Monday, February 22

An Interview with Kaare Andrews

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Kaare Andrews is a comic book writer, artist and filmmaker responsible for the 2010 high flying mystery thriller ‘Altitude’ and the “V is for Vagitus” segment of horror anthology ‘The ABCs of Death’. His latest feature ‘Cabin Fever 3: Patient Zero’ continues the viral horror franchise kicked off by Eli Roth way back in 2002 moving the action to the Caribbean and this time unleashing the flesh eating virus on an unsuspecting group of friends enjoying a bachelor party. Cabin Fever 3: Patient Zero’ is now out to own on DVD.

How did you set about being reverential to the original classic while still managing to instil some originality to the story
Sequels are a tricky proposition– threequels, especially so. It was especially hard because of the intense negative reaction from both filmmakers and fans alike to Cabin Fever 2. How do you follow up that situation?

On one hand, you want to give the Cabin Fever fans a Cabin Fever experience or why bother calling it a Cabin Fever movie. But you also need to let the movie have its own voice and be its own thing. Also, the script existed before I was brought on board the project, so I did not have a say in the fundamental underpinnings of the story. But I did make a very conscious effort to make a “Cabin Fever” movie. I’m a big fan of the original and had the deluxe DVD and all the behind the scenes features and had followed the whole story of Eli getting his movie made and sold at the time. Eli actually wrote me a nice letter before I started, telling me that a Cabin Fever movie can withstand any kind of crazy you throw at it, so to just go for it. And I really feel like we pushed those small set pieces to their limits, things like the “Cat Fight”.

One scene in particular was originally written as a more pedestrian flesh starts to ooze scare and I turned it into an homage to the classic “Fingerbang Backfire” scene from the first movie. That was my one real nod to the original—but it was a big one.

I also tried to add more humor into this movie, as that first movie really was a sex-comedy for the first act or so. We did a pass of the script trying to bring some of that out and I improvised with the actors on set.

And I wanted to continue the legacy of using amazing practical special effects make-up. Vincent Guastini really stepped up and made that happen. I have a childhood love of this sort of thing and use to devour books like Dick Smith’s Monster Makeup Handbook or Tom Savini’s Bizarro (later renamed to Grande Illusions). It was a lot of fun for me to participate in the designs of the effects, with my visual background.

But at the end of the day, I wasn’t trying to replicate the “formula” of that first movie, per say. This may seem like a strange comparison but if you look at the movies Alien and Aliens, they don’t try to be the same movie. They are in the same world but use the elements in new and different ways. Tonally they are different, plotwise they are different.
And these are always my favourite sort of sequels, so I took a lot of inspiration in that sort of thinking.

And in point of fact, I made it very clear that I wasn’t really interested in doing a “3” of anything. I wanted to treat this movie as a stand alone film, that happens to take place in the same universe with the same virus.

There do seem to be some classic horror film references, not least of which Romero’s zombie canon. Was this a conscious decision or just the way the story evolved?
In that original first draft that I was sent, there were already a few of these sort of zombie style sequences. Lumbering bodies falling apart and with some sort of diminished abilities to reason or communicate. I justified this choice with the thinking that perhaps if this flesh eating virus made it’s way to your brain, it would kind of start shutting down your facilities—that could create a sort of zombie-eque effect in a few characters. Not everyone would become a “zombie” and it would really depend on where the infection starts and what parts of the body it attacked first. But you know, I am a big Romero fan so this was not a hard sell. I took inspiration from many films and not just horror but science fiction as well.

Actually, one of these kinds of guys gets an axe in the head and I had always temped in a sort of “Help me…” as he was chasing our good guy through the bog of bodies. I thought it was a funny idea, that this misinterpreted plea for help was mistaken for an attack and that our heroes put an axe in his head because of it. It was kind of watered down by the final mix and sound but I still think that’s his motivation—this one infected guy—he’s just looking for help!

Again, I have a childhood love with the processes of make-up and special effects and this was my first feature length film to fully embrace the art of horror prosthetics. At times I felt like what it must be like back in the 80’s, with all of our gore and appliances.

What do you think it is that still endures about the “young, good looking people getting killed”

I think there are two basic concepts that horror trades on: sex and violence. These are the fundamental requirements for life. You need to kill to eat and you need to fuck to reproduce. You stop doing either and you will die as a species. Horror has always explored these two ideas—and often together. My favourite horror film, The Shining, has the most amazing imagery that combines the two. The blood flooding from the elevator, Jack Nicholson making out with the beautiful naked lady that turns into an old hag… or in the Exorcist, little Reagan plunging the crucifix into her crotch, yelling, “fuck me… fuck me…!”. These are horrific things.

Now specifically, the sub-genre of “young, good looking people getting killed” exists because that is the time in our lives when we are defining ourseves. We are making active choices that will determine our happiness, sanity, wealth and position. It’s a turbulent time for anyone, one that usually goes along with finding yourself and pushing the cages of society that you grew up in but previously could not affect. And thematically, it’s these characters surviving that process (or trying to) so that by the end of the film they can finally transition to and accept adulthood.

There are some truly horrific scenes in the film. I wondered if there was anything that didn’t make the final cut or any ideas you had that didn’t get filmed in the end.
There are really two ways to make movies. One is to have a lot of money and build what you need, kind of force the world around you into the shape of the film. The other is to have no money and adapt to what is available.
We were definitely the latter situation.

This film had a tiny budget. Much less than Cabin Fever 2 but I refused to let the money dictate the look of the film. I wanted the film to feel big and expansive and rich. But it was a lot of jiu-jitsu to make that happen.

We didn’t build any sets, we looked for existing places we could film. And the script was kind of pushed around to fit what we could find. It’s always surprising how malleable and resilient a screenplay is, considering how often you need to change locations, combine scenes or any of the other thousand compromises you are forced into making during the production of a movie like this.

But there was one set piece from the first draft that didn’t make it into the film, that I regret. It would have been amazing. In it, our characters boarded an abandoned research vessel at sea looking for help, and came upon room after room of decomposing corpses, eventually getting chased off of the ship by the skin of their teeth.

I had never seen anything like this, kind of a floating house of horrors.
I had seen this amazing movie, Triangle, by Christopher Smith, that was set on an empty cruise ship and I had started to imagine how to film all these crazy scenes in new and unique ways. But at the end of the day there just weren’t any ships like that in the Dominican Republic and we didn’t have the money to build the sets. Parts of that sequence made it into the movie in other areas but I wish we could have done it the way it was written. It was a show stopper. When you watch Cabin Fever Patient Zero, try to imagine any of the walking around dark hallways sequences, as set on a corpse filled floating research vessel. That’s how it was originally intended.

Given there is no physical monster or bad guy as such was it essential to introduce one or more antagonists?
Not every movie has a Darth Vader, but every movie has an antagonist. Drama needs conflict and that conflict is often best established by having another character who is in direct opposition to the hero’s goals. In Patient Zero, the virus itself is the true antagonist but we have a couple of other characters who fulfill that function. The most interesting part of this movie, for me, was having a character who transitions into that role. Without giving too much away, I love the idea of having a good guy caught in a horrible circumstance whose only chance of saving himself is to become a person capable of horrible things. And Sean Astin is capable of horrible, horrible things…

Even though the audience might think they know where the story is going you succeed where many films fail in introducing some genuine tension. How did you set about achieving that?
You create a movie like this and there are things that are “on the page”
like dialogue and plot and things that aren’t. Things like the opening credits we shot (or even the end credits), things like mood, tension and action. All of this visual language and vocabulary can only be inferred to by words in a script. A big part of directing is to attempting to take a written collection of dialogue and complications and create a world around it.

I gave myself the time to really invest in some longer sequences and build up to some scares. This was my first film to have anything like this in it and it was a challenge and a treat to put some of my filmmaking theory into practice.

How much do you think your background with Marvel has influenced your directing style?
When I’m at my best on set, I really do feel like I’m “painting with actors”. I draw my own storyboards, often design my own sets, costumes or characters. And with this film, some of the make-up looks. For instance, I had very specific visuals in mind for the demise of Penny (Jillian Murray’s character). But it’s actually hard to identify how my comicbook work has influenced my directing style. I had more than one crew member tell me they had never seen a director spend so much energy getting the look of a shot. But you know, I’m a visualist. And movies are a visual experience.

You need to spend that energy (even if you don’t always have the time) on the visual experience of the film, even more so if you have no money and no expensive sets to rely on. Where you can’t just turn the camera to any corner of the room and go “amazing!”. In fact, for the first couple days of shooting, we could only film into very small corners of our main location because it wasn’t ready yet. Jiu-jitsu indeed.

My DP and me (the uber-talented Norm Li) asked ourselves every day, “how do we NOT shoot a cheap sci-fi tv show”. We both come from Vancouver, where the bread and butter in that city is cheap sci-fi tv shows. So we are very aware of it. And we had cardboard sets painted with aluminym paint (mostly a metaphor here—mostly…)

But I’m also a published photographer, painter and sculptor so part of that is me being a visual artist not just a comicbook artist specifically. I understand lenses, lighting and editing. I even executed a few visual effects shots. Really, all of my artmaking just sort of bleeds over into each other. The greatest part of filmmaking is that I can apply so many of my disparate art and story skills into one medium.

And when I do interviews about my comicbook work they always ask how my film work has influenced my comics. Funny.

Have you always been a horror film fan and are there any specific films or directors that have had a bearing on your career?
I’ve always been a fan of genre films, whether it’s horror or sci-fi or fantasy. There is just something about the visual and the visceral that comes along with those films. My favourite directors are the visualists, guys like Ridley Scott, Sam Rami, James Cameron, David Fincher, Stanley Kubrick and David Aronofsky. These guys have all directed horror as well as sci-fi other kinds of films. Great filmmakers who don’t exist in one genre, but spread their skills across many. This is the kind of filmmaking I aspire to.

What will we see next from you?
Right now you can pick up my new comicbook, Iron Fist: The Living Weapon, for Marvel Comics. It is wall-to-wall martial arts, horror and science-fiction all rolled into one. I am writing and drawing that book so it really is a project I can “own” in every sense. My next film will be a project I can “own” in the same way. My own script, my own characters my own concepts. Directing is a newer career for me than comics and I’ve only just begun. When I can achieve the same levels of trust and support in film that I enjoy in comics, watch out. It’s going to get crazy.

“Thank you ever so much for taking part in this interview Kaare.
And we wish you the very best of luck in the future.”

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