When Evil Reigns - Interview with Luke and Alix Jackson
By: Craig Villinger on September 8 2006  |  Comments ()  |  Share 
It was a day like any other, but for a group of school friends it quickly becomes a desperate fight for survival when heavy rain turns those caught in the downpour into homicidal maniacs. Locked inside the school as violence erupts on the streets the group might think they are safe, but the infected are waiting for them just outside the poorly secured doors.

And they want in...

When Evil Reigns is the debut feature from Australian filmmakers Luke and Alix Jackson. Filmed in Melbourne for just $5000, When Evil Reigns took over six years to complete, and is described by the brothers as a "gritty, hard-hitting homage to slasher and epidemic horror movie classics, suitable for horror fans and mainstream moviegoers alike." With the film finally finished and awaiting distribution in the USA through Day by Day Entertainment, Luke and Alix took time out to chat with Digital Retribution about their six year labour of love.

Digital Retribution: So, how the hell do you go out there and make a full length feature film for only five thousand dollars?

Luke: Firstly, make sure that the people you're working with understand what you're trying to accomplish and are committed to the project. They're your greatest asset, but if they don't want the same thing from the final product that you do, they can make life incredibly hard. Secondly, don't listen to anyone within the industry who tells you it can't be done, since they have a vested interest in making sure that films continue to be made by 'insiders'. Thirdly, use your pre-production time wisely: write a script that you'd be proud to see on screen, rehearse as much as possible, and develop schedules and storyboards; they'll save you heaps of time on set.

Alix: Set yourself a project that is doable! When you're working with such a small budget, it would be ridiculous to try to make something that obviously requires money to do. If digital filmmakers are all learning their elements independently, you quickly find that there are people willing to tackle any aspect of the production, because this is their passion. We unfortunately didn't know anyone else, really, that had much interest in the film making process. And that is imperative; you need to work with people who would be doing this, even if there would never be any chance of any kind of monetary gain.

DR: What were some of the biggest obstacles you encountered during the production?

Luke: Initially, our biggest obstacle was our lack of experience; without realising how tough it would be to shoot a feature film, we thought we could shoot in a school building that was in use. It wasn't until we tried to do so and had people walking through our shots and talking on our soundtrack that we realised we'd need the whole building to ourselves. Once we did that, the production went more smoothly. We were extremely lucky to find Ian Seymour and Tim Clark, who not only agreed to produce the film (as well as acting in it) but were willing to lend a hand whenever and wherever we needed during the production.

Alix: People's availability when you have a main cast of twelve, can sometimes be a big issue! For the most part we were very lucky, and the majority of the cast would make themselves available, and would turn up willing and ready. Also from a tech side of things, it was a challenge to do the big infected group scenes for two reasons. One being that you'd ask fifty people to turn up and you'd get eight, and these eight still had to be creatively shot to become fifty! Secondly, doing the make-up. I sometimes had an assistant for some of the biggest group shots but not always, and it was very difficult to do ten to twenty make-up or prosthetics works, then have to step into the scene to do my part.

DR: The production took a whopping six years to complete. Was there ever a time when you thought about abandoning it altogether?

Luke: I worked on the pre-production and shooting the film, but wasn't able to be involved with the post-production due to commitments at work and with my writing, so credit to actually completing the film goes to Alix.

Alix: Well thank you Luke! Yes, it did take a huge amount of time to finish, but when we were starting, it was early days in the video production world, and the technology didn't allow this process to go much faster. It did make it a bit harder to stick with, just because these kind of technological woes were not very conducive to effective editing or creativity. There were a number of times I wanted to ditch it and go on with a new project, but I wouldn't have had the same feeling of success, as I do now. We kinda had to prove it could be done, so hopefully, we will get taken more seriously from the outset next time.

DR: Is there any particular reason why you chose to make a horror film for your first feature?

Luke: Alix and I have been huge horror fans since we were really young, and would read and watch every horror novel or movie we could get our hands on. I guess you can say we've made a lifetime study of the genre. When we began talking about making a movie, I don't think we even considered making it in another genre; it was just a question of which sub-genre we'd choose, i.e. vampires, werewolves, an epidemic horror movie or a slasher movie. As it turned out, we chose a combination of the last two.

Alix: We had also seen enough horror films in our lifetimes to know aspects of the genre that we never needed to see again, and we made a conscious effort to omit, from the story, any of the things we had seen a million times. So we tried to make the kind of film that we would want to see as horror fans.

DR: We are seeing more and more films being directed by brothers working as a team these days. What are the advantages of working with close family members throughout the production process?

Luke: I think, in our case, the biggest advantage is that we share some very strong views about the genre, and a genuine love for it. Most of the time, Alix and I are on the same wavelength when it comes to story and characters. I can't think of anyone else I'd prefer to make a movie with, particularly a horror movie. That doesn't mean that there were no arguments on set, but I choose to remember them as 'healthy debate'.

Alix: I agree with Luke, that there is a very organic process that happens when we work together, and for the most part, we do nothing but bring out the best in the other. I don't think either of us would be where we are creatively without the push and support of each other.

DR: WHEN EVIL REIGNS doesn't fit easily into any of Horror's established sub-genres. It has zombie film elements, but it's not a zombie film. It has slasher films elements, but it is certainly not a slasher film either. What sub-genre, or sub-genre's, do you see the film fitting into?

Luke: I think you've picked the closest two right there, although I'd say that it's less a 'zombie' film than an 'epidemic' film. Our intention was to make a film that horror fans would love (part of which involves them recognising certain 'tropes' of the genre) but which would surprise them as well. It's lucky, too, considering that since we began production so many straight zombie films have been released. We feel proud that we've brought something different to the genre.

Alix: I remember one of our main directions to all our extras was "YOU'RE NOT ZOMBIES!!!! STOP WALKING LIKE ZOMBIES!!!" I am also a huge sci-fi geek, so have always told myself that this is a horror/sci-fi, and consequently, sometimes equate it to the body snatchers. I would prefer to not have something that had to fit into one genre, as people who have seen it haven't all been horror fans, but have still got something really valuable out of it.

DR: What films inspired WHEN EVIL REIGNS?

Luke: For me, the greatest conceptual/stylistic influence was 'Night of the Living Dead' (the original), for its sense of claustrophobia and the starkness of the black and white footage; also, I love the fact that, at that point, Romero didn't seem to feel the need to overly explain the cause of the epidemic, since it wasn't believable that the people involved could have known exactly what had started it. I would also have to mention 'Assault on Precinct 13' (the original), which isn't a horror film but beautifully captures the terror of an attack 'en masse'. And Rodriguez's 'El Mariachi' convinced us – or me, at least - that we could make a movie for so little money and with a skeleton crew; on the commentary, he pointed out the advantages of having a smaller budget and crew, something that we would discover ourselves as we began production.

Alix: Well invasion of the body snatchers for one, definitely night of the living dead, dawn and day to a lesser degree, Friday the 13th's and Halloweens.

DR: You've already struck a deal to have the film distributed in the United States. Was it a difficult task to secure overseas distribution?

Luke: I'll let Alix answer this one, since it was his hard work that secured the deal. I would, however, like to mention how supportive we've both found Day by Day Entertainment to be since they signed on as distributors of the film.

Alix: it is one of those coincidences that is awesome! My business is MR.GRIM Productions, I walked into a store one day and saw an album by MF GRIMM called the Downfall of Ibliys, and thought 'I'll get this 'cause it looks really cool, and his names kinda like my name…'
I then checked out the daybydayent website and made contact with MF GRIMM a.k.a Mr. Percy Carey. We started up a bit of a communication, and when he caught wind of our project, day by day entertainment snapped it up! They were really impressed with the effort we'd made, and the commitment we'd shown in getting this not only shot, but finished. It's one of those things that wouldn't have happened, if we didn't keep our networking radars up all the time!

DR: What sort of extras can we look forward to seeing on the DVD?

Alix: Well we have the feature commentary with Luke and me, Tim Clarke and Ian Seymour (the producers). Deleted and extended scenes, shows a little more of the film and film making process. Blooper reel, which is only the cream of the blooper crop, not any old crap! A sfx and vfx featurette explains what all the different kind of fx in the film are. A 47 minute make-up documentary that shows, in real time, how to do a number of fx with no money. A giant Easter egg can also be found as well!

DR: Could you tell us a little about your background and experience in the industry before you started work on WHEN EVIL REIGNS?

Luke: Apart from studying a bit of 8mm film production at Uni, and completing one short film on video with Ian Seymour, I had no filmmaking experience whatsoever. My background is in writing, which I began pursuing seriously when I was 18. I've now had three novels published, with another three slated for publication over the next year and a half, so my focus was always going to be on creating a memorable story and characters. I have to say, though, that while I may have had more experience as a writer, Alix is a natural storyteller, and we collaborated seamlessly on the screenplay.

Alix: I studied unit 1 & 2 media in high school, but that was it. I wanted to make a film where I could play the male lead, as I was coming at the project from an acting point of view. I guess we were just lucky we've watched so many movies!

DR: After listening to the audio commentary and reading the press kit, would it be fair to say that you guys didn't really know what you were getting yourselves into when you started working on WHEN EVIL REIGNS?

Luke: Absolutely. We were incredibly naive, but there's a place for naivety in art, I think. If you only ever follow the established pathways, the danger is that you won't develop the ability to innovate. We had to make up things as we went along, trying to tell the story as best we could with limited personnel and resources, and we often surprised ourselves with how creative we could be in solving problems. I wouldn't trade the experience, because I feel sure it will make it that much easier to work with a larger budget later on.

Alix: I feel it has given me a really great appreciation of all the elements of production, and as Luke says, I'm looking forward to applying these to future projects. Simply, NO, we had no idea what we were getting ourselves into, but that doesn't mean it wasn't one of the best times of my life. I loved making When Evil Reigns, and if we had money, it would have ended up a different movie.

DR: WHEN EVIL REIGNS is a fairly ambiguous film, and when the end credits roll there are still a few questions to be answered. How do you think viewers will react to this?

Luke: I hope they'll recognise that it makes a lot more sense than the alternative approach, which is to try and 'explain everything away' by introducing experts throughout the film who have some advanced understanding of what's going on. We decided very early into the writing process that this wasn't a film about experts trying to solve an outbreak in Melbourne, but people just like us trying to survive one. I think that horror fans, who recognise the alternate approach as trite, will be thankful we didn't take that approach in 'When Evil Reigns'. And I have faith in the wider audience, that they will accept the ambiguity. Perhaps it will generate interest in a sequel…

Alix: We like to credit our audience with intelligence, and to that effect, it is not necessary to explain everything, as we'd like the audience to fill in the gaps. Sure there is some ambiguity, but we like it that way!

DR: I love how you've managed to make an Australian film without inserting a token American character or two, which in the past has seemingly been a necessity for local productions. Were you ever tempted to throw in a few foreign characters to give the film a broader overseas appeal?

Luke: No, not at all. I think that the idea of having to include an overseas star, or a star at all, is another one of the pervasive myths of cinema in Australia. I expect that, as independent filmmaking really takes hold of the industry (which it should do soon, considering the availability of low-cost broadcast-quality equipment and the incredible pool of talent here), we'll see less of a reliance on stars from overseas. And it certainly wasn't an obstacle in getting interest from an American distribution company, who recognise the film for what it is, a character- rather than market-driven story.

Alix: funnily enough, one of the first people you see in the film is American; however this wasn't a conscious thing, but more the fact that he looked great, and we'd already shown everyone else we knew at some other point in the film.

DR: Surprisingly, for a film which cost only $5000 you've included several computer generated effects. How did you achieve these effects with such a small budget?

Alix: this was quite a challenge, as the film was shot with a 1 chip video camera, that had nowhere near the general resolution you'd like, when doing cg fx. For the most part, these were shot a lot later than the rest of the film, which meant that you were sometimes slotting together elements of the shot that had been filmed 4 years apart. It was also a matter of knowing exactly what you wanted it to look like when it was completed, and working towards the image in your head, colour matching and layer blurring accordingly. Then you just have to be lenient with their usage, as 1 chip video fx are never going to look %100, so you want to get across the idea, without giving the audience enough time to pick it apart or say it looks crap.

DR: The whole DIY filmmaking process has changed a lot since you first started work on WHEN EVIL REIGNS back in 1999. Did technological advances help make post-production easier as the years progressed?

Alix: The original machine we did the rough cut on was a twenty gig, dedicated editing unit, that wouldn't allow you to overlay one sound over another. Obviously in the year or two after that, when faster, more affordable computers, came out, all of this changed. You were then able to work, as though you were physically handling film, and this was able to be edited, tweaked and overlayed, as such. In terms of the cg fx, this made these possible. The reality is that anyone with a good enough home computer can now make true movie magic.

DR: You've gone out there and made a movie with minimal resources and without any assistance from the traditional film funding bodies. What advice do you have for other inexperienced filmmakers looking to get their start in the industry?

Luke: Traditionally, so little money (proportionately) is spent on scripts in Hollywood that the screenplay is an area in which you can compete with the big guys, even if your production values never will. So spend as much time as necessary to make the story and characters work, and bring in a professional/semi-professional writer if necessary. Even when you think the screenplay's finished, remember that editing words on a page will be a lot easier, and cheaper, than editing film footage later on.

Alix: I think you should set yourself little production goals or tasks to build up your folio. Test ideas you may have had, but have shied away from, because they may have seemed to daunting. The more work you can do before attempting a major project, just to boost your overall skills, will result in you having a much better and more realistic understanding, when it comes to tackling the big picture.

DR: What are you thoughts on the Australian film scene at the moment?

Luke: I'm actually quite excited about Australian films at the moment. We're starting to see companies like Madman giving broad distribution to independent movies, which is great, and the box office success of genre-based films like 'Wolf Creek' will impact the industry for years to come. As I said before, I'm eagerly awaiting the widespread changes that will occur over the next few years due to the increased accessibility of broadcast-quality equipment to independent filmmakers.

Alix: It is gonna get huge! The few really outstanding, unique Australian films that have come out in the last little bit, are incorporating a new voice into Australian film, which I'm really looking forward to being a part of.

DR: If a Hollywood studio gave you a budget of seventy five million dollars tomorrow what sort of film would you make?

Luke: I think that seventy five mil is a mandate to make something epic, so the movie would be on a very different scale to 'When Evil Reigns', but I'd love to see a horror film with that sort of budget. I'm planning on releasing a novel next year that might be suitable. Whatever the story, I'd still focus on the characters, since I believe that's what will stick with the audience for years, long after they've forgotten the special effects.

Alix: I think that would comfortably set me up with my next 15 films. And if I really had to use that entire budget, I know what I'd make, but I'm not going to tell you, 'cause I'll hopefully be making it in the next couple of years and don't want anyone to steal my idea.

DR: You've both got a lot going on in your professional lives, so will there be any room for more films from Luke and Alix Jackson in the future?

Luke: As you've suggested, right now I have a lot of writing commitments, but I'm always up for working with my brother on another movie. He can fill you in on our current project.

Alix: I have just finished the new script, which is a screenplay adaptation of one of Luke's unpublished novels. The project is called 'Verite' and I'm going to say optimistically to look out for it mid 2008! It is a psychological thriller, and that's about all you're getting at the moment. But of course, if anyone wants to give us some funding, contact us for more information, and we'll let you in on the story.

When Evil Reigns will released on DVD in the USA through Day by Day Entertainment later in 2006.

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