Check out the trailer for the new Justin Dix directed, Australian horror movie Crawlspace… and don’t forget to check out my exclusive 2-part interview with special effects guru and director Justin Dix HERE (part 1) and HERE (part 2) for insight into Justin’s account of the film-making process, his thoughts on horror and the state of the Australian film industry. You should also check out the website for Justin’s Melbourne based SFX studio, Wicked of Oz, for information about all of his work, past, present and future HERE
GEORDIE: Since Rogue, Greg has spent his time as an executive producer but now has two features in pre-production in a directing capacity, one of them the long-awaited sequel to Wolf Creek, how close are we to seeing Mick Taylor again?
JUSTIN: Greg is in pre-production with Wolf Creek 2 right now, since then Greg’s company, ‘Wolf Creek Pictures’ has been and continues to attach itself as one of the production companies and Greg as Executive Producer for films like ‘Red Hill’ and of course ‘Crawlspace’. There are several other production that are in early stages of development that ‘Wolf Creek Pictures’ is attached too.
GEORDIE: The Australian film industry is either in a healthy state, or at deaths door, depending on who’s sound bite we hear from one week to the next. How difficult was it raising the capital in Australia to fund your debut feature? What is your take on the current state of the Australian film Industry?
JUSTIN: It’s a very good question, my answer to that is that we have not been in a healthy state for a very long time. Of course when you hear about films like ‘The Sapphire’s’ and ‘Red Dog’s’ success here in Australia, but they don’t really translate overseas and these success stories are once in a blue moon. When our films travel abroad, they are generally regarded as being in the art house or specialist category as we have consistently produced drama and we rarely make action or genre films that rely on special effects because they are considered expensive genres. But these are the sort of films that have true commercial success internationally. I also disagree that these films are too expensive to produce, the average American action film with a star like Jean-Claude Van Damme or a Jim Caviezel has a budget of 3 million dollars, and then you have the 1 million and under horror model in the US which has spawned an incredible amount of success stories from ‘Saw’, ‘Insidious’, Paranormal Activity”, ‘I Saw the Devil’ and recently ‘Sinister’ and many more which have gone on to make hundred and hundreds of millions of dollars, which in turn create opportunities for new film makers. But, an average Australian film in a genre with no international appeal is around 4-6 million dollars and would be very lucky to ever see it make money back. I feel here in Australia we have become lazy film makers due to government funding and handouts. In America, they don’t have any such entities and have to work for a living – so the projects are based on commercial viability, about how to make money and how to get bums in seats.
To truly have a healthy film industry we need to be producing at least one hundred films a year. This would not only keep the crew and actors in Australia really busy, but create hundreds if not thousands of new jobs for people wanting to get into the film industry here. They would need to be of commercial value, and I don’t mean ‘American accents’ – those days a long gone, and in fact it did not hinder ‘Crawlspace’ one bit, it was mentioned on many occasions that it was the point of difference that made it unique. At the moment we produce somewhere between twenty five to forty feature films a year if we are lucky. In Hollywood they produce anywhere between four hundred to six hundred feature films a year, they have a film industry.
We also need to embrace the commerciality, action, sci-fi and horror, these films breakdown the language barrier that comedies and dramas will suffer for in overseas markets. Now, nobody goes out to make a bad horror or action flick, but if you do, there is still a market for that- but if you make a bad drama or comedy, there is zero market for it. Hell, there is barely a market for a good Australian Drama or Comedy, even in Australia, not something we like to say out aloud, but it’s true.
GEORDIE: Australian film has a long history of quality horror films, from the classic schlocky 70’s and 80’s fare through to the box office success of Wolf Creek, and to a lesser extent the independent flicks such as The Tunnel and Redd Inc. What will Crawlspace add to the mix?
JUSTIN: Crawlspace will add into the mix exactly what I was saying in the previous answer, that we can make these types of films here, and I mean big looking action set pieces with huge production value at an economical cost, without reverting to Aussie actors doing American accents.
Thank God for Sam Worthington, that lad is paving the way for many an Aussie actor in Hollywood to use their natural accent. I’ve always felt that ‘Mad Max 2’ aka ‘The Road Warrior’ in the US, paved the way for the post apocalyptic film genre and America has been running with it ever since, where as we kind of went in a different direction wanting to be taken a little more seriously.
What I wanted to do with ‘Crawlspace’ is get back to that kind of Aussie film making. Who’s to say that America has cart-blanch on Alien conspiracies, post apocalyptic wastelands, found footage poltergeists or zombie apocalypses. I wanted to do an Aussie film that could slot right in there but without compromising the Australian content. Hell, ‘Crawlspace’ is set right in the middle of the Australian desert, just under it, in a real base called Pine Gap. Basically known as Australia’s Area 51- this is our backyard people, and it’s ripe for great stories and movies to be made.
I’m so looking forward to getting back to the days of ‘Ozploitation’ a time in the late 70’s and 80’s when break-neck-action and schlock-horror were the staples of Australian cinema.
GEORDIE: Greg has been associated with the term ‘Splat Pack’ with Alexandre Aja, Darren Lynn Bousman, Neil Marshall, Eli Roth, Rob Zombie, James Wan and Leigh Whannell. What have you planned next, will we be seeing Justin’s name on that list soon?
JUSTIN: I would love to be considered to be part of the ‘splat pack’ one day, we will just have to wait and see. Next for me is one of three feature films I already have written and have been pitching in LA – ‘Declassified’ ‘Riding Hood’ and ‘High Moon’. Of course having ‘Crawlspace’ as a finished film helps enormously as a calling card and with my background in Production Design and Special Effects make-up I’m able to present the projects in the pitches in various visual ways including set design, make-up tests and storyboards. This goes a really long way as they can see you have a real handle on the visuals and how you are going to achieve what is in your script.
GEORDIE: Crawlspace has had a few festival screenings already, when and where can we see Crawlspace nationally?
JUSTIN: Crawlspace had it’s public world premier in Spain at the Sitges film festival in October. Sitges is recognised as the foremost genre film festival in the world, it was huge with over three hundred films showing over the course of the festival and international guests such as Eli Roth, Elijah Wood, Dario Argento and many more in attendance. It was an amazing festival and I was able to attend with thanks to Screen Australia.
From there I went over to L.A. to Screamfest Horror Film Festival for the US premiere of ‘Crawlspace’, again meeting many other fantastic film makers (and the iconic John Carpenter), but also picking up the coveted Screamfest awards for best special effects make-up and best soundtrack which was brilliant.
The film then has done the rounds of a few Aussie film festivals and is due for a simultaneous VOD and limited theatrical release in the US from the 4th of January 2013. From there it will start to be released worldwide on multiple platforms, including Australia, sometime in Jan or Feb.
JUSTIN: Yes, I am a huge horror fan, in fact a get really scared in movies. Friends of mine find this hilarious because I write and work on horror films creating all the effects, but I love cinema and I get very easily drawn into the screen and enveloped into the world on it. My favourite films would have to be John Carpenter’s ‘The Thing’ and ‘American Werewolf in London’ and as far as the Thing remake goes, well it suffers from having a superior film that was made almost thirty years before it being so good, and I’ll say it again as I did before – CGI, just because you can, does not mean you should.
GEORDIE: A huge thanks to Justin for giving up his time to answer a few questions. Keep an eye out for Crawlspace on limited theatrical release and VOD in January and February 2013.
While awaiting the release of the new Australian horror film Crawlspace, I was lucky enough to score an interview with the film’s writer, director, producer, special effects make-up designer and story artist Justin Dix.
GEORDIE: Hi Justin, first of all thanks for taking the time to answer a few questions about your new feature, the Australian horror film Crawlspace.
JUSTIN DIX: No problem Geordie, it’s been a dream project of mine for over ten years, not specifically the film ‘Crawlspace’, but to make a feature film not only for fans of the genre, but for myself to create something that I can still enjoy watching again and again.
GEORDIE: I’d like to start by asking where the idea for Crawlspace started. Would it be fair to say that Crawlspace appears to draw its influences from classic claustrophobic horror films such as Alien and The Thing?
JUSTIN: Yes you could say that, films such as Alien and the Thing are possibly my greatest influences. Alien more for the production design. As I did the production design for Crawlspace myself (including many other roles like storyboarding and FX makeup designing), I was after a very specific look, and with the collaboration of my amazing DOP Simon Ozolins, we created a vision that we are both extremely proud of.
The influence of ‘the Thing’ was the story, not that our stories are similar in any way which they are not, but the feeling of isolation and the paranoia of the characters within confines of our world. John Carpenter is possibly the biggest influence as far as filmmakers I identify with. His early films were so eclectic and had such a diverse range, from ‘Big Trouble in Little China, ‘Halloween’,’The Thing’ and ‘Starman’. I was lucky enough to see a Q &A and meet him at Screamfest this year where ‘Crawlspace’ was playing, which is a huge geek out moment for me. Oh, I also had him sign my ‘Thing’ poster.
GEORDIE: Co-written with Adam Patrick Foster and Eddie Baroo, directed by yourself and I’d assume that you played a major hand in the production design and special effects. This would appear to be very much a Justin Dix film, how different, and difficult was it working on this to your previous work?
JUSTIN: Actually taking on multiple roles for Crawlspace felt very natural and was not a stress at all. I have done this before working on previous feature films for other directors such as Jamie (Urban Legend) Blanks on ‘Storm Warning’ where I Art Directed the film but also Special Effects makeup supervised. It may be a little bit of the control freak in me, but it’s generally more about a cohesive look to the project.
Crawlspace felt no different, and yes part of taking on so many roles was also a budget choice, but it also felt like I was across everything and knew what we had and what we didn’t. So taking on the roles of Director, Writer, Producer, Production Designer, Special Effects Makeup Designer and Storyboard artist meant that I knew the film inside and out. This is all part of what I believe makes a lower budget film run smoothly; planning, planning, planning, and it did, Crawlspace was one of the most enjoyable film shoots I’ve ever been on.
It was a pleasure to go to work everyday and the crew and cast were amazing and we all had such a good time. I’d learnt some things by working on some lower budget films, and I wanted to make sure we avoided any of the perils and pitfalls which can make a project fall behind or create animosity on set. A few of my learnings that I utilized for Crawlspace:
Five day weeks, I’ve done six day weeks and it makes the crew really tired and cranky.
No overtime, as much as crew members like OT pay rates – if you start doing overtime, you are cutting into your budget and working longer hours.
No location shooting – of course this can only work on specific movies, but it makes a huge difference shooting entirely in studio as you control the weather, the light, the sound and at the end of the day you can ‘Hollywood Wrap’, meaning you just turn the lights off and in the morning just turn them back on. Also there is no travel time, which again eats into shooting days.
Make sure the crew are fed really well. These are the basics and there are plenty more, but you would be surprised at how these will give you more shooting time, less stress and keep everyone really comfortable, making for a happy crew. Of course not all film can be done this way, but I wrote Crawlspace specifically to be done this way, knowing that it was my first feature film and wanting to eliminate any obstacles I could foresee prior to even getting into it. I would recommend anyone considering doing their first feature film, but has not written it, to do the same.
GEORDIE: The wide open spaces of the Australian outback have been used as horror backdrops for numerous films; you chose to set your film beneath it. What is it about claustrophobic settings that manage to instil paranoia and fear so effectively?
JUSTIN: Again, this came down to making a film that could be filmed completely in a studio. We used Studio One at the Dockland Studios in Melbourne, by the way. I really loved the movie ‘The Descent’ as it really made me feel very claustrophobic watching it, and I always remembered this and thought it was a great and clever way to manage the paranoia but on a budget.
So you could say that it also influenced me when it came to making Crawlspace. A little bit of trivia by the way, ‘The Decent’ was originally called “Crawlspace’ but they changed the title during production. I actually found this out from Lesley Simpson who has been in all of Neil Marshall’s films including ‘Dog Soldiers’ ‘Doomsday’ and ‘The Descent’. Les now lives in Australia and we have became great friends, so I had to put him into my first film. He is one of the first people you see in the movie.
I figure he was a good luck charm for Neil, so now he’s mine.
GEORDIE: I’m a huge fan of The Loved Ones, on which you were Special Effects Make-up Supervisor, can you tell me what it was like working with directors such as Sean Byrne and Greg McClean (Wolf Creek), who is one of your producers on Crawlspace, what you took from those previous working experiences and applied to your own feature?
JUSTIN: I love working on film, period. Be it my own or someone else’s, and working with other directors gives me a real buzz as we are all working together to bring a vision to life. I have been fortunate enough to work with some real talent in the Australian film industry and can honestly say that we have become friends and supporters of each other’s careers and aspirations.
Apart from working with directors that I respect, but also helping them bring their visions to the screen, I found that I very quickly became friends with people like Sean Byrne, Greg Mclean, Jamie Blanks and Patrick Hughes, as we all share a common vision for the Australian film industry – and that is to take it more into the commercial world of cinema patronage, back to the glory days of ‘The Road Warrior’ ‘Patrick’ and even films like ‘Razorback’ which was Russell Mulcahy’s first feature film.
The Australian film industry has become a little to insular, concentrating on culturally significant films shot in the outback of Australia, or period dramas, or urban gangland crime stories like ‘Animal Kingdom’. I’m not bagging these films but it’s all we seem to produce, even though we know we are capable of so much more and competing in the world commercial market. Did I answer the question, probably not, I get a little passionate about this sometimes.
GEORDIE: Running your own very successful Special Effects Studio must have been quite handy when it comes to making your own horror film. What were some of the benefits that you were able to apply to Crawlspace?
JUSTIN: Having my own special effects studio, Wicked of Oz, and the background of running departments such as the props and miniatures on productions like ‘Charlotte’s Web’ helped enormously when it came to Crawlspace. In fact it really came into play way when writing the script, they say write within your means or what you know you can get your hands on.
Not that this should ever restrict your vision, but it helps with writing something viable that you know you can shoot. With myself, my background allowed my mind to go anywhere or do anything, the only restriction I put on myself was keeping it all practical if possible. In camera always looks the best and I’ve always felt that ‘Out of adversity, comes creativity’ I believe that CGI is not the be all and end all. if you can do it in camera, ‘You Should’ it will save you money at the back end. It’s so much more exciting seeing it on the split right in front of you and with CGI just because you can, does not always mean you should. Meaning that a CGI does not mean it’s going to look or be better, an example, and I’m not naming any film in particular but a CGI werewolf leaping from taxi to taxi then onto buildings does not mean it’s going to look better or give you that visceral feeling of a werewolf running through the streets of London snapping at the heels of pedestrians.
I’m a huge fan of the films of the 80’s for many reasons, but one in particular because they did all the effects in camera and to this day we still hold them up as the benchmarks of what we as film makers want to achieve, but I think new film makers are not given the choice of practical and have been brought up on a diet of Digital, hence the magic of some of those early films like ‘American Werewolf in London’ ‘The Thing’ and even ‘The Dark Crystal’ has been lost. I know that’s where my focus is, I want to be surrounded by this stuff on a film set, not have a wrap around green screen with a dude in green figure hugging spandex suits with pin pong taped to their heads, where’s the fun in that?