed the zombie film with a twist. In the Australian wasteland, internal combustion fuels no longer work. However, the zombies produce flammable gas, so a group of survivors design a truck to run on zombies. WE met the Roache-Turners in Austin after they unveiled Wyrmwood and sent their zombie actors out around Austin.
CraveOnline: Zombie movies have gone international. We’ve seen the U.K. with Shaun of the Dead, Juan of the Dead for Cuba. What is the Australian take on zombies?
Kiah Roache-Turner: Me and Tristan basically grew up watching Mad Max. That’s a massive film for us, and Dawn of the Dead. So one of the things that we were always waiting for was for somebody to finally do that again. Nobody did it. Ironically enough, they’re just coming out now with a new George Miller one. Sort of waiting and waiting and waiting, we just decided, “Fuck it. We’re filmmakers. We’re just going to do it ourselves.”
We went out with the idea to basically meld Mad Max and Dawn of the Dead, two of our favorite genre films ever made. As you say, you need a sort of hook. One of the hooks is the fact that it’s set in Australia. The Australian landscape I think is a very, very specific thing. There’s no landscape that really looks like that which is fantastic, and the Australian sense of humor, the dry ironic black humor and all that kind of stuff, but really the hooks that really interested us was when Tristan came over when we were writing the project and he’s like, “What if we made the zombies like batteries? What if the methane they were breathing, we could actually attach them to the Mad Max vehicles and use them as fuel?” I was just like that is a killer hook.
So did you start with a more Romero style zombie and then have the idea for fuel, or did you go in wanting to create a new zombie mythology?
Tristan Roache-Turner: I don’t think we even really focused too much on the zombie. We wanted to make a movie that we just wanted to see because we had grown up watching action movies. We just wanted to make something that kicked ass basically, with guys in armor battering the shit out of zombies, and just went from there.
Kiah Roache-Turner: Yeah, men in armor hitting things and shooting things with double barreled shotguns. That was the jump off point. Anything else we just made up as we went along.
How did you cast your leads?
Kiah Roache-Turner: We just interviewed for Bianca [Bradey]’s role and she was the one that came in and nailed the part. We had a brief conversation I think over coffee and I asked, “What’s your take on the character?” She’d read the script and she said, “I want to play it halfway between Joan of Arc and The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo.” I said, “When can you start?” She just really had a beautiful take on the character.
She did a lot of her own stunts and we had her doing shit you really shouldn’t ask a woman to do. The entire end sequence was filmed in, like, a below zero temperature pine forest and the outfit that we picked out earlier on for summer was pretty skimpy jeans that looked like they were painted on with rips and stuff. Not a single complaint. She got out of the car, there’s frost everywhere, it’s basically snowing and she’s like, “Really?” I’m like, [nervously], “Yeah.” She just goes, “Yeah, let’s get into it.” She’s a tough cookie, man. I think she could make a really good action heroine.
Leon [Burchill] was interesting because originally we’d written his character for a bloke called Yure Covich, who came on board. He’s a great actor but unfortunately his schedule closed up and he had to come to us and go, “I can’t finish the film.” We were like, “Dude, you’re the costar.” There’s a way that we were able to move his character to the left and bring Leon in. So Leon came in to replace Yure.
It was an interesting organic process to the whole film actually because we were rewriting it as we were going. It started off as a completely different film and ended a completely different film. When Leon came on it was fantastic because it was written for a white bloke, bald with a beard. In comes Leon and I’m like, “Leon, do you want us to change any of the words?” And we ended up changing pretty much everything. All of his amazing indigenous stuff.
The opening scene with Leon was all just written later on. It’s something that he got together and improvised. His character expanded as we went so I was able to bring a lot of indigenous stuff to the film which is fantastic because I think it really lifts it and it sets it in the Australian landscape which is brilliant.
Jay [Gallagher] did the full three years. He was the first person I ran into and said, “I’m making a zombie film, you’re starring.” Three years later he was finishing his arc and his arc twisted and turned and changed so much. I don’t know how he was able to maintain such a consistent character. I think it was good because I think Barry, the lead guy, is pretty one direction, not the band. He just wants to find his sister and he’s just got a simmering rage he needs to keep up throughout the whole thing.
Were there any sequences you only had one go at because you couldn’t have redone it?
Kiah Roache-Turner: Yes, when you set somebody’s head on fire, you should only do it once but we ended up doing it four times. The hardest part was the schedules. There was a point where the medical holding cell sequence with the crazy doctor and stuff, when I storyboarded that out, that was 600 storyboards. We had six days so that’s averaging 100 setups a day. I think we managed to get it down to about 500 setups but we did 100 setups a day successfully.
Tristan Roache-Turner: We had one chance at getting a scene right because we set aside one weekend. If we didn’t get everything we needed on that weekend, we couldn’t go back because it was just too hard to set everything up again.
Kiah Roache-Turner: We’d start shooting Friday morning at 7AM, finish shooting at 11PM on Sunday night and it was just balls to the walls every single day. It’s difficult too because you’re shooting with a crew who works on Monday. You have a half crew on Friday because most people couldn’t make it, so you’re shooting with a skeleton crew on Friday and then you shoot through the weekend and people have to work the next day after you wrap at 11 so that’s very difficult.
We had three to four months sometimes between shoots. If you shoot, then wait two or three months, then shoot again, you have to learn how to shoot again. You have a new crew. It’s really difficult because if you shoot three days in a row, on the third day the crew’s tight and everything’s working really well. On the first day you waste a day, so every time we’d shoot, we’d waste a day relearning how to be filmmakers. It was a really difficult way to do things.
Did 500 setups and shooting months apart make editing easier because it was all dictated, or was post a nightmare?
Kiah Roache-Turner: The word you’re looking for is nightmare. Not only was it disparate and difficult to put together, but we shot on multiple camera formats. Our DP Timothy Nagle would tell you that makes things very difficult when it comes to grade and stuff. We shot on the 5D Mark I, the 5D Mark II, the C300, the C100, the Sony FS700, the RED EPIC and the RED Scarlett and anything else we could get our hands on. So we had different camera formats, it was a nightmare.
When you’re making a film on the sweat of an oily rag, you use whatever you’ve got and you just go for it. We got there in the end. The guy who did the grading, Matty Fezz did a really good job. It looks okay. It looks really thrown together, but we don’t have any right for it to look good. He did really well.
Because we’d been shooting with Jay for like three years, and we purchased his leathers in 2010 and finished shooting them in 2014, they just started falling apart. His ass actually fell out of costume and because there were plenty of other things to do, we didn’t really fix it for three or four shoots. So he’s going, “I’m supposed to be an action hero. My ass is falling out.” I’m shooting him from above the ass, so when you see him at the end, look at his costume. He is literally held together by gaffer tape and cable ties. It’s pretty amazing.
His hair does change from scene to scene. Probably the biggest change is to Yure, the bearded guy. In his first scene, his beard’s quite short. Then when he headbutts Jay, Jay falls unconscious, wakes up and then you see Yure and his beard’s three times as long. It’s a huge inconsistency that nobody seems to care about, and it’s a testament to how quickly the film moves that all the glaring mistakes that we think are so huge, nobody really notices.
You say you wanted to make another Mad Max but in the ‘80s, Australia was where all these wild films were coming from. Now do you have to compete with a larger world cinema that also does pretty wild stuff?
Kiah Roache-Turner: Yeah. Independent cinema is exploding at the moment. Some really exciting genre films are coming out. People are just making films for no money. The great thing about a festival like this is you get to see what’s out there. You get to see what you’re up against. The amount of imagination and originality on such low budgets is just phenomenal. Tristan actually did all the production design and costumes.
So the vehicles were Tristan’s design?
Tristan Roache-Turner: The truck that you saw, I bought it off eBay for, like, 700-800 bucks and parked it out front of my house for about six weeks and just attacked it with grime and drills, got a couple of my mates. I was an electrician back then and just got a couple of the boys and just chopped the shit out of it, sprayed it with 20 cans of spray paint. I got some pretty funny looks from the neighbors actually.