One of the many films that premiered at this year’s Toronto Film Festival was The Spierig Brothers “Daybreakers”. The film stars Ethan Hawke as a brilliant vampire hematologist (blood expert) and he lives in a world where most humans have been turned into vampires due to a plague. Unfortunately, with a vampire society so large, they’ve killed most of the remaining humans and they’re relying on Hawke to provide a blood substitute. The film also stars Sam Neill, Isabel Lucas, and Willem Dafoe.
While I wasn’t sure what to expect going in, I was surprised by how much I liked the movie. It’s a high concept film that also plays as a vampire movie. I think audiences are going to like it when Lionsgate releases it this January. Anyway, while at the festival, I got to interview The Spierig Brothers and you can read our conversation after the jump. They talk about doing some of the special effects themselves, getting financing, making the film, and they also talk about their next movie “Captain Blood”.
Question: You guys had a very successful first film. How hard was it to get the financing and to get this movie off the ground?
MICHAEL SPIERIG: “Undead”, while it was successful, it wasn’t a phenomenal success, it was sort of a success if you talk about it in cult terms. So it wasn’t like people were kicking our door down saying you must work with us, you must work with us. What we ended up doing is we wrote this treatment and we took it to Lionsgate who released “Undead” and we said here’s this idea for this vampire film. They really liked the treatment and from that they paid us to write the script. And we did that with them for the better part of 2 years developing the script. And then this is a long process of raising the money, rewriting the script and then eventually going out to a cast member, which was Ethan Hawke. And once we got Ethan on board, it changed everything. It legitimized the project. It secured the last pieces of our financing and it allowed us to go out and get the other actors that we wanted which was Willem Defoe and Sam Neill.
When you guys were developing this project, many filmmakers work on like 4 or 5 things that they attach themselves to to possibly whichever one bubbles up, that’s the one they end up going for. Were you guys writing other things at the same time or was this all the eggs in the basket?
PETER SPIERIG: It was one of those things where we were offered a lot of scripts but they were the 5th sequel in some sort of straight to video horror thing, you know? It was that type of stuff and there was…we just weren’t interested in doing that. And we just figured the only way we’re going to get to make the type of movie we want to make is if we write it ourselves. And we put everything into “Daybreakers” and had no other things going. And if it didn’t work, if for whatever reason it never got green-lit, it would have been 2 years of basically nothing.
Now if I’m not mistaken, I thought I saw your names in the credits for doing some of the special effects.
PETER: Yeah, that’s right.
Could you talk about what effects you specifically did…I’m curious what your involvement was in the effects? When I spoke to Neill [Blomkamp] for “District 9″ he talked about how he was personally very involved with certain things and explained some CGI stuff, so I’m really fascinated about this new generation of directors who are doing effects themselves.
PETER: Yeah. I mean, we did a lot of effects actually. There were 3 companies-there was a company that did a lot of the blood farm and really complex stuff like that. And then there was a company that just handled vampire disintegrations. And Michael and I did a lot of wire removal and a lot of blue screen…green screen. Some digital city shots. I mean, there was a lot of things that we did. And we never had planned on doing that. It’s just that because of the resources we didn’t want to drop anything and so we just said we’ll do these visual effects ourselves. If we can’t afford to do them, we’ll do them ourselves.
And so what kind of system did you guys work on?
PETER: It was a very basic Mac desktop computer. Michael did all the effects on his laptop. And it’s crazy because you can do that stuff. It’s not…and we’re using regular kind of off the shelf software, Photoshop, after effects. That kind of stuff. Lightwave 3D.
I’ve heard stories about this, but that’s really cool. There’s two specific things that are awesome in the movie. One of which is a shot towards the end, which I’m sure you guys know what shot I’m talking about, and I don’t want to give away too much, but there’s a shot of let’s just say a lot going on in the frame towards the end of the film. How tough was that shot and how long did it take for you guys to do that? Who did that shot, if you know what I’m talking about?
PETER: Yeah, yeah. That was…so there’s a lot of layers in that shot because there’s only about 5 people in the frame each time. So what you’re doing is trying to find the sort of peak moment in all that stuff so it’s all tiled together to make a single shot, so there’s a lot of green screens combined together to get it. And I think I shot that. I was on 2nd unit shooting that and it took a long time, a long time.
Totally. Like was sitting in the theatre like that is awesome. Like it was just a great shot, but also without giving anything away, there’s what I call…people were asking me today what I thought and I was talking about how there’s a few great moments of lets’ just say blood-work. I’ll use that term, right?
Obviously with the budget and you have certain moments where you can do that stuff, where was it? How tough was it to pick the moments to put those specific scenes in and were you limited with budget? Was it like story, was it script?
MICHAEL: Yeah, well I think that what we…special effects makeup, blood, gags all of that stuff, it takes a lot of time and it’s surprisingly not that much fun to shoot because it takes so long to re-set. There’s all these factors so you don’t really get a lot of enjoyment out of shooting them because, yeah, it can take up your whole day just shooting a simple splatter. We made sure we spread it out throughout the film, not that we give everybody all the blood at the beginning, but we wanted to make sure the ending is bloody as hell.
I think you got that.
MICHAEL: And, Peter help me out here…
PETER: Well, I mean what you’re trying to do is not say too much without giving it…
MICHAEL: Giving away, yeah.
MICHAEL: It’s a vampire movie.
PETER: We’re not shying away from any of that and I think if I wanted to see a vampire movie, I would go and see a vampire movie with some blood in it. I don’t get vampire movies without any blood.
I know I’m running out of time so let me just, of course I have to ask, the thing that also I really enjoyed about the film is the high concept. You know, it’s an original idea and it’s a twist on the vampire thing that I really enjoyed.
Also I’m a huge sci-fi guy and you mixed in a lot of stuff that I really like. Are you already thinking obviously for future stuff like twists on other kind of genres? Like what are you guys thinking about for future stuff?
MICHAEL: Well we actually what we’re doing now is we’re developing a project with Warner Brothers called “Captain Blood” which is based on the Raphael Sabatini novel. It’s a pirate movie but we’re taking the pirate theme or the swashbuckling pirate theme and turning it into a space pirate movie. So it’s pirates in space.
Let me ask you, is it a similar kind of…what else can you say anything more about it? Is it an R? Is it like a…
I’m assuming you guys are writing this as we speak.
MICHAEL: No, we’re working with another writer who’s writing it as we speak.
Okay, so you guys are planning on directing that one…oh, look at that. The little transition if you will.
PETER: Well, there’s something else that we’re writing as well, so there’s another project that we’re writing at the moment. So there’s a few things going on.
So in other words, you’ve taken the path of what we talked about at the beginning.
PETER: Yeah, exactly.
Let’s talk about actually the casting of everybody…like Willem Defoe and some of the other cast. With casting the other people, were these all first choices? Could you just talk about like meeting some of these people? Were they immediately on-board?
PETER: Yeah, I mean we were very lucky because they were all our first choices. So we had a very, very short list and Ethan was the first person to say yes. And I think Michael said it before, it really just changed the kind of possession of the picture and there was a lot of questions being asked well, if Ethan’s doing a movie like this what is it about it? There must be something interesting. And so we were able to get the material to Willem and Sam and a fantastic Aussie cast as well and they all responded positively almost straight away and were happy to come on-board. And I know that doesn’t…this is our first sort of big actor, big star experience and I know that that doesn’t happen very often that you get all your first choices or you get your very first or second choices. It’s pretty rare, so we’re very lucky.
Any deleted scenes? How many might be on the DVD?
PETER: There’s almost none. In fact, there’s really none. It was shot very economically.
I have to wrap. Thank you both so much. Congratulations on the movie.
PETER: No problem.