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Genre Breakers

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The Spierig brothers speak about their second screen outing, Daybreakers.


Was it good fun to make?

It was very good fun. It was hard work. I think that if you leave a film and you go, "Geez that was easy," you probably screwed it up.

Talking about Undead (the brothers' 2004 debut) you said you don't need a Hollywood cast or huge effects budget because the genre is the selling point. Was that at all the case here?

No, this one is a little bit different. Sure you can make a vampire movie and the vampires will be the stars to some degree but we were interested in making it more about the people that you're going through this world with and the dilemma that these people face. But we also wanted to tap into a more commercial market and get a wide release. We were also interested in finding actors that don't do this genre a lot, so we went after a cast that you haven't seen in this type of genre really before.

So was that the plan from the get-go rather than go small like Undead again?

Yeah, when we wrote the script we had actors in mind. And we imagined an Ethan Hawke type for this role, never thinking for a second that we'd actually get him.

Did you get everyone that was on your wish list?

We really lucked out. They all responded so well to the script. And to Ethan's credit, we'd just made Undead, which is not exactly a fine actors theme? And Ethan is known for taking more serious and dramatic roles but surprisingly he was actually a big fan of Undead.

He read the script and really responded well to the political side of the script. He'd never really done a horror movie before. We sent him all this conceptual artwork that he also really liked and he just felt it was something different and interesting.

He'd argue and say he doesn't like horror films, but then we had constant discussions about John Carpenter and we got a 35 mm print of The Thing that we all watched together and he's really a closet horror fan.

How did getting an international actor help move things along?

Once Ethan said yes it changed the perception of what the movie was because at that point before we had any actors it was just a vampire movie.

But once Ethan said yes the reaction was well, if this two time Oscar nominated actor is saying yes, what is it about this screenplay? And then William Dafoe, Sam Neill, Claudia Karvan and the rest of our Aussie cast signed on and it's amazing how quickly perception can change once you've got somebody of that calibre saying yes.

Did it get a bit scary that it grew into such a big thing?

No, it didn't really grow that fast. It took a long, long time. The intention is always to just, when we're writing the script it was just to tell the best story that we could.

Then you turn up on set with these great actors and it's a little scary but you also realise they've said yes to the project because they really want to be there and they're not doing it for a payday.

And to Ethan's credit it's pretty rare nowadays for a big name actor to say yes to the untested directors.

You're a little too modest – Undead was well received and must have been a great calling card.

Undead did well on a cult level but I'll say it again, it's not exactly an actor's piece. Daybreakers was a process of reproving ourselves. Part of the reason it took so long to get made was because it was a constant battle to try and prove that you're worthy of this budgeting and you can actually make this thing.

They say your second film is harder to get made than your first.

It is if your first one cost nothing. And after Undead costing us $70,000 to shoot some people wondered whether we could actually pull together, work with big crews and all that stuff but thankfully we had the experience of doing quite a few television commercials. So we weren't strangers to working on bigger sets.

There's a theory on the internet that the blood in Daybreakers is a stand-in for oil as a political allegory. How conscious were you of themes like it?

It was conscious. Look at what Romero did with his Dead films. There's always a form of social commentary in horror, but you've got to be careful. You don't want to go to far with it because you can come across quite patronising to the audience that's looking for a good time, fun, blood and guts horror movie.

You have to walk a fine line. You have to hopefully not disguise it but keep it in the background as the fun, genre picture that you're trying to tell. But certainly it was definitely part of what we wanted to explore.

We talked quite a bit about the themes in the script and the idea of exploitation of resources. You can draw the parallels to oil or to water or corporate greed or AIDS, there are many possibilities there. Vampirism has often been a metaphor for so many different things. The idea of sucking someone dry or sucking the blood out of somebody, the life out of somebody. It's a great monster to use as a parallel to other things.

Because it's such an old mythology, is it tough coming up with new metaphors that haven't been drawn?

It is tough coming up with new stuff but you can make that argument with just about every film out there. What's new nowadays?

What we wanted to do and I think we did it in Undead a little bit as well, is take a genre and subvert it and turn it into something different. Whether we're entirely successful that's up to the audience to decide but it's fun playing around with the genre and seeing what you can do. That's the stuff that we really get into and we really enjoy doing.

And during the writing process or during the planning of the writing, Michael and I would both ask each other whenever we came up with an idea: how is this different or have we seen this before? And if we had, we'd say, well we got to try something different. We've seen that in Near Dark or The Lost Boys or whatever so we'd challenge each other constantly.

You realise comparisons, or least mention, of Twilight is going to be unavoidable? A blessing or a curse?

I think it's a blessing. When we started writing Daybreakers nobody had any idea what Twilight was. We were actually in pre-production when I heard this movie Twilight had been green lit, so we wrapped shooting before Twilight had even started pre-production. And the second film came out before we even released Daybreakers so it's just one of those things.

But vampires are probably the most popular movie monster ever. There's a lot of vampire material out there. And I feel like our movie's the to the Twilight phenomenon. It gets back to the idea that vampires are actually scary creatures and existing in a vampire's world can be a dangerous and scary thing. Maybe we can draw some of the Twilight crowd in because of their passion for vampires. But if you're also a fan of vampires and want to get back to the roots of what made the genre exciting Daybreakers is the antidote to that.

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