Director Brett Anstey Talks 'Damned by Dawn'
Interview by Gavin Schmitt.
On November 4, thanks to the power of the internet, my questions for
Brett Anstey moved all the way across the United States, through the
Pacific Ocean, and to his home in Australia! And then back again! For
those who haven't heard, Anstey is the creative force behind Image
Entertainment's newest release, "Damned by Dawn".
Brett is a fan of horror in general, especially the classics from
Universal and Hammer. We talked about that, as well as the Australian horror
tradition, but of course ended up focusing on "Damned by Dawn".
GS: You made a short film back in 2004 called "Atomic Spitballs". For
those who want to compare your work, where can they find it?
BA: Unfortunately (or fortunately) most of the previous shorts are
gathering dust on my shelf! Having said that, SPITBALLS can be viewed on
YouTube and IMDB, but one of these days I'll get around to uploading the
rest of the back catalogue.
GS: I know you were influenced by Hammer horror films. Are there any
that specifically that stand out, any underappreciated ones you would like
BA: There are so many lesser known Hammers that I absolutely love to
bits. In particular I highly recommend you check out THE GORGON and THE
BRIDES OF DRACULA. Truthfully I could be here all day listing my favorites!
GS: I heard that you started "Damned by Dawn" in 2005, but it wasn't
finished until 2009. Can you explain this time lapse: budget problems?
BA: Well we developed and wrote the film in 2005. Then in August and
September the following year we shot it. Being an extremely low budget film
we faced many hurdles, which resulted in many compromises during principle
photography. For example, the script indicated we needed to shoot in a foggy
location. So the main location we chose was renowned for its fog -- during
the location recon the fog looked amazing. Murphy's Law being what it is,
when it came time to shoot, there wasn't an ounce of fog. Every day we had
clear blue skies -- it looked like a summer camp and not a creepy
atmospheric location! Which was very disheartening. So what that meant was a
lot of work during post production. And because I did the bulk of the visual
FX, then it just took time -- 18 months, in fact!
GS: You have said the title "Damned by Dawn" is not an homage to "Dead
by Dawn", but an accident. And yet, the reviews used on the DVD and press
release fully compare your film to (the non-existent) "Evil Dead 4" and
"Drag Me To Hell". Did this "accident" take on a life of its own?
BA: It most certainly did take a life of its own and was something I had
no control over. I think what happened was one reviewer compared it to EVIL
DEAD and the distributor ran with it! In all honesty, I can't see the
connection, but if others can, then I'm fine with that. Making an EVIL DEAD
style film wasn't our intention at all. As you mentioned, the original idea
was to make it a homage to the Hammer horrors and for a number of reasons
(lack of budget being the number one factor), the final film evolved into a
different beast altogether.
GS: New Zealand has a bit of a horror history, with Peter Jackson and
more recently "Black Sheep". I don't know much about Australia... is there a
tradition there? Would you say working outside England or America limits
your cast and crew options?
BA: Most definitely there's a tradition here. Films like RAZORBACK, DEAD
CALM, LONG WEEKEND, WOLF CREEK, BLACK WATER, DAYBREAKERS and SAW (I guess we
could debate how Aussie it is all day long, but its roots are Aussie!). And
let's not forget THE HOWLING 3!!! As for cast and crew, we have some of the
best people here in the world. Now, it's true they all don't work on horror
films (I'm looking at you Geoffrey Rush, Eric Bana, Hugh Jackman, Sam
Worthington, Guy Pierce, Russell Crowe and Cate Blanchett) but they may one
GS: There's a rumor that your makeup guy, Justin Dix, doubled as a
stunt man, at one point even wearing a blonde wig...
BA: (laughs) Yeah, that's correct. Being a low budget film we couldn't
afford to hire stunt people, so we just asked who in the crew would like to
jump off a balcony onto some mattresses and boxes! Actually that's not
entirely true. Let me explain -- the script required the Banshee character
to be pushed off a balcony. On our older short films from years ago, Justin
was the "stunt guy". He was the guy who would do the crazy shit and risk his
life. So naturally enough, I asked him if he would consider jumping off the
balcony. He politely said "I'm too old for this shit!" So the plan B was to
shoot a background plate and an element of the Banshee against blue screen
and comp it later -- an effect we had done previously on a bunch of shorts
films that worked out okay but not great. Then a few hours before we were
scheduled to shoot the plate, Justin was asked again and he finally agreed
to do it.
GS: For lower budget films, I'm very interested in their choice of
camera and film (if film is used). Traditional film and digital create very
different looks. What equipment did you use for DBD and why?
BA: Well shooting on 35mm was never an option for us. So we tested a
number of HD cameras and formats and ultimately we chose to shoot on the
Panasonic HVX P2. At the time this camera had just hit the market and it
offered us enough color space for grading that the other cameras didn't.
GS: How about for editing and CG... what program would you recommend
to new film-makers?
BA: Dave Redman the editor used FCP (Final Cut Pro) to cut the film. I'm
not really in the best position to recommend one program over another, but
many years ago I learnt how to do character animation in 3D Max. So when it
was decided to replace some of the Ghost characters we'd shot against blue
screen with CG versions, then I simply used 3D Max again, only because
that's what I was familiar with. I should say we spent considerable effort
to shoot the Ghosts (actors in costumes and prosthetics) hung in front of a
blue screen. However it became really difficult to match the dynamic camera
moves shot on location -- so it was simpler to re-do some of those shots
with CG characters.
GS: The word that keeps coming up when talking about your film is
"atmospheric". Can you elaborate on that?
BA: I suppose it came out of my love of the Universal horror films of the
30s and 40s and of course the Hammer films, too. These films were full of
atmosphere. And not wanting to generalize here -- most contemporary horror
films are lacking in atmosphere. Well the sort of mood that I love anyway.
So I felt it was important to instill that quality into our film. Ask any of
the actors and they'd probably tell you my first priority was the amount of
fog in each shot "More fog!!!" was heard regularly!
GS: We, of course, want to know what's next... has the wide release of
this film opened any doors for you?
BA: We've been developing a new film for a number of months now and it's
terribly exciting I have to say. It's a roller coaster ride of a film -- a
sci fi horror adventure comedy. We're currently finishing this latest draft,
so hopefully the moons align and we can move into production soon.
GS: Thank you, Brett, for your time.
BA: Thank you.