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Prank – Alex Weight Interview

FINAL POSTER _billing list 001I managed to get an interview with Alex Weight, the writer/director of new horror film Prank a short in the vein of the fantastical slasher pics of the 80’s – Nightmare on Elm Street, Halloween.
Prank tells the story of those three young teenage boys (Richie, Bobby and Sam) who come together for just one night to catch up with an old friend they haven’t seen in years. It’s not until they arrive at their destination do we find out that all is not as it seems.

GEORDIE: Hi Alex, thanks for taking time out to answer a few questions about your new short horror film Prank. I’ll start with an assumption that Prank was influenced by your love of 80’s horror. What inspired the story and your drive to make the film?

ALEX: Hi Geordie, my pleasure. You’re very right, being a child of the 80’s I grew up with the classic Slasher films that defined the genre – Nightmare on Elm Street, Halloween, Friday the 13th. These movies included an element of fun and adventure, without becoming farcical (excusing maybe some of the later ones) but still delivering shocks. They captured the freedom and excitement of youth rebelling against a grownup world, but now also battling demonic evil. This trope was fun, though watching those kids strive against, essentially the same monster got me thinking.

When Jason Voorhees, Michael Myers and Freddy Krueger found themselves alive again for the first time, was revenge the first thought on their mind? Did they consider tracking down family and loved ones? Making contact with those who hadn’t spurned them in life? Were they re-born with pure hatred, or was that decision to follow destruction considered, deliberated on, then actioned? What if they were innocents? What if their death wasn’t born from a life of pain and suffering but an accident? Now, finding themselves alive again after many years, what path would they take?

This is how Prank was born. I wanted to tell the story from the other side. From the side of the monster. And about the choices that are made in the beginning of that rebirth. Retribution or forgiveness? Revenge or redemption?

Prank_still_2GEORDIE: The first thing that struck me at the location shoot the other week was the high production value of the film. It felt like a feature, the quality and scale of the set ups and the amount of cast and crew on hand was staggering for a short film. How difficult was it to pull the production together?

ALEX:  It was a huge production but I can’t take all the credit for it. It really was Aaron Bush’s (Producer) ability to pull together the huge crew in a very short amount of time that made us able to get the production to that level. I was just the guy saying that I wanted a crane shot, Aaron was the guy who made it happen.

From the beginning I had a strong vision for how I wanted the film to look. A lot of independent and short horror nowadays goes down the “found footage” path. Which definitely has its benefits, cost being one of them. I wanted to break away from this and use more traditional camera setups and staging. Especially if we were going to push the whole 80’s look throughout. Unfortunately, this also means you need a big team and a crew that know what they’re doing.

But since we were still working with a short film budget we had to pull in a lot of favours. Most people out there realise what it means when you say that you’re working on a short film. Everyone knows the limitations you have of time and budget. But we were so lucky that they came onboard anyway.

Prank_still_1GEORDIE: As I mentioned above, it was a very professional set-up and was very impressive to see you and your crew at work. How did the shoot go?

ALEX: Amazingly. Since it was my first time directing a live action shoot I couldn’t have been in better hands. Simon Harding (DP) has a huge amount of experience, once he understood the look and style we were going for he nailed it straight away. Which left me free to concentrate on the performance. Have to say, I was pretty spoilt.

Kayne Taylor (1st AD) kept everyone – including myself – running on time throughout both nights. Which was a massive task since when I first spoke to Kayne he told us we needed three nights. Unfortunately we could only afford two – always the way hey? – Getting it done in that time came down to Kayne pushing us all and staying very organised.

Everyone in the crew had a lot of experience, once they knew we had a plan it made it much easier for everyone to work quickly and efficiently. You lose a lot of time if you have everyone on set and then go searching for shots. We couldn’t afford to do this so we planned out every shot in boards before touching the camera.

GEORDIE: Prank feels very much like an homage to the classic 80’s horror we grew up on; there are a lot of elements that felt familiar from those movies without feeling like anything was lifted from any specific film.

ALEX: I feel horror nowadays has taken a turn for the worse. “Torture-porn” predominates the genre. Movies that just set out to mutilate the protagonists in as many gratuitous ways as possible. The sense of fun is gone, so has the fantastical. The villains in today’s movies are real people, born from the news and reality rather than another dimension. I want to bring back the monsters from the 80s, open the door to the other side and have some fun.

There was also a sense of adventure in 80s horror that I loved. The stories felt more personal, like you were in on the secret. These kids were out there dealing with monsters at night and bullies during the day, but the adult world never really intruded. That’s what made movies like Goonies and Stand By Me so great. We tried to get the essence of that feeling in Prank. Hopefully its there. But a lot of that comes down to casting. That energy and the acting style of that time. I think the kids we had did a great job of trying to capture it. I gave them all a bunch of 80s movies to watch as homework before the shoot.

Prank_still_4GEORDIE: My standard question to all Australian film makers. The Australian film industry is either in a healthy state or at deaths door. It seems to concentrate and be favoured by the critics for focusing on anything but genre flicks; as if evidence were needed Margaret and David At The Movies didn’t even bother to review Wolf’s Creek 2. What’s your take on the current state of the industry here?

ALEX: Yeah, that’s a hot topic at the moment isn’t it? Well, it’s probably been the same for a while, but it feels like the industry has been more vocal about it of late. It’s a difficult subject since no Australian film maker wants to be a traitor to their industry, but at the same time it becomes increasingly frustrating when the industry doesn’t respond in kind.

We took Prank to a few of the Australian funding bodies and were told outright that they don’t support genre films. There is obviously a “type” of Australian film that does get funding. But if you have no interest in making that type of film it becomes very difficult to get your film made. In the end – like many other Australian film makers – we had to go with private funding.

I find it especially frustrating since there is so many good stories out there that just don’t get told. I’m all for art-house cinema, but I also feel that in order to support the industry and keep people in Australia we need to follow the American format a bit more and start thinking about making commercial movies that people want to watch. At the end of the day its about selling tickets. If you sell lots of tickets you’re going to be able to make another movie and keep your crew hired. Then hey, make your movie about the old lady who makes goat cheese for truck drivers in the outback.

Prank_still_6GEORDIE: Australia has a long and infamous history in the horror genre, from the 70’s and 80’s grindhouse schlock through to the more recent success of Wolf Creek, Saw and The Loved Ones as well as the independent Redd Inc. and The Tunnel. What do you hope to bring to the mix with Prank?

ALEX: I love all those films. I think they were incredibly successful at what they were setting out to do. Especially the Grindhouse films. Some are just brilliant in a completely schlock way. But there’s a certain type of film and look that people associate predominately with America. Why? I don’t get it. It seems if you set your movie in safe suburbia, kids on bikes, tree houses etc… people think you’re shooting your film in America. Its like Australia is only made up of the outback, and grungy alleyways in Surry Hills. There’s just a big grey void in between. I want to remind people that we don’t have to take ourselves so seriously, and that a movie can be Australian without pandering to colloquial cliches.

There are a lot of film makers out there who feel the same and doing some brilliant work, e.g. Jennifer Kent’s The Babadook. I’m hoping that Prank can add to the slowly growing pile of commercially viable Australian genre films.

Prank_still_3GEORDIE: The financially successful themes within the horror genre are cyclical; 2 1/2 years ago I asked Courtney Solomon what he thought was the next big thing in horror and he stated that it was the Ghost Stories and the Supernatural. He nailed it, no pressure but what do you hope to see as the next big thing in the genre and why?

ALEX:   Haha! No pressure at all. Sure, why not. Well, let’s take a look at what we’ve had recently. I think the Ghost run has been fantastic with films like The Conjuring, Mama, Insidious etc… but you’re right, it’s probably played out now. Moving forwards it looks like we’re getting another rash of remakes Carrie, Poltergeist… but that’s always going to be the case. I dunno, thats a hard one. I think the whole “found footage” genre has run its course as well. I guess if I’m going to guess, I’d say that horror – more than any other type of genre – is a reflection of the predominate global fear, so… Right now there’s a lot of media focusing on bigger problems people can’t control – global warming, dwindling resources, overpopulation etc… the kneejerk reaction to this is people withdraw, hole up with their own supplies to protect their little family unit. I’d say we’re going to start seeing movies that play around with this idea. Along the lines of where “Take Shelter” started but pushing it further. Families living underground, crazy extremist preper camps. Not quite dystopian, but what people do just before the shit hits the fan.

Prank_still_5GEORDIE: An easy one to finish. You’re obviously a big fan of the horror genre, what is your favourite horror film, what you remember from when you first saw it and why it’s still a favourite? Also, any new releases that have impressed you over the last few years?

ALEX: Wow. Just one? It’s not original but I’m going to have to go with Evil Dead 2. It’s just fucking great. I remember everything about watching for the first time. It’s scary, gross, funny. It just has every element a good horror film should have. Shit, any film should have.

So I saw it again recently and was just blown away with how well it’s made. The steady-cam shots are still amazing, the build-up to the first scare is handled beautifully. Some of the lines are so hokey but it all just works because it knows exactly what it is and doesn’t try to be anything different. That’s probably why I like it so much.

As for recent films? The two big standouts for me have been Cabin in the Woods and Drag Me To Hell. Both are incredibly well done. Plus both managed to get that sense of fun and adventure while still having some good shocks as well. I know I go on about it, but it’s just such a hard thing to do well.

Prank_Alex-WeightGEORDIE: I’m assuming that you aim to screen Prank on the festival circuit, when and where will we be able to see the film? Thanks again for your time with the interview. Good luck with Prank.

ALEX: Coming to major festivals soon. Thanks Geordie, been a pleasure. Check out the films facebook page HERE.